Radio - Rachel Cooke

The very word "relevant", the BBC's favourite fairy dust, is starting to annoy me

This week, I was longing to write about the anachronism that is Pam "I wish I'd looked after me teeth" Ayres, who has returned to Radio 4 with a new series (Mondays) packed with sketches, anecdotes and - oh no! - poems.

Actually, I heard a bit of Pam's last series. It came as quite a shock. There was a moment when I considered pulling on to the hard shoulder of the M1 and just giving in to the whole panic attack thing. I knew she was still alive, but I assumed that she spent her time playing civic centres in places like Heckmondwike and Withernsea.

Anyway, no can do, I'm afraid. I have a hunch that Ian McMillan, aka the Barnsley Bard, has mounted a whispering campaign against me, putting it about that I have an irrational prejudice against on-air versifiers like him and Pam (which, as it happens, I do), because no one dared send me a preview tape. So let us turn our attention instead to a different kind of poet: Sappho. In The Tenth Muse (Sunday, Radio 4), the writer Jackie Kay looked at Sappho's life and work in the light of the papyrus which, in 2004, was identified as only the fourth of the poet's poems to have survived down the centuries even half way intact. It is extraordinary, the potency of the Sapphic legend - the way her modern reputation stands on three (now four) verses and some 200 fragments. So I expected to be gripped.

But The Tenth Muse was a perfect paradigm of all that is annoying on Radio 4. Find a brilliant subject, arrange fantastic access to all manner of learned experts - and then botch it up trying to make it super accessible. The word "relevant" is starting to annoy me. It is the BBC's favourite fairy dust: drop it in wherever you can and, lo, with gossamer lightness, it will connect all manner of weird content to the humble souls who pay the licence fee. How patronising. Why must everything be relevant? And why can't we be trusted to draw our own conclusions about what, if anything, society in 2006 AD has in common with that of 630 BC? "How much do we project ourselves on to Sappho?" asked Kay, at one point. "Quite a lot in your case, Jackie!" I yelled at the radio. Not very sisterly of me.

On Radio 2, Stuart Maconie is presenting a series (Close To The Edit, Wednesdays) about Anne Dudley, formerly the keyboard player with the Art of Noise. It's excellent. After graduating from the Royal College of Music, Dudley first played the piano on Play School - she was the one frantically improvising as Jemima and Big Ted drove to the shops in a cardboard box - and then worked with Trevor Horn on his "epic" pop productions. She has since won an Oscar for her score for The Full Monty.

If you want to know how ABC made the Lexicon of Love sound so gloriously lush, this is the show for you. Dudley is delightfully straightforward about the dark arts she works in the studio. She is also very funny. I laughed out loud when she revealed that Frankie Goes To Hollywood wanted to sound like Shostokovitch. Imagine! But Maconie has his charms, too. In fact, the more I listen to him, the more I understand why so many of the Radio 2 listeners who are up in arms about the imminent arrival of Chris Evans on drive have suggested him as an alternative. Maconie has an obvious gentleness that Evans, for all his talent, still lacks. It might be as well if Lesley Douglas, the station's controller, takes extra care of him in the coming months. There's nothing wrong with having a plan B.

Next Article