The Week In Radio: It takes a woman to sort out the men from the boys


"In his secret fantasies," said the historian Amanda Vickery in her Radio 4 series Amanda Vickery on… Men, "I wonder if every British man isn't something of a hero, questing, intrepid, undaunted." Really? Most of my male friends' idea of courage doesn't extend much further than venturing out to the chip shop at pub chucking-out time. But what do I know? Perhaps my ownership of ovaries renders me blind to man's primal instincts.

This week, in the fifth part of her investigation into 800 years of male archetypes, Vickery was looking at the explorer, specifically the rugged, ruddy-cheeked adventurers of centuries past who embodied the perceived qualities of Britishness. Visions of leech-smothered alpha males hacking through jungles with machetes, and ex-public schoolboys staggering across ice-caps, leaving trails of frost-bitten fingers in their wake, wafted into view as Vickery got to grips with the male imagination and its love affair with old-school derring-do.

I loved just about everything about this series. In previous episodes, Vickery has focused on the sailor, a potent symbol of masculinity who, whether impossibly aristocratic or a tattooed bit of rough, seems to be loved by women the world over. She has explored, with amused distaste, the 18th-century lover, given to creating landscaped vaginas in the grounds of their homes and detailing their exploits in sex diaries, and the nihilistic knight who would return home after four years of pillaging and bemoan his lady's newly acquired wrinkles.

She has delighted us with tales of male courtiers fretting about the shape of their legs, and has revealed how the masculine hero is as much as a social construct as the female glamour model or the meek housewife. With the help of letters, film excerpts and assorted contributors, she has explored long-standing stereotypes and exploded them, and has done so with intelligence, equanimity and a sense of the absurd. These kind of stories are rarely told, at least by a woman.

There have been complaints that Vickery isn't as vocal in her views as she might have been, and that she is too reliant on the testimony of experts when she herself is more than qualified to pass judgement. In fact, she is thoughtful, engaging, willing to seek out other perspectives while being perfectly clear on her own, such as when talking to the American adventurer Wade Davis. As he blathered on about the male search for authenticity, danger and near-death experiences, Vickery noted that the majority of women experience all this and more in childbirth. "That's our brush with death," she noted, "and we don't have to go up mountains to find it."

But Vickery's series isn't about the battle of the sexes, it's about the battle between old and new models of masculinity. The modern metrosexual male, with his dishwasher-stacking expertise and fondness for personal hygiene, has little in common with the he-man types of the past. We heard how explorers such as Scott of the Antarctic hankered for new experiences, to conquer new territories and test their masculinity even if it meant meeting their death. All very inspiring, I'm sure. But there was, it was speculated, another reason why Scott and co were prepared to travel to the ends of the earth, and that was to escape women and the suffocating domesticity of Edwardian life.

This not only reveals New Man to be considerably more dependable than Explorer Man, it makes Antarctica the early-20th-century answer to the garden shed. Reflecting on Scott's achievements, it was pointed out that no woman would set foot in Antarctica for another 23 years. Given how Scott and his fellow adventurers met their ends – as human popsicles in a vast snowdrift – I wonder who's the real winner?

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living