Now that's what he calls music


In an Aldershot cafe in the Sixties, Alan Clayson watched two bus conductors spend their entire lunch-hour and a satchelful of silver playing one record, their faces alight with the kind of vacant ecstasy once reserved for a public hanging. The song? "Jack the Ripper", by our longest-serving political leader, Screaming Lord Sutch.

Clayson knows all about Death Discs (R2), which he calls mood music in the jugular vein, one of pop's most enduring and comic styles. We get heated about a film like Crash, but we once merrily sang along to "The Leader of the Pack". It's not surprising we enjoy these things, Clayson opined, when the first song we ever learned was about the decapitation of three disabled rodents. This was high kitsch documentary, funny and informative. I was delighted to learn that, in the sequel to the film The Lion and Albert, the little lad is revived, jeopardising the pounds 9 pay- off, whereupon Pa Ramsbottom sends him back to the zoo to see what the tigers can do.

More gruesome and less amusing was Change of Heart (R4), in which Tom, a fundamentalist Christian, is led astray by the promiscuous Marie. Both are medical students and, when Marie is run over by a drunken driver, Tom freezes her body and performs a heart transplant. Marie returns reluctantly from Paradise, having become far more crazily fundamentalist than he ever was, determined to murder the driver who killed her.

The plot, while enjoyably twisty and original, was full of holes. Also, the dialogue between Marie and her best friend, both supposedly intelligent women, was trivial and unconvincing. When the friend discovered that Marie had been re-animated, she gasped, vacuously, "Womb envy!".

Surgery is threatened and knives noisily sharpened in The Merchant of Venice (R4), but a woman blessed with better lines saves the day. This was a patchy production in which noises off often obliterated the words. It was saved by Warren Mitchell's superb Shylock, by Sam West's ardent Bassanio and by a couple of royal suitors for Portia's hand who hammed up their tiny parts as if baked in cloves and breadcrumbs.

There was more court-room melodrama in The Trials of Marshall Hall (R2), introduced by the thin, weary voice of John Mortimer. A long murder case was compressed into half an hour, narrated in quaintly dated prose: "On a chill spring night in 1894, an emaciated woman, old before her time, approached a drunken man in the Euston Road..." A very posh Tom Baker, old before his time, played the great advocate with lofty disdain. Richer in ironic parody than emotional tension, it made entertaining, if undemanding listening.

A brief pause now to catch a carp. Or not. Alas, Fishing for Doubters (WS) failed to convert me. Yes, of course Dan Shepherd usually gets one. We believe him, and we understand how he loves to loll on a grassy bank by a sunlit lake and dream of Hemingway and Isaac Walton and of, one day, ensnaring the vast, shadowy creature which has just wriggled off his hook. It was that long, you know, and probably weighed, oh, 50 pounds?

Back to the real world and Monday mornings, when, thank goodness, Fergal Keane's new series has replaced the interminable, intolerably tedious memoirs of Roy Hattersley. No Man Is An Island (R4) began with a measured, affectionate, unsentimental look at Ireland, as a prelude to this great correspendent's further talks about ethnic hatred. It promises to be compulsory listening.

Another new four-parter, to which I hope to return, is Liz Lochhead's wonderfully enjoyable celebration of women's magazines. She has been In the Grip of the Glossies (R4) since before she could read, and can still recite the colour combinations recommended by Women's Weekly for a knitted bobble-hat: salmon-and-donkey, brick-and-lemon, bottle-and-duck-egg...

Finally, I'm thinking of offering the chance of writing this column to anyone prepared to make a large donation to BBC Children In Need. Go on, you've always said you'd do it better than I do. And when considering your bid, remember that, for the privilege of producing Jimmy Young (R2) for one day, Robert Knapman of Devon has paid pounds 7,100.

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