Tarka and the Fascists

Nov 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Cross Channel

Radio 4’s ‘Debating Animals’ was the companion of choice in the gentle roll down the N11.  Growing up with the stories of Henry Williamson, the passage read at the opening of the programme on otter and mink was recognizable.

The eldest and biggest of the litter was a dog cub, and when he drew his first breath he was less than five inches long from his nose to where his tail joined his back-bone. His fur was soft and grey as the buds of the willow before they open up at Eastertide.

They would hardly be allowed to have a quote from Williamson without some reference to his lunatic political sympathies, would they?  Of course not, it came in the very next sentence.  The presenter commented,

Ah yes, that would be the birth of Tarka the Otter, a pure blooded British mammal most usually depicted standing on its hind legs with a fishy in its little paws apparently laughing.  Henry Williamson wrote “Tarka the Otter” and he adored the creatures, in his spare time, he also adored Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley, but of course, it’s not just Nazi sympathisers that adore otters, we all do.

Would the BBC run a programme with material from George Bernard Shaw and remind listeners that, “Shaw was an enthusiastic admirer of Josef Stalin to the point of saying that Stalin’s Russia was what would happen if Christ lived now”?  It would be hard to imagine them doing so.  The telephone lines would be hot with complaints from indignant admirers of Shaw, who was one of four Irish winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Stalin was responsible for tens of millions of deaths; even in Shaw’s time there were labour camps, yet he would not see the evil of Soviet Communism.

Examples of mistaken, naive, or just plain silly, political loyalties amongst the great are commonplace.  Shaw was not alone in his support of Soviet Russia, there were plenty in the ranks of the prominent who thought that the Revolution had given birth to some new civilisation, even if they were somewhat reluctant to experience that civilisation for themselves.

But does it matter? Do the personal political loyalties matter to the appreciation of their work?  Do the racial opinions of Richard Wagner affect listening to his music? Does the fact that Picasso said he was a Communist change the way  we see his paintings?

Were Williamson a writer whose work touched on social or political issues, then it would be relevant to say he had extreme Right-wing sympathies, but he was an animal writer.  His support for the mad and the bad was hardly important to telling tales of river life.  No-one today would preface a report from the Daily Mail by saying it once, misguidedly, ran a headline declaring ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, why continue to tag readings about Tarka with comments about politics?

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  1. Even Enid Blyton is not safe, apparantly she was reputed to have had a lesbian affair..!!!!!! well so what if she did…..the press still havn’t destroyed my memories of the Five……..

  2. I hadn’t realised BBC4 were running a series on Enid. Why on earth would people want to dig up stuff on her sexuality?

    The Radio 4 thing was meant to be a political style debate about otters and mink, but there was no reference to anyone else’s political views – sometimes I wish there could be programmes without people bringing their own comments into things.

  3. That was the Daily Mails contribution on ‘digging the dirt ‘ last Saturday. The media seem to want to rip apart and destroy everybodys life and reputation…. I too wish that that the news could be reported on the BBC and ITV as it happened not with the reporters putting their own spin on it.The presenter asks the question ‘what is your view’ ? ‘I think ‘yabber yabber yabber off goes the reporter………..Click goes my power button on the tele…………….

  4. I have a friend who worked in broadcasting who says the problem is the 24 hour news channels. They have to fill their schedules so generate their own stories. Instead of reporting the factual events, they interview some politician or other and take the comments as news and get their journalists to comment on the comments.

    There is also an obsession with the private lives of ‘personalities’ and so called revelations are put into the news columns of the red top papers.

  5. And the masses believe all they read and are told……….scary!!!!

  6. Actually – when the Daily Mail pops up in discussion on one national BBC radio network, the Hurrah for the Blackshirts episode is occasionally mentioned, as are the delusional love-ins of some writers on the left with Soviet Russia. Tends to be with Nicky Campbell or sometimes Richard Bacon on BBC Radio 5 live.
    More generally, I haven’t quite made up my mind on whether the objectionable beliefs of artists render their art beyond the pale. But I do like to be reminded, or challenged, about them – be they racism, anti-semitism, communism, whatever. Is that digging up the dirt, or merely giving a rounded picture?

  7. Must admit I tend only to listen to 5 Live for the football coverage. I don’t think I’d mind references to political beliefs where they are pertinent to the discussion, but it didn’t seem of much relevance to a programme on otters and mink and was done in a joking manner, which rather undermined the point anyway.

    There does seem an imbalance as well – Right-wing extremists tend to be identified while Stalinists and Maoists on the Left are given an easy time – maybe it was a case of the victors writing history after World War II.

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