Monday, April 16, 2007

Its always the BBC

Its always the BBC that gets the mood wrong, errs on the side of caution, makes the wrong decision. It's hard to find myself on the side of the ill-conceived National Short Story Prize, a beauty contest with predictable contestants, but the news that one of the shortlisted stories, Hanif Kureishi's "Weddings and Beheadings" is not being broadcast because of sensitivity over the kidnapping of the journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza, seems to show, yet again, our national broadcaster is as parochial as a village fete. There is certainly time for some sensitivity, and one can only feel for Johnston's family and friends at this time. Yet, a short story, from a respected writer, written well before this event, and, moreso, in a context that Johnston was well aware of - was perhaps his reason for being where he was - seems a strange lamb to sacrifice. Do you remember before Gulf War I when Massive Attack became Massive and Bomb the Bass were removed from the playlist. The Kureishi story sounds hardly that original (consider the brilliant film "Fifteen Minutes" with its media-obsessed ultraviolence, on television only last week, never mind the photographer in "City of God") but given that every week there are atrocities and kidnappings in Iraq, the "sensitivity" seems misplaced. If the story is good enough to be in contention for winning this prize, then surely it can't be any kind of crass exploitation?


Julian Gough said...

Hullo Bournemouth Runner (old Fall track? Bend Sinister?),

I'm intrigued by your comment that the National Short Story Prize is "a beauty contest with predictable contestants". I was astonished to find myself shortlisted, and I'd never heard of half of the others either. Have you actually heard of all five, and read their stories? I am very impressed.

Interesting discussion on Hanif Kureishi and the BBC... The BBC dug a trap for themselves by agreeing, in advance, to broadcast all five stories at 3.30 in the afternoon. They may have been lulled into a false sense of security by last year's shortlist, which included people like William Trevor and Rose Tremain who write literary fiction by the old rules. My one involves an orphan pissing on an Irish government minister, with an absolutely ferocious amount of swearing. (Er, it's a comic allegory of recent Irish history, honest...) I'd say they had quite a job editing it for daytime radio (the words"fuck", "ballocks" and "urethral sphincter" featured heavily in the original).

I don't really have an opinion on the BBC postponing Hanif Kureishi's story (and cutting off my ballocks, and removing my urethral sphincter). I think it's a terrible mistake for a novelist to have a personal opinion about anything (it closes down a reader's imaginative options when reading the fiction). But it is great to see fiction can still drive sparks to the skies when brought into contact with the institutions of state. If fiction is alive, it's going to cause trouble. It's our job to stir shit, and their job to pretend shit doesn't exist. Society needs both to stay balanced. Western civilization is at its best and most interesting when it's negotiating that faultline. As Damien G Walter said when I was discussing this on my blog the other day,

"There's a certain cachet in being censored by the Beeb. You would have to wonder what kind of story you were writing if they didn't want to censor it."

Totally changing the subject, I agree with you about EPs. The vinyl Extended Play record was a wonderful format. My band released one back around 1990 (The Smug EP, by Toasted Heretic, on Bananafish Records, and no you won't be able to find a copy, it's so rare even some of the band don't have one). We got a friend of ours, Richard Chapman ( to illustrate the lyrics in a square comic, slid inside the cardboard sleeve. They were such individual OBJECTS, weren't they, EPs? I particularly liked the ten-inch EPs that didn't fit into the racks properly and were always getting lost and damaged among the albums. They were like stunted babies that you wanted to adopt.

Anyway, got to go... If there's any more drama created by the National Short Story Prize, I'll stick it up on my blog, Best of luck, Bournemouth Runner, fight the good fight (or, if the odds are too overwhelming, flight the good flight),

-Julian Gough

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks alot for the post, and congratulations on the shortlisting. My "beauty contest" reference referred to the contest, rather than this years finalists - I'd not seen the list, just the announcement about Kureishi's story - and I stand by it; I'm a great fan of the short story, as well as writing them, but the idea of "1 winner" as story of the year, never seemed a particularly good way of supporting the genre. Yes, all short stories the BBC should have problems with, or rather not - it's meant to be a wide church, but I've always felt its vaguely the enemy, whilst appreciating much that its done. (You're right about the Fall song, by the way; would they have ever got played on the BBC without the anomaly that was Peel?) But it doesn't excuse the BBC from again getting it so wrong when it comes to literature. How I missed Toasted Heretic I don't know! Yes, 10" records what was that all about? I've "French Disko" by Stereolab on that format, and a weird Blood Sausage mini album, but not sure I've many more. I'll check out the blog.