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Radio: Too much #MeToo?

Arts | By Valerie Grove | Spring 2018

There was so much airtime given to Mothering Sunday schmaltz but Carla Bruni's breathy french accent has saved the waves says Valerie Grove

There was so much airtime given to Mothering Sunday schmaltz, and the Me Too, Time’s Up and ‘Mind the Gender Pay Gap’ stuff. The world seemed unhinged as the tide turned. Overlooked women composers were rescued by Julie Walters on Classic FM; and forgotten women artists such as Eileen Agar featured on Radio 4’s An Alternative History of Art.

Every gynaecological or psychological state associated with being female was disinterred on Woman’s Hour, with an often startling forthrightness; especially Martha Carney’s microscopic discussion of our genitalia with the Norwegian authors of The Wonder Down Under.

Men were nowheresville. Andrew Marr, on Start the Week, considered Kenneth Clark’s 1969 Civilisation to be ‘male and lordly’, Philippa Goslett, writer of new film Mary Magdalene, suggested on Today that we had hitherto seen Mary Magdalene ‘through a male gaze?’ Her interrogative inflection betrayed her uncertainty. ‘Women’s voices have been suppressed, silenced,’ she asserted.  

Well, we can hardly say that any more, can we? I’m all for redressing the balance. And it was a pleasure to hear the voices of characterful women emerging from the archives of an earlier, tougher era: eg on Radio 4Extra, the mother of five who first gave birth in 1913. Her third confinement produced surprise girl twins, 9lb each. Her fifth was a Caesarean. ‘I’d never heard of it,’ she said, ‘except in Macbeth.’ 

That was a 12lb boy, delivered on the kitchen table. Her grandfather, a GP in the West Riding, told her, ‘If husband and wife had to share childbearing, no family would ever have more than three children, because no man would go through it twice.’

On The Last Word, another admirable woman was obituarised. Dame Beulah Bewley became a distinguished epidemiologist, and was also a mother of five, one a Down’s child. When asked about the problem of the male hierarchy in medicine, she briskly responded, ‘I’ve never had any trouble with mature, intelligent men.’

But oh, how refreshing, old-fashioned and un-PC it was to switch on Carla Bruni’s C’est La Vie on Radio 2, and hear her alluringly gentle and breathy voice, her agreeably confiding, girlish manner. During part one, she was translating the song L’Amoureuse – ‘What does it feel like when I fall in love?... Vairy strong excitement... and a soft... delirium,’ she breathed (at which point my husband started up – ‘Who’s THAT?’ – entranced).

‘Miss you,’ sang Carla. She played Brassens, Brel, Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg, Madeleine Peyroux and Brigitte Bardot. She tried to sing Tammy Wynette, but was much better in throaty French. Can’t wait for the next.

Boswell’s Lives is written by Jon Canter, who hilariously manages to capture the personalities not only of the inveigling, hero-seeking Boswell but of whomever Boswell is ingratiating himself with.

The new series opened with his pursuit of Byron – flattered then repelled by an amanuensis who starts to think he too can write poetry (actually pop lyrics). The series progressed to Simone de Beauvoir, an encounter that called for more French heavy breathing. Please, everyone, do listen to this.

Finally, good to hear the Desert Island Discs of the philosopher John Gray, who was born in South Shields; so we both haunted the same public library, long ago. I liked his reasons for liking Buddhism (‘There’s very little belief in it’) and cats (‘Their tranquillity and sudden energy’) and loved his immediate response to Kirsty’s ‘Where do you sit politically, now?’ 


But he lost me with his castaway luxury: ‘A lifetime’s supply of Marmite’. Which would absolutely ruin his fishy on a little dishy.

This story was from Spring 2018 issue. Subscribe Now