But think of the wild west in terms of a writer and the name you'll ne'er forget is Zane Grey, who created the ideal of the brawny pioneer - generous, impulsive, brave and tough as rawhide. Martin Wainwright went to the barren mountains of South Utah in search of Novel America (R4) this week and found himself on the back of a pony, roping a steer. This man's last heroic radio trek took him to hairdressers' salons and boot fairs in a Reliant Robin: no wonder he sounded nervous. But he did it. The animal bellowed like a charging elephant, but the unlikely cowboy even managed to brand it - we heard the sizzle.
Like Wainwright himself, Zane Grey grew to fit the part. He started as a little dentist christened, embarrassingly, Pearl, but he dropped the name and developed the chutzpa. His son, living out another American dream with a yard, a deck and a pool near Los Angeles, said that it was the landscape that was "empowerful". As Wainwright described it, we heard the empowering. In the great, bare, stripey mountains, Zane Grey became a monstrous best-seller and an impressive philanderer. What will the experience have done to its latest intrepid visitor? He sounded a little taller as he rode towards the sunset, accompanied by a single twanging guitar-string.
Two more English travellers recorded their exotic adventures in Bahia and Beyond (R3). Glyn Maxwell and Simon Armitage had a great hit when they went to Iceland in the steps of Auden and MacNeice recently and these programmes followed the same format. Their conversation is frivolous and jocular, more Laurel and Hardy than Johnson and Boswell, but every so often their voices develop a pay-attention-now solemnity as one of them recites the day's poetic offering. The poems are, generally, terrific, and the poets observe and record the raucous kaleidoscope of Brazilian life with acutely sensitive antennae. It's almost as good as going there yourself. Maybe better.
It's been a good week for armchair travelling. Songs from a Country Called Spain (R3) took us to a Mallorca unimagined by the tourist, where a local girl was singing for the summer patronal festival of her village. Maria del Mar Bonnet was electrifying as she blasted out defiant traditional songs, full of passionate yearning, learned at her mother's knee and so heady that they were forbidden by Franco. Alison Bell's alert production took us right inside the little village church, filled to the rafters with a rapturous audience of all ages.
After a brief blip, Document (R4) produced another winner, Chocolate Soldier From the USA, which used a one-time cause celebre to illustrate injustices suffered by black soldiers in the American army. Leroy Henry, a GI stationed near Bath, was sentenced to death for rape in June 1944 - although rape was not a capital offence in England and his trial had been swift and summary. He was saved by a letter to Eisenhower (a little preoccupied with D-Day at the time), signed by 33,000 outraged petitioners, one of whom spoke on this sobering, instructive programme. Henry's accuser, he said carefully, was well-known locally as a loose woman ... Henry survived, became a priest and died in the Seventies in his home town of St Louis.
Priests and what used to be called loose women were only two ingredients in the explosive mix stirred up by two R4 live programmes this week. Cardinal Winning's offer to help pregnant women avoid abortion came just in time for both, and they leapt on it. The Moral Maze set about the subject with all its prejudices at full throttle. Never was Hugo Gryn more missed than in this maddening display of inflated egotism and offensive arrogance.
But, for once, the loathsome David Starkey was stumped. Dr Margaret White is not in favour of abortion. Starkey snarled that her nice motherly voice didn't stop him realising she was a hypocrite, and was rebuked by Michael Burke. "I don't mind," she remarked placidly, "from some people it's an honour to be abused." Starkey started a familiar tirade against Cath- olics and she stopped him dead. She isn't one. Her beliefs come from her medical training: a doctor treating a pregnant woman has two patients, mother and child. Also, a doctor promises not to kill. It was the first time this bunch of pompous pundits had stumbled across naked morality for months. Starkey's only recourse was to wonder, with typical insensitivity, why women who suffer miscarriages don't hold Requiem Masses.
Those who decided to Call Nick Ross on the same subject were given a fairer hearing, though it made for harrowing listening. One woman could scarcely speak for the grief she still feels for the child she aborted 10 years ago; a counsellor told of years spent helping women in this sad condition. On the other hand, a third woman described her hideous, near- fatal back-street abortion and a fourth said that not having an abortion had cost her her youth - though she didn't wish that her children had never been born. One caller simply suggested that we should remember the usefulness of the little word no.
Ross has announced his imminent departure from this programme at a point when he is handling it better than ever before. He picked a careful, attentive way through all this testimony and opinion, and produced the only sensible conclusion available to him, that this is an emotional and complex subject that does not lend itself to some of the simplicities that are aimed at it. David Starkey, please take note.Reuse content