Radio: Moving in Mysterious Ways

This Column is about heroes. It is not really about Terry Wogan (R2), though as I'm feeling slightly ashamed of being unkind about his singing for charity last week, here's a bouquet for him: he is unparalleled amongst breakfast presenters for his gift of stepping into his solitary listener's life, eg, "The Bishop of Southwark will be here soon, so I want you to smarten yourself up a bit: he's fully dressed ..."

Nor is it about the clergy in general. I had thought they might be heroes - I've known some who are - but Libby Purvis found few to admire in the latest instalment of Mysterious Ways (R4) - apart from scholarly types, like Gilbert White. Breezily assessing a thousand years of priests, she found an expert who dismissed the savage age of religious persecution following the Reformation as "a period of little funny, sad anecdotes", and another to define the probably disturbed - certainly disturbing - Rev Charles Kingsley as a "pioneer in social tolerance". Gosh. Or mark this, and by golly, as she is given to saying.

But perhaps the above is unfair, too. Purvis has set herself a nearly impossible task in this great, bulging laundry-bag of a millennial series, ripe with unsavoury items of dirty linen. Still, it would have been interesting if she had grasped the nettle and tackled the nature of religious vocation - perhaps with reference to Chaucer's truly heroic poor parson, if she wanted literary references - instead of viewing the Church as a career suitable, as Lord Chesterfield wrote, for "a good, dull and decent boy". She did just touch on the possibility of divine inspiration at the end, when a group of theological students spoke movingly, encouragingly, about their hope for a shining future. Maybe she has it in mind for future episodes.

Who Sings the Hero? (R4), of its nature, gets closer to the ideal. The new series began with the story of the French teacher whose life was taken over for two days in 1993 by a gunman who wired up her infant classroom with dynamite and held the children to ransom. Laurence Dreyfus - played by Adjoa Andoh - had heroism thrust upon her. Her really brave moment came after the gunman had allowed her out of the room - and she had seen her husband and cuddled her own baby - whereupon she chose to go back to the frightened children, and to the ghastly business of having to choose which should be released in exchange for each of their persecutor's demands.

The only difficulty with this dramatisation was in finding sympathy with the children: they clearly chose some very young performers, perhaps too young. Surely French children don't learn that dreary dirge about the wheels on the bus going round and round? Even "Frere Jacques" would have been better: at least they could have done it as a canon. Anyway, their endless repetition of the worst hymn to public transport ever penned would have driven a saint to infanticide, let alone a psychotic gunman.

Whoops, we've reached saints. Our sister paper revels in them, reminding us daily of those whose feast-day it is: recently we've had St Bean, St Genesius the Comedian and St Chef, and if anyone can throw any light on them, please do. However, in view of the season, there's an obviously topical one to consider - but Who Was St Nicholas? This question was posed by a R3 interval item on Friday. His feast-day, yesterday, is widely celebrated in a pre-Christmas bonanza of present-giving across Europe, but he'll be back in three weeks in his much more recent incarnation as Santa Claus. Apparently, he is only dressed in red and white since being marketed by Coca-Cola, with the slogan "Thirst knows no season".

The facts are pretty thin. He died on 6 December 350, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. At the Council of Nicaea, in 325, he is said to have hit a dissenting priest. He is the patron of almost everyone, including coopers, boys, Moscow-and-all-Russia, sailors, fishermen, pawnbrokers, brewers, bakers, Aberdeen, and the wronged losers of law-suits. And he is said to have performed some pretty impressive miracles, including a surprisingly topical one of doing battle with the goddess Diana.

None of them, however, matches up to the Christmas round. Gill Pyrah's richly enjoyable feature ended with an analysis of that annual trip which, at a conservative estimate, covers 75 million miles at 3,000 times the speed of sound. He'd be instantly vaporised, travelling like that, so it looks as if the rest of us will have to deputise, again.

The image of the hero is growing fuzzy: let's go back to Richard Dyer's excellent, spirited defence of melodrama, Unhand Me, Rogue! (R4). At one time, a night at the theatre involved magnificent spectacle - and beer, threepenny pies (lubricated by a gravy-vendor), rotten tomatoes, for the throwing of, and handkerchiefs at a penny a time. The valiant hero was introduced by a resounding trumpet. How sad that, as Will Rogers wrote, "heroing is one of the shortest-lived professions there is".

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

    £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

    Recruitment Genius: Laser Games Supervisor

    £14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive / Manager

    £22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PPC Executive/Manager is requ...

    Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WMS Operations

    £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WM...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness