The week in radio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE'S something of a pre-apocalyptic feel about Radio 4 as the station prepares for the big turnaround by offering the lucky listener the chance to survey past glories (i.e. they've stuffed the schedules with repeats). Across this hush floats the central argument of this week's Analysis (Radio 4, Thursday): is culture "dumbing down", or is it just that knowledge is more widely available? David Walker's ferreting through this warren of a theme was timely enough to make you wonder if there had been some Machiavellian thinking behind this piece of scheduling - James Boyle hoping to sow enough doubt and confusion among his critics to frustrate any full-frontal attack.

Walker did indeed moot the idea that if Radio 4 gets a lot of flak, "all it will mean is that the Leviathan inside which I am now sitting is in motion, and some people are prone to cultural travel sickness"; but there was enough sceptical irony in this formulation to make you think he wasn't a wholehearted subscriber. The academic and critic Marilyn Butler argued persuasively that encouraging children to think and talk might mean sacrificing something in the way of "correctness", but the price was well worth paying, and others pointed out that talk of high intellectual standards can be the cover for unpleasantly undemocratic attitudes. But sensible and sympathetic thinking was yoked to grossly obvious inverted snobbery and half-baked populism - David Elstein, head of Channel 5, suggested that the educated know least about what television can do (presumably Channel 5's schedules are arranged over high table at All Souls).

The real conflict here, though, was not between high and low or dumb and clever, but between tradition and modernity. The line taken by Nicholas Kenyon, controller of Radio 3, seemed to be that we shouldn't let the past keep peering over our shoulders.

Still, tradition can never be stamped out. When the new Radio 4 schedules get started on Monday, however wondrous they are, thousands of listeners will complain to Chris Dunkley on Feedback, as their forefathers did before them. It sort of makes your proud, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, while we're talking about declining standards, you have to wonder what kind of society condones series like The Hard Men (Radio 5, Monday), a celebration of what's euphemistically called "the physical side" of football. In the first programme, Liverpool's Tommy Smith explained that only half a dozen times has he gone in to hurt somebody, and he still has nightmares about it. But you'll be glad to know that, for all his guilt, he can manage to laugh heartily when describing how he butted a German player who giggled at him. A heartwarming tale of adversity overcome, really.