How the Mighty Have Fallen, Radio 4
In Living Memory, Radio 4
Tom Ravenscroft, 6 Music

Dignity for the fuller figure? Fat chance

We've got ourselves into a right old mess about body size. Too fat, too thin, bingo wings, cellulite, sticky-out ribs, plus-size models, does my bum look big in this? Things used to be simpler: put the freaks on show. With Slim Jim and Big Bertha, who appeared at Coney Island into the 1990s, you got both ends of the body-mass spectrum.

In the first of four episodes of How the Mighty Have Fallen, a history of obesity, Hilary Jones investigated the sideshow denizens of old, such as 52-stone Daniel Lambert, who wrestled a bear and won, and The Fat Boy of Peckham, for whom Croydon made its trams bigger, and Betty, who was 531lb (45st) but could still do the splits. There was a more serious bent to the programme, about voyeurism and stigma, but the entertainment value lay in the stories: the 70st Welshman G Hopkins, for example, was exhibited alongside prize pigs. He fell off his chair on to a sow and her piglets, killing the lot.

Lardy types, then and now, would probably avoid ostrich meat – too lean. Which may have prevented them falling victim to the great ostrich bubble of the 1990s, when hitherto sensible types sank their savings into a breeding scheme that promised 50 to 70 per cent annual profits. Jolyon Jenkins's account in In Living Memory (now on its 12th series), began with "The Prince of Darkness", a specimen belonging to William Collard, one of the scam's victims (as a farmer, not an investor). "It'll rip you to shreds – disembowel you," Collard told Jenkins – which is roughly what happened to the investors.

It turned out to be a pyramid scheme, with the cash ending up in the offshore accounts of the three principal perpetrators, a veteran conman, a second-hand car dealer, and a failed video-store owner. The extraordinary thing was how many were taken in, among them Derek Bradley, a former bank manager who admitted that if anyone had come to him wanting a loan to invest in the scheme he'd have sent them packing. "It wasn't one of my best decisions," he added.

Collard, we were relieved to hear, bounced back, turning his hand to other species. "Alpaca, wallabies, raccoons, otters, lynx, elk," he told Jenkins. "There was a big boom on the elk – the Koreans were buying the horns as an aphrodisiac."

I'd been meaning to check up on Tom Ravenscroft, who joined 6 Music in June and for the past week has been standing in for Gideon Coe. Is he a worthy successor to his dad, John Peel? Yes, I know, it's pointless comparing the two. So here goes: he has the same laid-back delivery, though not quite as lugubrious. There's the same lack of gush and the same haphazard approach: a typical intro was: "Now we have – what do we have? – oh, we have this." In the absence of schmaltz, and the presence of much good music, the Peel flame still burns.

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