Professor Andre van der Merwe (L) who carried out the transplant. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
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A radio programme on the world's first ever penis transplant had me staring at the radio

The interviewer, Matthew Bannister – generally known for keeping conversations moving dizzyingly ever forwards – was unusually quiet.

Outlook
BBC World Service

An interview with the South African surgeon who late last year performed the first ever successful penis transplant, using a donor organ on a 21-year-old man, had me looking at the radio quizzically until the broadcast finished (17 May, 7.30am). So many questions left unanswered . . .

Professor André van der Merwe, from the Western Cape, explained that his patient’s own penis had “dropped off” following a botched circumcision of the kind ritually performed at a coming-of-age ceremony, which concludes with the removal of the foreskin with a spear. The penis is then wrapped in the skin of a goat, but if it is swaddled too tightly gangrene can set in. Could the good doctor elaborate?

“Well, a variety of things happen,” said Professor van der Merwe, “but with full-length gangrene it just falls off at the level of the abdomen, leaving a centi­metre stump.”

The interviewer, Matthew Bannister – generally known for keeping conversations moving dizzyingly ever forwards – was unusually quiet. How much did the donor’s family know of the particulars of his post-mortem generosity? In the Cape, where western medicine is greatly frowned on, such a mind-watering transaction would surely be taboo? And what of the vexed question of sizing? The complications!

Yet the operation had been an unmitigated success. His patient, the professor continued, had had sexual intercourse just five weeks after the op. Bannister’s shock was titanic. “FIVE WEEKS!” he yelled. Van der Merwe’s voice, too, was a study in awe. “We did not expect that at all. Not at all.” Bannister – strangled – managed to carry on: “Did you think it might have been more like . . . a year or so?”

“I was thinking at least two years,” confessed the doctor, who sighed and wrapped things up – although perhaps now with an infinitesimal bat-squeak of pride. “Ah, how wrong I was.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The real opposition

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SRSLY #77: Unfortunate Events / The Worst Witch / Speed Dial

On the pop culture podcast this week: we discuss the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the new CBBC version of The Worst Witch and the MTV podcast Speed Dial.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s assistant editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links

A Series of Unfortunate Events

The trailer for the series. 

Anna's piece on the postmodern aspects of the show.

Neil Patrick Harris' opening number for the 2011 Tonys.

The Worst Witch

The trailer.

How the show discusses imposter syndrome among young women.

Speed Dial

Subscribe to the podcast.

Follow Ira Madison III and Doreen St Felix on Twitter.

For next time:

Anna is watching Silicon Valley.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]gmail.com.

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we’ve discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at]gmail.com, or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #76, check it out here.