Radio: New Year? Not on the wireless, it wasn't

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The year was ending - and didn't the airwaves know it. I was near to contempt for the length of some stations' turgid lists of the year's most popular songs. On Radio 1, on New Year's Eve, you could have been suffocated by more than nine hours of 1997's music - though Pete Tong's Eclectic Selection offered merciful respite from the loop-tape of Gary Barlow, Peter Andre, Natalie Imbruglia and Elton John. But even ennoblement didn't guarantee Elton top rank in Virgin's list of 500. "Candle in the Wind (1997)", far-and-away the best-selling single ever, only made No 4 - odd, given Virgin's notoriously middle-of-the-road audience. It didn't let up in 1998 either: the next day, all the stations were still stuck in the "round-up" groove. Change the script for next year, programmers.

One reprise of some class was The Politician, the Actress and the Bishop (R5). Matthew Parris played confessor to the casualties of the "Back to Basics" campaign of the last government (there were eight in three months). The fallen included Piers Merchant and Tim Yeo. Hearing the seasoned Parris whisper a sympathetic "Bastards!" and "Wow!" when listening to Julia Stent - who bore the married Yeo a daughter - was, as the actress has been reputed to say to the bishop, a little difficult to swallow.

The 34-year-old solicitor was talking publicly for the first time since the news had broken of her affair with Yeo, but this reviewer wasn't particularly moved by her disclaimers. Parris returned with Merchant to the bench where he had been caught on camera snogging Anna Cox. She was a "smoking bimbo" according to the whips, but Merchant still saw her as "the keen, young researcher who had been helping him with his work". A plague was suggested, but it would all have been a lot simpler if Merchant had listened to the advice of John Major's press secretary, Sheila Gunn: "Just remember there's a camera behind every bush." Then the poor PM wouldn't have been moved to sit sadly shaking his head over the breakfast papers intoning, "Why do people do these things. Why during an election kiss young girls in the park?" Why indeed. I look forward to the next in the series where a miscreant is heard to yell, "I'm the knicker vicar of North Yorkshire."

Members of a different category altogether were being discussed over on Radio 3 where Debussy and Strauss were thrust aside briefly for Turns of the Century, an eight-part series. On Thursday it featured Paul Merton - or Paul Martin as he was christened. (Why is Merton a good showbiz name?) It's doubtless all part of Nicholas Kenyon's higher plan - but it was surprising to encounter penises on R3, usually the territory for less earthy subjects. Merton is the son of a Parsons Green train driver and nurse and was compared by the presenter, Russell Davies, to Tony Hancock - but the pomposity was apparently missing. Perhaps not according to his ex-wife, the comedian Caroline Quentin, who didn't even get a mention in this woefully sparse collection of material - though she managed to complete an entire West End run with him in the Live Bed Show.

Stuffed with sketches from his career, the funniest moments came from Merton's appearances on the satirical quiz, Have I Got News Fou You? In one, they were talking about Lorena Bobbitt - and how the member she had snipped from her husband had finished up. "Wider but flatter," quipped Paul, "you could use it as a bookmark. Wouldn't have worked if they had stuck a hedgehog back instead. It'd be going to sleep every half hour. You'd have to undo your trousers and give it a saucer of milk every half hour."

One actress turned politician who has absolutely no embarrassment about taking off her clothes is the MP for Hampstead and Highgate and Minister for Transport, Glenda Jackson. She surfaced in Desert Island Discs (R4) on Sunday morning. Fat and spotty at 16 she proceeded from behind the Boots counter to Rada, then to the RSC and thus to international fame. Whether or not the minister is also destined to become the Mayor of London was not up for discussion, but she had some sound views on the House of Commons: "Badly lit, under-rehearsed and with terrible acoustics." Her record choices were frankly dull - with the exception of Tina Turner and Stravinsky, but her reasons for going into politics were instructive. "Telling the truth, finding out what it is to be a human being," she said, making the shenanigans of Merchant, Yeo, et al, look particularly ridiculous. But then our Glenda will never face the predicament of a detonated smoking bimbo. Or at least I hope not.

Marina Warner continued her ruthless exploitation of the secret world of fable and myth with an expose on the supposedly gentle lullaby. Not so gentle said Warner - sternly. Hatchi Bombatchi Your Mother is a Sheep (R3) stiffly detailed the nastinesses lurking behind the evocative images of mothers singing their children to sleep. "At the end of a day with a child you want to kill it," stated the child psychotherapist Adam Phillips. Pity the child who has Phillips as a therapist. Or, indeed, father.

The future of the press was discussed in Paper Talk (R5): its destiny all depends on whether Rupert Murdoch wins the World Cup. He has that power, reckoned the assembled presenters and journalists, Brian Alexander, Nick Higham, Alan Hubbard, Ray Snoddy and David Banks. If England fail to win, it's seriously bad news for the future of our newspaper industry. Still, sport will occupy an even greater proportion of our papers - the Commonwealth Games and Olympics are coming. But hey there is some good news: "Females are to be targeted." The Express has imminent plans - said its executive editor, Mark Palmer - to produce a new 48- page sports section at the weekend. "Every single league match will have separate reports." But, he admitted, the advertisers "were not behind it". Sounds like the last desperate throw of the sports dice to me.

The Times/Daily Telegraph circulation war came in for comment. Apparently Murdoch has been bearing a grudge since he was but a lad in the 1920s - when the Telegraph slashed its price from 1d to 1/2d and thus overtook the Times's sales. Pitiful. Oh yes, and the obligatory death knells were sounded for the Independent - why on earth Nostradamus didn't predict this awesome event I can't imagine.

Sue Gaisford returns next week.

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