Tuesday 16 January 2018

Radio: Refreshing to see Linehans paint in shades of grey

Helen and Graham Linehan
Helen and Graham Linehan
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

'Abortion is very nuanced and complicated," Graham Linehan told The Ray D'Arcy Show (Radio 1, Monday to Friday, 3.30pm). "And for too long the argument has been controlled by fundamentalist voices. It's been very black and white, simplistic and childish."

I couldn't agree more. I'm not especially a fan of Linehan: Father Ted is overrated and not that funny. But he spoke a lot of good sense here, as did his wife Helen.

They were on in support of an Amnesty International campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment; in other words, to make abortion legal in Ireland. And within that context, Graham (right) and Helen Linehan spoke of their own experience, on her first pregnancy, with a fatal foetal abnormality.

It really is barbaric and spiteful, by any reasonable standards, to make women go through with a pregnancy when they know the baby can't survive outside the womb. And the key term is "make": to force this on someone, because the alternative is against the law.

At one stage Ray read out a text from a no-doubt well-meaning "pro-life" person, fretting about women being pressurised into having an abortion in these circumstances. Helen responded: "I want to make it clear, we're pro-choice (her stress was on that last word). We're not against anyone faced with a similar situation who choose to go through with the pregnancy."

Again, there was a refreshing determination to deal with reality, messy as it is, and the fact that not everyone will see things the same way. The abortion debate is woefully ideological, as opposed to being practical, reasonable and acknowledging that there are actual human beings involved here.

There's zealousness on both sides; you hear it all the time on the airwaves. It's mostly from the self-styled pro-life folks (as if everyone else is pro-death), but the other side is like that too. I'm pro-choice all the way - no ifs, buts or maybes about it - but I can admit that side of the fence is guilty as well.

That recent '#ShoutYourAbortion' thing on social media, for example, was crass, juvenile and, worst of all, not helpful. And actually, this Amnesty campaign itself is quite ideological (also, I always believed that their core mission was to aid prisoners of conscience).

Anyway: Helen and Graham Linehan didn't come across to me as dogmatic or rigid, or like they were spouting a set of fixed, pre-installed views. They seemed like two people who had gone through something profound, and made their own minds up on abortion, based on experience, rationality and sympathy.

He said they wanted the public to share their own stories because "once people see the human faces at the end of all these statistics, things might change… Helen and I shouldn't have to talk about this, but as long as it's illegal, we do."

The Shock of the Knee (BBC Radio 4 Extra, Wednesday, 1.30pm) was a surprisingly enjoyable and interesting history of miniskirts, written and presented by British fashion writer Colin McDowell. Now, let me tell you a bit about Colin.

Apparently he's been one of the UK's top style writers for donkey's years, which is fine and dandy. But by far the best thing about Colin - possibly the best thing about the entire radio year thus far - is his voice and accent.

They're so plummy and cut-glass that you could be listening to the BBC cricket results from 1929, or King George V delivering good news from the Raj. As a consequence, literally everything he says is hilarious.

Miniskirt: hilarious. Youth culture: hilarious. Mary Quant: hilarious. Style: hilarious (and somehow lengthened to about two-and-a-half syllables).

Other than that, the documentary was genuinely fascinating for anyone interested in social history, pop culture, youth culture, social trends, all that sort of thing. So what gave birth to the short skirt? The kids wanted their own way of expressing themselves, apparently - up yours grandad, these is me knees and there ain't nothin' you can do about it. Minis caused something of a shock when they debuted at a 1959 Yves Saint Laurent collection, even though one contemporary recalls those as being almost knee-length. I can't imagine how the pearl-clutching dames of the past would react to modern fashion. Smelling salts all 'round.

On Talking Books (Newstalk, Sunday, 9pm), host Sue Cahill - who has produced several brilliant documentaries from Central and South America - visited the Irish, Spanish and Latin-American Literary Festival, held recently in Dublin.

'How surrealism and violence in Mexican culture inspires the country's writers', and 'Can writing help heal the wounds of history?' - these sound like very dark, depressing themes, making for unappetising radio.

Not so: Cahill's trademark curiosity, cheerfulness and smarts, added to some excellent contributors and riveting subject matter, made for a couple of excellent pieces.

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