The critics RADIO; Frankness in Bosnia, luvvieness with Frank

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SOME OF YOU may find what follows disturbing. So James Naughtie warned the Today (R4) audience on Monday, and again on Tuesday. What did they do, those who feared disturbance? Change stations, switch off? Those of us who risked it on Tuesday heard how much more searingly disturbed were the sad, soft- spoken Gloucester siblings, children of the Wests. But on Monday disturbance was an absurdly feeble word for what followed: I can't find one strong enough.

Alan Little is in Sarajevo again, where peace and joy are supposedly restored, but where the memory of grotesque suffering can never be eradicated. It was unforgettably distressing. The boy who came home to find his father and brothers blown to bits and tried desperately to reassemble them may never, poor child, be free of the nightmares in which, again and again, he tries to mend his family. And nor, to some extent, will we who heard Little's compassionate, weary witness.

A cliche often used, prophylactically, about that ferocious internecine war is that there were no heroes or villains, that everyone involved was somehow guilty. But Little does not trade in cliches: he prefers the awkward truth, and for him there are at least two heroes. One is Farouk, condemned to a wheelchair by a bullet that split his spine, yet refusing to allow himself to hate anybody, even the man who shot him.

The other is Yasmina, who was a 24-year-old doctor when Little first met her. Since then she has grown old through daily sniper-dodging to perform emergency surgery under fire, and she has had enough. Now she is leaving her city because, she says, her mind is damaged and her trust destroyed. One can only hope that wherever she settles she finds peace. She has earned it.

Little is a seasoned campaigner, beaming strong light on a murky world. Newer to the game is Anne Enright, who presented last week's Four Corners (R4). She had a drink in Senegal and told us about it. The previous day 51 people had been killed not far away, but nobody seemed very bothered, because "this was Africa". Her account of swallowing brackish gin with the only three white people in town - a precise Frenchman, his wary wife and a world-class drunk - was rather better than Somerset Maugham on a good day. She should go far, and keep in touch.

Instead of gin, some people reach for chemical comfort. In Shelf Lives (R4) Nigel Cassidy considered the runaway success of the latest version of bottled sunshine - but, as the song asks, is it pain or is it Prozac? This unsatisfactory mini-documentary failed to answer that and other, more serious questions, like how we distinguish between "good", prescribed drugs and the other sort. And can we be sure of the long-term effects of any of them?

Now for this week's birthday. Frank Sinatra is 80 and Sinatra, A Master at Work (WS) explained why we should care. In a fascinating analysis of his vocal development, Bob Holness described the grim determination and aggressive ambition that drove the gifted young singer to develop his remarkable phrasing and breathing techniques, what Sammy Cahn calls "lyric projectionability". Dozens of snippets of songs illustrated the polishing process until, though you liked him no better, you couldn't help but admire him.

And who do you think this is? "A dignified individual who giggled when he saw his little girl performing in ballet ... a misunderstood man who would get a worried look in his eyes when the bills came through each month". No? Well, it's Frank Sinatra, the Other Side (R2). As described by his son in a 100-per-cent-treacle tribute, the singer was a gentle, home-loving daddy who would smile his delighted welcome when children burst into his bedroom, who liked nothing so much as sitting painting in his lovely home, while Frank Jr enjoyed his "toddling years".

There's a bit of a problem here: Frank Jr was, he recalls, wearing "knee- pants" then; many years later he was taken to the Oscar ceremony wearing his very first pair of long pants. Did anyone ever buy the child sensible clothes? But accuracy comes way behind adulation in this gloriously ghastly schmaltz, which tiptoes airily over dishonesty, infidelity and divorce while a clarinet mournfully massacres Mozart. Listeners should beware: this show runs for six weeks. For now, here is the devoted son with "my own personal message to Dad. I love you buddy, and I'm so proud of the man you are that I might just bust my buttons". Bust away, Frankie, but do it somewhere private.