The Week in Radio: Dynamic double act has got all the best lines
Thursday 16 September 2010
Whenever I talk to people about 5 Live, which is a lot of course, there is one programme they invariably mention. It is the show described as "two hours of wittertainment" , it has won a Sony Gold award, has its own channel on YouTube and is pretty much a cult. You can see why.
Kermode and Mayo's Film Review is two hours of total chemistry. Kermode is riffing and opinionated, and Mayo is the exasperated voice of reason, the Judy to Kermode's Richard if you like. It's part film studies degree course, part pub. "How would you spot the difference between Lynchian and Herzogian?" enquired Mayo of one especially convoluted piece of Kermode critique. Yet Mark is equally likely to dismiss another film offhand as "grievous, horrible and total toilet". It's quite impossible to imagine a book programme approaching its subject in this way, but it works because you never doubt that Kermode knows what he's talking about. The cult bit of the show is the banter. Friday's leitmotiv sprang from a listener who happened to mention that his daughter was at Cambridge, and haplessly inspired a running debate about whether it was really the best university in the world compared to say, Manchester, which is Kermode's alma mater. "I apologise for this petulant and childish outburst from someone who should know better," said Mayo, but he knew to keep it running. The director Joe Dante, on to discuss his new movie, was bewildered. "Is the show always like this?" he asked. "It's like another culture."
If he really wanted another culture he could have switched to Radio 3, where Simon Heffer has been giving the nightly Essay on British cinema of the 1940s. Like Mark Kermode (though not in any other way), Heffer is passionate and authoritative, and his analysis of this period of British cinema, which is so often regarded as parochial and cosy, was fascinating. He began with Went the Day Well?, the Powell and Pressburger classic depicting an English village invaded by Germans, where he saw metaphors for the future breakdown of class-bound society. Focusing on a key moment when the lady of the manor snatches up a hand grenade lobbed into a roomful of children, Heffer observed: "I hesitate to say that Mrs Fraser running out of the room with a hand grenade was a necessary step on the road to the Atlee government, but it was one. Her act was born of generations of breeding, but also signals the new reality that the cushioned life of the upper classes in peace gave them no rights to be shielded from the world during war".
Not that the upper classes were that shielded, if you listened to Debo Devonshire on Friday's Woman's Hour. The last of the Mitfords is a historian's gift, and has lived a life of immense documentary value, so all credit to Woman's Hour for devoting a special to her memories of JKF and Hitler. Not only does she possess total recall and a mind as clear as a bell, but every sentence that dropped from her lips was a gem. Whenever an Evening Standard headline began "Peer's daughter", the Duchess said, her mother knew it was one of her children. She met her husband at a coming-out dinner, though not, she added, "the coming out we read about now". Jenni Murray was skilled and unobtrusive as ever, but while they bonded over hens, I would have liked a little more Hitler. Unlike many who met the Fuhrer socially, notably her sisters, Debo managed a glimpse of the man behind the monster. It came when she used his bathroom. "There were towels with AH embroidered and his hairbrushes had AH and it brought you down to earth thinking, 'I've known other people with their initials like that'." History, like the devil, is often in the detail.
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