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Brassy and brilliant O'Brien

Back in the 1940s the person Edna O'Brien loved most was the family's workman Torpy. "I'm going to marry Torpy," she said. "And we're going to live in the chicken run."

And so she did.

Okay Edna O'Brien didn't go live in a chicken run. Instead, as viewers of the beautifully wrought Edna O'Brien -- Life, Stories will know, she became a literary celebrity and, by the standards of pre-cappuccino Ireland, a scandal-making hussy. She escaped from a repressive rural upbringing to get a job weighing babies as a pharmacist's assistant in Dublin (there may have been other elements to the job). Then her mother was informed that she was seeing a divorced novelist called Ernest Gebler. So Edna ran off with him.

Before long they and their boys were in London's "outer outer suburbia" and she was writing, encouraged by the publisher Ian Hamilton.


"I did not have a love affair with him," she says, which feels like an unnecessary qualification nowadays. Her cold husband was not as supportive and she left him.

"At the time London was like a village," says Edna.

"TP McKenna introduced me to Sam Peckinpah. Go to a party with Sam Peckinpah. Saw Judy Garland. I invite these people to my house." (Good job she wasn't living in the chicken run!)

Sean Connery, Jane Fonda, Kenneth Tynan, Princess Margaret, Big Ted from Playschool -- these were just some of the people Edna hung out with (I made one of these up).

She took LSD with RD Laing. Marlon Brando drove her home once. Robert Mitchum "was a wild man", she says, pointedly refusing to elaborate (she may be trying to tell us something).

Her frank recollections of youth are darker. Her father was abusive, her beloved mother possessive and the family home is now derelict "collapsing under the weight of its own story".

Now living in moneyed Chelsea (I expect to see her cameo in Made in Chelsea soon), she frets about her finances but says that a burst appendix in the 1980s brought her relative contentment.

"Why did you burst?" asked a Jungian. (She possibly should have gone to a real doctor.)

"Probably rage," she said and instantly "felt a weight lift from her chest."

Engagingly brilliant stuff from an engagingly brilliant woman.

In this week's Playhouse Presents, Olivia Williams is wasted playing a housewife who challenged rioters during the London riots, became an internet sensation and then London Mayor.

With rollers in her hair, chicken fillets in her bra, a dastardly posh nemesis, and plenty of homespun wisdom, it feels like she's strolled, not out of a YouTube video, but an unintentionally reactionary 1960s' sitcom called Lady Mayor (from the makers of General Baby and Horse Boss).


At least it wasn't a police procedural. There are too many police procedurals. If they remade Teletubbies now it would begin with them strutting in a line towards a corpse.

Alphas is superhero-romp Heroes remade as a police-procedural. In it, a team of superpowered investigators battle super criminals.

In this episode, Gary, an autistic young man who can access telecommunication signals (a very similar conceit is found in Touch), interprets the coded warnings of an uncommunicative young woman with apraxia. Alphas is entertaining, but I'm uncomfortable with this new vogue for turning neurological disorders into pseudo-mystical plot devices.

"I want to wave money at troubled Greeks," is probably how Eurosceptic Michael Portillo pitched his This World special on the Eurozone. He repeatedly waves banknotes in front of interviewees. "Euro or Drachma?" he says.

Nonetheless, as he wanders from Greece to Germany a surprisingly nuanced picture of Europe's problems emerges.

Indeed, Portillo finds no one as Eurosceptical as himself, and rather sweetly his indulgence of a German concept, schadenfreude, seems to be motivated by genuine worries for a Greek one -- democracy.

Edna O'Brien -- Life, Stories HHHHI

Playhouse Presents: City Hall HHIII

Alphas HHHII

This World: Michael Portillo's Great Euro Crisis HHHHI