Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

I forgot to plug tonight’s Heresy! And it was the Glitter episode and everything! But, aha, I shall put a link to it at the end of this post.

  Tonight’s episode was the one where we did a topic based on a poster’s anecdote on this blog about a friend in a record shop who was asked to stop playing a Gary Glitter album. The gist of the topic was whether you can still listen to someone’s music / read their writing / watch them in films, when the creator of the art in question has turned out to be very grim. Aiming to get a 100% yes vote from the audience, Charlie and I decided to phrase the topic as “IT IS HARD TO ADMIRE GARY GLITTER”. The producer was absolutely terrified. Of course it was a perfectly safe and quite literary conversation in the end. But I’m sorry we recorded it before the release of In The Loop, because we could also have talked about whether there was any universe where it would have been okay for Chris Langham to appear in that film. I’m prepared to say: I missed him in the film. It’s a really good film. But everything else aside, Chris Langham was brilliant in The Thick of It and (whether or not this would have made it right to cast him, which it probably wouldn’t) the film would have been better with him in it. And have a listen to some of Gary Glitter’s old tracks on Youtube. The man is as revolting as revolting can be, but the music is just great.

  Guests for this show were David Mitchell, Euan Ferguson and Tanya Gold - all of whom were excellent - and the other received opinions were


and - thank heavens - the slightly easier


I should really have mentioned all this before the programme aired, but it can be heard for the rest of the week here.

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Brian at 9:59 pm on May 5th, 2009

The Glitter question is similar (perhaps not in scale) to the Wagner question: can a vile human being produce worthwhile art? Sadly, it seems they can. See also Ezra Pound (racist and fascist), T S Eliot (racist and snobbish), Baudelaire (sexist). I’m still happy to watch my dvd of Langham’s People Like Us. Not sure where this leaves us - but maybe time is the magic ingredient in sorting out the author from the imperfect human being.

Victoria Coren at 10:33 pm on May 5th, 2009

Well that is indeed the gist of the conversation we had… Didn’t include Baudelaire. But we did have Caravaggio.

David Bodycombe at 10:38 pm on May 5th, 2009

The BBC’s stance on this has always been a bit ropey. They handsomely paid a convicted murderer for years in the form of Leslie Grantham.

Colm at 10:56 pm on May 5th, 2009

Really enjoyed the show, the topics seemed to bring out honest opinions instead of you and the panel taking a contrary stance for comedic effect, more please!

Speaking about Chris Langham reminds me of an excellent life of George Orwell he did a few years ago which we’ll probably never see again.

Can we only see people encapsulated in one moment, horrific though it might be?

Would Gauguin & Van Gogh be reduced to ‘ear-slicing loonies’ today, whereas the passage of time has shown they were also really bad tenants who never finished painting the downstairs loo?

sam at 9:03 am on May 6th, 2009

I’m pretty sure that gary glitter serves a very useful purpose economically, in that he keeps all the headline-pun writers at The Sun employed and off the streets.

John at 12:39 pm on May 6th, 2009

In the 1970’s there was a movement for small, yellow, plastic bins attached to lampposts with the word Litter pressed onto them.  They were often ‘Banksy’d-up’ by the addition of Gary G in permanent marker pen.
And how great was the smell of the marker pen toxicity before they were made safe?

Phil at 1:24 pm on May 6th, 2009

Great show. I liked the good art/ bad person debate and was reminded of Orson Welles’ quote in The Third Man

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Being “nice” has nothing to do with good art; indeed often the converse is more true. To refuse to appreciate this fact is to ignore some quality work

Rubyruby at 2:48 pm on May 6th, 2009

Glitter, Langham, Barrymore and John Leslie are all performance artists who to some extent have to impose their own physical presence on us in a way which Wagner, Caravaggio, Belloc or Blyton do not. That’s why broadcasters and audiences are squeamish about the former quartet, and it’s hard to blame them for that.
And my stock assumption has always been that nearly all creative types are foul, egomaniacal little so-and-sos, regardless of whether their work is great or not. Apart from you of course. You’re lovely. Although you do seem unusually fascinated by the excretion of bodily waste in places (lawns, cupboards etc.,) other than those which are provided for that purpose.

Andrew at 11:18 pm on May 6th, 2009

Agreed that it is an excellent episode in an excellent series so far.

The issue for me is ‘royalties’.  I seem to recall hearing that Gary Glitter retained the rights to most of his music.  Hence, any playing of them put cash in his pocket - this was when he was hiding out in South East Asia.

If you watch or listen to American sports they quite often seem to play snatches of his music to ‘rouse the fans’.  Every time it came on it would be a bit of a shock.

Once he’s dead - or it’s clear no royalties are funding his activities - I’d have no problem with playing his stuff.

I’m not sure if addressing this was ‘Heresy’ being brave or ‘Heresy’ just showing up the rest of the media.

Simon Hawkins at 11:20 pm on May 6th, 2009

If the programme’s recorded at Broadcasting House then there’s a pretty good example close to home. The statue of Prospero and Ariel on the front of the building is by Eric Gill, who was shown in a recent-ish biography to have engaged in incestuous relationships with his daughters and various other adolescent girls, not to mention some kind of “experimentation” with a dog.

Gill also created the stations of the cross in the Catholic Cathedral at Westminster and there was a campaign within the church to have them removed when all this came out. Although possibly on thin ice when it comes to child abuse, the church authorities decided to leave them be.

There’s an entertaining and mildly smutty anecdote about the BBC statue, but sadly not enough blog-characters left to tell it…

AndytheDealer at 2:28 pm on May 7th, 2009

Come on Simon, post it!

Simon Hawkins at 7:33 pm on May 7th, 2009


Before the statue was unveiled to the public, it was inspected by top brass at the BBC. In response to some concerns, they called upon the expert testimony of a Governor of the corporation, who was also Headmaster of one of the public schools. He confirmed that Ariel did indeed appear to be “uncommonly well hung”. Gill was told to go back up on the scaffolding with his chisel and….errrrr…..knock the end off it, for want of a better phrase. I imagine he did it with a fair amount of bad grace.

A few years ago, Radio 4 reported that the lad who was the model for Ariel had been found to be still alive, albeit then in his 90s. He’d spent his life dining out on the story that he was considered too well hung for the sensibilities of the BBC.

LC at 7:42 pm on May 7th, 2009

“The issue for me is ‘royalties’.  I seem to recall hearing that Gary Glitter retained the rights to most of his music.  Hence, any playing of them put cash in his pocket - this was when he was hiding out in South East Asia.”

I’ve thought about this before too, Andrew. As it is a major factor as to why people object. The simple answer? Illegal downloading! Glitter doesn’t get a penny!

It’s not as if anyone would buy one of his CDs in a shop nowadays anyway because of embarrassment. A big hoorah for piracy.

David Bodycombe at 10:02 pm on May 7th, 2009

[moderator’s note: this was posted before Simon gave the answer]

I happen to know this, I think. Wasn’t it that an MP complained in the Commons that Prospero’s appendage was too large and that it should be downsized or removed? He must have had some kind of inferiority complex because - not that I’ve stared at it - but it’s not exactly prominent.

Victoria Coren

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