The Critics: This worldly lot make the Archers seem provincial

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Come into Westway (WS) health centre and meet the staff. Here's Louise, the Receptionist from Purgatory, a stickler for the rules but an angel when her heart is touched; here's tarty Mel, 'elpin aht fra bit, 'fore collidge. Jamshed, the officious manager, looks after Margaret, the senior partner. She's wise, gentle, ironic - and longing to nip out for a fag in the car park. There's David, thirty-quite-a-lot, abrasive and insensitive, and Joy, here for an interview. She is newly (highly) qualified, serious and promising.

In stumbles Kelly, a cross, frightened teenager, wanting to see a doctor. Naturally, there are no appointments for a week, but she can't wait. Suddenly everyone realises that she is in labour. An ambulance is called but doesn't come, though the baby is about to, so it's emergency action-stations. The pace accelerates like a Ferrari. Kelly's angry fear turns to furious terror: is the practice insured for this? - God knows, who cares. The screams intensify. Louise and Mel clutch each other and whimper; the baby is in distress and someone is going to have to try the Roberts Procedure (oo er). An old Liverpudlian, who just dropped in to register, changes his mind hastily and escapes ... and I'm completely hooked.

This looks like becoming the best new soap since Camay. The 35 million English-speakers who listen to the World Service are getting a class product from the finest drama department there is. David Hitchison and Anne Edyvean dreamt it up and employed six writers, whose experience covers Grange Hill, EastEnders and Lenny Henry's scripts. It has everything - complex characters, a setting in multi-ethnic west London and, of course, fascinating medical dilemmas. For listeners who find the vernacular tricky, there's a weekly programme called Westway Access, to help explain the lingo. Look to your laurels, Ambridge.

Leaving Kelly safely delivered (but with no home to go to), we travel north to the damp and gloomy town of Spent, where another group of imaginary characters is lowering the tone on Thursdays. The title of this series, On the Town with the League of Gentlemen (R4), is deeply misleading. Whatever it is that we understand by the word gentlemen, they're not. But they do raise a laugh.

It's an appalling place, Spent. Two thousand people are applying for a job at The Plant, though whoever gets it is likely to wind up blind, bald and impotent. One young applicant cadges a bed for the night with an unspeakable uncle who breeds toads. A deceitful nun wanders about, trying to pay her way with the ten of clubs or a handful of 1970 Esso World Cup coins; the only taxi-driver is an incomplete transsexual, longing to share surgical details with all- comers; the well-intentioned vet slaughters dogs and cockatiels at random and the radio station is manned by Bernice, who offers Hours of Agony.

Now, hold on - is this fair to local radio? Probably not. On Friday every BBC local radio station carried a tribute to 30 years of existence, narrated by their godfather, the ubiquitous anniversary-man, Frank Gillard. The People's Radio was a gentle amble through the aspirations and limited achievements of Gillard's dream. Radio Leicester was the first Home Town Radio, opened by the Postmaster General (do we still have one?) accompanied by a pleasing rendition of the Post-Horn Gallop. But the gallop turned into a jog-trot around the very local achievements of, say, Radio Solent, who helped to discover two little lost children on a foul night in Petersfield - or Radio Leeds, who provide a dustbin wherein disgruntled football supporters can rubbish their teams.

While offering cordial congratulations to them all, Gillard admitted that there are not as many stations as he originally envisaged and that they are not as community-based as he'd have liked. Still, millions listen to them every week so they must be doing something right. It was intriguing to discover that Radio Sheffield has a Spanish slot for its Chilean listeners and that Radio Jersey feels the need to launch into Portuguese now and then. And they are useful playpens for national broadcasters: without her starry role reporting from a flower-show in Bristol (and sounding like the Queen on a bad day) the world might never have seen Kate Adie in all her glory. Hmmm.

On Wednesday, I caught the last of Caroline Wyatt's series The New Face of Germany (R4). Subtitled The Importance of Being Ernst, it promised to discuss the German sense of humour: an interesting prospect. It seems English comedy is immensely popular with Germans; many of them can recite the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch verbatim and Mr Bean is their all-time favourite. But I couldn't understand why Wyatt chose to include a conversation with a young student who went to New York, interested in visiting a city with a large Jewish minority: "As you know," he said, "we no longer have a large Jewish minority in Germany". Was this meant to be funny?

What a relief to turn to the new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Sat, R4), which has manfully survived the horrible loss of Willie Rushton. This week the team enjoyed teasing the old Beeb with an invitation to the Today birthday party. It finished, menacingly, with the words "Are you coming? It's a fairly simple question ..."

'Westway': WS, MW 648: Tues 3.15pm (rpt Wed 8.15am) & Thurs 3.15pm (rpt Fri 8.15am). Omnibus: Sat 7pm. 'Westway Access': Mon 9.30am.

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