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Ulysses on Saturday Live

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Katherine Campbell 18:55, Friday, 15 June 2012

Sandymount Strand, the stretch of water near Dublin where several scenes from Ulysses take place

On Saturday 16th June, Radio 4 is broadcasting a seven part dramatisation of James Joyce's Ulysses. To mark the occasion, Saturday Live will be in Dublin. Here, Dixi Stewart, Executive Editor of Saturday Live, describes her experience of reading the book.

Sometimes when you're making programmes things just fall into place. I've spent the last few weeks working out how Jeremy Mortimer's beautiful dramatisations of Ulysses would sit in Saturday Live's unpredictable mix of remarkable people and their extraordinary lives.

I'd spent many hours talking about it with my wise and thoughtful colleagues at Radio 4, I'd asked JP Devlin to go to Dublin to record a Crowdscape feature and I'd arranged for him and Bloomsday presenter Mark Lawson to join us live over a breakfast of kidneys. I'd invited the classicist, comedian and commentator Natalie Haynes to be our studio guest as she knows all there is to know about the original Greek Ulysses, but, like most of us, has never read the James Joyce book, and the Saturday Live team had gathered some cracking stories and features (Norman Lamont's Inheritance Tracks, anyone? One choice is Je ne Regrette Rien).

I wasn't too worried. I'd spent a half-term week next to the snotgreen and doubtless scrotum-tightening sea with a copy of Ulysses, and so much of the text was pure Saturday Live: 'the druidy druids', 'the wavewhite wedded words', 'the sunflung spangles' and 'the deaf gardener with Matthew Arnold's face'. But I was still looking for one story to bring it all together. At our programme meeting on Tuesday we had various alternatives but none was quite right. Then on Wednesday evening I was chatting to Sian Williams when I remembered a story she'd sent me some weeks before about a woman called Susan Richards who, 20 years ago, had been inspired by a stall full of books at a damp June fete to send a million books to the former Soviet Union. Meteorologically topical, we thought, and a literary theme, and wouldn't it be perfect if we could find someone in Russia who'd received some of the books?

So the next morning I called the splendidly knowledgeable Susan Richards who not only agreed to come into the programme but who also generously offered to track down Ekaterina Genieva, who'd organised the distribution of the books in Moscow to see if she could join us too. Yesterday evening, I got the call: Ekaterina could join us from Berlin to tell her side of the story and how the shipment of books had changed people's lives. What was most extraordinary was that Ekaterina herself studied English literature, and had written her thesis on - would you believe it? Ulysses.

Saturday Live: pure serendipity. I do hope you can join us tomorrow at 9.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am really enjoying the Ulysses snippets throughout the day. However having just heard the last piece where Bloom is in the Ormond Hotel listening to Simon sing M'appari (incidentally one of my favourite passages in the novel) I am astounded that the piece where Bloom is listening to the song while thinking of Molly and Boylan ends with 'endlessnessnessness' in the novel it continues as follows;

    Come. Well sung. All clapped. She ought to. Come. To me, to him, to
    her, you too, me, us.

    This is, in my view, the way this passage of thought HAS to end. From the conflation of Simon Lionel and Leopold to the 'consumed' and the obviousness of the repeated 'come'. I am shocked that this was not included. However I have to say that, other than this oversight, I am thoroughly enjoying the day. Congrats BBC4.

  • Comment number 2.

    Saturday live was generally a good listen - (sad that R4 is dumbing down to include the travel prog in an increasingly bitty programme)
    after the hype for BLOOMSDAY today I was expecting Ulysses to DOMINATE* the day and for Satlive to give way to full day of Joyce and give thousands like me who gave up on the book to experience it.

  • Comment number 3.

    oops ( I am new to posting and must have hit return too soon)
    finishing that point - * I DO remember the Boxing day reading of Harry Potter that did dominate the WHOLE day and was a delight.

    The saturday live pieces did not blend WITH JOYCE - and at one point when you rejoined Dublin - Dublin kidney breakfasters had just hear a LIVE drama presentation of joyce ( NOW OUT OF COPYRIGHT when we had been listening to general saturday Pap.

    Either give us a full day of the real thing - or stop promising what you don't deliver... ( the BBC web page showed the first part of Martello tower starting at 09.10 and linking in to second and third sub parts with NO SATURDAY LIVE - JUST JOYCE/

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks to all involved for the Ulysses drama - a superb production. I have now a spur to carry on with my study of Ulysses. I had started and it is an ongoing challenge. One criticism of Radio 4: Why was Radio 4 broadcasting in mono on Saturday for such an exemplary production? Very strange!

  • Comment number 5.

    loved it - but wot's this? political correctness is Bloomstown? in the funeral section, in my edition someone says "What did she marry a coon like that for?" Today, "coon" becomes "Jew"... maybe there is another edition... seems a bit strange...

  • Comment number 6.

    Thank you to Mark Lawson and the professor and Declan Kilberd and other
    writers for the intelligent,racy,quick-witted,erudite way they summed up the monumental,picaresque,influential(esp.on American,S.American&Indian
    literature)effect of Joyce's Ulysses.I think he most directly influenced Flann
    O'Brien(At Swim Two Birds)'s work and of course Beckett,but in the opposite direction from an epiphany Beckett had to subtract.This discussion had everything that was lacking in the IOT discussion,although
    that was still appreciated as crumbs from the BBC plate.Updike and Ford
    came as a revelation.I think Joyce as well as DH Lawrence influenced Saul Bellow-The Adventures of Augie March,Henderson the Rain King.Oh and
    thanks BBC for the all day renditions of episodes from Ulysses.Cracking.

  • Comment number 7.

    Outstanding day of broadcasting - just what the BBC does best. I gave myself up to 15 hours of intelligent head space and feel refreshed and reinvigorated by it. Thank you, thank you.


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