Taking the Mickey

There was something sinister about Walt Disney, writes Antonia Quirke

Great Lives
Radio 4

An intriguing episode of Great Lives (1 October, 11pm), on the career of Walt Disney, gathered Gerald Scarfe and the American animator Dick Williams to consider his appeal. Williams stole the show, his every word accompanied by a lovely swishing noise as though he were excitedly stroking a satin bowling jacket.

He recalled with a giggle once seeing Walt at a nightclub doing an impression of one of the dogs in Lady and the Tramp. Apparently this was the norm for Disney - to try out his characters on people. He had, after all, come up with the voice of Mickey Mouse ("I think Mickey was rather boring, actually," said Scarfe. Right on). The programme ended just as it was getting interesting - talking about the impact of computers on animation and drawing - but not before someone neatly confirmed that Disney was cremated, not cryogenically frozen as previously reported. And although Disney's depressing anti-communist activities, and possible anti-Semitism, were only briefly touched on, there was a suitably sinister tone to the whole programme, as though each person understood that it is as off for an adult to peddle ducks and mice as it is to exploit childhood innocence on an industrial scale (one thinks of all those snotty European refugee artists in Disney's studio stuffing hankies in their mouths at Walt's absurd rendering of Daffy).

Speaking of the sinister, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the proposed cuts to World Service programming, specifically Mark Coles's World of Music programme, the Wimbledon coverage and the Proms. As of this past week those cuts have been confirmed. The internal communiqué from the controller of Global News at the WS added that "sadly the BBC World Service will no longer schedule regular drama output", thus ending the station's famed commitment to 14 plays a year ("I would like to pay tribute to those production teams of actors and writers who have provided our listeners with exceptional radio drama for more than 75 years"). What is not yet clear is whether these cuts will count towards the 25 per cent cuts that the Foreign Office is expected to announce. If so - why announce them now? What, people, will be left?

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 04 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Licence to cut