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Radio review: The Archbishop Interviews, and The Long View of the Future

25 February 2022

© Russell Hart/Alamy Live News

In The Archbishop Interviews (Radio 4, Sundays), the Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak was Archbishop Welby’s guest

In The Archbishop Interviews (Radio 4, Sundays), the Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak was Archbishop Welby’s guest

IF YOU are a chat-show host in the making, what you need is guests who are going to make your life easy: a Tom Hanks, for instance, who will laugh at all your jokes. For an Archbishop launching a series of “deep conversations” on The Archbishop Interviews (Radio 4, Sundays), the equivalent is Elif Shafak. “I have so much respect for what you said,” she responded to one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s contributions. To another: “You’re so human!”

But that same wannabe host might also wish to observe the protocol that respects the guest’s claim to the limelight. Archbishop Welby may have been advised that the show for which he, after all, takes above-the-title credit, was as much about himself as his guest. But then the word “interviews” in that title might reasonably be replaced by “in conversation with”. Every “question” addressed to Ms Shafak came with a preamble addressing some aspect of the interviewer’s experience: depression, family background, or his public profile.

For those more interested in the ecclesiastic than the writer, that might not be a problem; but he needs to pace himself, or he will run out of things to share by the end of the series.

The question “How deep is a deep conversation?” is, of course, highly subjective. In keeping with the courtesy afforded by a newbie interviewer, Ms Shafak was never put on the spot. “‘I am a failed mystic,” she declared; but this cultural flirtation with spirituality was never questioned. “I am very interested in faith, and I am very interested in doubt,” the Archbishop said. “Everyone’s journey is different,” said somebody: I can’t actually recall who: it could have been either of them. If you are afraid of the deep, you have nothing to fear: the encounter was as deep and satisfying as a tepid bath.

The Long View of the Future (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) appears to have been kicked into the schedule’s long grass. Having taken pride of place in the slot at 9 a.m., replete with on-site interviews and actors reading from the historical records, the latest series fills a hole in the afternoon, with discussion conducted over Zoom from a studio. Always a hit-and-miss affair, Jonathan Freedland’s show can nevertheless yield real insights, as it did last week when it was devoted to cancel culture.

Three historical case-studies were presented. It takes imagination to find parallels between Galileo and Joe Rogan, but the second study, of Charles Cunningham Boycott and his ostracism (in fact, “boycotting”) by Irish society in the 1870s, does have resonance with certain practices today, not least the way in which it extended to all who associated with the English land agent.

The final contribution, by Antony Beevor, was especially chilling: the story of “the ugly carnival”, in which French women who were known to have given solace to Nazi troops were, after the Occupation, publicly shamed. His conclusion, so pertinent to our own times: “The truth is the first victim of moral outrage.”

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