The Critics Radio: Eurovision? Pass the stewed slugs please

I was driving home on Thursday morning, listening, with an Aristotelian surge of pity and fear, to the news that some poor mother had been fined for not getting her children to school on time. I hadn't realised it was an offence. Fearful of identifying further criminal tendencies in my daily routine, I switched off and enjoyed the silence.

Broadcasters, of their nature, abhor a vacuum, but sometimes it happens, generally when a tape or a temper snaps. The previous evening, I'd heard about two other kinds of radio silence: one had lasted throughout a thrilling Radio Lincoln darts match - yes, darts by radio. The other was weirder still. It happened last Christmas and it accompanied an Irish radio psychic sitting alone in a studio silently, um, psyching.

Finding these reflections refreshingly surreal, I returned to Wogan (R2), where surrealism is poured over the cornflakes. What a week Terry's been having, trying to educate his listeners in the arcane niceties of the Eurovision Song Contest before leaving for Oslo to commentate. His irreverent mischief is a little restrained on television, on the night, but in his own studio nothing stops him, and his vast, crazed audience cheerfully collude.

And they are deranged: deranged and devoted. One of them, goodness knows why, was setting out with the last two hundredweight of Matron's Christmas cake to discover the source of the M25; another was making Viking helmets for his chickens. You can hear the Wogan eyebrows registering the lunacy, but you'd never hear him, for a second, being superior. He is like the genial head of an infant school: tolerant and incredulous. Citing Sam Johnson, a sycophant oozed that the man who is tired of Wogan is tired of life. Some mistake, says Terry, that was Sam Goldwyn. Another fan asked him to play a record for her eight-year- old son: he did, but he warned the child that he'd rue this day, when a very old broadcaster ruined his street cred for life.

Back to the Song for Europe. By the end of Thursday's show, with Wogan poised for departure, his audience was braced. We had been taught the Norwegian for "I'm very much looking forward to the Slovakian entry"; we'd been assured that, bad as our song was, others would be much worse; and we knew that the whole contest was to be played in order to win back the ashes of Katie Boyle.

Alas, poor Katie. But no, the doyenne of "Norvege, nul points", who hosted us through childhood, is alive and well, more glamorous than ever and ready to defend the Eurothon to the World, or at least to the World Service. John Peel presented 40 Years of Eurovision (WS), an enjoyable history of the songfest. Like Wogan, Peel revels in its gauche innocence. He dug up some great old ditties, including the one that beat Cliff Richard and contained 138 repetitions of the word "la". To win the contest, he discovered you'd do best to field a girl singing a soppy love song: to lose convincingly, you'd never beat a team of boys singing "The Beatles gave us all their songs. Yesterday's a lovely one. Like all the others they have done. Yeah yeah yeah." Oh yeah. As Peel said, that bunch deserved a term of imprisonment. It was unnerving to learn that there is a flourishing fan-club whose members spend country weekends watching videos of past contests and awarding points for each song. Dear God, I'd rather eat stewed slugs.

Eric Robinson was for some years the resident Eurovision conductor. He and his more highbrow brother Stamford (did the parents guess at the potential height of their brows before christening them?) were the subject of The Robinsons at the BBC (R2). It looked to be a pretty dull hour, but it wasn't, partly because it offered a chance to read between the lines intoned by a respectful Ian Wallace. The unspoken, unavoidable fact was that those two conductors were insufferably conceited. Eric appeared to be burly and genial but he made people cringe at his unwelcome chumminess with the likes of Menuhin and Tito Gobbi; the tape of him getting his come- uppance from Jack Benny was wickedly funny. Stamford, suffering from the same condition, simply bossed everyone about. That damning expression was used of him, that he (unlike Terry Wogan) "didn't suffer fools gladly".

There were some glorious old recordings, particularly of the soprano Gwen Catley, but even she remembered that the haughty Stamford had made faltering performers cry with his sarcasm. It is a horrible thing to do. Another offender was the doughty and humourless Clara Schumann, High Priestess of the Keyboard (R3), who died 100 years ago. Her pupils, recorded in old age, remembered how she would fidget while they played until they ground to a halt. One recalled an English student composing ribald verses about her, rhyming Brahms with potted palms, but, alas, not giving the full text. Yet she performed for decades to support her family and to keep alive the music of her beloved husband, and she passed her technique on to these old ladies. To hear their restrained, flawless performances was to relive the music-making of the early l9th century, a strangely moving thought.

If Robert Schumann cast a long shadow over Clara's life, it was as nothing compared with the effect Picasso could have. Every evening this week, fine actresses have performed powerful monologues in the characters of some of Picasso's Women (R3). Brian McAvera's intention was to allow these much-reviled consorts to defend themselves. Sadly, as each of them berated the "libidinous dwarf", all we could do was to marvel at their tragic gullibility, and at their voluntary martyrdom on the altar of fame. Poor fools. Not one of them had the sense to cut and run.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

    £7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor