Radio: She's no lady, she's a Woman's Hour listener
Sunday 13 October 1996
And Woman's Hour (R4) was nearly a week old. They celebrated the actual anniversary on Monday by assemb-ling a group of 50-year-old women to take part in a quiz. It was mayhem. They all talked at once, the buzzers went on the blink and Jenni Murray couldn't shut anyone up. Mind you, these weren't just any old women. If you were to ask Clare Short, Edwina Curry, Diana Quick and Marina Warner to occupy the same village, there'd be trouble: one small studio barely contained what became a serious showing-off competition, with extra marks for interruption and name-dropping.
It proved a point: Woman's Hour has long been a stage for successful, articulate women. But it has also provided varied and heartening inspiration for the rest of us. On Tuesday women revealed how the programme had changed their lives. One had been ironing while Margaret Powell talked about getting an O-level in her sixties: eight years of study later, the listener was blissfully happy as a teacher and had, apparently, lost interest in ironing.
She is a far cry from the image of the contented housewife who was the icon of the early programmes, when tips about how to de-slime a face-flannel jostled with such beauty advice as: "If you wear a face, wear it always and never be seen without it." We are far less tolerant of complacent male attitudes than we were, too. Monday's quiz featured some of the choicer insults endured by women over the years: the one that caused most horror was Omar Sharif's macho remark: "Every woman loves the idea of a sheikh carrying her off and raping her in his tent."
By an unfortunate coincidence, Christopher Gable risked a similar reaction on Sunday's Celebrity Choice (CFM). Shamelessly plugging Dracula, his Northern Ballet Theatre's latest production, he said that ladies (oops, you can't call us that any more, Mr Gable) find the idea of being torn from the marital bed by a beautiful dark stranger rather a turn-on. This may be his fantasy, but, if it is shared by women, we certainly don't want any man saying so.
Apart from that, Gable was one of Paul Callan's better guests. His experiences with Margot Fonteyn and Ken Russell produced some great stories, and his enthusiasm for dance-drama was exhilarating. He is anxious that dancers should remember that they are primarily communicators and artists, not just athletes, and that ballet should never become be merely a display of physical prowess.
For one thing, striving always to leap higher and move faster leads to injury; dancers' feet are hideously distorted and they risk permanent physical damage every time they perform. Yet they choose to do it. So do footballers. On the Line (R5) presented an unusually weak case this week, when it argued for payments from the Industrial Injuries Board for professional footballers who develop arthritis. It was impossible to work up much - any - indignation about this, despite the irritatingly insistent style of the presentation. There is so much money in football that the Professional Footballers' Association could surely afford to help its invalids. Yet in the last sentence we heard that they are only "considering" paying for some research.
Arthritis is one of the commonest afflictions of mankind. They dug a dead climber, complete with axe, out of a Swiss glacier and he was found to have suffered from it too, even as he made his last climb, some 5,300 years ago. Andrew Johnston's fascinating new series, Bodies of Evidence (R4), describes the minutely detailed information that can emerge from such discoveries. Reassuringly, Tony Robinson presents it; nobody, hearing his innocently inquiring voice, could so much as shudder at the potential ghoulishness of long-delayed autopsy.
Still, let us escape from the morgue and into the caravan, where we could all be Kings of the Road (R2). "You can't describe what fun it is until you've done it," chirruped a vanner from his Challenger or his Sabre, his Meteorite or his Sprinter. Though full of arcane information about the thrills of hitching and coupling, I wasn't convinced. Whether top- of-the-range with power-shower and satellite dish, or little more than a stiff tent, it is driven by a man in a tracksuit and a Ford Capri and it is in front of my car. Is there one, I wondered idly, called a Sleeparound?
They travel enormous distances in these things, but they will never get to Bohemia (WS). That is the mythical land inhabited by the cast of Puccini's La Boheme. Phyllida Lloyd and Jonathan Miller, who set their productions in the Fifties and the Thirties respectively, discussed their perceptions of the opera and its source - a novel by Henri Murger, son of a bank- robber and a concierge, who used his royalties to ascend to the middle class, where he died of syphilis. Packed with information and ideas about nostalgia, freedom, idealism and poverty, this was a marvellous half hour.
Finally, just a mention of the most moving thing I heard all week. Simon Callow read De Profundis (R4) last Sunday evening quietly, as if he had written it, as if he had lived it. From his hard labour in Reading Gaol, picking oakum until his fingers bled, Oscar Wilde wrote: "I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine." Yes, and distilled it into piercing sorrow.
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