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This is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
90 years, four hours and 27 minutes ago on the dot,
the BBC sent its first ever transmission into the ether.
OVERLAPPING RADIO VOICES
MUSIC: "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley
MUSIC: "Jumping Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones
Hundreds of thousands of broadcasts later, The Culture Show is here at Broadcasting House
where tonight, our schedule is packed with superstar novelists,
lone warriors and ethereal artists.
Lindsay Johns makes the case for Rambo the role model.
Sandy Toksvig gives us the entire history of radio in just over a minute.
Alistair Sooke heads to Edinburgh in search of Scottish painter John Bellany.
And we get to sample the new Rolling Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane.
# It's all right now In fact it's a gas... #
But first, Andrew Graham Dickson takes to the plush avenues of New York's Upper East Side
to meet a writer who needs little introduction.
Tom Wolfe, astute purveyor of the American zeitgeist,
has turned his eagle eye to the bristling life of sun-soaked Miami
in his first novel for eight years, Back To Blood.
Stratosphere, radical chic, the Me Generation,
the right stuff, all brilliantly incisive terms
invented by one of the great chroniclers of American society during the last 50 yeast.
Tom Wolfe, the man in the white suit
with a sartorial style as elegant and as sharp as his writing.
Wolfe adopted the white suit as a trademark early in 1962,
when he landed a job on the New York Herald Tribune.
The young dandy from Richmond, Virginia, certainly cut a dashing figure in metropolitan New York.
But it was his distinctive brand of high-energy experimental reporting about popular culture,
dubbed The New Journalism, that really got him noticed.
"I don't know why anybody objects to the megalomania of the American automobile.
They're not built to move your body in the first place,
they're built to transport your mind."
The '60s was the decade that formed Wolfe and one he was instrumental in defining,
but he's probably now best known for his 1987 novel, The Bonfire of The Vanities,
a blistering satire on New York's obsession with money, ambition and greed.
Now Wolfe's written a new novel, Back To Blood,
which promises, or rather threatens, to do for Miami what The Bonfire of the Vanities did for New York,
namely expose the simmering class and race tensions,
the seething political corruption, and the human and sexual foibles of the city's residents.
So, Tom, why did you choose Miami as the setting for this book?
Well, my original idea was to write a book about immigration to the US.
And then I don't know how it dawned on me, but wait a minute, Miami has everybody you can think of,
including not just people from Latin America, but people from Russia,
a huge Haitian population.
and the Venezuelans are coming in now because of... Chavez.
Did you choose Miami as this...
melting pot, I suppose would be the cliche,
although in your book it's more like a simmering pot?
Actually, I think of it as a melting pot
that's full of... different metal units but they never melt.
They kind of rattle.
They rattle against each other.
And the Cubans... politically dominate the place.
It's the only city that I can find in the world
that is run, politically, by people from another country
with another language and another culture.
It's a very unusual situation.
And the American blacks who've been there a long time, usually,
really resent the... Cuban police.
"In slums like this one, Overtown, black people looked upon the Cuban cops as foreign invaders
who one day dropped from the sky like paratroopers
and took over the Police Department and started shoving black people around.
Black people who had lived in Miami for ever."
You were never an armchair journalist.
And you've not been an armchair novelist.
How important do you think it is that you get out into the field, into life?
Well, frankly, I think it's... all-important.
And whenever a young writer,
and there are not many of them,
pays me the compliment of asking me how to get started in this field of writing,
I would say, "First, leave the building!"
And just take a look at what's out there.
I gather that somebody sort of got wind of this research that you were doing
and actually followed you around for a while with a camera.
I owe a lot to him. Oscar Corral is his name.
He was a former reporter for the Miami Herald
and he was the first person that took me to some of these places like Hialeah.
So, Tom, what's the basic question you have? Is there something you want to know about?
Where in the house would you typically find these figures?
They're big figures.
If you were trying to find the one big theme of Back to Blood, what would you say it was?
My good friend John Timoney, who used to be Mayor of Miami, said,
"New York is all about money, Washington is all about power,
and Miami is all about sex."
Well, there is a lot of sex in the book.
When I was in Miami doing research, I went to a strip club.
I swear it was research!
The image I remember most distinctly was of the girls,
they're totally nude,
and their backside is to the audience
and men, you wouldn't believe how many numbers,
come up with dollar bills and put them in the cleft of their bottoms.
I'm talking about things that look like a peacock's tail, there are so many pieces of green paper.
What I can't quite work out is whether you are fascinated by
the... sort of seething weird energy of it all,
or whether you think it is actually, you know horrible for these girls to be doing that?
How desperate must they be? I can't work out your attitude.
I don't have an attitude of Christian charity towards it the fate of these poor girls.
So do you think that they are exerting their economic freedom?
I wouldn't put it theoretically. I just think it's wild and somebody should write about this.
