Radio Gaga

You have a lot of time on your hands as an only child and one thing I used to do was pull faces in the mirror to see how unlike me I could look. Another thing was to experiment with noises, sometimes using my lips and fingers, more usually just vocalising without equipment. Again, the goal was to create sounds that didn’t sound human. I never thought of it like that, of course. Just trying out shapes and sizes and pushing air through cavities, sometimes trapping it and squeezing it along with tongue clicks and tongue rolls and various vibrations. You see kids do this sort of thing in the street or in the classroom – you can’t tell if they’re only children or not – why would they be? Maybe they had competitions with their siblings. Maybe they even tried unhuman choral effects.

It may dawn upon the young vocal experimentalist with time on their hands that although foreign languages feature noises that are simply not present in the English language, these noises can be imitated and may have a generative effect on the youngster’s private work to the extent of introducing not just variants but invasive species. (It should, of course, be acknowledged that the learning of foreign languages involves precisely such exercises. It is arguable that if only a few ‘foreign’ sounds can be competently imitated then other unfamiliar sounds within that language will be more readily reproduced. As in ‘Good – you can get your tongue round that, now try this…’)

I think I have a reasonably serviceable French accent and I attribute this to being made to intone, along with my classmates, a series of French vowel sounds over and over at school, at least three times a week. Several of these sounds were weird and on each occasion some rogue class members were lured away from the exercise at hand in order to push these novel sounds further than required by the French language as conventionally constituted. To our East Anglian ears the proximity of these sounds to those of the farmyard and field was a gap eagerly to be closed. The squealing pig was the most sought after candidate and our teacher, obliged to remonstrate in French, as was already the progressive foreign language teaching protocol in the 50s, would attempt to re-herd the room with exasperated demands for ‘Votre attention, les élèves!’

Schoolboys would have derived some encouragement for their abuse of the spoken word from postwar radio comedies that were richly populated by actors with distinctive voices or the ability to maintain distinctive voices that were not their own.  Sid James, for example, stuck with his lecherous Cockney growl throughout his career, despite having been born in South Africa, while Jimmy Edwards presented bombastic variations on a voice that drew on his experiences as a choral scholar who subsequently became an RAF flight lieutenant in WWII. June Whitfield was a versatile actor adept at comic voice work who ranged from Eth of The Glums in Take It From Here to the fuller sitcom role of Edina’s mother in Absolutely Fabulous. Irene Handl specialised in a remarkable, slightly frail, lightly grumbly yet cheery working class barmaid or charlady persona whose voice was so eccentric that it won her small parts in over 130 films and countless TV series.

Although very much a signed up member of the 50s funny radio voice community, Kenneth Williams stands out insofar as his vocalisations moved beyond the parameters of sketch and sitcom scripts and seemed to strike out for shores at that point undefined. Williams found some possibilities for the ventilation of his concealed gayness in pushing what was, in the 50s and 60s, a standard camp drawl way beyond the limits established by other intrepid comic actors who had been given ‘tolerable because amusing pansy’ roles.

Williams responded to his scripts as if merely to analyse them sentence by sentence was a dereliction of duty. His view appeared to be that every single word was worthy of assault and if that meant respecting the meaning of the lines within the context of their location in fictional situations then so be it – it was a price worth paying and he had the acting skills to deliver what was required.

These line readings could, however, if one so wished, be lifted out of their radio sketch setting, stripped of their function within these frameworks and regarded as remarkable and unhinged exercises in a proposal for the almost human, the humanoid or the post-human – the latter in the sense that if a person could speak but had no world in which to express this ability then his vocalisations would still command respect and inspire awe in all those who came upon them from deep and outer space.

Williams’ voice would swoop, purr, croak, elasticate, shudder, nasalise, whinge, slide, climb, yowl, thunder and groan as he saw fit. Were there proper criteria for such achievements then he would certainly have been honoured with the creation of an annual Award – the Kenneth, perhaps – for outstanding contributions to the development of non-musical vocalisation in the service of higher post-syllabic communication.

