Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Assault on the Ears

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Assault on the Ears

Article excerpt

Does anyone ever listen to Radio 4's Moral Maze on Saturday nights? It is only the repeat edition (the live discussion happens on Wednesday nights), but even so why broadcast such a deliberately discomfiting programme at almost bedtime on the most mellow night of the week? It's such an odd mismatch. There you are, winding down, daring to relax as you clear the last bits of washing-up before going to bed, only to find yourself blasted into thoughts you'd rather not have by the testy, tetchy tones of Melanie and Michael debating (with their presumably willing victims) the whys and wherefores of private schools, Nimbys, or gastric-band surgery on the NHS.

This week the team (under Michael Buerk's baton) were looking at 'the morality of poverty'. The debate was halfway through when I switched on and caught them talking about City bonuses and the 'cruel' damage that's been done to people by the welfare system created in the 1940s by Williams Temple and Beveridge. One of the victims/ witnesses declared that 'some people's work is not worth very much'. At which point I switched off - to save the wireless from imminent destruction. Any other slot in the schedule and I might have listened on, to discover what the justification for such a provocatively immoral statement could be.

But at that time of night you can't be expected to reason; the brain is just not up to it.

Of course, in a 24/7 society, programme scheduling is not nearly as important as it used to be. One person's weekend off is another's weekend on. The latest listening figures also show that more and more of us are choosing when we listen and where, on the internet, by smartphone, as a podcast, download, via iPlayer. That sense of an on-air programme being fixed in time and place is being dissipated. You might listen at 10.15 p. m. ; I might catch the same programme at 10.15 a. m. Nevertheless although at certain hours the Moral Maze could be thought of as a brainteaser, a rallying-call to moral rearmament, at others it's just an assault on the ears.

How much more dream-enhancing would it have been to have chanced upon the weirdly wonderful soundworld of Neverwhere.

Neil Gaiman's cult novel (which was written originally for TV) takes us coincidentally into a dark underworld peopled by the alsorans and has-beens of London Below. But in this underclass people can walk through doors (cue stereophonic bangs, crashes, wallops), Old Bailey is no longer the home of Lady Justice but an old codger dressed in feathers who lives on top of the Post Office Tower (much cooing and cawing of roosting birds) and Knightsbridge is definitely something to be feared (like the horrors conjured up by your worst nightmare). …

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