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Radio review: A Tribute to HRH The Prince Philip, Sunday, Athena’s Cancel Culture, and The Documentary: The other caliphate

16 April 2021


THE duty felt by all manner of organisations to mark the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh is not always easily rendered; and tributes are naturally as much about the living as the dead. Thus A Tribute to HRH The Prince Philip (Friday, Radio 3) consisted of one of the most eclectic playlists of any music programme you might hear before the midnight hour; whoever was responsible for the programming deserves inclusion in the Birthday Honours.

One might have predicted the introductory maritime and regimental ditties, but who would have thought to honour the Duke’s love of carriage-racing with a melancholic Capriccio by Bach; and, in recognition of his environmental advocacy, programme Cantus Arcticus, by the Finnish contemporary composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, a beautifully realised combination of recorded birdsong and orchestra? The incongruity of it all — at which Prince Philip would surely have allowed himself a wry smile — was somehow profoundly moving.

There will no doubt be much else on the Duke’s passing elsewhere in these pages; but readers are encouraged to catch up on BBC Sounds with the contributions of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Martin Palmer bookending last week’s Sunday (Radio 4). We are learning a great deal about the intellectual capacity and cultural breadth of a personality so often in the past berated for apparent cultural insensitivity.

In any case, His Royal Highness has gone to a place beyond the reach even of cancel culture: one of the conditions that, strangely, was omitted from Athena Kugblenu’s guide on how to avoid the opprobrium of the Twittersphere. According to Athena’s Cancel Culture (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), you can survive the most crushing of social-media pile-ons if you are successful enough, or — presumably — dead. So J. K. Rowling is unbowed, whereas David Starkey has been flattened. This is all according to Kugblenu, who wondered who cared about the Tudors anyway.

To be fair, this is supposed to be a comedy show; but, for those who get anxious about our increasing cultural puritanism, there were lines here that might cause a shiver. The blurb states that “cancel culture helps empower fans by diminishing cultural capital and helping keep their egos and opinions in check.” I couldn’t tell whether this was supposed to be a good thing or not; but, when Kugblenu invited us to think of cancel culture as “like pest control”, one might be forgiven for missing the funny side.

With worried eyes fixed on Syria, few of us may have noticed the insurgency in the Philippines, whose ambitions mirrored those of IS. In The Documentary: The other caliphate (World Service, Saturday), Anna Foster visited the city of Marawi five years on from a siege that, over five months, levelled the city, and explored the histories of some of those who turned on their compatriots in the cause of jihad.

To get a timeline for these brutal events you need to turn to Wikipedia; but Foster’s programme was rich on local details and on the stories of individuals who were inspired by a struggle taking place thousands of miles away in the sands of the Middle East.

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