Alvin Hall in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Radio 4, Monday-Friday
The Brontës' Piano, Radio 4, Tuesday

The last Master of the Universe left a long time ago

Apart from being American, Alvin Hall, a TV livewire who sorts out people's money issues, seems to have no particular credentials to present a five-part examination of the changes in New York City since the publication 25 years ago of Tom Wolfe's magnum opus The Bonfire of the Vanities. But he made a thoughtful, engaging guide.

It is a very different place now, not least Wall Street, as Hall found in Tuesday's instalment of Alvin Hall in The Bonfire of the Vanities. The main difference – and I didn't know this – is that all the big players have moved out to New York's leafy hinterland, the places where the Masters of the Universe had their weekend retreats. Now it's all co-ops and condos. "What we have here today is cops and tourists," a former trader, now a writer, told him. And when the Vanities hero Sherman McCoy was in his pomp, it was a more – this sounds like the wrong word – innocent place. Back then there seemed to be no downside, no risk, no potential for global catastrophe.

As for the Brits – once regarded as somewhat exotic creatures – by the time of Vanities the portrait of the pissed hack Peter Fallow was all too accurate a stereotype. Toby Young, who recorded his Nineties stint over there in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, fessed up: "Successive waves of freeloading British hacks have poisoned the well."

In The Brontës' Piano, the singer Catherine Bott and pianist Jonathan Cohen visited the sisters' home in Haworth with the idea of using their musical activities to shed light on their work and lives. And in the process they appeared to nail a myth.

The impression left by Mrs Gaskell and other biographers is that the Brontë girls led a glum life in the parsonage. "To small, infantile gaieties they were unaccustomed," Mrs G wrote of their childhood. In fact, looking through their sheet music and the songbook compiled by Anne, they seem to have had their share of fun when they weren't working. "The grim, tragic view isn't borne out," said Bott. "We seem to need them to suffer."

There was a lovely moment between Bott and Cohen as he played the girls' upright grand (which would have cost between a third and a half of their father's annual salary), and she told him he was clearly channelling Emily. "Do you feel you're out on the wild and windy moors"? she sang, in the manner of Kate Bush, after he broke into the intro from "Wuthering Heights". You could hear them both struggling not to giggle. "Sacrilege, isn't it?" said Bott. "We'll be struck down by the ghost of Mrs Gaskell."

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk