The Week on Radio: Stop the week - I'm in the grip of Saturday Night Fry

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LET'S TALK seriously for a moment. In the interval of Thursday's early evening Prom, which included a piece by the more or less forgotten English composer John Foulds, Malcolm MacDonald presented a small feature claiming him as a forgotten master. Look, he said, the man wrote a vast World Requiem, in memory of the dead of the First World War, which lasted two hours, had 1200 performers, and was for some years regularly performed on Armistice Night at the Albert Hall: "That would seem to mark him out as a deeply serious composer," MacDonald reckoned.

Well, yes, in one sense I suppose it does, but was he really arguing that seriousness of subject-matter is a valid measure of artistic worth?

Sickness, the absence of friends, those occasions that mark the passing of childhood and the arrival of responsibility, birth, death, marriage - you don't get weightier themes than these, but that doesn't necessarily mean the people who write rhymes about them inside greetings cards should get their names into The Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry.

Which brings us to Stephen Fry's new chat-show Saturday Night Fry (Radio 4, Saturday, obviously). After the peculiarly nauseating trailers that have been wafting around the airwaves lately ("I'm so lucky. Be lucky. Join me"), the reality proved quite enjoyable, rather as a good puke sometimes can. At times, it seemed as if we were caught in a timewarp - here we were on a Saturday evening, with a mildly pompous and self-consciously intellectual host, with pre-scripted witticisms, and a group of smart guests that included Laurie Taylor: my God, could the buggers really have brought back Stop The Week?

If it sticks around long enough, it may sink that far, but at the moment there is a neurotic energy to Fry's chairmanship, and a tension created by the sheer quantity and diversity of guests, that keeps it zinging along. Arnold Wesker talked about his latest play and how it had been kept out of theatres by managements' timidity (read: "Quality control"); Tom Baker talked about growing old and the dangers of Viagra to men with an overlarge "skittle" ("I've been sucking on Skittles all day," quipped Fry, who seems to have whooshed from monkish inhibition to Julian Claryesque camp); John Sessions did pointless impressions, which sounds like half of a fairly apposite clerihew; Sinead O'Connor sang a song about the children of Rwanda and showed a touching inability to finish any sentence without making reference to her awful childhood; and there were Anthony Clare, Laurie Taylor, Jonathan Miller, discussing whether happiness can be rooted in the individual.

Clearly, this is another serious subject; but the seriousness was undermined by the fact that the one factor uniting all the guests was celebrity; you can't get much more frivolous and pointless than that.

Early on, Fry worried at some length about the dangers of pretentiousness, before dismissing the problem - "It's pretentious to be afraid of pretension". Well, call me pretentious, then, but this little celebration of the joys of being famous enough to have an opinion scared the willies out of me. But it gripped me too, as headlights grip a rabbit.

Fry's charmed circle of celebrity contrasted cheesily with the outcasts Jenny Cuffe met in the first part of In This Together (Radio 4, Monday), a series on social exclusion. The programme started with a quotation from Tony Blair - "I don't want there to be any forgotten people in the Britain we're going to build". Cuffe found signs of hope on the Pennywell Estate in Sunderland; but she also found people who had slipped off the bottom of the ladder, for whom Blair's inclusive enthusiasm seemed to have found no room. You imagine him clearing his desk at No 10 in five or 10 years' time, slapping himself on the forehead and crying out: "Bugger! Why didn't somebody remind me about the poor?"

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