You have to admit it. Some things are better on telly. However bravely, rapidly - even lyrically - John Inverdale and his crew at Wimbledon 97 (R5) talk, the crowd drowns them before they can possibly utter " ... and-Henman-puts-it-away-with-a-magnificent-cross-court-smash-and-it's- deuce!". The listener's there already: the initial phwang-thuck and the rapturous delight or anguished groan says it all. If there's a rally, the commentary is still galloping like a riderless horse when the players are already eating bananas. There's a desperate heroism about it, but it's not really like watching it.

It was different with Hong Kong. Although radio couldn't show us the anguished angle of Prince Charles's haunted eyebrows, or the dropped chin of the emotional Patten, what it could - and did - do was more thoughtful: it listened to people.

For weeks now, Hong Kong - The Closing Year (R4) has been shadowing the thoughts of the colony's residents - society hostesses, anxious officials, fidgety old China hands - and learning how it felt to be anticipating this uniquely predictable event, with its uncomfortably unpredictable consequences. And the admirable Julian Pettifer for once drew a long straw, sailing into the sunset on SS Oriana, the Last Boat Home (R4), a glorious, floating, anachronistic microcosm of Empire, in the company of departing civil servants whose professional ancestors set off so hopefully, long ago, on a slow boat to China.

There was a classic R4 piece of lateral thinking in The Other Hong Kong (R4), a sensitive, dramatised documentary about the district of Wei Hai Wei. This imperial backwater was returned to the Chinese in 1930 and is now virtually forgotten, but it was once the beloved home of its last commissioner, the gentle star of the programme, Reginald Johnston. But the most ambitious effort came from Matthew Solon, who wrote The Hong Kong Holding Company (R4), and then performed in it as a black-hearted, white-skinned villain.

This was a two-part play about the Cheung family, divided by some mysterious ancient crime and now living half in London, half in Hong Kong. A sinuous plot led the listener into the intricate lives of the warring cousins, and ended, dramatically, as the fireworks began, live, in the rainy skies above the New Territories. This unusual formula really worked, succeeding in conveying the edgy and immediate tensions of families who belong to neither the colony which gave them birth nor the alien motherland.

And, also on the fateful day itself, Today (R4) ended with Fergal Keane and his famous son Daniel, now 16 months old, pottering amongst the rough- hewn tombstones of young soldiers who died in the 1941 battle for Hong Kong. Fergal can't go wrong when he's Keaning and, reliably, he offered an elegiac way to face the real sadness of such sacrifice, made in honour of the muddled grandeur that was imperialism.

He reminded us of the courage of the early colonisers who built this extraordinary city, and he ended with lines which, unfortunately, he didn't identify: "Men are we," he quoted, "and must grieve, when even the shade of that which was once great has passed away." I'm not sure such sentiments stand up to close inspection, but they were at least as appropriate as any other uttered that day.

Now, with unashamed bathos, let me remind you that the next day, Tuesday, was National Kissing Day. Brian Hayes marked it on The Magazine (R5) by talking to three token Welsh people - the Tafia - who belong to an organisation called SWS. That apparently stands for Social, Welsh, and Sexy. There was a lot of chat about the perceived English fear of people who speak two tongues and then we were informed that, ho ho, sws is also the Welsh word for kiss "so it's rather tongue in cheek". Good heavens, is that what the Welsh mean by bilingualism?

There was lot more in the way of bilabial, ingressive, plosive and continuant osculation that evening, too, when R2 undertook an in-depth investigation of the kiss in Pucker Up. The squishy-squelchy sound of smackers in old films was made by slowly removing a rubber cup from a moistened glass surface (nice), but the real thing came out of this pretty well, despite the, er, gobsmacking fact that each mouth contains roughly 150 viruses and bacteria.

A silly American woman said that kissing uses the same muscles as suckling (I think she meant sucking) and it was rather creepy to hear Neil Kinnock drool over kissing - sorry swssing - "lovely, lovely babies", but once out of nappies, things improved. A Yorkshireman boasted happily that he'd decided to start kissing his parents when he was in his twenties, apparently to the delight of all concerned, and a decidedly appealing case was made for the re-introduction of hand-kissing.

In fact this was a much better programme than I'm making it sound, particularly in its instructive description of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the most valuable kiss you can ever give. And it was charming to hear a kindly agony uncle sympathising with the physical complexity of the manoeuvre when undertaken by a teenage boy, terrified that the girl might realise it was his first time.

Deeper than any kiss however French, and Better Than Sex (R4) was Howard Jacobson's encounter with a pelican on Kangaroo Island, or so he said. He described it as "looking into the face of God". I met a pelican in similar circumstances in January, but I couldn't have thrust an arm down its beak as he did, even if they they'd given me the brachial equivalent of waders. Its breath was worse than Billingsgate after a hot Bank Holiday.

Comments