Radio: A pate worse than death

All day the follicularly challenged were coming out, as fast as their hair
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Eight million men in Britain are balding. One of them lives in Yorkshire. On Tuesday he rang that nice Debbie Thrower (R2) to ask her about his condition: "Cun y'ear me?" he boomed. "Only U've gudda bud coald and U'm brawd Yawkshire." She could; we all could. We were glad he rang, really. The Heads Up campaign had thrown up some pretty weird types, and a stentorian, catarrhal Yorkshireman made a bracing change.

Not that Debbie and her dermatologist guest could do much to help him. R2's bold initiative to vanquish the despondency caused by hair loss ploughed a rich and risible seam of the inane and the despairing. All day on Tuesday the follicularly challenged were coming out, as fast as their hair: "I'm like a moulting cat," mewed one. Another's wife had left him because he'd become a spam-head, but weep not for him: things are looking up. Now: "I have to shave once a week." Sorry, but I'm getting muddled. Is this good or bad? Shave what, exactly? Anyway, are you the one who anointed your pate with Balti mix, or Marmite, or budgie-seed? Or do you owe your, um, green shoots to the application of cows' saliva and goose-dung?

My favourite baldy was Tony, a happy man - they didn't give his surname, but I'd guess it wasn't Blair. He takes comfort from the fact that his children's nits ignore him: they'd get agoraphobia on his head. Sadly, in spite of all this cranial concentration, the best you can do about most baldness is disguise it. Rumour has it that several of R2's presenters are already adorned with other people's hair, but our Debbie is neatly thatched. Blithely she played an Elton John song - now there's a man who sorted himself out without recourse to the R2 Helpline.

Brian Redhead had no such problems. A man whose name and curly auburn appearance were as one, he seemed at first sight like a walking garden gnome to his fellow Today presenter John Timpson. Yet the cuddly aura was rapidly dispelled by Michael Bywater in Radio Lives - The Real Life of Brian (R4). He was, by this lop-sided account, an arrogant, self-important charlatan. He died too suddenly, too recently to suffer such cruel treatment. When Nicholas Win- terton spoke fondly of him, this was presented as a dissenting view. In vain did his daughter try to defend him: virtually his every deed was treated as self-advertisement, even his search for consolation after the death of his son. There was no mention of one of the last broadcasts he made, the inspiring Gerald Priestland Mem- orial Lecture, through which his curiosity and fierce intelligence blazed like a blow-torch.

Safely beyond living memory, the reputation of the novelist Ouida was unwrapped and relished by a cheery Sarah Dunant, sipping champagne across from Broadcasting House in the newly refurbished Langham Hotel. Ouida had a huge nose, reckoned to be even larger than George Eliot's. She wore her abundant hair loose, spent up to pounds 100 a month on cut flowers and, from the age of 26, entertained regiments of guardsmen in her Langham suite. This was unusual behaviour in the 1860s, but then she was one of the Sensational Women (R4) Dunant is celebrating.

Ouida wrote novels of sensuous romance: everybody read them, though most denied it. The most popular, Under Two Flags, told of the love between the languid, nonchalant Bertie and the exotic, independent Cigarette, who met in the French Foreign Legion and whiled away nights of glimmering magic under the desert stars. At that time Ouida hadn't gone further east than Boulogne, but eventually she left the Langham for a villa in Florence where she lingered on into her sixties, living on tea and toast and drifting about in grubby white muslin, followed by a train of pampered dogs. Maeve Binchy lent enthusiastic support for this behaviour: Ouida took up a style, she said, and ran with it all the way.

Another novelist was Dreaming of Rivers (R3) on Tuesday. She is Ahdaf Soueif, author of In the Eye of the Sun, a huge novel about a family living in the Nile Delta. It sounded surprisingly accessible, perhaps because Soueif's characters have such wide provenance, drawing on Lorca, Fielding, Grimm, Dickens and even Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps the most interesting part of this programme came when Soueif explained the difficulties of translating Arabic, with all its subtle resonances and shades of meaning, into English: suddenly, the language of Shakespeare seemed clumsy and blunt.

Leslie Forbes slips easily between English and French as she travels ever deeper into gastronomic France, sampling Great French Dishes (R3). This woman really knows how to enjoy herself, and how to communicate her delight. This week she was in Castel- naudary, where the solemn Brotherhood of Cassoulet, dressed in warm brown-velvet robes and caps, protect the integrity (and ape the appearance) of their Great Dish. It was apparently created when the town was besieged by the English and the inhabitants pooled all their food - mainly pork, beans and duck - in one vast pot. They wolfed it down, let rip at the invaders and won the day, if not the whole Hundred Years' War.

Gorged and sated on this rich Gascon fare, Forbes wondered how such a heroic dish could survive the age of the lean and the swift. She asked a couple of local teenagers. One, predictably, said she preferred McDonald's; the other, with supreme indifference, shrugged that McDonald's and the glorious cassoulet were both the same to her. Alack.

France in the 18th century was home to Beaumarchais (R4), the sublimely witty playwright to whom we owe the plots of the Figaro operas. In the first episode of Craig Warner's ebullient drama, the boisterous bachelor watchminder became a widowed, titled, impoverished court favourite. He seemed untroubled about hair-loss. I wonder, would Jimmy Young consider sporting a full-bottomed wig?

Read Michael Bywater on Brian Redhead, in the main paper.

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