Reviewed by Robert Hanks
A conviction runs deep at the BBC that live and spontaneous broadcasting has a special magic that the listeners really appreciate. Contrasting the groping for coherence and blundering into cliche that too often characterises the live and spontaneous Kaleidoscope with the sharper, better-formed opinions that marked it out in its old, pre-recorded days, you may suspect that there's a confusion going on here between creative tension and acute anxiety.

All the same, there's something quite sweet about a vast, unlubricated dinosaur like the BBC maintaining its faith in the warm-blooded and the agile. If nothing else, it has given an opening to Frank Delaney, who has been put out of action by illness over the last couple of years. Now he's bounced back with Revealed Lives (Radio 4, Monday-Friday), a series of extemporised biographies of figures he admires, from Beatrix Potter to Julian of Norwich.

Delaney's model is a series of unscripted talks by Eve Ruggieri, heard on French radio 10 years ago. In her case, according to the publicity material put out by Radio 4, "as the tension built, so did the audience". Presumably there was some hope that this would happen with Delaney. In fact, the talks have been almost entirely devoid of tension, thanks to Delaney's quite astonishing fluency. You get the odd misplaced emphasis, a few redundant sentences here and there; but really, Delaney is so polished that a bit of gentle scuffing is all to the good. As far as content goes, it's nothing remarkable; but as a display of sheer verbal virtuosity, it's pretty astonishing.

Talking of Dame Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century anchoress, she is what Radio 3's talent for self-publicity makes Paula Yates look like. Let's rephrase that: considering the tiny number of people who are remotely interested in Radio 3, the amount of newsprint it contrives to generate is quite enormous. This week it has outdone itself, with major broadsheet coverage for Centurions, the series that profiles the 100 most influential artists of the 20th century. Column yards have been devoted to dissecting the (admittedly inconsistent and implausible) list - a magnificent achievement given that the series goes out at teatime on a Sunday afternoon and is, judging by the first programme, really quite dull. Apart from anything else, this profile of Kafka never touched on the most influential aspect of his work: the fatalistic sensibility we call Kafkaesque, with its grim sense of life hemmed in by incomprehensible rules, arbitrary destiny and self-serving authority colluding to beat us down.

You can overestimate his influence, though. Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea, Radio 2's new drama serial on Wednesday evenings, is one of those wartime yarns that celebrate the hemmed-in life: things may be miserable on board the corvette Compass Rose, but obedience and mucking in make life bearable. There are some silly, stagey moments in Jonathan Ruffle's production, but it's hard not to feel some primitive stirrings in response to this hymn to comradeship and doing your duty. So much for Kafka.

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