News Opinion

Monday 24 October 2016

Radio review: Going over the top, in more ways than one

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London Photo: REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool
Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London Photo: REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

It's one of the most consistently stimulating shows on BBC radio, but Woman's Hour can be very silly at times.

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Last Wednesday was one of them, as they chose to discuss former UK minister Ken Clarke's mordantly amused description of his Tory colleague Theresa May as "a bloody difficult woman" by framing it in the context of a Royal Institution lecture later that same day on the historical silencing of women.

This was unfair both to Clarke, who is manifestly not as hostile to female assertiveness as this manufactured controversy needed him to be, and also to guest Dr Amanda Foreman, whose wide-ranging survey of the suppression of women's voices from ancient Mesopotamia and Homer onwards deserved better than to be tacked on to some current news event on the flimsiest of premises.

In previous days, the show had actually been celebrating the fact that female politicians are in the ascendancy around the world, so this retreat into hyper-sensitive victimhood was disappointing.

The release of Sir John Chilcot's report into the Iraq War unleashed some giddiness too. The calmest reaction came on Newstalk's Breakfast where Michael White of The Guardian pointed out that the dangers of doing nothing in the Middle East (Syria, 2013) can be just as catastrophic as doing the wrong thing (Iraq, 2003), and that the roots of sectarian conflict in the region go back 1,500 years, not just to ex-PM Tony Blair.

Whether anyone was in a mood to listen as they drowned in collective rage was another matter altogether.

There were some oases of calm, not least Radio 4's Book Of The Week, whose readings from Philip Eade's newly-published Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited have brightened each morning.

Here's the Brideshead Revisited author proposing to his second wife Laura: "I can't advise you in my favour because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me." How could any woman say no to that?

RTE's Documentary On One delved into the archives, replaying a 1989 broadcast on Irish soldiers' experiences at the Somme for the 100th anniversary, in which former members of the Ulster Division, then in their 90s, recalled the battle which saw 5,766 of their fellow battalion members fall on the first day in July 1916. It was an enthralling and timely piece of work.

On RTE's Sunday With Miriam, former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris paid eloquent, persuasive tribute to O'Callaghan's guest, poet Anthony Cronin, whose time as Charles Haughey's cultural adviser was instrumental in the creation of Aosdana but who has never received enough credit for it from fellow artists.

"The arts world has had it both ways," she noted with wry acuity. "They decided to take the patronage, but then reserve the right not to be too pleased about it".

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