Radio 4 revisits controversial poem 'v.'

Monday 18 February 2013, 14:30

Tony Phillips Tony Phillips Commissioning Editor, Arts, Radio 4

Tagged with:

In the days and weeks that followed the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, one fact played heavily on my mind – that Mohammed Siddique Khan, allegedly the organiser of the act of terror that struck the nation, was born in Leeds.

I was born in Leeds too and lived for a short time a stone’s throw away from where he was born, in the district called Beeston. In the intervening years another thought was that the poet Tony Harrison – also born in Leeds – had located his poem ‘v.’ in Beeston.

Harrison’s poem springs from a visit he made to the cemetery in Beeston where his parents are buried. He found his parents’ gravestones had been daubed with racist and offensive graffiti – the ‘v.’ refers to racial and footballing oppositions (Leeds United’s home ground Elland Road is visible from the cemetery).

So when a producer suggested that we revisit the poem, it struck me as something we should take seriously – revisit an important piece of writing set in a location redolent with recent history. The focus on culture we have introduced this year at Radio 4 offers up an opportunity to revisit seminal works that have had an impact on society and Harrison’s poem, peppered with its obscenities and racist language, certainly made its mark.

The producer initially asked if Radio 4 would be interested in broadcasting a conversation about the poem – Harrison was due to discuss the poem at a literary festival 25 years after the Channel Four broadcast. I felt it would be far more interesting to hear Tony Harrison himself reading the poem in full. It’s an important poem that spoke volumes about Britain in the ‘80s – and perhaps, with hindsight, more significantly for that location, wedged if you like between the miners’ strike and the Rushdie Affair.

These days Harrison rarely reads the poem in full. Tonight Radio 4 will broadcast a new version of it in its entirety, recorded in Leeds. It will be prefaced with an introductory feature written and presented by the writer Blake Morrison reflecting on the poem itself, the furore that surrounded it in the 1980s, and its contemporary resonance.

Tonight’s reading will offer audiences a rare opportunity to hear this landmark piece in full. There has always been a close relationship between poetry and Radio 4 and in this spirit, Radio 4 is about to launch The Echo Chamber, a new contemporary poetry magazine presented by poet Paul Farley. The programme will unpick and reweave the poetic fabric of the nation. With a mix of interviews, works in progress, performances, experiments and adventures in the world of poetry, Paul will set out to find the wordsmiths responding to the way we live now. I’m looking forward to finding out what he uncovers.

 

Tony Phillips is Arts Commissioning Editor for Radio 4.

v. by Tony Harrison will be broadcast tonight at 11pm on Radio 4. It's available for seven days after broadcast via BBC iPlayer.

Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    I would have preferred it if the associated feature had followed the poem rather than preceding it. Hearing odd lines of the poem used in the feature, stuck together apparently almost at random, is distracting as one anticipates hearing the piece in its entirety. Once the poem finally comes on, the listener's mind will be cluttered with associations imposed in the feature and evoked by hearing those lines again, rather than responding freely to the verse.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    Like Nick Fitzsimons I would have preferred to hear the whole poem first, then the discussion - and for the same reasons. It's hard to see why the "bad language" evoked so much outrage; the work would make remarkably little sense without it. And it seems hypocritical for people to wax so "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" about language which one hears relatively frequently, even in the southern, middle-class enclave in which I live.

    I hadn't heard of the poem before hearing the broadcast trailed on Radio 4 this morning; I'm glad I stayed up to listen.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    Simply brilliant.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    Very, very keen to hear this. When will it be available on 'Listen Again'?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    I caught the last 20 minutes of this here in Australia as I was getting out of bed. Great stuff. It's that rare thing: real poetry. I am also eagerly awaiting it on Listen Again so that I can hear it all.

 

Comments 5 of 10

 

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
Ten things from this week #17

Friday 15 February 2013, 15:44

Next
Media Centre Round-Up #6 (week ending 15 Feb 2013)

Monday 18 February 2013, 16:09

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

Red Bee creates on-screen 50th birthday party for BBC2 (Design Week)

BBC3 controller Zai Bennett to head Sky Atlantic (Guardian) 

JK Rowling to become Woman's Hour first guest editor for 60 years (Guardian)

Kim Shillinglaw: what you need to know (Broadcast)
"a near-BBC lifer, is known to be a straight-talking, confident operator with a penchant for the odd expletive, which one source described as “quite refreshing

How to tame the BBC behemoth (Daily Telegraph)
"Transferring non-news radio and TV production to the independent sector would save the BBC millions and possibly even the BBC itself"

Cancer specialist and anti-FGM activists named in Radio 4's most powerful woman list (Asian Image)

Marc Warren joins The Musketeers series 2 (Den of Geek)

BBC Radio 1 to count down top 100 downloads of all time (Digital Spy)
"After a decade of legal downloading in the UK, it's time for Radio 1 to celebrate with a countdown revealing the nation's top 100"

BBC charter a key issue for new culture secretary (Broadcast)

Festival to bring UK closer to Middle East (Ariel)
"BBC Arabic is giving Arab cinema, documentaries and journalism a UK showcase."

Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch to play Richard III for BBC (Independent)

'I believe it is now the right time to step down': Sir Bruce Forsyth quits Strictly Come Dancing after fronting show for a decade (Mail)

BBC Worldwide CEO re-joins BBC executive board (Digital TV Europe)
"Davie will replace BBC HR director Lucy Adams"

James Corden backs BBC Three online move: 'It is the best place for it' (Digital Spy)

Sandi Toksvig criticises BBC ban on all-male panel shows (Telegraph)
"recruiting more female hosts would be a more desirable way of correcting the imbalance"

BBC's Peter Horrocks: 'It's not that easy to get advertising in Somalia' (Guardian)
"World Service boss on financial pressure, selling ads, transmitting news via brainwaves, and Newsnight's 'brio'"

BBC Radio 2 Eurovision Pop-up station (Matt Deegan Writes)
"I think this is a great idea and something the BBC should do more of ... it makes use of existing technology ... It’s also a technology that nearly half of UK households have, so lots of people can access it."

BBC iPlayer hits record 10.7m daily requests (Mobile Entertainment)

The Village series 2 begins shooting, adds new cast members (Digital Spy)

BBC Radio 1Xtra Live heads to Birmingham (Birmingham Post)
"It’s our aspiration at BBC Birmingham to host more of these big events over the coming years.”

BBC axes The Review Show after 20 years (The Stage)

Roger Wright to leave BBC after 15 years as Radio 3 controller (Guardian)
"Director of the BBC Proms exits corporation to become chief executive of Aldeburgh music festival"

American superstar Pharrell and The 1975 join the line-up for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend 2014 in Glasgow (Scottish Daily Record) 

BBC boss Tony Hall could be in line for cameo in W1A mockumentary (Guardian)
"Second series role rumoured for director general after BBC2 premiere of first episode pulled in 1.6 million viewers"

BBC Three announces new shows and recommissions (British Comedy Guide)
"a timely reminder that we're still very much open for comedy business"

Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV?Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV? (Guardian)"What results is an unapologetically old-fashioned TV show with a presenter who makes no attempt to disguise when she was born"

Last updated Thursday 17 April 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

Jamaica Inn: Seeing sense in Aunt Patience's madness [TV]
How to be a good support act: Part 1 - Getting a gig and preparing for the show [BBC Introducing]
The BBC Online @20 [Internet]
Another Great Escape for BBC Introducing [BBC Introducing]
The 2014 BBC Performing Arts Fellowship Scheme [Performing Arts Fund]

Connected Red Button: a first look at the new service on Smart TVs [Internet]