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Radio review: Nolan Investigates and Heart and Soul

29 October 2021


Participants hold placards and a Stonewall banner during the Pride London celebrations in 2010

Participants hold placards and a Stonewall banner during the Pride London celebrations in 2010

STONEWALL by name, stonewall by nature. One of the many remarkable aspects of the Nolan Investigates podcast (Radio Ulster), focusing on the ideology and strategy of the LGBTQ+ lobby group, is that at no point does the organisation deign to field a representative. I suspect that it will come to regard this as a mistake; for, despite his proudly combative approach, Stephen Nolan is capable of giving a fair hearing, as he does in this series to other supporters of Stonewall policies. Stonewall is unlikely to get such treatment elsewhere.

Compiled over 18 months, the documentary comprises ten episodes; and to be in Nolan’s company for that length, bamboozled by the jargon of the contemporary gender debate, is to be pummelled into a state of punch-drunkenness. Nolan assumes the incredulity of middle age, while his interviewees patiently explain to him the difference between gender-this and gender-that.

The best episodes are given over to extended interviews — with the non-binary Mayor of Bangor, Owen Hurcum, and with a former senior clinician at the Tavistock Clinic, Dr David Bell — which give some sense of the personal investment in these abstruse debates, while one might choose to take with a pinch of salt the more histrionic expressions of outrage which accompany revelations of Stonewall’s intrusions into public institutions.

Nevertheless, what Nolan has revealed is significant, not only in itself but in what it reveals about how cultural values are disseminated through modern organisations. It is a credit to the BBC that it is airing the podcast, since the BBC itself is one of Nolan’s main targets.

The Corporation stands accused of having a relationship with Stonewall which enabled the latter to be both lobbyist and adviser on diversity policy. The same accusation is made of the Scottish government. Meanwhile, other organisations, such as the LGB Alliance, stand exasperatedly on the sidelines; and veterans of Stonewall’s early triumphs on behalf of gay rights hanker after earlier, simpler times.

In Heart and Soul (World Service, Friday), we heard the French perspective on the debate surrounding the Roman Catholic Latin mass. For congregations comprising many younger people drawn afresh to the mystery and solemnity of the pre-Vatican II mass, Pope Francis’s recent motu proprio seems not progressive but reactionary, as well as needlessly authoritarian. In the words of one “tradi” (the name given to the Latin-mass lobby), the Pope has “clubbed the movement over the head”.

The reporter John Laurensen took us to the formidable sounding Château du Jaglu, where proponents of a kind of sacramental fundamentalism declare absolute fidelity to the Church and its hierarchy (“We want to live at the knees of the bishops”), while offering robust opposition to this revived orthodoxy.

But the real threat comes not from cadres of sinister seminarians of the kind imagined by Dan Brown, but from the “tradi-friendly” churches that are gaining popularity around France, and which celebrate the new mass, but supplemented by generous portions of Gregorian chant, against which Vatican II dared say nothing. Thus, as so often, one sings what one dare not say.

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