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
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
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

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?