Saturday 20 January 2018

Radio: Are naked police always who they say they are?

The Swedes banned 'Skippy the Bush Kangaroo' on the grounds it would mislead children
The Swedes banned 'Skippy the Bush Kangaroo' on the grounds it would mislead children

Damian Corless

There is a wise old saying that the definition of a gentleman is someone who can play the accordion but doesn't. Accordion-scrunching is a regular feature of Radio 1's Sunday Miscellany, but it's a fair bet that no other hint of ungentlemanly or unladylike conduct has ever tainted this snoozy hamlet of radioland.

The soothing mix of childhood reminiscences, travellers' tales, poetry and music has been a fixture of the schedules since shortly after the dawn of time. In many ways Sunday Miscellany is a form of Facebook from the age of valve radio, with people you've probably never heard of putting personal disclosures and favourite things out there for public consumption.

The big difference between Facebook and Sunday Miscellany is that the latter will always repay a visit. Around half of any given show will have something of interest to impart, once you're prepared to negotiate the other 50pc which reliably rambles down byways of befuddlement. (This listener gets befuddled anyway)

Last Sunday's show opened with a highly eccentric essay on second-hand books which incorporated dubious claims of greatness for the mawkish 'I Believe I Can Fly' by R Kelly.

Then, after a musical interlude, came a highly entertaining piece entitled 'Skippy And The Swedes'. Contributor Tom Rowley outlined how his mother's fondness for serving up swedes led him to develop a deep childhood hostility to that entire nation.

Reaching an age of greater maturity, he realised you can't judge a people based on your own Sunday dinners. Pledging to overcome his irrational prejudice, he went there and fell in love with the place. The love affair ended badly when he discovered that the cruel Swedish authorities had deprived generations of their own children of the TV treat that was/is Skippy, one of the mainstays of his own childhood viewing.

Skippy, in case you're reading this in a Swedish schoolyard, is one of the most popular shows in the history of children's television, with a global reach. It stars an all-action kangaroo with a far higher IQ than the lost hikers and plane crash survivors it rescues from the parched Australian bush week after week.

But instead of applauding these heroic virtues, the Swedes, decades ago, banned Skippy The Bush Kangaroo on the grounds that it would mislead children, who might think that all kangaroos had superpowers. What were they thinking? Were kangaroos a common household pet in 1970's Sweden? Or did mobs of them roam free across the rugged countryside? Those seem the only plausible explanations, but we weren't told.

Sunday Miscellany closed with the tale of 'The Cloonerco Bog Incident', which took place exactly 100 years ago in Sligo. This was a turf war in its truest sense, and it was led by a formidable priest, Fr Michael O'Flanagan. A passionate champion of the Irish language and the nationalist cause, O'Flanagan went off to the States on a fund-raising mission, taking with him 32 sods of turf, one allegedly cut in each county. The 32 sods were laid out and Americans invited to tread across the bed of earth, for the sum of $1 a time.

Returning to Ireland in 1914, he was appointed curate to a small Sligo parish in time to see cutting rights redistributed to those with family members in the British Army or police. The priest's protests came to nothing, so he led his parishioners to the local bog with their turf spades, where he cut the first sod. This was a challenge to the large force of police present to arrest him, but they feared they'd spark a riot. The natives cut a stack for the winter. When the furious bishop removed O'Flanagan to Roscommon, the parishoners barricaded the church. It was good, stirring stuff.

Newstalk's George Hook is not like other broadcasters. While peers such as Pat Kenny, Matt Cooper, Mary Wilson and Sean O'Rourke generally stick to the conventional interviewing technique of asking a question and listening for the answer, he favours a different tack. Hook, to these ears at least, regularly seems to be engaged in a bout of oneupmanship with his guests. Regularly he'll ask a question, listen to a bit of the answer, and then interrupt with something of his own to tell - often something about rugby (naturally), his business career, his wife ("the lovely Inge"), or movies and music of a certain vintage. For traditionalists, it can be hard going.

Still, George gave us a chuckle when the President of the Irish Naturist Association revealed some Spanish nudist beaches are patrolled by special police who, if they spot anyone wearing clothes, will order them to strip on the spot. Which begged the questions, are the police naked, and if so, how do you know they're really police? Sadly, George didn't ask.

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