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
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea