The Week In Radio: Real-life troughs and a fictional Peake

It was the week when radio listeners were mesmerised by a crisis in a dark, amoral realm, seething with feuds, peopled by an elderly dynast, his grotesque family and their troublesome employees. Gormenghast, of course. What did you think I meant?

But more of Mervyn Peake's masterpiece later. There is no more consuming subject of interest to the media than the media, but is the audience equally obsessed? On day one of the Murdoch "Arab Spring", Evan Davis noted a bewildering quirk in Today programme listener response. "Interesting we're getting as many emails about university access as the News of the World this morning," he marvelled. At times it was almost impossible to keep up. "A torrent of accusations, where would you like me to start?" asked Eddie Mair after one especially packed bulletin. But did the BBC overdo it? Certainly there was an element of revenge towards their ancient foe in the tenor and breadth of coverage, and the BBC itself, with its regular leaks, was a key player in the drama. But there was a heady sense of establishment certainties shifting – and why should that be underplayed? With the current affairs programmes providing wall-to-wall treatment, it was hard for the specialist shows to find anything original to say, however. A Media Show special did little more than air the woe of hacks ("a lot of them will never work again," said Carole Malone), and try out various metaphors for the Murdoch empire ("a tottering Middle East dictatorship in which loyalty to the chief is more important than ethical behaviour" according to Andrew Gowers). But its coverage was not essentially different from what Today and PM were providing. A solicitor, Mark Lewis, summed up the real challenge for commentators when he said, "I don't want to use the word [sic] 'watershed moment', but it's a watershed moment."

No such clichés in The History Of Titus Groan, which contained as many fabulous grotesques as you'd ever find in the NOTW, but with dazzling verbal originality. The stunning feature of Mervyn Peake's books is his extravagantly descriptive passages. The risk of a radio adaptation is that they will be forfeit in favour of direct speech. Fortunately, Brian Sibley's script retained a true flavour of the book, giving us Lady Gertrude with her "coils of dark red hair clustered on the pillows like burning snakes", the servant Flay "patched and brittle like a shard of falling masonry" and the rebel kitchen boy Steerpike with his "dark half closed eyes, hot with hatred". If anything, this lavish delight in language perhaps caused the narrative to flag slightly. The acting, with Miranda Richardson as Gertrude and James Fleet as Prunesquallor, was more than adequate compensation however.

While you can make comparisons with Dickens, and with Tolkien, in many ways Peake resembles a writer like Blake as a true English one-off. An attempt to plumb his extraordinary vision came in A Hundred Years of Mervyn Peake. While I would have liked a deeper look at the psyche that produced Gormenghast, his son Sebastian did suggest that his father's visit to the newly liberated Belsen had profoundly affected him. There he found "another locked-off community, a community of horrors and terrors." The lasting sense of guilt, Sebastian felt, may have precipitated Peake's catastrophic mental decline.

How apt that the new series of Beyond Belief, always a searching and uncompromising show, should focus on Hell. A place or a state of mind? Getting consensus from religious people is harder than getting Hugh Grant to hug a hacker, but the one thing everyone agreed on was that we all have a "deep psychological need for the retributive picture." After the week we've had, I think that much is clear.

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'