Radio review: I Dressed Like Ziggy Stardust - How Bowie let all the children boogie back in 1972


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The Independent Culture

Seeing David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust doing "Starman" on Top of the Pops in 1972 was one of those moments when it felt as though, in some intangible way, life had changed forever. And countless thousands of teenagers up and down the country clearly shared my experience.

What I didn't appreciate was the impact Bowie had on teens from Indian families, a phenomenon recalled by one of them, Samira Ahmed, veteran presenter of PM and The World Tonight, in I Dressed Ziggy Stardust. Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti was another, and she explained Bowie's appeal to children of migrants: "An artist choosing to play with identity – that's very, very attractive and inspiring."

One or two of the women welled up while recalling those days, testament to the intensity Bowie could create. The programme title was inspired by Shyama Perera, now a writer and broadcaster, who was obsessed; her story would make a nice film. She sent a leotard design to Bowie, and when she met him soon after (she was very resourceful) he ruffled her hair, thanked her and told her she had a surprise in store at Earl's Court soon. Indeed, there he was as Aladdin Sane, in said attire.

In fact, Ahmed found out, all those costumes are credited to Kansai Yamamoto, and memories can sometimes play tricks .... All Perera asks, she told Ahmed, is that if she ever meets Bowie again, he'll remember the girl with the fluffy hair.

In Explaining the Explicit (Radio 3, Monday-Friday ****), writers and thinkers such as Julian Barnes, Sarah Churchwell and Vicki Feaver ruminated on the trials of writing about sex, one of the disciplines of fiction best able to lead authors into making chumps of themselves. Barnes kicked off on Monday with a brisk run-through of the questions a writer must ask before embarking on such a hazardous venture.

Be careful with metaphor, was one lesson I took from it: in the first edition of Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh chose a nautical tack to describe the act. He thought better of it for a later edition, and changed the metaphor to that of real estate: "I was making my first entry as a freeholder of a property I would enjoy and develop at leisure." As Barnes said, after a decent pause, "Oh dear."