Wireless wise

Radio - Louis Barfe on how TV killed the radio stars

A great deal of fuss was made last year about the BBC's Treasure Hunt campaign. Under this initiative, former staffers and members of the general public were encouraged to return private copies of vintage programmes that the Beeb had wiped, burned, chucked into skips or lost down the back of the sofa. Much of the fuss has been justified; the return of two whole long-lost episodes of Dad's Army has been the high water mark of the enterprise. Predictably, however, all of the public attention was given to television programmes, with wireless, as ever, playing Cinderella. The header of the BBC's own website on the venture asks: "Are there TV gems in your attic?" - this even on the page that lists some of the campaign's radio finds. There could not be a much clearer statement of priorities.

The radio programmes recovered include the pilot edition of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, an episode of Eric Sykes's 1961 series It's a Fair Cop, two late 1960s sessions by the Tubby Hayes Quartet from Jazz Club, Fenella Fielding and Robert Hardy in a 1965 production of G B Shaw's Man and Superman and a 1968 production of Arnold Wesker's play Their Very Old and Golden City. This embarrassment of riches is to be shoehorned into a solitary edition of Radio 4's Archive Hour in May, while "other programme ideas are under consideration". I'm not sure what needs to be considered. Just find a slot and broadcast the spoils straight, then pass copies on to BBC Worldwide for release as Radio Collection CDs. In the meantime, keep recording things off the radio. You never know when the BBC might be grateful of them.

A little of what does survive, including one of the first appearances by Alistair Cooke, is finding its way on to the airwaves in the current run of Wireless Wise (Radio 4, Thursdays, 6.30pm), the "radio quiz about the radio". One particularly amusing round involves the contestants listening to three programme descriptions purporting to be from archive index cards - only one of which is real. In the first of the series, the programmes chosen were all on modern art; they involved an artist who turned the exit door of the gallery into an exhibit, a woman who made collages of dry-cleaning tickets and a man who created art out of his own vomit. In case you're wondering, it was the vomiter.

The quiz is now hosted by David Hatch, the I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again cast-member-turned-BBC-suit, making a welcome return to his roots as a performer. The first of the run saw Peter White, the BBC's disability correspondent, and that panel game perennial Sandi Toksvig playing against the Radio 4 announcer Brian Perkins and Jon Culshaw, an impressionist who earns much of his crust by impersonating Perkins on the comedy show Dead Ringers. How's that for layers of incestuous meaning? Is the former Home Service devouring itself? As expected, Culshaw used the programme to go through his repertoire of impersonations - including Tom Baker (of Dr Who), who is to him as Harold Wilson was to Mike Yarwood. While Culshaw is a proficient enough mimic, his grandstanding and showboating very quickly grew tiresome. Clearly, he hadn't realised that the real stars of the show were the clips.

One of the main gags on Dead Ringers is making sober and serious people such as Perkins do and say unsuitable and incongruous things. Unfortunately, no one involved with the show seems to remember that Perkins was a regular on Noel Edmonds's Radio 1 show in the early 1980s, when I once heard him musing on what synonyms for nasal mucus would be deemed acceptable by each of the BBC's networks. I seem to recall that Radio 1 was a "snot" station, while Radio 2 was "gribbly", but the others elude me. I wonder if the Beeb's got that in the archives.