Yodel-Ay-Ee-Ooo: Arthur Smith and the Global Yodel, Radio 2
Great Lives, Radio 4

There's more to yodelling than a lonely goatherd

Yodelling is an art form to split opinion as surely as it splits ears.

Witness the recent case of R'n'B lothario R Kelly: when Kelly employed the ululation in a single last year, fans were nonplussed. "Yodelling is something you can do just to have fun," he felt compelled to explain. "I'm trying to take my music some place else, and it's respecting people that yodel, as well."

In truth, yodelling probably could have done without the respect of the man responsible for "I Like the Crotch on You". Last week, however, it found another champion in the veteran comic Arthur Smith. In Yodel-Ay-Ee-Ooo: Arthur Smith and the Global Yodel, Smith was out to affirm the yodel's resounding cultural and historical impact, from its Roman origins to its appropriation by American blues musicians, German soft-porn directors, and Shakira. It's been a means of animal herding, an instrument of racial integration, an expression of orgasmic pleasure and a favourite of the Queen Mum.

In this delightful curio of a documentary, Smith struck just the right balance between intellectual curiosity and droll knowingness. I particularly liked the case of the homesick 17th-century Swiss mercenaries supposedly "dying of nostalgia" on hearing their favourite Alpine trills. After clips of such yodelling virtuosos as Jimmie Rodgers, even this agnostic found himself warming to Smith's claim that there was "something life-affirming" in these strangulated vowels. That is, until Smith's own attempt, which evoked a zombie donkey. This is no place for the apostles of Gareth Malone.

After Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy and BBC 4's Lennon Naked, you might think we need another excavation of John Lennon's life story like we need a new Ringo Starr LP. But what this week's series opener of Great Lives lacked in novelty, it made up for in its refreshing irreverence. So while the journalist and nominator John Harris waxed lyrical about Lennon's position as a cultural and social pioneer, he punctured the mythologising of him as the "embodiment of authenticity" and waspishly decried his hero's political sloganeering as "pretty abjectly awful". But that was nothing compared with the dismissal by the host, Matthew Parris, of the Beatles' move into psychedelia as "complete crap ... the music didn't mean anything". Now that's what I call muso-baiting.

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