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Radio review: A Very Australian Scandal, Redeeming Ricky, and Archive on 4: How the Yom Kippur war changed everything, for everyone

13 October 2023


The conductor Sir Eugene Goossens’s story was told in A Very Australian Scandal (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

The conductor Sir Eugene Goossens’s story was told in A Very Australian Scandal (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

SCANDALS often tell us as much about the environment in which they play out as about the people and their misdemeanours. Sir Eugene Goossens was a celebrated conductor, a friend of Stravinsky, and the visionary behind Sydney Opera House. He also entertained, in the euphemistic words of his niece, “a wide variety of interests”. In Europe, he was fêted for his pioneering work; but, in the more innocent world of post-war Australia, his decadent metropolitan morals were not to be tolerated.

In A Very Australian Scandal (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), the music journalist Phil Hebblethwaite told the story of Goossens, and how his ten-year sojourn in the Antipodes ended with his being run out of town “like a diseased rat”.

The “interests” in question entailed exotic sexual behaviour and witchcraft. The scandal broke when, on Goossens’s return to Australia from Paris in March 1956, his luggage was found to contain pictures, magazines, and other accoutrements. Whether the discovery was the result of a set-up is a point that is still contested.

We heard here from Richard Bonynge, another Australian maestro and husband of Joan Sutherland, who remains adamant that his friend and mentor was treated harshly. His resentment is understandable; for, beyond the titillation of the event itself, there lay shame, ostracism, and an early death: all merely sad and banal.

At least now there is a bust of Goossens in the building that he exerted so much effort to create: the building that was opened 50 years ago, and 11 years after his death. At a time when so many names are being expunged from the institutions that they helped to create, here is somebody who needs to be written back into the history books.

There are any number of ways in which one can tell a life-story. With regard to Ricky Gleeson — a young man who has overcome a chaotic childhood to create the retail charity HoodEx — the narrative might have focused on our hero’s experience in the armed forces, his first steps into the world of business, and his engagement with those who have, as he has, been in the penal system. But Redeeming Ricky (Radio 4, Monday of last week) was, from the outset, intended as a misery memoir. Not even Mr Gleeson’s chirpy disposition was allowed to deflect us from the horror.

And so we visited the main sites of his youth and heard of a neglectful and ultimately self-destructive mother; his addictions; and his exclusion from school. But, as his friend the self-confessedly posh Oxford student Katie said, you wouldn’t know any of this trauma from talking to him. His was not even black humour: his manner was genuinely positive, and defied the attempts of the producer to portray the story otherwise.

Even without the prompting of recent events, Michael Goldfarb’s Archive on 4: How the Yom Kippur war changed everything, for everyone (Radio 4, 30 September) was important. It is now essential listening.

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