Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fucking hell! It's Radio 4!

If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago where I was least likely to hear the phrase ‘big juicy cock’, I would have said Radio 4. After all, it’s the home of Quote, Unquote, which gently lulls its listeners into a coma, and of uptight Any Answers callers. But it turns out that Radio 4 is in fact a haven for swearing, sex and violence, 24/7.

Don’t think I’m writing to disapprove – the opposite. Who doesn’t like ‘big juicy cock’ at quarter to seven in the evening? (Thanks to Loose Ends, by the way, for that.) It’s just that I’ve been realising that Radio 4 is anything but the staid, anodyne broadcaster it’s often painted to be.

Tune in at 6.30 in the evening and there are comedy shows which have a decent complement of swears, and the Saturday Play is no stranger to the squelching sounds of sex. Its documentaries do not shy away from ‘adult’ topics, and nor should they. There was even the awkwardly-titled season called ‘The sex lives of us’, which had golden oldies recalling their first fumblings from the Cretaceous period.

There is also plenty of violence on Radio 4. Perhaps one of the best and most disturbing things I have heard on there recently was the six-part adaptation of Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, in the 3pm on Sunday Classic Serial slot. As befits a story of the horror, privation and suffering of the Russian Revolution, there were some thoroughly graphic scenes. The one that sticks most in the mind was when an officer in Siberia summons his family to a graveyard before killing them so his enemies cannot. As well as the shock, the children crying ‘Daddy, daddy!’ and the subsequent gunshots left me nearly traumatised. It was a production that completely evoked the terror of the book and was brilliantly done.

There is a powerful reason behind all of this output, which could quite easily be heard by anyone of any age either on the radio or via Listen Again and would provoke a storm on television. Radio 4 is producing adult content – for adults.

It treats its listeners like fully-sentient human beings with well-developed intellectual, emotional and aesthetic skills who can appreciate a wide variety of programmes and are not instantly offended by sex, swearing or violence. Radio 4 can never be accused of dumbing down, not in its subjects or in its form. It’s nice that at least one channel on one medium has respect for its consumers.

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