The Week on Radio

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The Independent Culture
WE ALL do stupid things from time to time, but what's important is having the courage to stand up and say when you were wrong. So, I admit it: when Radio 4 changed its schedules I said I thought it was quite good. Are you satisfied? Does it give you a thrill to see me humiliated in this way?

To be honest, the true awfulness didn't really sink in until the daily nightmare of Postcards, which had been shaping up nicely as a contender for most ill-conceived drama ever broadcast, gave way to the stunningly dreary Under One Roof. There's no hyperbole here: some episodes have left me genuinely stunned, stumbling around in a kind of aesthetic concussion.

Under One Roof clearly regards itself as a hard-hitting social-issues drama - hence the casual use of words such as "vagina" - the issue in this case being the awfulness of living with your ageing, crotchety mother. The issue is real enough, but the banality of the scripts - Mum resists the old people's day centre, but when she does finally go she can't stop talking about what a lovely time she had - reduces it to Toytown inconsequentiality.

It doesn't help that the actors seem to be talking through clenched teeth, as though desperately trying to sound as if it's all nothing to do with them. That's the worst of it; but the coffin hasn't been short of nails. Take Puzzle Panel, a new brain-twisting slot at Thursday lunch time. I'm not sure which is the worst aspect; is it the way the participants struggle to sound challenged and intrigued ("Hmmm, could it be...? Ooh, no, hang on"), or is it the cringe-making humour the puzzles are wrapped up in ("The dictator of Arbitraria is disturbed by the bells of St Michael-of- the-Underpants")? Either way, if your brain gets twisted, it's probably because it keeps shifting around in an effort to stay awake.

And then there's Veg Talk, on Friday afternoons, a phone-in on all topics vegetable ("You've got a problem with celery, Jane"). Perhaps there genuinely is a hitherto-unmet public demand for more vegetable-themed programmes, but I suspect the rationale behind this is as a showcase for the chirpy charms of green-grocers Charlie Hicks and Greg Wallace, the Russ and Jono of the vegetable world. (There's an argument that Russ and Jono were themselves pretty much of the vegetable world, but we'll let it go for now.)

You might think that a life spent among Maris Pipers and curly kale would induce serenity, but they seem fuelled by a determination to show that vegetables can be fun, a proposition that falls at the first sprout.

The new schedule isn't wholly without merit - Front Row, for instance, is far more incisive than Kaleidoscope (though I still miss Paul Vaughn). But on the whole, I stand corrected. Sorry.

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