Radio: Notes from the diary of Sir Edward, aged 13
Sunday 11 May 1997
When Ted Heath was 13 he went with his school to Paris to visit the opera: it was Carmen, and the boys had seats in a box. However (and you may become, as I did - as indeed he did - a little goggle-eyed at this revelation) from this fine vantage point, our future Prime Minister found himself a little distracted from the music by, "har-umph, a lady who couldn't keep, harumph, harumph, the tops of her dress in place". Don't you like that word "top", and isn't it endearing to think of that great unbending monolith, the blasted Heath, admitting to such frivolity?
He was talking to Susannah Simons about Music - A Joy for Life (Classic FM). In his heyday, it was often suggested that Heath was an indifferent musician, given a chance to conduct that hoary old Cockaigne overture merely out of sycophantic pandering. This fascinating interview proved otherwise. The sniggering boy cared so much about music that he cycled the 72 miles from Broadstairs to London in order to lobby Henry Wood and bluff his way into the Proms.
He went to Oxford on an organ scholarship and became the only PM to install a piano and harpsichord in Downing Street for his own use. In this time, music flourished. One night, he said, he arranged for a Schubert Trio to be performed there as a present for William Walton's 70th birthday, while the party sat on the floor around the Queen Mother, who presided in a "chair of state".
Heath's lifelong commitment to European union is paralleled by that of Helmut Kohl, who was Bismarck in a Cardigan (R4). When he was 13, in 1943, Kohl was conscripted to pull bodies out of the bombed chemical plant at Ludwigshafen, where he lived. He was later evacuated with his school to, of all places, Hitler's headquarters at Berchtesgarten, where he was sworn into Hitler Youth. But he ran away and walked the 250 miles home, through a battered and defeated Germany, terrified that his parents had been killed.
From this searing experience came his passionate desire to bring about a unified Europe. His cardigan-and-slippers approach to diplomacy worked with Gorbachev and Mitterand, though Margaret Thatcher was less than thrilled at being offered stuffed pigs' stomach in his local diner - "she did rather push it around her plate," an aide recalled. She also resisted his blandishments.
David Sells presented a thoughtful portrait of this undoubtedly great man. Even now, Kohl is only slightly tainted by the whiff of hubris - for example when he insists, against all the evidence, that his dream of a single European currency can successfully precede political unanimity. His steam-rollering of German monetary union has left his country reeling under a weight of debt, but he is undaunted. He promised the old East Germany a vision of peaceful, flowering countryside, but his critics might prefer the original Bismarck's warning of blood, sweat and tears.
The third 13-year-old is fictional. He is Mirad, a Boy from Bosnia (WS). The Dutch writer Ad de Bont based his play firmly on the records of Amnesty International. Mirad's experiences are precisely those of many children whose lives were hideously blighted by their experience of that brutal war. His mother is carried off by Serbian soldiers: though Serbian herself, she is married to a Muslim so that even her brother refuses to save her. His father is a Muslim only by arbitrary definition: Tito, he explains, had declared that, to keep the balance of power, all those not specifically Serbian or Croatian should be called Muslim, though many were in fact atheists - "so we are murdered for something we are not".
Mirad is forced to walk with his father through a minefield and to see him blown up. His little sister dies in his arms after the street where she was playing is shelled. He is eventually spirited away to Holland but manages to get back to Bosnia, where he finds his mother and the baby she had borne, alone, as a result of her rape.
This was not a good play. It was ragged and baggy; the acting was patchy and the translation occasionally grated. Yet it transcended all such criticism. It was almost unbearably moving. There are stories, says Mirad's aunt, that nobody wants to tell and nobody wants to hear, but these people had nothing but their stories. Lee Turnbull as Mirad - himself 13 - grabbed your arm and insisted that you didn't flinch. The least you could do was to listen.
The UN, that great symbol of the unity sought by men like Heath and Kohl, failed to stop the war but, by coincidence, in the very week of this broadcast, the first Bosnian Serb, Dusko Tadic, was indicted for war crimes. Tadic's boss, thinly disguised as "The Tiger" in this play, is awaiting his own trial. Life and art collide.
These three programmes belong to a proud tradition of instructive, informative radio. But there is another kind, of course, which is mere entertainment - and not to be scoffed at for that. All the same, Blur at Peel Acres (R1) was pretty risible. John Peel, whose enjoyable series Offspring (R4) twangs many a chord in this house, is so patently a nice man that you can forgive him for almost anything, but this was a tester.
The rural Peel residence was the venue for a small live Blur concert. The build-up took hours. Peel nervously patrolled the grounds with his dog Bridget, tried to insist that his daughter's friends dressed decently, and waited - as the garden filled up with the hungover Rl live music team, and all their clobber. At long last the boys arrived.
What a let-down. Their playing was passable, but oh dear, their chat. Peel valiantly struggled to engage them in musical gossip, but the generation gap yawned chasmically as he dropped names that stayed dropped. In the end, he asked, desperately, about a glimpsed tattoo. "It's just something about Germany, you know," droned a Blurry voice, enigmatically, " ... wanting to injure meself ..." Oh Chancellor Kohl, there's a long way to go.
`Mirad' (WS) is repeated tonight at 7.30pm.
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