How Dolly Got Rotherham Reading
One of the strengths of radio - its ability to make imaginative worlds through a collision of different types of voices - can also be one of its weaknesses. (Think of The Archers, with its implausibly wide range of accents, or, conversely, the times when everyone sitting around an Ambridge table can sound exactly the same.) An idea for a programme like this one (broadcast on 23 July, 11am) seems, I'm sure, like a gift to the schedulers: Dolly Parton . . . in Rotherham . . . ! Tennessee meets Yorkshire! Celebrity meets Ordinary People! A literacy project initiated by a Country Music Star!
Dolly came over as a bundle of sincerity and charisma and energy, and when she talked about the inspiration of her literacy project she delivered tremendous folksy charm: "The only book we had in our house was the Bible . . . My own daddy wasn't able to read and write."
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library was set up 15 years ago in her home county of Sevier, Tennessee. Each child registered with the library receives a book through the post every month until the age of five. In 1998, there were 2,300 children benefiting from the scheme. Now there are nearly 700,000, in the US, Canada and, since 2008, Rotherham.
The South Yorkshire town reminded the project's founder of her own origins: "Lots of hard-working people, poor people," Parton said, in what could be described as a Tennessee drawl if it weren't so speedy and helium-inflected. The presenter, Sarfraz Mansoor, sometimes seemed dazzled by the unlikely glamour of it all, and a crucial point was left underexplored in the happy collision of accents and dialects - all Parton does is the publicity and branding; it's the local authorities that have to pay the bills. But he did manage to ask the local organiser of the Rotherham Imagination Library if the children couldn't be using an actual library.
“Not everybody is that way inclined," the organiser said, rather tartly. Which was borne out by a satisfied parent. "It's just easier if somebody sends you a book through t'post," she said, and then added the clincher: "It's nice to have someone famous involved in my child's life now."
Antonia Quirke is away