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Mercy killing

Mercy killing

31 December 2005

12:00 AM

31 December 2005

12:00 AM

The good end-of-year news was that Home Truths on Radio Four (Saturdays) is to be taken off the air in the spring. Unfortunately, it seems likely to be replaced by something similar. The new show, says Mark Damazer, the network controller, ‘will continue to feature the sometimes extraordinary experiences of its listeners’. Damazer explained that the late John Peel’s ‘unique personality’ was bound up with Home Truths and now it was time to look for a different programme. I must say I hated it when Peel presented it and I don’t feel any differently now.

The only good thing about it for me was that it was sheer bliss not to have the radio on for a whole hour; in fact, more than that because what follows, Excess Baggage, presented by Sandi Toksvig, is almost as ghastly, though nothing else on Radio Four quite matches the awfulness of Home Truths. Since Peel died, it’s been presented by a number of people and something about the programme makes them utterly and embarrassingly self-indulgent. Forcing myself to listen to one before Christmas, I managed to get through to the end, though there were many twitchy-finger moments, only to hear the presenter David Stafford sing, ‘There’s No Business Like Showbusiness’, presumably to tell his audience that ending a programme is just part of showbusiness, really. It didn’t seem to matter that he can’t sing and that dogs and cats across the land must have scurried for cover.


The need to fill almost an hour with the most anaesthetising trivia means items have to be of interminable duration. A man droned on about how his brother’s ashes had been stolen in a bag at Heathrow and how the lost-property office managed to reunite them with him after five years. ‘How long have your worked at the lost-property office?’ Stafford asked a man incisively. Stafford also informed us that he possessed two drills at home, something we were all desperate to know, of course. Perhaps the most marathon item were boring interviews of time-killing tedium about 16 Yorkshiremen who go for walks on the moors. The broadcaster Ian Peacock managed to drag out an item on what it’s like to use a walking stick. Amazingly, no one mentioned what they do in their garden sheds, which I’ve always remembered was the scintillating highlight of one of the early programmes — shed man incarnate seemed to sum up the programme. A certain type of housewife seems to like this programme, women who talk, as one did, of ‘people of the male persuasion’. As for those men who listen and contribute, they all sound like older but even more retarded Adrian Moles. ‘The hunt for Britain’s most inland lighthouse continues…’ said Stafford grimly. Why wait for the spring? Why not carry out a mercy killing now?

It was Damazer who dropped the two-part dramatisation of John Buchan’s stirring tale of derring-do, Greenmantle, in July after the London bombings, because it features jihad and an Arab uprising fomented by the Germans to draw Allied troops away from the front during the first world war. Only Buchan’s great hero Richard Hannay can thwart this intention, and he’s recruited by the War Office to foil the dastardly plot. At the time I thought it was absurd to drop the drama in the summer, presumably to avoid offending Muslims. After all, the book was published in 1915 and couldn’t possibly upset anyone now. Damazer explained at the time that talk of a jihad in Buchan’s book so soon after the bombings ‘would not have reflected the sensitivities and complexities’ of the situation.

If anything, it upset intelligent Radio Four listeners who complained that they couldn’t be trusted to put the novel into the context of the period almost 90 years ago. On Boxing Day, though, it finally appeared on Radio Four in a two-part adaptation by the dramatist Patricia Hannah. Fortunately, she retained much of Buchan’s gung-ho Boy’s Own adventure language and tone and it came over as a splendid period piece, with Hannay played like an officer and a true gentleman with an upper lip set in concrete by David Robb, who’s portrayed Hannay before on the radio. Hannay talks of war as a ‘show’, as people used to do. James Fleet is the loyal friend Sandy Arbuthnot and it was produced by Bruce Young. It was almost perfect post-Christmas entertainment.


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