Private Passions favours the gently gently approach

Antonia Quirke on Radio. 

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Private Passions
Radio 3

“We were banned from playing Mahler in the studio,” explained the Spitting Image artist Roger Law to presenter Michael Berkeley on Private Passions, remembering the days spent moulding his infamous caricature puppets – “because he affects your mind.” Berkeley had just sat through Law’s first choice, some truly dextroamphetamined synthesiser music apparently specifically composed for playing inside Chinese-manufactured cars (“Yes, that is very funny, Roger, but it can also drive you mad”): he was clearly keen to celebrate how Mahler’s Symphony No 5 might stir even a decomposing corpse. “It’s very beautiful . . .” he started, as the cautious strings crept in beneath the conversation. “Not if you’ve got a deadline,” slammed Law. End of.

Private Passions (Sundays, noon) is on a roll. Great guests; and the host at his most understanding, prising information as one might a winkle with a pin. Take the show with the actress Kika Markham – Corin Redgrave’s septuagenarian widow – a couple of weeks ago. “Your whole background is . . . pretty bohemian by many standards . . .” Berkeley suggested. “You left school with two O-levels, which wouldn’t get you very far at university these days, but also with a full-blown relationship with the art teacher . . .” Markham sighed. This was a masterful lesson in how to sound interesting by not telling the juicy stories oneself – just getting your interlocutor to do most of it for you.

“Mmmm,” she granted, modestly.

“For which I imagine you were rather young?” he prodded.

“I was much too young,” she agreed. Over the next half-hour it also emerged that, among other things, she had an affair with François Truffaut when making Les deux Anglaises et le continent in 1971. “That film was about a love triangle,” Berkeley said, “and working with Truffaut I think you got . . . rather tangled up with him, too.”

“I did,” sighed Markham, and then, feelingly, “Shivers down the spine . . .” Though never exactly articulated, an implication hung in the air: that she had been one of those lovely young women who had slept with absolutely everybody. No apologies in this show, no guilt and – crucially – no preening. And no Mahler. Although you can’t ask for everything. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 13 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Nigel Farage: The Arsonist

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