Radio: What real men have under their jeans
Sunday 06 October 1996
Yesterday, as you guessed, it was tights. A succession of cheerful women described how they adorn their limbs - with the hideous white shiny tights that turn legs into lardy pork sausages, the sheer burgundy ones that go with a Volvo and homebaked bread, the itchy fish-nets that they hope look sexy. One frugal female cut her laddered ones up horizontally and filled a drawer with grim black socks, hundreds of hairbands and, yuck, knickers - and a granny uses them for straining curd cheese.
Just as it was becoming really cosily girly, we heard from a big butch biker whose life was transformed by wearing black woolly tights under his jeans (though he dreaded being involved in an accident). And then all the men joined in. Women's tights are worn by policemen, by garage mechanics - damn it, by Superman. And they didn't even get round to ballet dancers.
Pity the poor undergraduate who can scarcely afford a pair of tights. A Degree of Desperation (R5) revealed the lengths to which they are driven by poverty simply to stay the course. The image of the government-subsidised layabout has disappeared, as the level of the average grant has fallen by a quarter in the last decade, and parents are less willing or able to make it up.
With everyone chasing ill-paid bar-jobs, the quickest way to subsidise a grant is prostitution. It was tragic to hear the stories of the girls who an- swer blatant advertisements in student magazines: they risk blackmail from the agencies and disease and injury from unpredictable and sometimes violent men, just to pay the rent. One Madame remarked that the only difference between her regular girls and the students was that one group showed off Versace jeans and the other bought books. Carla Romano's excellent documentary gave a sobering picture of a society that so undervalues its future that one in eight students is forced by poverty to drop out, and the average debt borne by a graduate in the year 2000 will be pounds 8,000.
Now for two new efforts in the quiz/panel game business. A charmingly diffident Paul Nicholas chairs Mad about Musicals (R2), in which local amateur choral societies display their knowledge and singing skill. My daughter once came to our village concert wearing a Walkman, which illustrates the problem with this. It is much more fun to sing in such things than to listen. They are good, these people, but not that good, and you find yourself squirming with embarrassment for them. As one lot gave Oklahoma more than they'd got, even Nicholas was heard to mutter that he feared, for one awful moment, that they'd do the whole show.
Still, I don't much mind amateurs showing off if they're enjoying themselves. At least they were competing, and new to the medium. The unmistakable nasal tones of Ken Livingstone introduced I'm the Queen of Sheba (R4), a pointless game about telling lies. He started by saying that he was Leonard Cohen and I wished he had been. A team of familiar panellists produced obviously prepared answers to questions about famous old liars like Richard Nixon. There were funny moments, but precious few: the air was heavy with euphemisms for avoiding the truth and references to the Livingstone obsession with newts. The chairman vilified Americans at every opportunity, justifying himself by the fact that they couldn't vote for him. Hattersley, Mellor, Livingstone ... why can't these MPs do a bit of governing instead of hogging the microphone? Oh all right, perhaps not.
The 50th anniversary of R3 kicked off with a day of celebration on Sunday, with Controllers past and present reminiscing and rejoicing in between some remarkable archive recordings and live concerts. Jubilation continued on Monday, when the delightful Catriona Young took over from Paul Gambaccini, bringing a new grace to Morning Collection. During the week, Reputations looked at five early Third Programme broadcasters. The programme about Nikolaus Pevsner, author of the monumental work The Buildings of England, was thorough and instructive, if a little austere, like the man himself. The most telling detail was that his favourite food was spaghetti, merely because it could be eaten quickly.
The best programme was about Elizabeth Bowen. Even the voice of the legendary Patricia Hughes sounds ordinary compared with hers, as she insisted that novels must hev ection end keddictahs. Yet she was proud of her Irish roots, and had an appealing streak of delinquency about her. She must have been more of a keddictah than any she invented.
A taster for Russian Revelations (Classic FM) told the extraordinary story of the hoard of some 400,000 tapes stored under false names in a large Moscow building. Major soloists and composers, like Prokofiev and Richter, who worked under the iron fist of Stalin, can now be heard for the first time, in electrifying performances. It promises to be a ravishing series.
Finally, the best play of the week came, as often happens, from the World Service. Steven Dunstone's Brenda and Dennis See the World was a picaresque morality tale about a gauche, idealistic couple seeking Paradise and finding universal pollution, narrated by an all-powerful, wryly cynical Timothy West. You could catch it again this afternoon at 5.30: it will almost certain- ly make you laugh.
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