It was in the mid 50s that my schoolmates and I became aware of The Goon Show, a radio comedy series that had been broadcasting on the BBC Home Service since 1951. This was a show without peer. It seemed to have no precedent at all. Other radio comedy programmes were amiable, intermittently a bit risqué, delivering a continuity, comfort and relief that recuperating post-war audiences deserved. They were not, however, fevered, free-form, comprehensively illogical or scrambled to the point of unrelieved delirium. The Goon Show was all of these and evinced a programmatic indifference to the conventions of ‘the programme’. In its eruptiveness and disorder it was a frenetic barrage that had some of the texture of war. In this respect it marked an early departure from the measured caution of a traumatised public withdrawing from years of dread and, in many cases, injury and bereavement. Among that public were younger listeners – perhaps in their late teens and early twenties – who had not seen military service and were ready for less cosy entertainments.

All of which is to say that if comic actors of the time who were blessed with voices and vocal effects of distinction had been exposed, in the early 50s, to writers and producers responding to early indications that a ‘post postwar’ sensibility was emerging, then The Goon Show might not have been, for several years, the lone rider in popular radio absurdism. It launched on the BBC Home Service in 1951, three years before Hancock’s Half Hour set out an alternative to manic excitability with its droll celebration of the melancholy of a failed actor who barely believes in his enduring delusions of grandeur. In 1969, nine years after The Goon Show concluded, Monty Python first aired on TV.

The baton passed from the Goons had not immediately been seized but for those born in the early 50s, to be 15 years old or more in the Python era was to be ushered into an exhilarating expression of demented sketchwork that appealed especially to drugged youth and those who had enjoyed the cultural fruits of the final release from the PTSD caution of their parents that had characterised the 60s.

Where Williams had paved the way for what The Goon Show had to offer as far as decomposed speech went, he had also demonstrated what a visionary voice artist could achieve within sitcom scripts. The writer of the Goon scripts, Spike Milligan, clearly felt that there was no pressing reason to establish a recognisable bedrock sitcom reality – as obtained in Hancock’s Half Hour, for example – for comic actors to pitch up against. In radio you cannot see the walls. The imagination is relieved of any debt to theatre or the novel.

In the bike sheds of the mid 50s animated discussions of and noisy quotations from The Goons almost eclipsed the usual thrilling and outrageously folkloric lectures and debates on questions arising from an overheated fixation on female anatomy. School was tight back then and while The Goons was intermittently saucy it was the utter abandonment of plausible narrative in the shows that was revelatory and, for many, life changing. The war was ten years over and had been profoundly traumatising for all concerned but it had also provoked in some the view that the centre had just about held but mere anarchy was well overdue.

There are countless examples of coherent comedic incoherence to be found that are indebted, whether knowingly or not, to the epoch-making collaboration between writer Spike Milligan’s at times clinically marked mania, Peter Sellers’ mastery of so many funny voices that he once confessed, in all seriousness, that he could no longer remember what his normal voice was like, and Harry Secombe’s booming, screeching parodies of the straight (as in not mad) man to whom preposterous things Will Always Happen.

One magnificent vocalisation not usually found in the standard funny voice genealogies is actor Edward Tudor-Pole’s (aka Tenpole Tudor) contribution to Julien Temple’s The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle (1980). Tenpole has doubtless been accused of wantonly mangling the lyrics and delivery of ‘Who Killed Bambi?’ but this would have been the not inaccurate view of people who know nothing.


A Selection of Free-Standing Single Panel One-Offs & 1 (3 part) Serial

These Text & Image pieces were originally published in Facebook

This leaf that I found on the ground has got the pox. I’m going to put it on my nature table. I would like to go to Paris. Not to get the pox don’t be silly it’s just what I would like. You know after you have a beer do you put the cap in with the bottle because if they melt the glass it wouldn’t melt the cap so you wonder.

05.11. 2020

I did some things but then it was half past 11 in the morning so I fell asleep. I wrote some short films about 5 or 6 but they were in my head not written down. It would be good to monetise them but I know they are not commercial. I mean really short like forty seconds max. I went for a walk and on the ground I saw some celery. About half a stick. Not a bunch but as if cut from a bush. I should have photographed it but it was dusk. The picture is alright but it is not dusk.


