RADIO / In the psychiatrist's easy chair: Robert Hanks on courtesy and fawning from Dr Anthony Clare and Sue Lawley. Plus David Duke

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The Independent Culture
THE NOTION that Dr Anthony Clare's interviews for In the Psychiatrist's Chair (Radio 4, Wednesday) are masterpieces of insight and penetration has by now become practically a truism. The result is that Dr Clare is like the gunfighter who's earned himself a big rep - he hardly ever needs to pull the trigger any more. Nowadays, as often as not, he has barely opened his mouth before celebrities crack up and start spilling the beans.

But is he actually a good interviewer? In many ways, yes: he is courteous to his guests, putting them at their ease and allowing them to speak at length. But the mark of a great interviewer is surely his (or her) ability to persuade the interviewee to part with information they hadn't meant to give. All too often, the impression left by a Clare interview is that the guest has arrived knowing what he wanted to say, and has said precisely that. Clare will rarely challenge a ready-made analysis, however trite or facile (such as Sir Michael Tippett's unhappy excursions into Jung a couple of years ago). He doesn't try to persuade his guests to step outside their own self-image.

In this respect, he has something in common with Sue Lawley's Desert Island Discs, although he is not in the same league. When Lawley told David Mellor last week that he was famous for mastering his briefs quickly, the remark was embarrassing not because you could read a proleptic underwear reference into it, but because it seemed designed to bolster Mr Mellor's self-esteem. Interviews needn't be combative; but there is a gaping abyss between courtesy and outright fawning, and Lawley stands on the wrong side of it.

Clare is never that clumsy; but he still tries to be nice - probably good clinical practice, but frustrating in interview. Last week, in the first programme of a new series, he called Bob Monkhouse 'much-derided, as well as much- loved'. Much loved? You can hardly find anybody with a good word to say for the man. The flattery runs both ways. Later on, when Monkhouse was describing his relationship with his mother - a domineering woman who severed all relations with him for 20 years after he married - his voice became husky with emotion, and he expressed astonishment at the things he was saying to Clare. But it was hard to shake off the sense that this was simulated feeling, an impression of self-revelation; he was being nice to Dr Clare.

Which is not to say that there weren't some striking things in the interview. Monkhouse came across as possessing an unusual gift for facing his limitations - he claimed only a small talent as a comedian which he had amplified by single-mindedness, and admitted that his personality was not attractive. He showed, too, a disarmingly shrewd sense of what it was that people disliked about him, putting it down to his desperation to be liked. He had tried, he said, to change, but people had hated him even more. Now, he had achieved a truce with the public: 'They kind of say, 'Well, the old bastard's been around so long we might as well put up with him, and he is quite funny sometimes'.'

There was a sharp contrast between this and the rather sad delusions of David Duke, the former Klansman who stood recently for the governorship of Louisiana, and subject of a US-made documentary in the Anglo-American series Your Place or Mine? (Radio 4, Sunday). It was a remarkably balanced picture - on the one hand, you heard Duke's supporters, baying like extras for The 101 Dalmatians and damning the media and its 'Zionist' paymasters. But that was offset by a journalist's description of Duke's childhood: 'His mother was a terrible alcoholic at a very early age and was bedridden most of David's life. He never had the nurturing of a mother, somebody to hold him and say 'I love you, David' ever.' Now, we were told, Duke was chasing a dream of a 'Norman Rockwell' America based on wholesome family values, and he was doomed to disappointment. It's rare to hear far- right extremism painted as a matter for pathos; and it made the horror even more acute.