Radio

If the government have their way, will Radio 4’s dramas be broken up by ads for dentures?

1 August 2015

9:00 AM

1 August 2015

9:00 AM

‘Bait by Cartier,’ she growls as her priceless diamond bracelet is strapped to a piece of rope and dropped overboard in the hope it might lure a fish on to the line. She’s stuck on a boat with a group of survivors after the freighter she was aboard was hit by a German U-boat during the second world war. She was Tallulah Bankhead, playing Connie, heroine of John Steinbeck’s novel-cum-film Lifeboat, for Mystery Theater, the American radio drama series, first broadcast in 1950 and now replayed on Radio 4 Extra (Sunday).

They just don’t make voices like that anymore. It had star quality streaked right through it. That deep husky tone, the raucous laugh, the harsh put-down veering almost at once into a sensual come-on. I was hooked from the first word, even though the dialogue was pretty terrible (‘Some of my best friends are in concentration camps’). The film from which the radio script was taken was made right in the middle of the war and when a survivor from the submarine is brought on to the boat, the anti-German propaganda just gets embarrassing.

But it was so vivid. No question. I could have been sitting on an itchy red velour cinema seat in an old-fashioned double-aisle cinema, watching Bankhead and co tossing on an alien sea. The sound effects were dreadful — great sploshes of water, whirling wind, flapping sails — yet the image of Bankhead, draped in a mink coat, tapping out her latest report for her newspaper, was so immediate, so compelling.


It was vintage, in both senses. Incredibly old-school yet at the same time a classic example of radio theatre, the drama all conveyed in the voice, the interaction between the characters, and in this case the sweeping strings of the soundtrack. It was intriguing, though, how every 15 minutes or so the voices were allowed simply to fade away as the next advert break became necessary. I couldn’t help thinking this might be the future for Radio 4, if the government has its way and the licence fee is replaced by some other form of funding. Plays broken up, tension interrupted, by ads for dentures and health insurance.

It would also be unlikely in such a brave new radio world to hear programmes like Inside the Ethics Committee (Radio 4, Saturday night). The title itself is hardly gripping, yet it never fails to engage, as Joan Bakewell and her expert guests explore some of the most testing ethical questions faced by the medical profession. Not, though, in isolation from everyday life. Each programme takes a case study and delves into the questions it raises. Not at all the Moral Maze, because it’s never combative, although often full of troubling contradictions. This is life-and-death, as could be faced by any one of us and the medics trying to treat us.

This week their topic was suicide: how far should a medical team go to prevent a young woman from killing herself. Their case study was 22-year-old Samantha, who has tried to kill herself several times, on one occasion causing so many injuries she had to relearn how to walk. She’s become obsessed by internet suicide forums, spending every waking moment ‘chatting’ to others about their wish to die. Every day is a challenge to keep her alive, for her distraught family and the mental-health team. Yet she always appears calm, clear and articulate. She had, as the medical team determined, ‘capacity’ to think for herself, to make decisions. Confusingly, though, she has been repeatedly sectioned by them to keep her safe. As Professor Deborah Bowman explained, ‘I want to understand her “capacity” much more… Have all the available treatment options been considered?’

This was as gripping as any drama because, although on the surface it was a discussion between medical and legal experts, at the heart of it was Samantha’s plight. Would she, could she, be helped? In the end it was family therapy that allowed a chink of light to enter her desperate situation. ‘I’m very lucky to get out of it alive,’ she said. ‘They did everything they could to protect me.’ (The producer was Beth Eastwood.)

On the World Service on Tuesday, The Documentary took us to New Zealand and the tiny libraries that are found in even the smallest communities, established for decades and now just as much social centres as homes for books. Julie Shapiro first came across them in 1998 when she hitched through the country taking odd jobs on farms in return for bed and board. In Waipiata she read Herman Hesse, proof of which still survives in an old notebook from that time.

The libraries tell a mini-history of New Zealand itself, says Shapiro and her co-presenter Miyuki Jokiranta. Isolated and sometimes very small, with no more than 35 members, they are far-ranging in content and imagination. At Waipiata the keys to the library are kept behind the bar of the local pub. But will they still be there in 20 years’ time?