I mean I love to find... I love to find things that are really extraordinary,
that everybody knows about but they haven't been written about, like this Columbus Day regatta.
"'Come on,' said Norman with a lewdly happy face. This you've got to see."
"Now it begins. The blonde with the breasts did a few mild shimmies with her hips,
showing her chorus of admirers how taut her pectoral glories were,
how they stuck out, defying gravity.
'What begins?" she said.
'The regatta is essentially an orgy,' said Norman.
'That's what I want you to see.' But he wasn't looking at Magdalena when he said it.
Like every other male in the boat, he only had eyes for the sprung-free naked breasts.
At the end of writing the book, did you feel warmth towards Miami,
did you feel Miami was a place that you loved or are your feelings more ambivalent than that?
No, it was more, "Look at the people! They are remarkable!"
I'm not saying, "Look how wacky they are, or how bad they are."
It's just, "Get an eyeful! You're gonna enjoy this!"
That has been my feeling in everything I've done,
whether it was custom car makers in California or...
You've identified something that is amazing and you want to tell the world about it.
I love it when people say, like John Updike did,
"Your book's not literature, it's journalism!"
-I think, "Good! That's great!
-"It must be a good book!"
-I'd read it.
-It's been a pleasure to meet you.
And Back to Blood is out now.
Now, from Tom Wolfe to lone wolf.
John Rambo has had something of an image problem since his first screen outing in the early '80s.
His most recent film had a body count of 236 and was, in my opinion,
both artistically bankrupt and morally repugnant,
but tonight Lindsay Johns sets out
to recast the bandanna-clad modern-day warrior
as a misunderstood paragon of masculine virtue.
To be honest, all this macho war play just isn't me.
But that doesn't mean I can't have a role model who's synonymous with cut-throat combat.
It's been exactly 30 years since Sylvester Stallone burst on to our cinema screens
as the irrepressible Vietnam vet and green beret John Rambo.
With his trademark headband, serrated hunting knife and laconic dialogue,
he became legendary in the 1982 film, First Blood.
Don't push it! Don't push it or I'll give you a war that you won't believe.
-(GASPS AND CHOKES)
-Let it go!
Let it go!
Now I'm willing to concede that in his various celluloid outings, Rambo's got a bad press.
Seen as a monosyllabic blood-thirsty psychopath,
Stallone's character is constantly derided as a brute and as a Neanderthal.
But those who criticise Rambo the loudest are often those who've never seen the films.
I believe that contrary to what most people think,
Rambo is actually a multi-layered protagonist.
An existential everyman and the perfect hero for our troubled times,
complete with a fully functioning moral compass that we can all learn from.
He embodies the very finest human virtues - valour, loyalty,
strength, determination and stoic endurance.
Look closely at his ripped abs and chiselled pecs
and you'll not find one single ounce of moral or intellectual flabbiness.
His is a mindful, not mindless violence.
Consider the incredible loyalty he exhibits in Rambo III
when he returns to rescue Colonel Trautman
from a seemingly impenetrable Russian army fortress in Afghanistan,
risking almost certain death into the bargain.
Why must you do this?
Cos you'd do it for me.
Consider Rambo's predilection for sagacious aphorisms about the nature of warfare
and its effect on the human spirit.
"To win war, you have to become war," he opines before combat in Rambo II.
And when exhorting mercenaries to complete their mission and rescue the innocent in Rambo IV,
he admonishes them with these chilling words.
Live for nothing... or die for something.
Think too, of when with clenched teeth he sews up his severed arm in First Blood,
or cauterises his stomach wound in Rambo III
with nothing more than gunpowder, fire and a grimace.
HE CRIES OUT
Such are the actions of a man taught to ignore pain,
a man for whom self-mastery and self-control are the keys to winning at all costs.
Rambo is an ostensibly easy target,
often dismissed as a hyper-masculine version of the ugly American abroad living out foreign-policy fantasies.
But I believe that is somewhat misguided.
It's deeply ironic and yet prophetic when we see Rambo fight alongside the Mujahideen in Soviet-era Afghanistan.
Colonel Trautman confers a warning
that, given today's ever-increasing American and British military death toll there,
makes for very uncomfortable viewing.
If you'd studied your history, you'd know these people have never given up to anyone.
They'd rather die than be slaves to an invading army.
You can't defeat a people like that.
Rambo is also the perennial loner, a pawn in a bigger game,
the outsider with a good heart who troubles no-one, unless they trouble him first.
He's a drifter, at odds with Western society's meretricious values.
There is, in short, a part of Rambo in all of us who dare to challenge orthodoxy.
Where the hell do you think you're going?
Hey! I'm talking to you, goddamn it!
Let me see some ID.
Thanks in part to Rambo, I've cultivated mental fortitude
and a warrior spirit in the face of life's challenges.