On my walk I’m writing to the bus app people Why the fuck does your fucking app tell me 11 minutes so I’m walking up the hill and the bus goes right past 2 minutes later what fucking use is this to me? You know. It’s not like this particular bus is common it’s fucking rare like miss one and you could write a fucking sonnet before the next one. About 40 years ago I’m walking along and there’s Eva Marie Saint who played Edie in ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954) with Marlon Brando on the other side of the street and I smile politely and she smiles. That was what it was like. This picture says it all.


It was dark in the park early and rain started to come in. There were people around pleased to get out despite that. I thought I could sense a kerfuffle. Over by one side along some paths I saw the body of an enormous horse. I mean practically as big as two cars. There were families looking at it with children and their dogs. I realised that some of them had small electric saws, Makita, Bosch etc. On the whole it was a respectful feeling. From time to time an individual would step forward and start their saw and saw off the leg or the head of the horse. I said Will you eat it? They said That’s the idea. We’ve got tarpaulin.


Then he said, a propos of nothing, out of the blue, I know where she takes walks on her own sometimes. I went over there never thinking for a moment and there she was. No bodyguards nothing. Smoking. Looking at the horse. So I said by way of an icebreaker We don’t see you round these parts often and she said Well yeah I’m exempt from human experience and I said Wow how do you get that? She said I don’t know really you kind of realise you are. Is that all the time can you turn it on and off, I enquired. She said I have no means of telling. I said Okay, thank you Ma’am.


To take my mind off things I thought I would go to see the Archers Hello Dan his forearms and face were sunbeaten. Hello David he said warmly How is the writing for performance going? Well, I can’t say it’s busy Dan. What about your crops in the ground Dan, tell me about them I’d love that. Well the wheat is largely drilled to keep them warm by now Dan replied. Yes of course I said Yes. And how is Doris? I’m afraid she passed away in 1980 David Dan said. I knew that but it’s a shame I said. I used to listen with my mother you know Dan, way back. Was Doris alive then Dan asked? Oh yes, very much so. Dan nodded quietly.


Yo Piglet! I cried. Dan was affable enough but his memory seemed imperfect. I asked him to direct me to the Hundred Acre Wood, thinking that might take my mind off him. It was a three day journey by dray and cart along holloways drawn by farm animals. So, Piglet, I said to the fretful creature between the great trees scarcely sliced by light. Do you see Pooh much? He hung his head. We’ve kind of got out of touch he said. But is he still living in a tree or whatever? I don’t know, Christopher Robin, he said hesitantly. For fuck’s sake, Piglet! I’m not fucking Christopher Robin – he died in 1996! Oh. Oh. Okay. He shuffled back to the shadows to the damp sticks the fallen fruit.


Dan Archer of The Archers said Right Piglet if I’m to have you in full mud then we’d best have that jerkin off. It’s not a jerkin it’s a body said the mournful and reclusive small animal. My goodness Dan said in his warming voice And what is that can I ask he enquired. It’s a one piece garment came back The Piglet It’s very practical. Well you’d better slip it off now you’ll be comfy enough in your new home. I’ve always worn it Dan, this plaintively. That’s because of your retiringness said the wise countryman who had in fact died some time ago. There will be many warm swine of like mind in the facility Dan continued. You can catch up there. It feels rash The Piglet ventured. To stay in this place of dull silence and ragged moss would be rasher was Dan Archer’s rejoinder. Please don’t use that word Dan begged the little thing.

11.12. 2020

I really shouldn’t be doing this. No-one will believe me. I know that what people like is that they know where they are. In this letter Dear David I so like how you sometimes put vegetables in like you did a few days ago with celery on the Facebook. Well thank you Susan but I also like a bit of variety which is why Today’s Picture is problematic because people will think I’ve run out of ideas but the truth is it was just there at least a mile away from the celery a few days ago. I’m not one of these people who think Wow Two Celeries in 10 days Am I Connecting with Something Bigger? I’m really not. But if you had seen two celeries don’t you think you would want to tell people?


Dawn so I too got out of bed. I was walking along a street of homes. I knocked on some doors because of curiosity. A guy said ‘Is that Armed Police! Armed Police!’ I said ‘No. I’m not shouting that.’ He said ‘Where’s the man who stands to the side with the big door ram as you run in?’ I said ‘No, Peter. It’s not that. Look – I’m already in! We don’t need that.’ He said ‘This is, I suppose, an average home for this street.’ I said ‘Well, you know, you always have that curiosity, don’t you?’ Peter said ‘I don’t, actually.’ I said ‘I meant “you” as in “people generally.”’ ‘Okay, good then,’ Peter said ‘I suppose I’ll be back to bed then.’ I sat down on the settee and rested for a while. Peter, I think he said.


