RADIO : Suffer the little children
Sunday 15 December 1996
Carol Bellamy is the executive director of the UN International Children's Emergency Fund, 50 years old on Wednesday. She talked of Unicef's mine- awareness campaign in an edition of Outlook (WS) entirely given over to the anniversary. Unicef was started to help children displaced, traumatised and orphaned after the Second World War. Subsequently, it grew into a multifaceted force for good, providing inoculation and education, attacking child exploitation and, latterly, working for the demobilisation of child soldiers. For, with fearful symmetry, the fate of children caught up in war is again top priority with Unicef.
Barbara Myers, the gentle, intelligent voice of Outlook, introduced half an hour packed with information, which left the listener humbled by the tireless courage of those who work to protect the world's children. Today is International Children's Day of Broadcasting, when children make their own programmes, here and all over the world.
The butterfly landmines are used in Bosnia, and it was from Mostar that a 14-year-old called Tajma spoke to Myers. She helps on a regular Sunday- morning radio show called Children First, in which children tell of their own experiences of war. As the mother of a 14-year-old who is happily innocent of such sorrow, I was profoundly impressed.
On Monday, Scott Chisholm, easily the best of Talk Radio's presenters, tackled a similar topic. Hampered, as always, by the unpredictable lunacy of his callers, he nevertheless put forward a good case for taking seriously the Unicef-sponsored report on Effective Government Structures for Children, as a necessary measure world-wide.
For we cannot afford complacency, even here, as witness Lesley Whiteley's play I Should Be So Lucky (R4). Billed as a comedy, it is about a girl, nurtured on the unreal fantasies of Australian soaps, who dreams of being Kylie Minogue. But she lives on a St Helen's estate where reality is brutal. She grows up bright as a daffodil, but she withers to the point of suicide in a violent wasteland of unemployment, random sex, inconvenient pregnancy, enforced abortion and ultimate despair - redeemed only by the offer of bar work in a karaoke club. Comedy? In its savage depiction of the contemporary hell where youth and laughter go, I found it bleak beyond tragedy.
Off now to Labrador, the place a French explorer called the land God gave to Cain, where the Innu people live in the Present Tense (R3), exactly as they have lived for centuries. They are the last survivors of the once- vast Algonquin nation and they have little truck with contemporary Canadian society. Pien Penashue and his family survive harsh winters by hunting and fishing, entertaining each other in their warm hide tent with legends of bears and caribou. James Wilson visit- ed them for the first of what promises to be an extraordinary series about North America's last aborigines. I suppose it is admirable that they survive in nomadic near-starvation through eight months of deep snow a year, but it made me grateful for central heating and supermarkets.
Time to warm up, and take the A train to Harlem, where Ferdinand Dennis found Something to Write Home About (R4). This was a spirited piece: the spirit rules in Harlem, where churches, undertakers and liquor stores abound. It boasts the grandest houses on the whole island of Manhattan, and probably the worst services, but the vigour of the place is irresistible. Dennis took us to the Apollo Theatre, to the elegant Strivers' Row, and to an Abyssinian Baptist church, where the preacher described his vision of a drug-free, crime-free, sickness-free city. "I am a merchant of hope," he declaimed, and his choir sang a thunderous Alleluia.
Fats Waller called himself Harlem's harmful armful. His splendid "Ain't Misbehavin' ", ending with a huge cackling guffaw, was the choice of an impressive- ly knowledgeable Anna Ford, the guest of George Melly on Monday (R2), a great half hour of jazz, discussed and relished by enthusiasts.
Melly's programme followed an equally excellent hour of trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton (R2) playing jazz records, but Humph is possibly better-known as the world-weary chairman of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (R4). It is agonising to write that this weekend's will be the last edition of that funniest of all radio shows, at least as we have known it. On Wednesday's John Inverdale Nationwide (R5), I just caught Jonathan James Moore, the head of Light Entertainment, saying "Willie will be irreplaceable" and realised, with a shock of grief, that Willie Rushton was dead.
Gradually, all evening, his friends sought words to describe this gorgeous man ... jolly, robust, talented, energetic, inventive, surreal, animated, rumbustious, Falstaffian. Yes, all that and more: he had a deliberate innocence about him, a resolute determination not to be cast down. The best invitation I ever had was to lunch with the I'm Sorry... team, when Willie entertained us until we were helpless with laughter. Isabel Hilton on The World Tonight (R4) solemnly announced that entertainers and satirists were mourning his death. Oh no, Isabel, we are all diminished by it.
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