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2 November 2017

I could see Michael Gove swinging his pink sock-heels, cheeks glowing like a radish

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme causes some controversy on its 60th anniversary.

By Antonia Quirke

The sound of an ingénue shallow-breathing in revulsion while a chuckling roué insists he is her “master” was possibly an inauspicious start. Yet just as a trail for the afternoon drama The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula rang loudly across the Wigmore Hall in London – to a live audience of 550 bleary Today 60th anniversary show listeners, your correspondent among them – the newsreader Corrie Corfield prepared to read a headline about the abuse and sexual harassment of women at the United Nations, while giving a hard stare through her oblong specs.

How long the trail seemed to last! The curdled panting fluttered, while the audience quietly unzipped their Gore-Tex (the morning was cold). It was a theme that rather dogged the broadcast (Radio 4, 28 October, 7am), with the guest Michael Gove likening an encounter with John Humphrys to entering Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom (from where I was sitting, I could see Gove, not yet apologetic, swinging his pink sock-heels, cheeks glowing like a radish).

But the post-match furore, along with Neil Kinnock’s guffaw about “groping”, actually diverted from Kinnock’s not unserious on-air appeal: he pointed out that certain interview modes have become perhaps “irritating for the listeners… when incisiveness, determination, assertiveness… does trip over to too-frequent interruption”.

Kinnock didn’t catch the eye of the adjacent Humphrys as he spoke, gazing instead into the middle distance with the taciturnity of someone looking towards hills for possible rain. Still, who might not feel a little frail in anticipation of the 12-year-old Alma Deutscher, or “little Mozart”, bounding on to play the piano? Her euphoria was legible in 50-point bold like that of a silent movie heroine, albeit one fresh from the Vienna premiere of her own opera, which she composed with the help of her skipping rope (“It’s waiting for me in the green room now and it’s still giving me lots of inspiration!”).

Directly above, painted on the hall’s cupola, the image of the Soul of Music’s ball of eternal fire gazed down at the unstoppable Alma. Kinnock and Gove had slipped away, like a couple of Actaeons, antlers already growing on their heads, to deliver bouquets of regret for the rest of the weekend. 

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This article appears in the 01 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Boris: the joke’s over