Helena Kennedy: young, gifted, black-eyed

RADIO

There can't have been many top female QCs to have shared a bed with an auntie in a Glasgow tenement in the Sixties. On Friday, it was Helena Kennedy's turn to say I Was That Teenager (R4), looking back with warm affection to the tough, Scottish roots from which her adamantine ability to concentrate amidst confusion, and her passionate zeal for social equality sprang.

Hunter Davies, who conducts these interviews, is a mixed blessing. Though sometimes he is estimable, asking just what we want to know, sometimes he interrupts, irritatingly, with his own theories about what his guest is saying. When Kennedy talked about her first great love, for instance, Davies insisted on renaming it a relationship, and dragging in Catholic guilt, but she brushed him tidily away, like a toast crumb. She preferred to remember her family's desperate grief at the death of John Kennedy - who might, indeed, have been a relation, they agreed - and her parents' strong and humorous sense of values. In those days, all she wanted was to look like Mary Quant, all straightened hair, white face and black eyeliner, which prompted her mother's comment that her eyes looked like two burnt holes in a blanket.

When she got to Gray's Inn, a step that made her uncle think she was going in for hotel management, her co-educated friendliness led to her having to beat off dozens of inhibited chinless wonders, but she stayed with the ideals of her parents, who had never cared much for status based on possessions, and she developed a brisk and dismissive manner with those who, like Davies, attempt to deflect her from the points she wants to make. He stood no more chance of holding his ground than an ant in a deluge.

Upping sticks to go away to study was the subject of Bloody Students (R4), which this week reached the Sixties. As one who was also one of those departing teenagers (leaving her little sister ironing her hair straight at home), your reviewer found this programme a bittersweet exercise in nostalgia - patchy and perforce incomplete, but gloriously right in its tone of exhilaration and occasional despair. My student children ask me about the Sixties as if they were pre-history, and in some ways they are right. Those were the days, as one contributor remarked, when students were feared, as the Chartists had once been. Not for us today's angst about jobs and student loans. We lived on our grants, we were justifiably optimistic about our futures and we marched, even if some of us can't quite remember, any more, precisely what we marched about.

A Northerner recalled the nervous excitement of turning up for his first lecture in a suit, carrying a leather briefcase containing a Parker 51 and a bottle of Quink, only to have his flattened vowels publicly derided. "Well," said a Reading professor, "One can always, surely, work down a colliery, can't one?" No wonder we protested. Over the snobbishness, the idealism, the anxiety and the sense of power and freedom floated the voice of Joan Baez. Oh yes, we fervently sang, we shall overcome.

Baez was one of the Voices (R3) chosen by David Attenborough to illustrate the pure, silvery, untrained power of human vocal chords. His was, of course, an anthropologist's selection. He is a man incapable of being less than fascinating, because everything fascinates him. He mused about the fundamental instinct that leads us to sing; gibbons, our close relatives, sing duets in the rainforests of Borneo, he said, and strong middle-aged women in Bulgaria are respected for a tradition of strident, loud, choral singing in dissonant harmony which sounded, frankly, more astonishing than beautiful.

On Tuesday's Woman's Hour (R4) came a sad little item advertising classes in which mothers are having to be taught how to sing to their babies. And in Medicine Now (R4) came another piece about the value of music as therapy, describing the sense of release given to dying patients when they are permitted, by professional therapists, to make music. All this rather refutes Attenborough's ideas about the natural gift of music, but the balance was restored on Saturday. Humphrey Burton's magisterial account of the life of Menuhin, Master Musician (Classic FM) has passed its half- way point and reached that same decade of freedom, the 1960s. Burton does this series so well because he doesn't need to do much research. He was actually there when Menuhin conducted his son and his sisters in a performance of a Mozart concerto for three pianos. He knows what it was like, and how to communicate the sense that Menuhin is a man happy to make music with virtually anyone.

We had to imagine Fonteyn and Nureyev dancing Swan Lake to Menuhin's solo violin, but we could hear how beautiful and spontaneous it sounded. And we could hear, too, the electrifying combination of Menuhin and the Indian sitar-player Ravi Shankar playing a raga together, a performance that, his wife said, made Yehudi so nervous that he shook with fear.

England has produced an instrument not unlike a sitar, but even more mysteriously lovely. It is the psaltery, whose tinkling, harp-like notes accompanied Leslie Forbes's Arthurian feast. No apologies for returning so soon to A History of Britain in Six Menus (R4). You really mustn't miss any more of them, on the evidence of the first two. Forbes was at Glastonbury last Sunday, relishing smoked eels and all kinds of related Arthurian nonsense. I particularly liked the weary old hippies in search of supernatural vibes, who were there to draw strength from the esoteric vortices of the place. "Eee, yoah," brayed one of them gustily, "it's the energy babbling trew your feet." She was, she said, coming from the suburbs of Antwerp: she was, in fact, coming straight from 1968.

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments