Radio: Where 'love' is a dirty word

Today's Agenda: supermarket, dentist, sex ... Sorry? Ah. You guessed. Yes, I'm pretending to be a real Nineties woman. According to Sex Lives (R5), we should copulate efficiently, variously and frequently - fitting sex into our rigorous schedule along with money-management and childcare.

Did you notice that word "child", in the last paragraph? Well, that was the only time it appeared in this programme. Who would imagine that childbirth might occasionally have resulted from sex? What an old-fashioned notion. Almost as obsolete as love. That word appeared only once, too, in the offensively inappropriate title of Loving Lists, a newsletter offering discrete adultery to nice middle-class couples.

And if discretion doesn't bother you and, hell, why should it, then off you go and swing. Strap on your 15-inch papier-mache penis and see what you can do with it at the club (possibly better not get there by bus). Oh Jenny Eclair, what's a funny girl like you doing mixing with such sad weirdos? Why say things like "fidelity is the sexual equivalent of anorexia"? It's not clever, or true, or useful. How tragic if anyone actually believed such hogwash.

Let comics be comic and historians tell the truth. In similar vein, Owen Dudley Edwards presented The Seven Deadly Virtues - Chastity (R4), mingling fact and fiction in specious and tortuous argu-ment, presented with ponderous humour. Arch and mannered readers mangled the words of HL Mencken, Andrew Marvell and even Agatha Christie in support of a wobbly theory that chastity had caused the deaths of Ophelia, Virginia Woolf and 600 virgins in 17th-century Transylva- nia. Mencken said that sin is a dangerous toy in the hands of the virtuous: the opposite is also true.

Another academic explained How the Magic Works (R3) on Monday. Professor Mark Geller wondered what Freud would have made of the incantations written on cuneiform tablets more than three millennia BC. This was surprisingly fascinating. The old Mesopotamians had just the same hang-ups as we have, but they blamed them on demons who snaked under doors, interrupting family life and casting a cloud of depression over their victims. What an excellent idea: after all, it's much easier to blame - and curse - a malevolent spirit than to admit you might be barmy.

A professional magician was the subject of Bob Sinfield's play about the life of Houdini (R2). The great escapologist was married to a woman, played by the brilliant Lorelei King, who couldn't bear the risks he took. As he tore his way out of a straitjacket, she shrieked "Oh Houdini, not wiz ze teece! I cawn't bear ze sought off a dentured spouce!". The story of his determined efforts to discredit the charlatan spiritualists who tried to summon up the ghost of his adored mother was well, if melodramatically, told, in the person of Arthur Conan Doyle, played by a touchingly naif Graham Crowden.

Houdini's occasional partner was the father of Buster Keaton, who died 30 years ago. Bob Monkhouse, sounding almost modest in such company, made a good fist of linking Keaton with WC Fields in Bob, Buster and WC. (R2). Both had miserable childhoods, a serious fondness for drink and an incapacity for marital fidelity (how very Nineties of them): both were wonderfully funny. Dick Vosburgh told a nice story of WC pausing in a hotel corridor to look through a keyhole, then turning to camera and marvelling "What'll they think of next?" Hopeless for the censor to complain: to the pure, all things are pure.

Finally, there is a superb new classic serial. Elaine Feinstein's adaptation of Women in Love (R4) was graced by witty, dangerous music by Anthea Gomez and a performance of furious intensity from Nicholas Farrell as Rupert Birkin. For the first time, it seemed completely understandable that the wretched, idealistic Hermione should bash Birkin over the head with her lapis lazuli paperweight. In such a fetid atmosphere of lust and duplicity, something savage had to be done. For, as Lawrence put it, to the Puritan, all things are impure.

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