Friday 23 March 2018

Radio: Old tales spark deep passion between covers

VARADKAR: Bilocation?
VARADKAR: Bilocation?

Eilis O'Hanlon

ISN'T Leo Varadkar supposed to be Ireland's answer to Thatcher? That's what his critics say, but it didn't sound like it on Tuesday, when the Minister for Transport was, by a curious coincidence, being interviewed at exactly the same moment on both Morning Ireland and Newstalk Breakfast.

Varadkar was more subdued than strident. The harshest word he had for the threat by ESB workers to switch off the lights this winter in protest at possible future shortfalls in pension was that it was "unnecessary". Hardly a comfort to people looking for reassurance that the country was not, as Sean O'Rourke put it to union chief Brendan Ogle on Thursday, going to be "brought to a standstill for something that might never happen".

Today With Sean O'Rourke probably won't go down as one of the highlights of Ogle's year, as the RTE presenter played back a number of clips from an address given by the union chief at a meeting of socialist republican group Eirigi in 2011, at which he was heard calling for "militant industrial action, no holds barred". Ogle waffled in response about the remarks being "in a personal capacity", as if that made them less sinister; but these are exactly the sorts of threats which ministers should be reminding listeners about when they get the chance on air.

There was another example of synchronicity last weekend as both Newstalk's Talking Books and RTE Radio One's The Book Show looked at how authors rewrite and retell existing stories. On the former, Trinity Professor Eve Patten wondered why writers seem reluctant to update many landmark Irish texts, when doing so was such a prominent feature of the Irish Revival; on the latter, Margaret Attwood talked of how fairytales had inspired her own work, not least because they're so much darker than people remember. Take Hansel and Gretel, in which two children are left in a wood by their own father, then captured by a witch who wants to eat them; they escape by murdering the witch, before returning to the family which abandoned them. "And that's a happy ending?" Attwood remarked mischievously.

What's great about these two shows is that they're clearly made by teams with a genuine knowledge of, and passion for, books. Presenters Sinead Gleeson and Susan Cahill are also much more engaging to these ears than Mariella Frostrup, whose overly breezy style often spoils BBC Radio Four's Open Book. Last week she met Belfast writer Bernard McLaverty. He recalled showing some of his poems to Seamus Heaney, whose advice was simple: "Stick with the stories." He laughed and said Heaney was right.

Enthusiasm was also evident in Shane Coleman's interview with American crime writer Michael Connelly on Wednesday when he stood in as host of The Pat Kenny Show. Clearly a fan, Coleman got some good stuff from Connolly. For example, his quip that his output was down to his previous job as a reporter: "There's no such thing as writer's block in newsrooms."

Next day Pat Kenny interviewed singer Brian Kennedy, who's just recorded a new album featuring classic songs by Joni Mitchell. Kenny's fondness for both artists was palpable. Enthusiasm. Knowledge. Time to explore both. Not a bad recipe for radio.

Sunday Independent

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