Thank you Dear Friends for your kind greetings on my Birthday – they put a spring in my step so I decided to go out and correct some lingering imbalances. ‘Hello Mrs Carter I said to her at her door I just want to let you know that you were the inspiration for what might have struck you, had you read it, as an ill considered depiction of certain of your qualities that you may have found quite unlike you and if this is the case then please hold me in low esteem such as like with an old rag in the street or a part of a shoe or a desolate place of toppled oil drums She interrupted ‘Mrs Carter moved I’m afraid to another house a while ago leaving no forwarding address Fucking hell I said couldn’t you have mentioned that at the off? You didn’t give me a chance she said.’


Ply Father is the magazine from the fertile lands dealing with joinery and it is attracting attention along with the other coming magazine Farr Number. They are coming out of areas out near Ipswich. The Ply Father place is in tousled grass and set back from the road. Peter, the person at the place, said “Yes, it is multi-layered like strong working woods.” And then over to Farr Number which is a movable feast insofar as it caters to groups of people who move around the country and maybe do not visit the city frequently. Susan who is one of the organisers says that “The people expect the issues to be readily available and we are proud to do that.”


Spent the weekend working on Bonkers, my clown. Anxious to get back in the saddle. Got in touch with Gwen, my costumier. “These trousers should be about right,” she said. They were ill-tailored and flecked with what looked like soup and mud. “They will stand for my shame. Fantastic, Gwen!” I said. She reached for the upper garment. “This is dreampop trancepolitics,” she said, running her hand over the many many fabrics and their startling rents. “I cannot wait to start wisecracking and capering,” I told her.



Peter is unworldly. You see Peter you think ‘What happened there?’ or ‘What didn’t happen there?’ Did he grow up never having to be afraid and this made him unquestioning or was he treated in such a way that he shrank from the world lest it eat him? And Susan is unworldly. And with Susan were there gardens and fresh air and close family or was something so protractedly shocking that it was best to look away and stay like that? But they had charm and you thought I wish I could be like that. But in a way it’s luxurious. You never have to think. But if that were all there was to it then many people would be charming and they’re not.

But I can think of a charming guy called Guy, many years ago, who seemed to drift through the world never catching his elbows on the corners and I remember thinking even at the time ‘I’d really like to be like that.’ He was probably 13. I was too. He did not lack personality, indeed, what it mostly was, I think, was that he had what we might now call a style of masculinity – I certainly never thought about things like that back then, in a way it wasn’t possible to – quite unlike so many other guys. In a sense he was less masculine, in that the available styles at that time were all minor variants on capability: some physical, some cerebral, some jack the lad or jack the wit. Guy was laid back – dreamy, smiley. Not a div though, not a village idiot. Arty. Or destined to be. Not that I had any advanced models of that for reference at that time. With hindsight I can see that the same applied to Richard, who had no academic skill but became a designer of successful chairs. Richard was also laid back perhaps slightly more emphatic. I often wonder what happened to Guy when the 60s came round. If he managed to remain laid back he would have effortlessly walked into the whole beat thing and flourished. I knew posh boys who pulled this off but it was a class-based languor – the world was already theirs so no hurry, really. But it did seem with Guy that he had a position, an attitude, an evaluation. Not because of what he wasn’t taking up but what he was like as a result of not having taken up anything that was being offered.

Reminds me of Charlie this kid my girls were at school with – he had the dreamy thing too. One time Charlie was in a race at school sports, about 60 meters maybe. The kids pelted off and Charlie walked it. Not in the sense of winning easily but in the sense of refraining from running at all. Just strolling. Not truculent. No swagger. Not grinning about it, just politely, not resignedly, doing the absolute minimum. I was with his mum and she laughed affectionately. 15 years later my younger daughter told me she’d seen him in the street and, like everybody said, she said, he was so immensely cool. Unbelievably good looking and cool. I don’t know if he had acquired a swagger. You couldn’t blame him if that were the case. But pleasing if he hadn’t.

