The Week in Radio
Listening to that vale of tears The Archers recently I began to wonder whether the undercurrent of gloom detectable in radio drama could be entirely down to the economy. It's noticeable that while the ongoing financial crisis gets endless attention on news and current affairs programmes, writers and artists have only patchily responded. There was an interesting exploration of this in Radio 3's Europe - the Art of Austerity, which compared today's response to that of European artists during the recession of the 1930s. Could The Archers' current weeping and wailing, the deaths, the dead people's birthdays, the living people's breakdowns, be some 21st- century equivalent of Brecht?
Certainly artists in the 1930s were quick to engage with the politics of recession. Germany had Brecht and Weill, America had Steinbeck and in England, where even characters like John Beaver in Waugh's A Handful of Dust lost their jobs, the slump was a "dark cloud hanging over the social chatter".
Yet there was a key difference, according to Michael Goldfarb, between those in Europe, who saw some political way out, be it fascism or communism, and the British, who avoided radical politics. In 1935, George Orwell found "whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need... have kept their tempers and settled down to make the best of things." Why then, have today's creatives failed to make the crisis their essential theme? The question is almost too scary to answer. It might be because "Capitalism has turned into something completely abstract and virtual and it's a huge challenge for artist to tackle." Or as Justin Cartwright, who did address the meltdown in Other People's Money said darkly: "We're still living with the idea that this can all be sorted out, it's not that serious and it's all going to go away." This was a rich and wide-ranging programme that left us with a …