Recycled Radio, Radio 4, Monday
Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle, Radio 4, Tuesday

Welcome to Hancock's half-minute (and other utter failures)

The BBC, aware of the natural resources it's sitting on, is never knowingly undersold in the business of archive-raiding. The likes of Archive on 4 do it in a conventional manner, while the fantastic Listen Against takes a more oddball approach. With its surreal juxtaposition of bits culled from the corporation library, Recycled Radio is in the latter camp: at times it sounded like something on Resonance FM.

The theme for the series opener was failure, and it began with Nigel Pargetter's all-too rapid descent from the roof of Lower Loxley Hall in The Archers, followed by a painful clip of a Dale Winton quiz show. The question was where the dodo lived and died: Madagascar or Mauritius? The contestant said he'd read all about it mugging up on the way to the show: he knew this one. "Madagascar." You can guess the rest. David Attenborough then piped up to explain that "dodo" is Portuguese for "stupid".

Sometimes the thematic connections seemed tangential, but it didn't matter. The next passage featured a betrayed wife being sensitively interviewed, intercut with Bill Clinton saying "I did not have sex with that woman". Then Clinton's subsequent apology was intercut with Sheila Hancock holding forth on Just a Minute on the subject of "hope over experience".

Strange, random phrases were repeated: a posh old voice counselling, "if you buy stocks, buy them with your own money", while other elements included Sir Charles Wright talking about finding the bodies of Captain Scott and his men frozen in their sleeping bags, and Nick Leeson talking about the daily losses he made at Barings, "towards the end it could have been a hundred million". There was England 1 Germany 4 at the 2010 World Cup (Alan Parry: "It's not going well"); and Attenborough again, having dispensed with the dodo, polishing off the great auk. It ended on George W Bush, in what must have been his "mission accomplished" speech, saying what a great thing the allies did in Iraq ...

There was no room for failure in the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who published his first Tarzan story 100 years ago. As Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle recounted, he was the first author to incorporate himself and the first to trademark his hero: there was Tarzan gasoline, Tarzan suntan lotion, Tarzan vitamins.

There were some nice details, like the fact that Burroughs commuted on horseback, and that the original MGM Tarzan cry was put together by sound engineers, adding to Johnny Weissmuller's yodel the howl of a hyena, the growl of a dog, the bleat of a camel and the pick of a violin's G string. Burroughs hated the films because Tarzan didn't become civilised, unlike in the novels, where he combines the life of an African rancher with taking up a seat in the Lords.

A century on, the man in the leopard-print trunks is still going strong. The programme's presenter, John Waite, met the author Andy Briggs, who's writing a modern Tarzan novel in which he's recast as an eco-warrior, with Jane the daughter of a dastardly illegal logger. And there's a slew of Hollywood films in the pipeline. We haven't seen the last of the noble savage.

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