Radio: Short and sweet? Not Potter

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
JACK is a writer who has been on morphine for 15 weeks; his daily dose is now enough to stop a stampeding mastodon. But hobgoblin hallucinations are vying with the cannibal bite of pain. At the beginning of this, his last illness, he dreaded being unable to banish death and fear from his mind, but a determination to continue writing until his very last minute allows him to push his terror back into the shifting shadows behind his thoughts.

For Jack, read Dennis Potter. Potter wrote Lost Pearls (R4) as he was dying. It is courageous, chilling autobiography. Not only does he meticulously record the tightening stranglehold of his disease, but by implication he analyses the forces behind his own work. Jack, in the story, is desperately trying to rewrite his most successful novel because he now thinks it's tawdry rubbish. He dies when he is very near the end, not having made the sickening discovery that he has merely rewritten the original book, word for word. You may not like my writing, Potter suggests - I'm not sure that I like it myself - but it's all I can do.

Martin Jarvis read this story in a detached monotone, allowing the bitterness to seep slowly through its neatly twisted structure, just as the morphine carries its deadening message through Jack's narrow blood-vessels. Jarvis has more voices at his command than the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He found some new ones for the previous day's story.

Excalibur (R4) was more standard Potter, funny and savage. Sir Ronald Morston - former chairman of the Arts Council, self-dubbed pilgrim and man of letters - lists "my family" among his hobbies in Who's Who. His downtrodden daughter reads The Idylls of the King dully to him on the grass outside his house - a pastime he archly describes as Lawn Tennyson. The story and the worm turn neatly with a sudden violent attack on the pompous knight, provoked by one paternal insult too many, and by the inscription on King Arthur's sword: "Take thou and strike!"

Of the several fathers in The Devil and Paganini, Hattie Naylor's play (R4), the spookiest was the Father of Lies. Jeremy Mortimer's stimulating, delicious production was a mille-feuille of interwoven sounds. Tom Baker as Beelzebub presented a dinner-jacketed portrait of evil; the violinist himself communicated only in a harsh death-bed whisper or anguished Pagliacci sobs, except during flashbacks, when he seduced a young pupil in broken English against a background of fortissimo birdsong. His son and father both drifted in and out of his swooning consciousness (and our hearing) speaking perfect, agitated Italian; his Viennese doctor did the same, but in German; the English journalist, attempting to wrest the secret of his genius from the dying virtuoso, learnt only that the Devil himself had licked his fingers. Soothing opium pervaded the sick-room and a delirious violin swooped and slithered, like icing, over everything.

Scheduled for Monday, the play went out on Tuesday, presumably because the BBC mislaid their tape. If ever you hear The Nutcracker on R4 it's a fair bet somebody's lost something. Very soon it was too late to broadcast it anyway: time for the joker. Brian Kay's Sunday Morning (R3) had, the previous day, merged seamlessly into Kay introducing Great Music of Great Britain (R2). Now he made it three networks in 24 hours by leaping into the breach with Comparing Notes (R4): if only he did football he'd be another David Mellor. No, I didn't say that.

The Kay hat-trick left them with 10 minutes still to fill: the answer was a dinky little number called The Finer Things, in which people talked passionately about pens. Yes, pens. Andrew Martin, in his excellent novel Bilton, created a journalist who lived off a weekly column called "Me And My Pen": I had presumed he was making it up.

Back on schedule, the most ambitious castaway to choose his Desert Island Discs (R4) must be Geoffrey Smith - not, alas, the R3 jazzman with the seductive "Hullo", but the gardener. Apparently unfazed by the word "desert", this Smith intends to cultivate a vineyard. He'll probably manage it. He cultivated Sue Lawley until she positively bloomed: he even called her "lass", which was bold. And, to be fair, he was endearing, with his devotion to primroses, plovers and, er, cold Yorkshire pudding sandwiches.

If he ever suffered from insomnia, he said, he'd play a recording of a roosting hen. He really must meet Carla Carlisle, one of the expatriate gardeners interviewed by Anna Pavord for her delightful series Transplantation (R4). Though she's from the Mississippi, Carla's no Scarlett O'Hara, yearning for Tara. In prison for marching for civil rights, she encountered another, more conventionally Southern woman who called her a "hippie, commie, Lesbo, killer whoor". When Carla's grandmother heard this story, she reacted with relief: "At least she didn't call you a liberal".

Carla now grows red-hot pokers in Suffolk. She has rocking chairs on her verandah and also appreciates the consolation of hens - she's particularly keen on Brahmins which, she says, make the best lap-chickens of all.

If this is beginning to sound a bit Irish, it could be the effect of Tony Hawks. A friend bet him pounds 100 that he wouldn't hitch-hike Round Ireland with a Fridge (R4). He couldn't have picked anywhere better for such a superbly pointless endeavour: in every village they gave him free food and drink, the craic was great, and the feted fridge was baptised in Babycham and blessed by a Benedictine. It made you long to do likewise. Would anyone bet me I couldn't do it with, um ... an iron?

Comments