Birmingham, centre of the known universe

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of the city of Birmingham. "This is my city," asserted Clare Short as she began her Brummie bouquet, A Ladywood Life (R4). Part tourist information officer, part social reformer, she bustled round her constituency and childhood home, professing: "I'm very proud of it, and I love it greatly, and I want to tell people about it." Then she found the person least likely to let her get a word in edgeways. Local historian Carl Chinn gave a breathless, present-tense-spotted history of the city, but years of preaching to the unconverted had obviously afflicted him. He enthused that it had "more canals than Venice, more parks than Paris and more hills than Rome". But Ms Short needed little convincing, and, with political proficiency, she still had the last word: "Birmingham is the centre of the universe, and the most beautiful city there is on this planet." The post of Foreign Secretary is unlikely to be bestowed on her in the future.

The other participants in this socially-minded travelogue were equally committed to their home, but the legacy of the Handsworth riots in the 1980s loomed large over their hopes for this city of incomers. One resident spoke eloquently of the need to appreciate both the rich ethnic brew on their doorstep and the experience of a more distant multicultural melting pot - Sarajevo.

Thankfully, the services of a certain General Jacques Paul Klein should never be needed in Brum. The large, leather-jacketed UN general has been charged with overseeing the handover of Serb-held Eastern Slavonia to Croatia later this year. As Simon Dring's documentary wound its way through The Kingdom of Klein (R4), an inspiring portrait of the tough- talking, soft-centred American emerged. From high-profile negotiations with the Croatian president to the laying of hands on Serb babies in remote village churches, Klein faced his duties - and political limitations - with a mixture of sensitivity, humour, pragmatism and irritable backside- kicking.

Sensitivity and humour were badly needed by the characters in Lee Hall's Gristle (R3). Hall had set himself a hard (dramatic) act to follow: I Luv You Jimmy Spud, which enjoyed a recent R4 repeat, and won prizes galore in last year's radio drama accolades. Gristle unflinchingly represented the emotional and sexual traumas of a soldier, genitally mutilated by a sniper in Northern Ireland, on his return to "normal" life in Tyneside. As Peter's marriage falls apart, his wife begins an affair with the sex- obsessed and misogynistic husband of her best friend, who in turn seeks marital escape as a stripper, and then solace with the more sensitive Peter. Though Hall's play formulaically addressed modern sexual obsessions and hypocrisies, marital non-communication and short-sighted self-interest, it still sounded more like a juicy EastEnders omnibus crossed with a gruesome episode of Casualty.

Musical collaborations were the subject of two documentaries last week. The trials and tribulations of Us3's Work in Progress (R1) were laid bare as they prepared to follow a critically and commercially successful debut album, which featured the TV-friendly "Cantaloop" single. But as the three collaborators faced personal, financial and artistic problems, two dropped out and the one remaining member mused disconsolately about being a "tortured artist". One of his most trying problems had been "walking round with a tune in my head" whose origins he needed to trace for a sample. A "tortured artist" indeed.

The Bollywood film machine churns out ridiculously escapist movies and inescapably jolly soundtracks in equal measure. But, as Mo Dutta found out in Talking Playback (R2), not necessarily at the same time. Not only are the songs sung by playback singers added to the lip-synching actors' scenes, but they rarely have anything whatsoever to do with the plot; and the unseen singers often attract as many fans as the famous faces. Shami Kapoor, a "swashbuckling, hip-twisting James Dean and Elvis Presley" star, spent his life singing "in the style of" Mohammed Rafi, one of the greatest Indian singers. The surreally schizoid nature of his career was evident when Rafi died in 1980, and a passer-by plaintively told Kapoor, "your voice is gone".

The voice of breakfast-time was definitely gone last week. Chris Evans's Monday show did not materialise, and it was left to Kevin Greening to interrupt the continuous music with "due to circumstances beyond our control" announcements. By Tuesday, former breakfast host Simon Mayo was back at the helm, digging up Confessions from his bottom drawer, and gingerly trying to whip up a more gingery atmosphere in the studio. Mark Radcliffe must be grateful for Mayo's banal breach-filling. After his help, Radcliffe won't have much of a hard-act-to-follow problem when he eventually grasps the controls on 17 February.

Sue Gaisford returns next week.

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