In Search of the British Work Ethic, Radio 4
The Vox Project, Radio 4

Finally! Shades of grey in the black-and-white world of Mad Mel

The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips – Mad Mel, as my Independent colleague Matthew Norman refers to her – has gained something of a reputation for her forthright, contrarian views, a sort of Julie Burchill with a brain.

A look at her Spectator blog confirms it: climate-change science is an "hallucinatory propaganda industry", Barack Obama "is attempting to throw Israel under the Islamist bus", Palestinian deprivation is "a boilerplate fantasy" (I've no idea what one of those is, but it sounds good). Melworld is all about certainty, shades of grey banished.

As for the poor, they should do more to help themselves. At least that's what Phillips thought until she went In Search of the British Work Ethic. She went to the North-east – "the former anvil of Britain" – with a big question: do the unemployed not want to work? She called on Wayne, 18, Alexis and their baby, conceived by accident. Wayne does want to work, but only at something he enjoys. "It did rather confirm all my prejudices," she said afterwards. "What came over was a complete absence of any idea of the responsibilities involved in family life."

Then she went to a Prince's Trust meeting in a hut in Blyth and listened to young men who did want to work – "I find it touching to meet lads like this" – and visited Mark, a family man on incapacity benefit. "I feel a bit chastened," she said. "Mark is a seriously sick man. I was so angry at the way he was treated by the health service."

So, shades of grey, finally. "As I've come away from the North-east my head is spinning," she said. "How do you balance compassion with incentives to leave the welfare comfort-blanket behind? What a complicated business this work ethic is. This journey is proving a salutary lesson for journalists like me, who are perhaps too prone to making easy generalisations." Blimey. Soon she'll be trashing the climate-change deniers and declaring that Hamas have had a raw deal. All credit to Phillips, though, for allowing her prejudices to take a bashing.

Clare Balding, not especially known for her forthright, contrarian views, and bearing no resemblance whatsoever to Julie Burchill, began an intriguing three-part exploration of the human voice, The Vox Project, sitting between Sophie Scott, a professor of cognitive science, and an impressionist, Duncan Wisbey, who can reproduce 100 different voices. It was fascinating to hear him explain how he does it while moving seamlessly from Paul McCartney to Michael Caine to Alfred Hitchcock, using every facial muscle available to him.

Scott has spent 20 years working with a family who, owing to a genetic disorder, have three generations with the same speech defect. Remarkably, this has led us back six million years to the point where we split from monkeys and, thanks to a gene mutation, acquired the ability to speak (I suspect I'm oversimplifying here). Speaking, said Professor Scott, is "the most sophisticated thing that any mammal does". Apart from blogging for The Spectator, of course.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?