Rambo's imbued me with a rage against injustice, whatever form it takes.
Moreover, as an often outspoken, socially conservative,
mixed race free-thinker, I'm used to being on the outside.
Rambo has helped remind me to rejoice in always being my own man,
in knowing myself, in speaking my own truth and not worrying what others say.
Now, if you were listen to the radio this afternoon, you may well have heard Radio Reunited,
which marks the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio
with all the BBC networks coming together for what may have been the biggest radio audience of all time.
From today, the BBC will be broadcasting a series of 90 miniature programmes,
one for each of those years.
It's called 90 x 90.
But is it possible to sum up the entire history of radio in just 90 seconds?.
Famed for her Just A Minute appearances,
Radio 4's Sandi Toksvig gave it a go in just a minute and a half.
The BBC started in 1922, just ten years after the birth of Nicholas Parsons.
In 1923, they charged 10 shillings for licences
and as many listeners couldn't afford both a dog licence and a wireless licence,
many dogs were abandoned, which is why to this day they prefer television.
In 1926, a mad priest broadcast news of a murderous riot in Trafalgar Square,
which many people believed because nobody knew what a spoof was.
Then things went quiet for a while,
so quiet that one day in 1930 the equivalent of the Today Programme said...
-"There's no news today, so instead here's some light music."
In 1932, Broadcasting House was built and Reith said the penis on the statue of Ariel was too big.
But listeners said nobody would see it on the radio, so that was all right.
Then in 1938, Arthur Askey invented the catchphrase
when his hit show Band Wagon rolled into Broadcasting House with some pigeons and a goat.
But the war intervened and it was left to It's That Man Again to lighten the British mood
until Hitler was defeated, when everyone settled down to listen to Journey into Space, set in 1965,
which in those days, was the future.
Then came rock 'n' roll,
which the BBC ignored until some pirates forced them to invent Tony Blackburn in 1967.
Since then, we've had such delights as Adrian Mole, The Hitchhiker's Guide,
and a vagina monologue for the Culture Secretary.
-We're going to be talking to Jeremy...(COUGHS)
But we can forgive a few mistakes and radio is still going strong because it's got the best pictures
and, as my time's up, that's where I'm going, the pictures. See you there, Mark.
And over the next 11 days, BBC4 Extra will be playing every instalment of 90 X 90
while other BBC networks will carry a selection.
Next up - John Bellany, one of Scotland's most celebrated painters, turned 70 this year.
To mark the occasion, the Scottish National Gallery
is holding a special exhibition entitled A Passion For Life.
Alastair Sooke went up to Edinburgh to visit John,
where he discovered the gallery could not have come up with a more appropriate title.
In the summer of 1964, two unknown art students came here to the Scottish National Gallery,
bringing with them their canvasses.
Nothing unusual in that, you might think.
But it was unusual.
One by one they hung their paintings, not on the walls of this august institution,
but tied onto the railings outside.
Of course, it was a big publicity stunt... and it worked.
The two men were friends and fellow art students, Sandy Moffat and John Bellany,
frustrated by the limited opportunities to show their work.
Almost 50 years later, John Bellany is very much inside the establishment
with this new retrospective at the National Gallery of Scotland.
It's been a tumultuous life and career -
roller coaster doesn't even come close.
You could say that John Bellany as a young man was out of step with his time.
Pop Art and minimalism were the order of the day.
Traditional figurative painting was deeply uncool for a young painter in the swinging '60s,
but Bellany stuck to his guns and painted what he knew best.
First of all your output is clearly prodigious,
a word often used with artists but in your case it's really true.
But also that your art is so enmeshed with your own personal life.
That's what I think fine art is about.
It's not about...
anything else but that.
You've hit the nail on the head.
John's early works, which he showed on those railings,
are centred around his birthplace,
the small fishing town of Port Seton, a tight-knit Calvinist community.
John attended three church services every Sunday.
The paintings, like the town, are utterly dominated by fishing and religion,
the two inextricably linked.
It's a world where the fragility of life is all too apparent
and no-one is left untouched by grief and loss.
Do you feel that in fishing communities,
religion has to play an important part in those communities for a particular reason?
They've been so embedded in their religious faith
that you can't just drop it, it's right inside them.
Because, let's face it, the seas they go out in,
I mean, the boat is nearly standing on its end like that.
That sometimes happens and it just manages to right itself.
But quite often it's gone.
The sea is a killer when it feels like it.
And that's why the fishermen... always have fear.
They never go out without fear.
If you go out without fear, there's a chance of tragedy.
And it's this ominous aspect of the sea which you were painting so frequently in the '60s.
-An ominous presence.
-Sometimes really malevolent as in painting like Bethel.
Yes. At the age of eight, that was the first time I went out on a boat.
And It was called the Bethel. And I used that in many of the paintings.
