New Labour, dodgy old records

RADIO

You have to admire Tony Blair's tolerance. He can happily imagine contemplating his sandy toes while relishing the least distinguished collection of Desert Island Discs (R4) since Otto Preminger picked all his own film themes. Most politicians choose a wily mix of the impressively highbrow and the matily populist, with a rousing blast of "Land of Hope and Glory", or something similar, to illustrate their optimistic patriotism. Not Tony. He was definitely not trying to impress, unless with his honesty: he must really like the idea of listening to this stuff. It's curiously soothing to picture him under the palm tree, humming along, wallowing in Ivanhoe's romantic pursuit of the lovely Rowena, and picking out little tunes on his guitar the while.

Though Sue Lawley was gentler with him than she had been with Gordon Brown, she is a terrier when she suspects disingenuousness, as she showed when innocently inquiring why he felt that he needed to share the story of his father's stroke with the entire Labour Party Conference. On the whole, he handled her tougher questions with aplomb. Asked whether he'd be rescued, he replied with alacrity that he would expect the National Executive of the Labour Party to pass a resolution by 20 votes to five asking him to return. He was frank and, frankly, charming, but, oh, what music ... "Throw down your gun, you might shoot yourself," roared one of his heroes. "If I could have sung like that," sighed Tony, "I would probably have stuck with being a rock musician." That's one of the great Ifs of history.

These programmes can be revealing, given the right interviewer. In the same broad genre, Bob Monkhouse chose his Personal Records (R4) in the company of a fawning Jeremy Nicholas, grateful for having been allowed into his "lovely home". I longed for a Lawley to pick up his remarks and really talk to him, but Nicholas is not the man to engage in anything controversial. Monkhouse's grandfather died when he was eight, he said, and so shocked was he that he didn't speak for several months. Nicholas wasn't listening. He just asked him why he wanted to make people laugh. In the end, all we learnt was that Monkhouse has a realistic view of his own ability to irritate, a tantalisingly unconventional past and a large collection of records.

Lawley has famous or infamous guests; Nicholas has showbiz types; Michael Berkeley has music-lovers. His is often the best such conversation of the week, and so it was with Eleanor Bron, when she revealed her Private Passions (R3) yesterday. The banter between these two came close to flirtation, and she chose some marvellous things, particularly Bartok's splendid, threatening music for Bluebeard's Castle, which is, she said, generously spiked with squeaky bits that grate on your nerves. It would be better known, apparently, if it were longer. Why didn't Berkeley himself compose a companion piece for it, inquired the flattering Bron, in her irresistibly mellow voice. He positively purred.

Her next choice was Chopin. The pianist was Pollini because, they agreed, such emotional music should be played lightly, not imposed upon: give the composer the means and let him work his magic. It is, apparently, the same with acting: an audience is less moved by a sobbing actress than by one who is trying not to weep.

So here we are again with drama, which often makes the very best radio. This week saw three highly original plays, two set in America and one in France. Carey Harrison's A Walk in the Bois de Boulogne (WS) told the story of a young novelist whose book about his parents' deaths had been taken up by a Great Actor who wished to film it and invited the boy to Paris in 1968 to work on the script. A sinuous plot led the listener into a thicket of lust and betrayal, set against a background of student riots. It positively reeked of youth, rebellion and despair.

Aileen La Tourette's play was about the mysterious, lonely death of Edgar Allen Poe. Its title was a line from Poe's poem "Annabel Lee", My Darling, My Darling, My Life and My Bride (R4). For decades, it was assumed that Poe was an alcoholic, but later research suggested that he died of diabetes, a condition not then identified. The most recent, and less convincing theory is that he had rabies, and judging from repeated reference to the waters of Chesapeake Bay being full of snapping teeth - hydrophobia being associated with rabies - this is also La Tour-ette's conclusion.

Be that as it may, the play stayed true to such facts as are known and embroidered a febrile, hallucinogenic fantasy of dream and nightmare to fill in the missing hours. James Aubrey was desperately touching as the dying poet; the only false note was struck by the hysterical parody of a nurse with whom he spent his last moments.

In 1861, 12 years after Poe was buried in Baltimore, Harriet Jacobs wrote her autobiography. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (R4) was based on it, the first slave narrative written by a woman. Orphaned, flogged, branded, sexually abused, sold down the river to work on plantations, hunted with dogs and guns, the heroine (superbly played by Cecilia Noble) eventually made her escape from Mississippi via New York to Boston, where a kindly woman offered to buy her and her daughter into freedom. Proudly she refused, declaring that as long as she could say no she was free already. Listening to this grim, ultimately triumphant account was an instructive, tense and sobering experience.

Another defiant character was spotlit in Sarah Dunant's glittering gallery of Sensational Women (R4). Lady Caroline Lamb was an androgynous beauty whose unconventional antics and gorgeous cloths delighted the public. Granddaughter of Earl Spencer, high-society wife, darling of the tabloids, she had more than a little in common with her ex-royal descendant, but she is remembered only as the vengeful mistress of Byron. Dunant and Michele Roberts discussed Glenarvon, her vast Gothic handbag of a novel, which revealed the cruel details of Byron's treachery - and damned its author. She took to drink and died at 42, disowned by her haughty in-laws. These days, she'd be top of Sue Lawley's list.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried