Pain is so close to pleasure: Max Mosley on BBC Radio 2

Mosley was coming over as the most clubbable man in the universe. Not a peep from Jeremy Vine.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Max Mosley was reading a self-penned essay called “What Makes Us Human?” – also an occasional series in this magazine – to Jeremy Vine towards the end of his show (weekdays, 12 noon). “Our defining characteristic,” he suggested, “seems to be the nasty side. We see it everywhere.” It was a sincere if sometimes rambling essay, revealing aversions to war and road accidents alike, but ultimately it went along the too-chestnutty lines of: were an alien to come down and cast over us an innocent gaze, it would doubtless think, “Why are these creatures so peerlessly vile?”

Mosley, on the other hand, was coming over as the most clubbable man in the universe, even playing Janis Joplin singing “Mercedes Benz” and affectionately declaring it “so funny in so many ways” – after which Jeremy admitted, “I’ve not heard that before, ever, [not] once in my life.” Never much of a freewheeler, Jeremy.

Before long, Mosley was talking about his 2008 sex scandal, in which the News of the World falsely alleged that there had been a “Nazi element” to an orgy he had taken part in. “I never regarded those women as prostitutes,” he stressed. “They were just pursuing an interest a lot of people have . . . I would describe them as just ladies.”

But what exactly was he doing with those ladies? Can he talk us through it? The nation pauses the dishwasher for a mo. “Well, the basic scenario . . . The thing that was going on, if you like, was . . . a sort of prison scenario. And in one part of it, I was the oppressed and, in another part of it, I was the oppressor. It’s a very characteristic S&M scene.” Jeremy, with a shrug in his voice, said, “Yeah.” I kind of knew how he felt. There was something mesmerising about the way Mosley spoke – the equitable tone, the boyish lisp. So reasonable, so optimistic. A person ever turning his (other) cheek towards a distant but beckoning spring.

But what of those pesky Nazi slurs? German was spoken among the ladies, Max conceded, but simply “because one of them was German! And another one liked to be ordered around in a language she didn’t understand. I know that sounds odd.”

Not a peep from Jeremy. Before today, he’d never even heard of Janis Joplin. Baby steps, Max, please. 

The Jeremy Vine Show is on BBC Radio 2

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 appears in the 10 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: the world order crumbles