COALES' NOTES / Part of the curriculum: Gordon Coales makes his radio debut and experiences his own crisis in post-modern thought

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MONDAY: I had a lengthy phone call from Archie this evening. He had been listening with interest to the start of the Reith Lectures. He said to me: 'This is the point. The intellectual - and I'm bound to include myself here - and I think I would include you, too, Gordon - we intellectuals must be prepared to stand up, and make ourselves known, and speak out. This is the message ringing out from Broadcasting House.'

I mentioned my forthcoming late- night cultural phone-in slot. He said: 'So, you have a platform - and it is your duty to stand up, and to speak out, and to use this platform to articulate your position and communicate your ideas.' He's pretty far gone now, I'm afraid - though, in a way, right.

TUESDAY: Made arrangements with producer at Pipeline Radio. He said Robbie was keen to kick off with something 'a little bit meaty'. How would I feel about taking 'post-modernism' as the topic for discussion? I suggested, wasn't that rather old hat. He replied: 'No, I think you'll find it's news to our listeners.' I told him no problem, then, it was my mission to communicate.

I said to Di, I was sure I knew once, but could she remind me, what was post-modernism exactly? She said: 'Oh, yes - I remember about three years ago, I was just about to find out - and then suddenly it was all over, wasn't it?'

I have bought several books on the subject. It does come back vaguely. But one has to find a way of getting it across.

WEDNESDAY: I have found this excellent example from Umberto Eco. He says someone today can no longer say, 'I love you madly.' They can only say, 'I love you madly - as Barbara Cartland would say.' This is the post-modern condition. I think it will serve perfectly. I told Di I would not be in tomorrow - too nerve-wracked. She said: 'Just be yourself.'

THURSDAY: The programme got off on a perhaps unfortunate note. Robbie announced: 'Calling all aesthetes. It's 11.02, and time for a little bit of a departure on Nightwatch - the first Nightwatch soiree, our very own cultural salon. And the man with the floppy cravat and the green carnation, Gordon Coales, is here with me to discuss matters intellectual.'

We bantered for a bit, then he said: 'And now we're going to talk about something really rather interesting. Post- modernism. Post-modern. Po-Mo. Call it what you will, it's a word we hear quite often nowadays. And it's important, isn't it, Gordon?' I agreed. 'But is this just something that's happening in the arts, or does it affect us in our daily lives?' I said it was really very simple. It was simply a feeling, in all areas of life, that everything had been done before, and that nothing was real or believable anymore. And then I gave the Barbara Cartland example.

It is quite amazing, the level of resistance that is provoked by any attempt to introduce a new idea into people's minds. We had nothing but quibbles and complaints from then on. Cheryl from Fulham: 'Actually, I don't know if you've ever read Barbara Cartland, Gordon, but they never say that. They never say it like that.' Roger from Dalston: 'But say if I want to say, 'Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps.' How do I say that? Because I can't see Barbara Cartland saying that. She'd want a creme de menthe or a Babycham or something, wouldn't she?' I think the clincher was Fran from Ealing. 'The question I want to ask Gordon is: what does Barbara Cartland herself say? If she loves someone madly, what does she say? She can't say, 'I love you madly, as Barbara Cartland would say,' can she? The gentleman in question would think she was mad.'

I was completely stumped. Robbie said: 'Interesting point, Fran. And maybe if Barbara Cartland - if you're listening, Barbara, why not call us, and tell us what you would say.'

But, honestly, I doubt whether Sir Kenneth Clark himself could have handled it any better.

FRIDAY: Rather disappointed to find that no one in the office had managed to listen to the programme. But this afternoon I got my first piece of feedback - a call from a lecturer at the University of Mid Thames. He said he had heard the broadcast, wanted to know if it was an ongoing thing etc.

He went on. 'No, I was quite interested in what you were trying to do in that, shall we say, forum - the dialogue between, quotes, 'high' and 'low'. I should say, for what it's worth, that I teach a course in, to use a term I'm not very happy with, popular culture.'

I said, so was he asking me to go along and talk to his students about my broadcasting experience.

He replied: 'Well, to put it perhaps too simply, no.' But he believed in being quite open with me. Next term his class would be 'looking at various models of, for want of a better word, punditry. And I will be encouraging my students to listen to your programme, and to examine some of the assumptions and agendas - hidden and otherwise - at work within such a programme. So I think it's only fair to tell you - for what it's worth - that you are being - well, for want of a better word, studied.'

I said, well, for want of a better word, thanks a lot.

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