And it's a painting of three men standing on the boat with a big skate in front of them.
-And it's very, very dark.
-It's really dark!
-This is almost a murderous painting in some ways.
This is such a blunt, sort of brute vision of the universe, in a way.
-Where did that come from? Where does that come from?
-It came from inside me.
It is a spiritual depth.
What I found, with this religious domination that was happening,
something like that again reflects a storm and with the fishermen in front.
-This is The Obsession.
-Yes and it is an obsession with me.
It just is there, I can't wipe it out.
It has been there with me for the whole time I've been alive.
There's another painting called The Waiting
and it's three of the women waiting for the boats to come in.
And the women are getting more and more frantic.
And, of course, they're singing these kind of redemption hymns.
And they are waiting and waiting for three or four days,
singing the songs, and you can hear the lament...
..going across the waves.
You feel that. And you're...
Then they're gone, that's it.
In the mid-'80s, Bellany was a prolifically hard working artist but a hard drinking one, too.
Liver failure took him to death's door
but after a highly risky transplant operation,
it was his urge to paint, his need to create, that pulled him through the darkest hours.
Searing pain went on and on.
And then when I came around properly, it was easing off a bit and the nurse came up to me.
I said, "Can I have a piece of paper and a pencil, please?"
She came back with a piece of foolscap paper and a pencil.
And I did a little drawing of myself.
And I think that that is the best drawing I've ever done in my life.
And when I was doing it, it was three o'clock in the morning in a hospital bed.
There was I sitting, the sweat was lashing off me onto the paper.
And the paper was burning! It was on fire... when I was drawing it.
I finished it and I laid back like that on the pillow
and I just thought... "I am going to survive."
"I am. I really am going to survive."
And this was just the beginning. After the operation, John started painting like a man possessed.
The doctors and nurses at Addenbrooke's Hospital let him turn his room into an art gallery,
documenting his recovery.
It really was a new lease of life.
And his later work reflected it.
Do you think it is fair to say that the operation in '88
ushered in a new mode of painting for you?
That in the last two and a half decades, we suddenly see much more colourful work, for starters.
After the transplant, I got out of the hospital
and everything was in Cinemascope, bright brilliant colours!
And I had been living under this... cloud or this curtain of black.
-Is this why you've used much brighter colours in more recent...?
-Because they're there.
-But they were there before.
-No, they weren't.
I wasn't seeing them before, because they were under this haze.
And it's such a joy, because I'm painting much more happy paintings.
John, obviously this retrospective coincides, well, now you're 70,
and it looks like you are still painting as much as you ever did.
-Is that true?
-Probably more than I ever did.
I think I've reached a stage now where I've done more paintings than Turner.
And I love it so much. I love being alive.
I love Edinburgh, because that's where it all started
with encouragement, really, from the whole city.
I'm looking forward to the retrospective at 90.
I can't promise that, but I'll try my best.
And A Passion For Life opens this weekend.
Finally, to play us out, a preview of Crossfire Hurricane, which starts on BBC2 this Saturday.
It's a documentary celebrating 50 years of the Rolling Stones
with Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie telling their story in their own words
and a few songs thrown in for good measure.
And for even more culture go to thespace.org.
It's years since such crowds gathered to await an appeal verdict.
But this was the Rolling Stones case with the fans out in force.
When Mick Jagger was conditionally discharged and Keith Richard's sentence quashed,
the pop idols drove off, the shadow of jail no longer over them.
KEITH: I looked at it at the time as, "They can try all they want, they won't make this stick,
because I've got all these people out there."
And unless I murdered somebody, they're gonna insist that I'm out.
MICK: You've been targeted, but then you revel in your rebelliousness,
because people are doing that for you.
People are saying, "Oh, it's awful! They have been targeted."
It cemented our relationship with our generation, with the public.
And it sort of gave us a badge of honour, in a way.
To me, it just made me think, "OK, now you know who I am,
you've basically given me a licence now."
It was Jesse James time. I mean, the cops turned me into a criminal.
That's when I started to carry a shooter in America, you know.
-So the outlaw was born?
-Yeah. I mean, it was fully blown.
That was when you really put the black hat on.
Before that it was just sort of off-grey.
# I was born in a crossfire hurricane
# And I howled at my ma in the driving rain
# But it's all right now
# In fact, it's a gas
# But it's all right
# I'm Jumping Jack Flash
# It's a gas, gas, gas
# I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag
# I was schooled with a strap right across my back
# But it's all right now
# In fact, it's a gas
# But it's all right
# I'm Jumping Jack Flash
# It's a gas, gas, gas!
# Ooo! #
In a way, I kind of felt everybody else was writing the script for me.
"You're going to do what I can't!"
"OK." That's a very easy role to slip into.
There was this slot available and it was just built for me.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd