The Week in Radio: Tony Harrison is 75 - but he hasn't aged and nor has V

 

In the summer of 1972 Alice Cooper, the fright-wigged shock-rocker, sent Mary Whitehouse, the blue-rinsed umbrage-taker, a bunch of flowers along with a note of thanks. Through the latter's vociferous campaigning to have Cooper's single "School's Out" banned from Top of the Pops, she inadvertently propelled it to the top of the charts.

The poet Tony Harrison might have considered a similar token of gratitude for the Conservative MP Gerald Howarth who, 25 years ago, led a campaign to prevent a reading of Tony Harrison's poem V, which contained 90 swear words — we know this because The Sun newspaper was kind enough to count them — from being broadcast on Channel 4 as part of a Richard Eyre film, thus swelling its audience from the anticipated few thousand to 2.5 million.

I doubt that the poem's late-night airing on Radio 4 on Monday pulled the same ratings, or provoked a millionth of the fuss, despite the station's best efforts to stir up some outrage with a slew of press releases that all but begged us to storm Parliament and torch Broadcasting House. Last month, the controller Gwyneth Williams announced that she wanted to throw some fireworks into the schedules. This, apparently, was the first rocket.

There may have been a scattering of listeners whose knickers got vaguely knotty over Harrison's liberal sprinkling of the words "fuck" and "cunt", the same type of people who find themselves unusually hot under the collar at the sight of a children's TV character in a Jimmy Savile wig and start dashing off letters to Ofcom in telltale green ink. But I'm guessing that most heard it for what it was: a howl of rage and a shattering reflection on the state of his city, his country and of human nature.

Harrison wrote the poem after visiting his parents' graves in Holbeck Cemetery in Beeston, Leeds, to find them vandalised. He imagines a conversation with the aerosol-wielding skins who, taking a shortcut back home from the football stadium up the road, had defaced the tombstones on a drunken whim. The poem's title stands not for victory but for "versus", signifying the divisions at the heart of British life – "Leeds v. Derby, Black/White, and (as I have known to my cost) man v. wife, Communist v. Fascist, Left v. Right..."

But before the reading came the context, courtesy of the writer Blake Morrison who, 25 years ago, as the literary editor of a Sunday newspaper, had written that viewers were right to be shocked by V, not by the language but by of the poem's unflinching examination of a polarised society. Regarding the swearing, the poet Khadija Ibrahim, who runs writing workshops in Leeds, told Morrison: "If he didn't use those words, he would be dishonest as a poet. You wouldn't know about the Beeston environment. It's the language of the people."

The poem had some impressive defenders first time around – Auberon Waugh, Harold Pinter, Joan Bakewell and Melvyn Bragg – but they weren't needed now. The only dissenting voice was Gerald Howarth, still thumping his tub a quarter of a century later, but with a noticeably smaller voice.

And Harrison? He's 75 now, the age at which in V he wonders if he might be joining his parents on the family plot. But he didn't sound old and nor did his poem. You don't hear much about "skins" now, but replace them with "hoodies" or "chavs" and, with the references to unemployment, hardship, religious divisions, the rich and the poor, the educated and ill-educated, and Britain doesn't look or sound so very different. It's this, not the "four-letter filth", that's shocking.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game