Radio review - Life and Style - The Independent

Radio review

People who worry about the decline of morality clearly never listen to Radio 4, where morality is all the rage, what with The Moral Maze and now Vice and Virtue. I don't say that these programmes actually promote morality as such; but they at least bring it out into the open, and make it sound like something we ought to be interested in.

Vice and Virtue is a milder version of The Moral Maze, the Coronation Street to its Melrose Place; not that it's any less intellectually rigorous - if we're sticking to the soap analogy then, as far as The Moral Maze goes, Intellectual Rigour is the character who disappeared upstairs six months ago and hasn't been mentioned since - but it doesn't have the same emotional turbulence, the same Sturm und Drang qualities. This comparative calm is largely due to Mark Lawson's presence as chairman - unlike Michael Buerk, he hardly ever threatens violence to his panel, even obliquely.

This ought to make for more clarity of discussion, but doesn't seem to. Certainly yesterday's programme, the first in a new run, didn't know where it was going. The subject was "Shame", and the question being asked of Lawson's "Vice Squad" - ouch - was, as always, have old virtues become vices, or vices virtues? The trouble with shame is that it isn't a vice or a virtue, as such, but a way of reacting to vice; there were some interesting insights here - especially from John McVicar, noting what a powerful physical effect shame can have (we go red, we bow our heads) - but it didn't ever quite find its direction. The only real mistake, though, was inviting Susie Orbach, psychotherapist by appointment to the Princess of Wales, to give her views: as she pointed out, "Psychotherapists aren't about telling you whether you should or should not do something". Orbach could only talk in functional, not ethical terms: for the psychotherapist, shame is a blockage, and you don't worry about its moral effects; you just put the rubber gloves on and go in with the plunger.

A less fastidious moral climate hangs over A Square of One's Own, Radio 4's new late-night sitcom, a kind of "Carry On Bloomsbury". Ivan Shakespeare's jokes are appallingly corny (one character is called Virginia Woof - does that even qualify as a joke?). On the other hand, a sophisticated and elegant assault on the fragile Bloomsbury aesthetic would be beside the point; the blunderbuss beats the scalpel every time. So it's without shame that I confess, it made me laugh a lot.

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