Not in front of the children


CALL ME a prude, but this week I've had enough. No, I don't mean the obscenities in Howard Barker's Victory (R3), of which more later. I mean, of all things, Radio 2.

It has rugby-tackled geriatric sex. The zealous Social Action team, dedicated to revitalising an ageing audience, has done great work in the past, but there is a limit, to both energy and taste - or there was. Few people care to imagine even their parents in flagrante, but when it comes to their grandparents' erotic practices, well, for one listener at least, it was taking frankness too far. And it's hard to believe that many pensioners could have listened without terminal embarrassment.

With her usual gym-mistress heartiness and appalling head-cold, Claire Rayner egged them on. And all day Honor Blackman introduced salacious titbits from "ordinary" people's bedrooms, whispering through a granite grin. A widow in her eighties boasted of her orgasms and a previously impotent man described the vacuum device that allowed him to function astonishingly: "I mean, blow me, I can remember when it was all over in a few minutes, but now we can go on for hours."

The programme was called Affairs of the Heart, but that organ played second fiddle to the prostate. Doubtless, the idea was benign: indeed the helpline had 2,000 anxious calls on the first day, but how many of them were from people starting to panic that they should abandon Scrabble for wild and lustful romps? It could be quite dangerous.

An impudent rider to all this came when Adrian Mourby revealed Whatever Happened to the Big Bad Wolf? (R4), in which Leslie Phillips, as the eponymous villain of many a fairy tale, justified tying up Red Riding Hood's Granny by suggesting that the old girl was a bit of a goer and rather enjoyed these, ahem, adult pastimes. His is the authentic voice of the raffish roue, all saucy chortles and wounded plausibility. Surrounded by R4 standard sounds, like the urgent music of File on Four and a testy John Humphrys, this was a gorgeously silly squib - and, after all, it was only a story. Even the wolf himself didn't really believe in the S&M granny.

So to Victory. R3 was bracing itself for a jammed switchboard from an outraged audience, but didn't get a single call. Indeed, after the first shock, the foul language lost impact with repetition. The play starred the magnificent Juliet Stevenson as the widow Bradshaw, whose husband's body had been dug up for public display by henchmen of the restored Charles II. She was unpredictable, fierce and unflinching, however disgusting things became. And they did. With its utterly unromantic - and historically dubious - view of the far-from-merry monarch, and black message of greed and disgust, the play outstripped its own vocabulary in inventive degradation. It was a relief to switch off the imagination.

The word Bradshaw was once synonymous with a railway handbook: a brand- new naughty word. Misprints in the current timetable provoked inventive brilliance from Dave Quantick on Loose Ends (R4): confused train-spotters mingled with the lovers whose Brief Encounter was spun out unendurably by the non-arrival of the train, while Auden's Night Mail became derailed.

The week's other preoccupation was with metrication. The punsters have had fun with killer-grams and mega-hurts, but I was caught out by some serious-sounding instructions on Classic FM. Alan Mann declared that, by law, things would have to change on his Sunday programme. He could no longer announce records, as an ounce was a forbidden measure: the nearest equivalent was a telegram, so he'd use that. We should have the information by Monday.

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