The secret diary of Ken Russell, aged sixty-eight-and-a-half

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS week, three mature, highly successful men told a listening world what they did for fun. One had been a ballet dancer, one grew orchids and one painted portraits. All three provided these revealing snippets of autobiography whilst choosing their favourite music.

Ken Russell was the dainty dancer. In the late Forties he would step nightly on to the stage of the Floral Hall, Eastbourne, and knock 'em sideways with his pirouettes. Now he sits alone with a heap of film music in the Classic FM studio, remembering his agile youth and presenting Ken Russell's Movie Classics. Last week he played a dozen tracks, running the gamut from soupy to schmaltz - not much of a gamut, it's true, but the potency of old film music is nothing to do with quality: it's everything to do with remembering which row you sat in, and with which agile youth.

The orchid-fancier was the heart specialist Sir Magdi Yacoub, discussing his Private Passions (R3) with Michael Berkeley. He chose to hear Janet Baker's voice, describing it as "deep, soft and absolutely thoughtful": so is his own. Berkeley, always a polite and sympathetic interviewer, sounded almost reverent in conversation, and who could blame him. There was no trace of irony in their agreement that Dame Janet sang Ich habe genug as if Bach were pouring his heart out.

Sue Lawley is less respectful. By chance, she also had an eminent surgeon to talk to when Sir Roy Calne chose his Desert Island Discs (R4). They liked remarkably similar music; for example, both chose Requiems, but Calne admitted that he might have made a mistake to play Berlioz's during a liver transplant. He was shaken when his patient awoke unable to get its booming chords off her brain. What else might she have heard while apparently deeply unconscious?

The man who transplanted 1,500 kidneys finds time to produce portraits of some of his child patients: he said that taking out paper and pencil reassures frightened children - also that some strange physiological quirk means that sick children grow extra-long eyelashes. This is one of the many things about illness that nobody understands. The therapeutic power of art is another, and Addenbrooke's hospital is festooned with its most famous surgeon's paintings.

A London gallery is displaying more medical art, as we heard in Medicine Now (R4). A beautiful mural of swans is made entirely from old disposable bed-pans, originally formed out of recycled newsprint (don't throw this away, it could be useful). We were hastily reassured that the bed-pans were "seconds", of inferior quality and never used for their intended purpose. Along with faulty urine-bottles and vomit-pots, they are transformed into wall-hangings and sculptures, even into handbags and shoes, displayed in hospital waiting-rooms to provide visual therapy.

Another item on Medicine Now contributed to Tinnitus Awareness Week. The sound of shovelled gravel gave us a hint of what sufferers from this maddening complaint endure, but Barbara Myers was ready with some answers. One woman, so disturbed by her tinnitus that she feared becoming a deranged bag-lady, is being significantly helped by cognitive awareness and masking therapies. Tinnitus sufferers must have been heartened by the atten- tion paid to their plight all week, by a medium that understands the problem of interference.

The ringing in Beethoven's ears began when he was only 31. "Heaven knows what is to become of me," he wrote. In Beethoven's Medical Notes (R3), we found out. His deafness was exacerbated by cold baths, blister treatments and sharp ear-trumpets strapped to his head. Louis Spohr went to hear a rehearsal of the Archduke Trio, in which the composer, by then stone-deaf, played the piano part on an instrument that was badly out of tune. How sad that nobody quietly fixed it, and saved him from Spohr's withering contempt.

Back to hospital for a confinement, delivered with such superb dramatic realism (by a labouring Saira Todd, as Jane) that my palms were dented by anxious fingernails. When Jane's son is born, towards the end of The L-Shaped Room, a midwife asks: "Is the father outside?" "Well," says a nurse, "There's a huge black man in the corridor and a little dark fellow with a bandaged hand and a tall blond man with a black eye - plus her father." Lynne Reid Banks's marvellous, evocative novel was splendidly dramatised by Valerie Windsor, but its political incorrectness was startling. It made you realise how far we have progressed, in some ways at least.

To be Jewish, black or a single mother was to be a complete pariah in 1958. These days, the nearest you'd come to such attitudes is on The Board Game (R4), currently revived for another series. This is the worst quiz show on air - quite a distinction. The contestants are bitchy, conceited, xenophobic and dim - captains of industry who insult everyone and each other in an orgy of self-congratulation. The best - the only - joke delivered by the chairman was a thinly disguised and unattributed remark of Dorothy Parker's. The docile audience tittered nervously throughout, as if afraid of being fired.

Another disaster was Laughter in the Air (R2), the first of four lazy compilations of radio comedy, introduced by Barry Took, who should know better. His script was laboured and dire, as were most of the corny clips he chose. How could he claim to present the best of the stand-up comics and not even mention Victoria Wood? If there was not time for her, why was there time for Tommy Trinder behaving boorishly on Just a Minute 20 years ago?

Finally, Chris Lowe gave a splendid all-purpose excuse on PM (R4). Discussing the alarming contents of magazines bought by 12-year-old girls, he twitched his skirts aside and declined to go into details, prevented, he said, by "good taste and tea-time". Quite so. Thank goodness we have him to remind us of propriety.