Friday 15 December 2017

Radio review: The past just ain't what it used to be

Influential: the late DJ John Peel
Influential: the late DJ John Peel

Eilis O'Hanlon

Last Tuesday would have been John Peel's 77th birthday. The Paul McLoone Show on Today FM paid tribute with a string of songs from legendary sessions recorded for the great man's late-night BBC Radio One show.

Listening, it was hard to think of another broadcaster who's been quite so influential in discovering new music. At the same time, there's always a nagging suspicion that this "we shall never see their like again" approach is nothing but selective nostalgia about one's own past.

There was some of the same hyperbole in the coverage of the death of Gene Wilder. There was lots of good commentary - McLoone's own remark on The Last Word that "nobody completely loses the biscuit on screen like he does" hit the nail on the head - but in eulogising Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, contributors were surely basking in their own childhoods as much as his genius.

What's strange is how radio seems to struggle to discuss great actors in a way that they don't with writers. The Ryan Tubridy Show even asked people who'd met Wilder to call in with stories, and subsequently interviewed RTE political correspondent David Davin Power about his own encounter; Ryan also talked to Julie Dawn Cole, who played one of those appalling children in Willie Wonka. She spoke on Today FM's Last Word too.

It all confirmed that Wilder was a nice man, but it's a pity to miss the chance to provide a serious assessment of his work.

Thankfully, The Tom Dunne Show on Newstalk and RTE's Ray D'Arcy Show both had extended items featuring guests with a keen interest in, and knowledge of, film. Best of all were the clips on BBC Radio Four's Front Row from the last interview Wilder gave to the show on the publication of his 2005 memoir: "I'd like to live … but if I don't, I can't complain, because I've had it so good".

Ireland has more than its fair share of very funny people too, but it's remarkable how underused they've been on national radio. Callan's Kicks aside, it's hard to think of a single comedy programme in the last 10 years that actually worked.

Don't Quote Me - a new six part quiz show based on Radio Four's Quote… Unquote (going strong since 1976), though the quotes here came mainly from pop culture in contrast to its predecessor's emphasis on history and literature - was an amiable effort, but still felt somewhat amateurish. It may improve, fingers crossed. Panel shows are one of the delights of radio when done well.

Ruth Dudley Edwards, meanwhile, was one of this week's guests on BBC Radio Four Extra's Foul Play, a series in which a fictional crime is dramatised and then investigated by invited crime writers.

It was all good fun as usual, the sort of thing the BBC has been doing effortlessly well for generations. Ruth solved the murder too. Crime writing's gain is detection's loss.

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