Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
WHEN Hans Christian Andersen was little, his grandmother used to make him
cry with her tales of solitary forest gods eating up handsome princes.
He was a sensitive soul, bereaved of his father when still young, caring for
an alcoholic mother, and teased by his peers for his public displays of
enthusiastic singing and dancing. And his revenge? To commit his childhood
terrors and fantasies to print so that they could be visited on countless
future generations of children.
Despite Disney’s best efforts, the world of Hans Christian Andersen is one
of cruelty, loneliness, and casual violence. Its terrain is mainly of forests
and snow. Hattie Naylor’s splendid two-part biographical
play — The Afternoon Play: Hans Christian Andersen (Radio 4,
Wednesday and Thursday of last week) — captured the fatalistic anxiety of
Andersen’s imagination beautifully and cleverly.
The central conceit is that the soul of Andersen has been captured by the
ice maiden, and he is watching his life unfold from the wicked queen’s ice
palace. In Ms Naylor’s view, The Ice Maiden is Andersen’s nemesis, stalking his
imagination throughout his life. The stories serve as commentaries and
psychological glosses on life.
So The Tinder Box — about a soldier seeking his fortune — is
recounted as Andersen leaves his home town to seek fame in Copenhagen, and
The Ugly Duckling serves as a counterpoint to Andersen’s lack of
social skills as an adolescent. We are invited to associate his dark vision
with the cocktails of superstition and vengeful Christianity that he was
regularly served as a child by various matriarchs.
At the end of The Ice Maiden, perhaps the most profoundly gloomy
story ever to pose as entertainment for children, Andersen invokes the
all-seeing God as some kind of justification for this fiction: “And God lets
happen what is best for us, however painful that might be . . . we cannot see
his larger plan.” But even if we can’t, somehow I doubt the plan could involve
fantastical ice queens sucking out the souls of innocent passers-by.
The strike at the BBC on the Monday before last offered Radio 4 listeners a
vision of what life might be like without Today and P.M.. One
programme that did remain, to my delight, was
Cashier Number Six, Please (Radio 4). This was one of those gems of
radio scheduling — the one-off.
This was all about the disembodied voices that are increasingly managing our
world, everything from queuing to ordering the milk. Yes, you can now get a
fridge that tells you whether you are out of milk, and presumably orders it
online for you.
But this wasn’t about technology, it was about voices. What kind of voice do
you want giving you directions in your car around the streets of an unfamiliar
city? Do you want a mother-in-law type of voice or a best-buddy voice? A survey
reveals that we want a co-pilot voice: concise, knows its place, and, above
At the conclusion of the programme, we met Phil Sayer — “the most hated man
in Britain”, since he is responsible for announcing and apologising for delays
on the trains. Phil is a trained actor. “It’s just a gig. . . I’m sorry,” he