Peer to thrash out the meaning of modern music: Rhys Williams meets the improbable figure who will attempt to narrow the musical generation gap
Saturday 01 October 1994
From a week on Monday, Lord Onslow will present Supertunes, a five-part guide on Radio 3 to rap, ambient house, acid jazz, jungle and thrash metal. Each day he will provide 'an extra-generational explanation to narrow the eternal musical gap between the old and the young. Just as the first waltzes were regarded as the height of immorality so my grandfather disapproved of Cole Porter. Could today's parents be making the same mistake?'
His media career began last year with 'Superhints' on the Big Breakfast, in which he explained how to open a bottle of wine with a piece of knotted string. The producers, Planet 24, were impressed enough to invite him back to do Supertunes. Word has meanwhile filtered through to youth media. The music magazine Select signed him up to review singles. Planet 24 is working on a television pilot of Supertunes. G-Spot, another style bible, has asked him to DJ alongside D:Ream's Al McKenzie at a party next month.
Michael William Coplestone Dillon Onslow was educated at Eton and the Sorbonne, before serving with the Life Guards on the Arabian peninsula in the 1950s. When his father, the sixth earl, died in 1971 he took over the family estate at Clandon Park, Surrey. Hardly the person to unravel acid jazz and hip-hop.
'I'm immensely surprised by the whole thing. I'm by nature a curious human being - I'm curious about things and one could say I'm slightly odd.' His standard greeting is to hand you a lump of stone and ask you to guess what it is. 'It's a marble testicle pinched from the Roman Forum in 1887,' he explains. 'You can feel the veins.'
A PR adviser now arranges his life. 'She's a complete fascist. I haven't been organised like this since I left the nursery in 1943 and the nanny was sacked.'
More time in the studio means less with his many animals. His father once owned two hamsters, Habukkuk and Hadji- Ali-Dit, and Probyn, a Himalayan mountain bear named after his wife's stepmother's grandfather, who won a VC in India. Lord Onslow is building a house for his pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, Kosher. It will have a Burgundy-style tiled roof and an onion-domed clock tower (a replica of St Basil's, Moscow).
A whiff of life behind the mike and Lord Onslow is desperate to get back on-air. He wants to condense Edward Gibbon's 12-volume historical epic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire into five-minute gobbets.
Gibbon's ability to destroy a character in one sentence would make the project a winner, he believes. He quotes a passage on the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus: 'He clearly didn't like this man at all - 'However he might occasionally bind himself to oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from the inconvenient obligation' - what a majestic way of saying 'he's a lying shit'.'
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