The week in radio: Proof at last that a radio lecture can be passionate and fun


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The Independent Culture

"This must be the first time in the 65-year history of Reith," said Sue Lawley, introducing the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, "that a cross-dresser has been the lecturer."

"Well, as far as we know," replied Perry, quick as a flash.

If last year's Reith Lecture, given by the magnificently pompous historian Niall Ferguson, prompted occasional heckling, this year's brought with it wild applause and joyful hooting from the assembled audience, and ripples of delight across Twitter.

This was, in case anyone had forgotten, an annual radio institution, running since 1948, that could once be relied upon to send millions of listeners into a mid-morning coma, with speakers wheeled in directly from the tomb. But in Perry's hands, it has suddenly become fun. Never mind our host's love of '50s party frocks and oversized bows, this wasn't an event where you expected Tate director and bastion of high-mindedness Nicholas Serota to be outed as a collector of Cliff Richard-related tat.

Perry, last seen visiting Sunderland homes smothered in mail-order ceramic figurines in a Channel 4 investigation into taste, was discussing the democratisation of art. In doing so, he wanted to answer the questions posed not by academics and establishment nobs, but ordinary mortals who visit galleries and, in many cases, emerge baffled at what they have seen.

Describing himself as an artist operating in "the call-centre of culture", Perry tackled perennial art-world puzzlers such as, "How can we tell if something is good?" and, "What is the criteria by which art is judged?"

This wasn't actually a lecture at all but a free-wheeling chat on the major issues in a notoriously snobbish world as viewed both by a smart and funny potter at its epicentre, and the man and woman in the street. He wanted to give us the tools with which to view art confidently and not feel that our instincts about its merit – or lack thereof – are invalid.

His ruminations moved from his own early performance art, enacted as a student, in which he played a naked guru in a chastity belt, via Hogarth's famous line of beauty and Duchamp's Fountain urinal to the contemporary art world in which a work can be judged by whether in can fit in the lift of a swanky Manhattan apartment building.

Dressed, we were told, in a T-shirt dress, sea-green tights and "flatforms", Perry was irreverent and waspish, refusing to declaim grandly, to patronise or be cowed by the lectures of yore. I emerged with both my passion for art intact and my wariness of the institutions that sustain it reinforced. Perry's lecture was called "Playing To The Gallery", but the emphasis was on "playing".

When the Radio 4 bigwigs begin casting around for next year's Reith speaker, they might want to consider a wise-and-witty Welsh singer with an old head on young shoulders.

On BBC6 Music, Charlotte Church delivered The John Peel Lecture, the annual talk, now in its third year, in which music industry luminaries consider the pressing issues of their time. In Church's case, it was the sexualisation and degradation of women in music. Her language veered from clear and urgent – "the culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to become routine" – to deliberately throwaway – "there's no easier way to sell something than to get some chick to get her tits out, right?"

It wasn't just the record industry to which Church delivered a sharp boot up the backside. There was something delicious about listening to a woman on BBC radio castigating BBC radio for allowing Robin Thicke's wilfully misogynist "Blurred Lines" on its playlists. Church for Controller!