Sunday 25 March 2018

Radio: Brexit, stage left makes for great drama

Katie Hopkins. Photo: PA
Katie Hopkins. Photo: PA
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Well, where do you even start with all that?

You know what I'm talking about. The Brexit vote was one of those rare moments when something genuinely historic was happening. Not historic in, say, the sportscaster's annoying habit of describing some game or other as historic; this was historic in the sense that people will be reading about it in school in the year 2100.

And I found myself in the slightly strange position of having too much choice when it came to this week's column. The amount of Brexit material since Friday week was colossal - and most of it was very good, or at very least, hugely compelling. (History genuinely in the making, remember?)

Every news and current affairs station outdid themselves in the breadth and depth of their coverage. Newstalk even broadcast through the night of the count and continued to maintain a high standard. The serious journalists of RTÉ Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4 put in customary fine performances.

Brexit even spilled into other areas of radio - all areas, to be more specific. Ireland got knocked out of Euro 2016? Make a Brexit connection. England got knocked out of Euro 2016? Make a Brexit connection. Dog bites man in Termonfeckin? Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

In short, there was so much stuff on the vote, and so much of it was good - basically, that so much has been said on the subject - that I suffered what Douglas Coupland terms "option paralysis".

But needs must when the devils of editors and deadlines are driving, so I've decided to pick out a few, shall we say, alternative takes on Brexit. First up, the ever-excellent Talking History (Newstalk, Sun 7pm) had a special show focusing on the great city of London.

Right from the first century AD, when the Romans founded this settlement as the capital of their province of Britannia, the city has been, as Samuel Johnson (quoted here) famously said: "When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life."

As explained by Patrick Geoghegan and his panel of experts, London is a bit of a contradiction, historically. It's always been "a city of outsiders" - yet, on the other hand, ask virtually any foreigner to encapsulate "Englishness" and they'll probably reference red double-deckers, Cockney accents, Beefeaters outside Buckingham Palace.

Proof, I suppose, that things are hardly ever simple, life and people are complex… and perhaps something of a clue as to why the British nation has now chosen what seems to be the harder of two paths in the modern globalised world.

Meanwhile, on BBC Radio 4, the sketch show Dead Ringers (Tue 9am) took aim at, and scored mostly direct hits on, all sides of the Brexit vote. Not all the gags were great, but enough of them were to make for a thoroughly enjoyable half hour of radio.

I laughed aloud at the Farage press conference, Boris Johnson's verbose babbling and the Queen kicking ass and taking names in staging a coup d'état, but best of the bunch was the mickey-take of whining celebrities - David Beckham, Bill Nighy and others - bewildered as to why the great unwashed hadn't listened to famous people "who half-understand the issues so you don't have to".

Final mention to The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm), who carried an interview with UK right-wing firebrand Katie Hopkins. Putting it mildly, she's difficult to like, a lot of the time - but only a true ideologue could argue with her view that many on the Remain side were now being abusive, unnecessarily negative and fundamentally undemocratic.

Agreeing with Katie Hopkins? Life really is complex.

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