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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell was one man Kirsty Young couldn't seduce

We listened to a handful of old and new editions of Desert Island Discs while driving north for a wedding. Kirsty Young's very good at it. Less gushing than Sue Lawley. Not the anecdote hunter like Parkinson. But even her powers of persuasion couldn't get Malcolm Gladwell to tell her anything about his private life. He declined every opportunity to go there, simply because he couldn't understand why people from this part of the world are so interested in everybody's private lives. He wasn't tense or precious about it. He just wouldn't play. Get him on to any subject but himself and he was great. The problem is that DID traditionally operates on the premise that the subject we all find most fascinating is ourself.

9 comments:

  1. Funnily enough I've been listening to old DIDs too over the last few weeks. I was surprised how probing Roy Plombley was and at times it reminded me of In the Psychiatrists Chair.

    Don't know if you listened to the Oliver Reed one, only a fragment left. But that ones fascinating. He's so very different from the drunken oaf personality he later adopted, in part I think to amuse himself and in part because he knew it got him invited on TV and in part because he'd become a bit of a drunken oaf. And the Kenneth Williams one too. I follow his diaries on Twitter and those extracts in combination with the DID episode point to a very unhappy man.

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  2. Danny Baker couldn't be probed as I recall.

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  3. Can’t help but wonder why he went on the programme. DID is surely a chat show, with breaks for (selections from) the guest’s choice of music. Was he forthcoming about why he made the choices he did?
    That said, he’s not the first to be reluctant to talk about themselves. Danny Baker is one, of course being a reserved sort of person. And most notably, or so I’ve heard, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. Very shy, apparently.

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  4. Baker was more "my life has been grand" and his cancer travails were left unsullied by self pity and the like. Thus not playing ball with her interviewing technique. I have oft longed to go on there myself if only to choose "Suck A Cheetah's Dick" by Wesley Willis,

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  5. To be fair to Gladwell, Rod, he was perfectly polite and really interesting. I suspect he's too experienced in the media arts to fall into the trap of finding himself fascinating.

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  6. Haven't heard his DID but Danny Baker has released a very enjoyable autobiography and is, I understand, in the process of Volume 2. I ask out of interest rather than confrontation: in what way was he not forthcoming about himself?

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  7. I haven't heard the Gladwell, but have often thought that US guests are a little unsure of the format, as there is nothing quite like it at home; they also probably don't understand that an appearance on DID represents acceptance into a specific Valhalla - I still remember how Paul McCartney was overawed to have been invited on. DID still has one foot in the old Parkinson world of inviting on guests because they are interesting in their own right (partic eg academics etc), rather than because they have product to promote (though there is a tendency for more of this, eg the Baker autobiog). Long may it flourish.

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  8. Like in his enjoyable autobiog he didn't think anyone would be interested in any misfortunes he may have suffered and refused to expand thereupon despite probing.

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  9. I too have been listening to some old recordings of the show. There are a couple of editions that I remember from when I was young and I thought I'd seek them out again. They were from the Roy Plomley era and they were completely fascinating as a snapshot of how things used to be.

    For example, Michael Palin was quizzed for what felt like minutes on the fact that he had left Oxford with only a lower second. Palin, seemed unconcerned with this academic shortcoming (maybe comforting himself with the fame and cash that Python had brought him) but Plomley doggedly returned to it a couple of times. Can we imagine that now? One, would the public care and two, wouldn't a PR intervene and say, "Mr. Palin really doesn't want to talk about this."

    Listening back made me think about how much Britain has changed, possibly signified by the fact that I originally heard the Palin interview when I was queuing with my parents in the local chippy. Admittedly this was in a leafy bit of Bedfordshire, but Saturday night at the chippy gave you chance to pick up a piece of cod and catch DID and possibly the start of Stop the Week with Robert Robinson. Halcyon days.

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