We all have our moments

David Thewlis reading Tennyson has the edge over T in the Park

Radio 1’s coverage of T in the Park (10-12 July, intermittent) was mostly preoccupied with establishing which of the presenters had had a “moment”, and during which band’s set.

Reggie Yates’s moment came when he first saw Lady Gaga’s silver moped. Edith Bowman’s happened care of the ever-tender Doves. Nick Grimshaw’s occurred out front, waiting for the Killers to start. The dogged Grimshaw even tried to get the Las Vegas-born Killers frontman, Brandon Flowers, to reveal precisely what kind of a moment he’d had up there in front of 80,000 people – these days they interview the big acts the second they come off stage, like it’s Wimbledon – but Flowers, as tiny and pristine as a bellhop in a Disney Christmas special (OK, I may have had the TV on, too), demurred politely. At least he had some idea where he was. “Our bellies are full of haggis and Buckfast!” he’d shouted to the crowd, which means he’d definitely looked up Scotland on Wikipedia. Unlike Lady Gaga, who’d come out, considered the rolling hills of Kinross, and yelled: “HELLO LONDON!”

T in the Park is easily the best festival of the summer, attended exclusively by people who manage to convert the hours of monotonous waiting into what sounds like one long euphoric roar of truth, doubtless enhanced by the strong Glaswegian pills they just chonged back in the tent while listening to “Clutching at Straws” by Marillion. Then there are the compulsory feasts of burgers, fried on site in their delicious thousands, as though the entire US Marine Corps were attending, too, drumming their knives against tin plates and shouting, “MEAT MEAT!” All of which is heaven compared to, say, the dreaded Latitude in Suffolk, which hosts a zillion Islingtonians forcing Bugaboos past Elbow and goading each other to even greater suffering – such as hearing Mark Thomas talk about the exploitation of migrant workers as they stay oblivious to the herds of teenage Poles bussed in to patrol the rows of fetid loos.

Meanwhile, Radio 3’s The Verb (Friday, 9.15pm) challenged David Thewlis and William Orbit to do their worst with Alfred, Lord Tennyson. “Why something Victorian and not modern?” asked the presenter, Ian McMillan, slightly implying Orbit was being a swot. Orbit replied that he likes how Tennyson was “not involved in something structural” and that his poetry felt “of the moment”. Orbit even hinted that he’d had a “moment” once, while reading “The Lady of Shalott” on an aeroplane. After which he switched on his synthesiser and tinkled forgettably as the mighty Thewlis got to work reading from In Memoriam: “We ranging down this lower track/The path we came by, thorn and flower . . .”

The idea of uniting Thewlis with Tennyson was completely inspired, as the actor goes at words like a razor blade, speaking seemingly from the back of his nose, exquisitely monotonous, calling spookily to mind the wax recordings of the poet himself incanting “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. Like Ralph Fiennes or Edward Fox reading T S Eliot, Thewlis understands that less is more when it comes to reciting poetry. He made himself disappear and abolished everything but my ears. “Moment” of the year thus far – easy.

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 first appeared in the 20 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, King and Country