Magnificent qualities. Despite the popular rise of sociopathy, there has been, over the last two or three decades, a softening of the male. In some quarters at least. I remember starting to come across young guys, initially in shapeless pullovers, whose performance impact was low. They seemed reserved. Modest. This was not to be confused with dull or humourless or retiring or unexpressive. Or dreamy. (Dreamy is fine but only one mode in an array defined by the absence of a fetishisation of capability. Not that these people were not capable. That’s not what I’m saying.) Even ‘cool’ carries the notion of arrogance, distance, not deigning to descend, probably petrified. But these were young men who had somehow sidestepped the gauntlet.


Thoughtless 2

I do not have an inner voice. I found this out by reading about mind exercises designed to stop you thinking, I found I did not have a voice to stop. I checked and tested some people and found they do have a voice and I was different. I have a reputation for just blurting out answers to problems and memorising data from long ago. I am INTJ* and highly functional in the technical area I work in. I have all the classic INTJ traits. I won’t say I have no inner voice, I just try to keep it out of the way and let my brain work on any problem I have submitted it. Sometimes when I blurt out an answer even I am surprised (whoever I is). I never believed a small little voice in my head limited to words could ever be an efficient thinking machine so perhaps I suppressed it.

Quote from a graduate with a Masters in Engineering & Software Engineering (1982), University College Dublin. Submitted to Quora in 2017.

* INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of the 16 psychological types. According to Myers–Briggs the INTJ represents “The Mastermind”. INTJs are one of the rarest of the 16 psychological types and account for 2%—3% of the population.

Mental illness, at the risk of stating the obvious, is evidence of mental life. Mental life, when functioning well or otherwise, is experienced in part through the medium of thought. And the greater part of thought is experienced, by most people (there are exceptions – see above), as a species of inner voice or inner speech. A combination of mental imagery and inner language, in elusive and changing proportions, characterises most thought. The treatment of mental illness is hampered by a focus on symptoms as they arise rather than a policy of prevention. It is the view of researchers that ‘while the revolution in personal fitness, diet and medicine over the past half-century has transformed physical health, there have been few similar efforts to keep people well mentally.’

(‘Global call to step up earlier mental illness prevention’ by Mark Rice-Oxley, The Guardian, 08/06/19)

A reductive view of thought might be that it is the carrier or importer of illness – it is the mold on an exposed cheese. Setting aside the myriad and complex actual causes of mental dysfunction, the penultimate element in a causal chain of mental disruption could be seen as the array of thoughts or messages that appear to impinge on the mind. If this is the case then the possibility of shooting the messenger can arise. Thought is upsetting – how could it be neutralised?

Such a response is typical of the cognitive behavioural therapy school which, while dependent upon classical Freudian assumptions, chooses to minimise the significance of the unconscious by regarding disturbing or habitual thought patterns as suppressible and replaceable.

What gets thought a bad name is its unreliability, variability and unpredictability. Just as you start to use it to solve a problem or clarify a position, say, it turns on you like the bear in the Werner Herzog documentary ‘Grizzly Man‘ that ate the man who was confident he had tamed it. Thought may confront you with alternatives that block the path to an equilibrium in which the mind ambles along in an uncontentious way. Most of the time such inconveniences are manageable and are expressed by an inner voice that sounds just like your own outer voice. Sometimes inner speech is taken over by a voice or voices that are not yours. This may increase the leverage of contradictory or confusing messages but the phenomenon is still generally manageable. It need not be mistaken for its distant yet unsettling cousin, auditory verbal hallucination. Such a condition can be indicative of schizophrenia but the criteria for diagnosis are as pathologised as the pathology they purport to describe.

On occasion, when the inner voice is rendered in the wrong voice and mounts some sort of critical campaign it is tempting to characterise it as alien or even an alien. It can, equally, be regarded as an invasive spirit or as a ghost. The intensity of such ‘invasions’ can be mild and unperturbing or nagging, insistent and haunting. At such points, in the interests of preserving the thinker a distinction may be made between ‘thinking’ and ‘hearing’, where ownership of the latter is denied and quarantine is introduced.

