The Week In Radio: Happy campers who are still raising a laugh
It's been quite a week for peering into the male psyche, what with the launch of 5 Live's Men's Hour and Peter Mandelson's analysis of the Tony and Gordon's epic tiff. Somehow it all seemed so much easier back in the 1950s, when men were men, sex was saucy, and psychoanalysis wasn't allowed. At least that was the view of Kenneth Williams in Radio 2's exploration of the Carry On films, Carry On Forever! "Psychoanalysis is a load of rubbish," remarked Williams. "It's very dangerous thinking you can understand people, to accept is the whole point."
This was ironic, obviously, given that if ever a man was crying out for the therapist's couch it was Williams, and you could get a whole psychiatry textbook out of the Carry On stars. Charles Hawtrey, for example, who was rarely absent from the roster until Carry On Cruising, which he missed because he'd asked for a star on his dressing room door and wasn't allowed. "You'd see him arrive with his plastic bag with his lunch in it, he came on the bus and had a little do-up purse with his pennies in for the cast poker... and he died in poverty." Actually, it's a surprise more of them didn't, given the paucity of the budgets. Hollywood it wasn't. The films were shot over six weeks, ending at 6pm on the Friday, "and if you weren't they would have cut that scene", as Liz Fraser said. Nobody got blue Smarties in their trailers. "When we did Camping we were up to our ankles in mud and it was freezing cold, and we had to budge them quite hard to get a caravan to sit in," complained Joan Sims. "They didn't think about the actors." Narrated by Leslie Phillips, in a voice dripping with double entendre, this was an enjoyable documentary, lacking in depth but worth it for the excerpts, and for Sid James with a laugh filthier than a flooded drain.
Not that it's much easier getting men to analyse their personal lives today, as Evan Davis found on the Today programme. His interviews with Peter Mandelson often feel as though you're eavesdropping on some private encounter, and the session on his memoir was no exception. Suggesting Mandelson was "unhealthily obsessive" about politics, Evan observed: "Your partner Reinaldo gets five brief mentions, your dog Bobby gets four. Why this intense bunker-like dwelling on little things and not getting out a bit more?" For a second a nation paused, muesli halfway to mouth, at least I did, until Mandelson totally ignored the question and reverted to a discussion of Tony and Gordon's slanging matches, so eerily familiar to anyone who has teenagers on Facebook.
At least Mandelson, being the third man, escaped second-man syndrome, neatly encapsulated by Julia Langdon in The Curse of the Number Two, which demonstrated cruelly why Nick Clegg should not get too excited by being Deputy PM. Al Gore described the job of US Vice President as "not worth a pitcher of warm spittle" and Roy Hattersley reckoned "being deputy leader of the Labour party was much worse than that." Hattersley revealed he had actually refused to stand for the job, but John Smith had forged his signature on the ballot paper. The consensus was that Clement Attlee, once Churchill's deputy, who "never used one syllable where none would do" was the only Number Two who made a good Prime Minister. The advice to Nick Clegg therefore, said Peter Hennessy, was to "grow a moustache and shut up".
Perhaps the most sublime investigation of any male psyche was Norman Lebrecht's In Search of Gustav Mahler, in which he talked to people about the effect Mahler's music had on them. One of the frankest was Lebrecht himself, who admitted, "there are times when I've needed Mahler more than anything else on earth." Probing the depth of meaning in Mahler's music, this was an profound and ambitious programme, and though I would have liked more of the music, it was the most rewarding analysis on offer this week.
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