Wednesday 22 November 2017

Challenging lazy cliches is half the battle

John Bowman
John Bowman

Eilis O'Hanlon

Radio loves a good commemoration. Last week saw two of them - the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, and the 150th anniversary of WB Yeats's birth. Three, if you add in Bloomsday.

The last event was marked on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please, in which, to quote the continuity announcer beforehand, "Roger McGough joins the raucous folk of Dublin". There's nothing like a cliche to get the ball rolling. This was before the New York Times's crass reporting on the tragic events in Berkeley, but shows how lazy national stereotypes persist.

Soon there was a faux pas to keep it company, as McGough was heard to describe Ulysses as a novel about "a day in the life of Lionel Bloom". Perhaps he was mixing Leopold up with rabbi Lionel Blue of Thought For The Day fame.

There were no such slips on Bowman: Sunday: 8.30, first in a short series about Yeats, including the usual selection of clips that would otherwise be languishing in the archives. Best was Monk Gibbon recalling his childhood meeting with a figure who was "too deliberately absent-minded".

"I had no objection to a man looking the part of the poet, but I had an uneasy feeling that Yeats felt it was his business to look the part. That was a different matter altogether." John Bowman's show is a consistent delight.

Remembering Waterloo continues to cause some tension between the British and French, for obvious reasons, but Radio 4's Napoleon: The Man and the Myths went some way to soothing Gallic pride with a sympathetic re-examination from historian Andrew Roberts of the Corsican-born leader's legacy.

On Tuesday, he argued persuasively against the notion that Napoleon turned France into a military dictatorship. On Wednesday, he effectively debunked the notion that Napoleon was the principal warmonger of his age, pointing out that war was launched against him far more often than he waged it on others.

Revisionism makes for lively broadcasting. Though whether Roberts needed to be on location in Paris for the series was debatable. Radio doesn't have pictures, so the trip was wasted on listeners.

Battles of a different sort were raging on Monday's FM104 Phoneshow, as friends and associates of a Dublin gangland figure - believed to be the intended target of the murder of an innocent man more than a week ago - came on air to vow that his enemies would be "dead by the end of the week". It was dramatic stuff, but felt at times as if FM104 was wallowing a little too indecently in the moral sewer these monsters inhabit.

Censoriousness was the order of the day on The Ray D'Arcy Show. Here's a show that prides itself on a liberal attitude to sexual mores, but RTE's new golden boy sounded uncomfortable and antsy on Monday with sex worker Laura Lee, who's campaigning against proposals from women's groups to criminalise the purchase of sex. Seems one can only have an "anything goes" attitude to sex if it's approved by the sisterhood.

Sunday Independent

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