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • blandings

    “If the government have their way, will Radio 4’s dramas be broken up by ads for dentures?”

    If the ads are done sensitively they will add to the overall artistic experience, as well as give us a few moments of relief from the right on, politically correct gushings of the Islington Intelligensia

  • vircantium

    Radio 4 and libraries – two things which, if those who use them really value them, will have no trouble raising their income by (voluntary) subscription rather than (compulsory) taxation.

    • ViolinSonaten b minor.

      The problem with libraries is that fines are so extortionate these days and you only get the books for a limited period of time that people generally
      read kindle or books from Amazon. Yet I still use the library myself as mine is very good and busy due to those who need to use the computers .
      I am not really one for Radio 4 myself, but have relatives who are and I’d say
      they would profoundly agree with you.

    • Callipygian

      Ah, but libraries are there for those that can’t afford the books, hence they are charities, hence we are obliged to fund them through taxes. On the other hand, why can’t charity be privately funded as it is in so many other cases?

  • Callipygian

    Tallulah Bankhead demonstrates that, like all genuine Homo sapiens, she has a chin, and don’t you ever deny it!

    • blandings

      Whenever I feel down I remind myself that I am so lucky to exist, if only fleetingly.There are countless billions of potential human beings that never made it into this world – but we did! – clink glasses!

      • Callipygian

        An admirable view, yet one I don’t really share. If we did not exist there would be no ‘us’ to regret not existing: and existence is fraught with anxiety and the fear of mishap (hubby this a.m. had a big adrenaline bang when he saw a large animal a few feet away and realized only as it began to bolt that it was a large stag). I’m not a worrywart but my nightly dreams are mainly about life gone wrong.

        • blandings

          See what I said to Violin girl

      • ViolinSonaten b minor.

        I agree with Callipygian but you have a point too, I suppose.
        We must exist first, or they’d be no you to speak of the others. but its always been a battle of the fittest as poor old Neanderthal Man found out.
        Your point ‘ I am lucky to exist, if only fleetingly’

        ” It matters not how a man dies but how he lives, the act of dying is so
        unimportant as it lasts for such a short moment”
        As said by someone or the other, whose name I’ve forgotten, apologies.

        • blandings

          But.. But… You’re alive now.
          Enjoy.
          Do you remember when you were eighteen and you thought that life was forever? Hang on to that. (Martinis and handsome guys will work wonders).

          • Callipygian

            All depends on who you are and what sort of life circs you’ve been dealt. I don’t imagine there are a lot of people savouring existence in China’s many live-work compounds, for example (they have high rates of suicide). Other hellholes of the world make our way of life look a dream, to say nothing of other periods of history (who would be a Saxon for a hundred years at least after the Conquest?; who would be a Russian of any rank in the 17th and 18th centuries?). So I think our rose-coloured view of life has much to do with how easy we’ve got it.

            So in sum: Enjoyment is partly a choice and partly a necessity, the alternative being unpalatable. But happiness (or perhaps more accurately, contentment, which in itself is less demanding and less fleeting) is not wholly ours to summon. And it is fragile. All the things you depend on for your happiness could be taken from you at any moment, through no fault of your own. Perhaps we achieve contentment by forgetting that, most of the time.

          • ViolinSonaten b minor.

            I believe you were ‘ heel not too high and martini not too strong ‘ kind
            of chap and when you were 18 finding an olive was lunch ;-D. But
            the past is another life. Happiness as Callipygian stated far more eloquently then I ,depends on the luck of the draw, circumstances,
            your situation in life and when and when you existed or exist.

            But contentment, I am just about to sit in my garden on a sunny
            evening listening to Beethoven’s string quartet, drinking a glass of chilled white wine, whilst my sea bass is roasting. I might even have an olive or two ;-D

        • Callipygian

          as it lasts for such a short moment
          Not if you have cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease….

          • ViolinSonaten b minor.

            Indeed, that was thoughtless of me as I’ve lost some relatives with
            those diseases. My cousin was wondering about a test she could have had to see whether she’s inherited the gene that causes Alzheimer’s that killed her mum but decided against it.
            I say, live life to the full, hope to stay healthy and pop off doing something you enjoy before you grow too old– whatever age that is ;-D

          • Callipygian

            Sounds good to me!

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