I've had livelier chats with a trouser press

Frostie's doddery guests don't make for riveting listening

I was looking forward to hearing the shows I'm going to write about this week. Oh, goody, I thought: a mea culpa from a politician, plus some funny stuff. What could be more enjoyable? Which just goes to show how wrong you can be. The mea culpa was nothing of the sort. Silly me, to imagine that a politician might be willing to admit he'd got it wrong (except for Dave C, of course, who says sorry roughly every 15 minutes). As for the funny stuff, it was not very funny at all. As they say in the movies: hilarity did not ensue.

The Frost Years (11.30am, Tuesdays, Radio 4) is described as a series in which "guests from the world of politics and entertainment join Sir David to discuss satire's effect on the political process in the Sixties". We were also promised "entertaining moments" from programmes such as That Was the Week That Was. And, indeed, the show attempted to deliver on both counts. But my God, it was dire. Either the studio audience, which laughed obligingly, was responding to signals from a frantic floor manager, or its every member was stark staring mad.

In part one (5 September) the guests were Denis Healey, Gerald Kaufman and that well-known comic, Norman Tebbit. Actually, beside the others, Tebbit was hilarious - if you like jokes about Harold Macmillan. Meanwhile, the others doddered along like . . . old dodderers. There was Frost, whose adenoidal, offhand style makes him sound more than ever like a very hesitant Roland Rat; there was Kaufman, who contrives to be pompous and grannyish; and there was Healey, whom you knew was there because every so often you would hear him cry: "Absolutely!"

The word "inert" doesn't even come close to describing this lot. I've had more dynamic chats with a Corby trouser press. I finally lost the will to live when Kaufman told us that he had been "visiting his mother in Leeds" when he saw TW3 for the first time. Imagine!

Yet the truth is that the life had been ebbing out of me all week. I do despair of politicians. The first programme in the new series of The Reunion (11.15am, 3 September, Radio 4) brought together some of those who had been involved in rail privatisation: John Welsby, former chairman of British Rail; the then transport secretary, John MacGregor; Sir Patrick Brown, then permanent secretary at the Department of Transport; and Roger Salmon, formerly director of the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising. Their conversation, expertly drawn by Sue MacGregor, beggared belief.

Hardly anyone was keen on privatising the railways; even Nicholas Ridley thought it was a rubbish idea. But John Major ran after it like a daft dog chasing a stone it has mistaken for a ball. The talk in the studio brought the whole débâcle queasily back to memory. Everyone told the same tale: of muddle, of unnecessary haste, of a lack of consultation . . . with one exception - John (now Lord) MacGregor, a chirpy choirboy in this baritone chorus of doom. He'd do it all again like a shot. Hmm.

I've had a few days to think of a suitable punishment for his refusal to admit culpability. He could, for instance, have to travel on a Virgin train every day for the rest of his life (and strictly no pre-booking of tickets). But a better idea might be to lock him in a room with Gerald et al. More lumbering than any train, they'd have him shouting the "s" word in no time at all.

Pick of the week

Book of the Week – Bringing the House Down
9.45am, 11-15 September, Radio 4
The novelist David Profumo’s account of the affair that brought his father, John, down.

6 Mix House Party
8pm, 10 September, BBC 6 Music
A listener broadcasts a personal playlist live from their sitting room. First up, Dan Watts from Brighton.

Don’t miss . . . British Art Fair

You don't have to be a seasoned art buyer to enjoy the British Art Fair, which showcases a wide range of British art from 1900 to the present. The higher class of punter may consider buying one of the works by Howard Hodgkin, Beryl Cook, Lucian Freud or David Mach (see detail from Summer, right) on display, but the more financially challenged can just go and gawp - and not only at the price tags.

Many dealers keep work back especially for fairs, so there will be plenty of unseen work on offer, as well as lectures about David Hockney and Euan Uglow. And you need not spend more than the price of admission: £8.

From 13-17 September at the Royal College of Art, London SW7. E-mail: info@britishartfair.co.uk

Next Article