My Greatest Mistake: Mark Lawson, presenter, 'Front Row', BBC Radio 4

Although I have never been any kind of shock jock, my worst moment on live television involved an apparent foul-mouthed outburst. My error was not to have known that the philosopher Immanuel Kant's surname is habitually pronounced by academics to rhyme with "punt".

And so it was that, one night on Late Review, I heard Professor Germaine Greer declare, during a discussion of a new book by Roger Scruton: "The problem with Scruton is that he tries to write about cunt but he knows absolutely nothing about cunt."

Apart from my ignorance of German phonetics, I blame the misunderstanding on the fact that this was a perfectly plausible critique of the limitations of Scruton's world-view and expressed in terms that Professor Greer would not necessarily consider extreme for television.

Nor was I the only one to be confused. The producer was screaming through my earpiece: "Just apologise!"

The panellist to my right, Tony Parsons, was fighting hysterical laughter, which, once started, as fans of cricket radio commentary know, tends to spread.

I was drafting an apology in my head - "Germaine is known for her robust language, but I'm sorry if anyone found that below the belt..." - when the foul-mouthed Professor suddenly referred to "Cunt's Critique of Pure Reason".

I realised what had happened and changed the apology to express a hope that the correct academic pronunciation hadn't confused anyone. But that remains the closest I've come to being unable to complete a link through giggling.

Many years later, listening to a late-night Radio 3 arts programme in the car, I almost had to pull off the M40 when a punctiliously pronouncing philosopher revealed that he had "devoted my whole life to Kant but am always finding new things hidden there".

Comments