We approach the possibility that thought comes to be regarded as a medium for the dissemination of fake news. It is a hoax. Clearly it has its uses – it would certainly be difficult to work things out without it. Nevertheless, it is unmannerly and impertinent insofar as it does not petition for entry – one moment it is not there and the next moment it is. There’s not much you can do about that.

Thought, as far as we tend to be aware, lacks the material qualities that render the body, to a degree, tractable. In addition to being impertinent, it is soft and difficult to grasp. It is teasing, coy, coquettish – it has feminine qualities. It is feminine yet it is found in male bodies. How can this be?

A luxurious possibility arises. Given that it is so slippery, it would be better to extinguish it. Not entirely, of course, you need some to work out train timetables, for example, but given its generally inconstant and ill-disciplined nature, the greater volume of it can be turned off.

It is at this point that true luxury is found. Little is lost. The grand hoax is trumped. Now we can get on.


Pleasant Enough

Given the clairvoyant accuracy of J. G. Ballard’s assertion in the 1990s that ‘The 21st century will be the century of the psychopath’ it is not surprising that over the last couple of decades these largely male, white and profoundly disturbed figures have come to populate a significant and steadily increasing portion of TV and film thrillers and high finance dramas.

In the second season of the Danish psychological thriller series ‘Those Who Kill’, titled ‘Blinded’, we see an emerging variant of the ‘high-functioning’ psychopath who has already become prominent in such finance dramas as ‘Billions’ and ‘Devils’. In these latter are found ruthless businessmen (and some women) for whom betrayal is routine and there is no such person as the colleague who cannot be professionally destroyed if the full realisation of scruple-free schemes is to be achieved.

These financiers are charismatic, well groomed and dressed, have nice families whom they love and sometimes a dog. At this level of analysis they could pass for ordinary bankers and fund managers. Importantly, they don’t look mad or bad, their faces are handsome and unscarred and they are often seen being pleasant to people who are not their employees.

In ‘Blinded’ the variant in the high-functioning class of psychopaths features a family man whose low status job is cutting timber in a sawmill. His high-flying wife wants a divorce and he is left to care for his son. Despite the domestic setbacks he has a relaxed, low-key manner and is liked by his friends. He does, however, capture men and torture them at length before killing them. So in terms of variance, he largely eschews the women and children first template for TV psychokillers and, importantly, he doesn’t look like a bad man.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a screen psychopath is goodlooking and amiable, of course, but when he chats to his son, or his male chums or his boss or does the school run, there isn’t a hint of the currently most fashionable of evils in either his general demeanour or his micro-expressions. This is meticulously controlled throughout the series, with the actor (Tobias Santelmann) only facialising derangement when he is actually torturing his victims. Even when the net closes in on him he registers only a stern determination – a nice man experiencing some pressure.

Nevertheless and as we would expect, his days are numbered. Karina (Helle Fagralid), the police chief in Odense, meets Louise (Natalie Madueno), a criminal profiler, and asks for her support in tracking down the serial killer who, after a five year break, is on the prowl again. We are relieved of the need to endure the tiresome trope of ‘Cop resents sharing her case with an outsider’ because Karina and Louise get on well and respect each other’s skills. This seems to signal the production’s acknowledgement that women are capable of working relationships based on trust rather than competition.

There’s a key scene in Episode 2 when a forensic pathologist shows Karina and Louise the deep cuts that have been made on the soles of the feet of the killer’s latest victim. The women leave the lab and walk slowly down a corridor.

LOUISE          He cuts Ricky’s feet and unties him. His escape wasn’t an accident.

KARINA        Did he want to hunt him? Why take that risk?

LOUISE          I don’t know. We might be wrong about the motive.

KARINA        So it isn’t sexual?

LOUISE         It’s always about control and dominance. This guy also punishes his victims.

KARINA        For what?

LOUISE        I don’t know, but when we find the common denominator we’ll find the motive.

Somehow a relatively procedural scene, one that has to take place, acquires a much wider frame of reference. The corridor removes the women from the investigative environment and briefly becomes a liminal space in which the lifting of plot and genre constraints elevates their discussion to a measured analysis of a pandemic toxic masculinity that underlies the totality of social experience and consigns women to a leached and wearying game of pathologised whack-a-mole.