The Week in Radio: Portrait of a pretend Pope that restores the faith

Who will be the first female Pope? Before you start saying "Ann Widdecombe" or talking about the doctrine of the all-male priesthood let me stop you. Because we may have already had a female Pope, and what's more she was English! This un-looked for boost to our international reputation came in John Julius Norwich's diverting Book of the Week: The Popes, which kicked off with Joan (or John as she called herself) who was elected in the mid ninth century after Leo IV. Carelessly, Joan got pregnant and gave birth on procession in a narrow lane near St Peter's, leading to horrible clerical reprisals. Yet was she for real? Sadly, Norwich thinks not, though there are plenty of documentary accounts of how she was dragged through the street and Martin Luther says he saw a statue of Joan, which was thrown into the Tiber by Sixtus IV. But coins from the period seem to prove otherwise, so perhaps the female Pope was only the result of wishful thinking by historians trying to spice up the institution of the papacy, though judging by the rest of this series, it needs little spicing. Wonderfully, however, Joan's legacy was said to live on in the form of the Porphyry Chair, a throne with a reclining back and a huge keyhole in the seat. Before the Pope's enthronement, "his testicles are felt by a junior cleric present as proof of his male sex, and the cleric shouts out 'here hangs testicles!'" If undignified clerical groping was the fate of every Pope for centuries then you might say that Joan had the last laugh.

Norwich is a bit of an institution himself, dropping phrases like "when my father was ambassador" and "when I was dogsbody to the Duke of Norfolk" into his narrative without turning a hair. But to keep such a light touch, without sacrificing academic seriousness, is a distinct achievement.

Another man with a talent to amuse was Bob Newhart, who went from unknown accountant to superstar in six months with a routine of one-sided telephone conversations. When The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart appeared in 1960 it became the first comedy album ever to top the charts. In the era of Mad Men, Newhart made several routines about the world of advertising, including the famous sketch "Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue" in which the American president is telephoned by his press adviser. "How's Gettysburg? Sort of a drag, eh?" Interviewed by Paul Gambaccini in For One Night Only, the 81-year-old comedian turned out to be both sharp and modest, the only frustration being that the snippets of his sketches used were so minuscule, that many listeners, including me, must have been longing for more.

If you still need cheering up, then I have just two words for you: Barry Manilow. I'm not joking. Manilow, who has been persuaded to present Radio 2's They Write the Songs, turns out to be a supreme radio presenter. His voice is liquid gold. His manner is both self-deprecating and authoritative.

This week, Irving Berlin was his focus. "I bet some of you young people have never heard of Irving Berlin, I'm such an old fart," chortled Barry. Berlin arrived in New York at five, unable to speak a word of English or read music, yet went on to become one of the greatest popular composers. Along with the sizeable song medleys and professional analysis, it is Manilow's enthusiasm that makes this series irresistible. "Amazing. A-mazing," he croons, as with technical precision he dissects a track to illustrate the workings of a "double song" or demonstrates how Berlin employed syncopation in songs like "Puttin' on the Ritz". Who cares that Australian police now blast Manilow's music to deter teenage gangs? He has a new calling, and it's one he performs like a star.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'