Weird science

Is "stuff we don't know about" a technical term?

Inside the Bermuda Triangle, Radio 4

Over the course of Radio 4's ten-part series about the Bermuda Triangle (14-25 September, 3.45pm), it has been tough keeping track of the various conclusions drawn. Where one scientist claimed that "as we move faster and faster through space, a time warp becomes a very real possibility", others spoke of "shallow-water electronic blackouts", and (for the benefit of the more callow among us, surely) "possibly a hole in the sky".

Mystery was the keyword used. Mucho conundrum. Total peculioso. Two phrases that particularly struck your reviewer in episode six: "supernatural arson" and "intelligent fireballs". Oh, and "stuff we don't know about". "Are you a professional in any respect in terms of doing this background work?" asked the presenter, Tom Mangold, of an expert known as the Triangle Man. "No," came the firm response, and then a shock conclusion: "There simply must be something odd there."

Meanwhile, Rob Brydon presented a charming documentary on Tom Jones (19 September, 10pm, Radio 2). "I even sing on my nights off," shrugged Tom, "I can't help myself." Recalling the days he worked at a glove factory as a teenager, he pinpointed the watershed moment when he first heard "Rock Around the Clock". "I knew there was something happening there," mused Tom perspicaciously, "because of the sound of the record."

This was a firmly straight-talking doc ("I love his voice. He's just belting it") featuring many old colleagues ("And I just thought, 'Christ, what's this?' He'd just come up from Wales, you see, and he'd soon as look at you as nut you . . ."). It even got deep for a minute when Jones admitted to having considered killing himself once when poverty-stricken in Notting Hill ("My wife was having to get a job in a factory, which rubbed me the wrong way, like"). But the programme was best when describing the singer's long residency in Vegas, immediately calling to mind those photos of Jones in the irrecoverable 1970s, at a bar, wearing a bright smile (indicating, as such smiles do, that the steel door of his psyche is firmly slammed shut), and in which everyone else looks like either Brian de Palma or a mid-range hooker (you know, the ones who look like they work really hard for the money).

Exactly how Tom felt about finding himself at the blue-rinse end of things for over a decade - until his canny son took over his management and he suddenly found himself on stage at Glastonbury with the Stereophonics - he never quite confessed. But whenever he spoke of his 14 years in the no-hit wilderness, there was a certain ache in his voice. Possibly the kind of ache you feel when you're sure the person you love is sleeping with someone else. Because cool has eluded Jones all his life, and still does, if we're being honest about him for one minute, which for some reason we never, ever are - although his going grey last year was a great touch, giving him the unexpected look of a relatively mellow endomorph, which is no bad thing, no bad thing at all. In fact, it's the nicest thing for a man to be.


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Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter