Sir John Tusa Meet the Author


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Sir John Tusa

James Naughtie talks with the author Sir John Tusa about his new book Making A Noise: Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong, In Life, the Arts and Broadcasting.


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crime, it's reported the letter

was addressed to Prince Harry

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and Meghan Markle.

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Now its time for Meet the Author.

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Now it's time for Meet the Author.

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This week on Meet the Author,

Jim Naughtie talks with the arts

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administrator, journalist and author

John Tusa about his new book

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Making A Noise - Getting it Right,

Getting it Wrong, In Life,

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the Arts and Broadcasting.

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John Tusa has been broadcast,

BBC executive, a tsar in

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performance and in academia,

but now he's brought it all together

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in a memoir called Making A Noise.

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From his own experience,

getting it right

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and getting it wrong, as he puts it.

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And from the people

he has worked with.

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It's more than a personal portrait,

it's a picture, drawn from

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an intriguing angle of what kind

of country we live in today.

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Welcome.

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It is a story of modern Britain,

isn't it, seen through some of our

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institutions in the arts?

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And of course, here in the BBC.

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Yes, I think it is,

and I think that what

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it is is trying to understand

what makes major organisations work.

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This tussle over the

last 20, 30 years as

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to how efficient

organisations have to be.

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The answer is, yes, of course,

everybody has learned about

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how to run an organisation properly,

but the interesting question...

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And I hope it comes out in the book.

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..is how do you combine being

efficient with being true to what

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the organisation is about?

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The values.

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And we always believed,

and I think the BBC used to, it

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certainly did, the World Service

did, that values and efficiency can

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go hand in hand and I think

that organisations...

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And I'm not talking

about the BBC now.

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..but organisations which lose

touch with their values

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do get stuck.

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And I think this is a continuing

tussle in Britain today.

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Let's just take your story

through to remind people.

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You were a journalist for the BBC

for a very long time, and

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you were there particularly

on the screen, as many people will

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remember, at the very beginning

of Newsnight, which was a

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difficult birth, which you described

in great detail there.

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And then of course you got

the job you really

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wanted and didn't expect to get,

which was running BBC World Service.

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Now, where do you think it sits

in the panoply of, you know,

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broadcasting in the modern era?

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Well, there is absolutely

no question that the

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trust that audiences had for the BBC

World Service was higher than for

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anybody else, and the voice of

America and all that would tend to

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get larger audiences

and that was probably

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because they were more

propagandistic, and people

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liked that.

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That was fine, but audiences knew

what they were doing.

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But the trust level

of the BBC World Service

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was greater than for any other

broadcaster, and when communism

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fell, almost all the world's

broadcasters, certainly the ones in

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the Communist block, just collapsed.

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And even the Voice of America and

Liberty and Radio Free Europe lost

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their purpose because there was no

longer a propaganda war to fight.

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But BBC World Service continued,

because what we always

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said was, "We are giving information

to audiences," and that was

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true then and I think

it is true now.

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There's an interesting other side

of the coin that you pointed in

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your story that when Government

ministers said, "Well, why can't all

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the BBC be like the World Service?"

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The source code for the fact that

they didn't like the BBC, because it

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was saying things about Government

that they didn't approve of.

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This was mortifying,

and also a lot of

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Government ministers, BBC governors,

when they were giving the board of

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management at the BBC

a particularly hard

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time, and then saying,

"But of

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course, the World Service

is marvellous," and I hated that.

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The World Service

being held up as some

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sort of goody-goody bit of the BBC

when frankly a lot of the governors

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were attacking the BBC quite,

quite unfairly and unreasonably.

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Well, this is something...

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You look into this in

excruciating detail, but

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there are passages in the book where

you talk about the extent which

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there was in your view

a great lack of affection,

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almost hatred in some

cases, for the institution

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which they were supposed

to be guardians of as

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governors of the BBC.

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Time and again, governors

of the nonexecutive

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body would say things like, "Well,

of course the BBC won't exist in six

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or seven years' time."

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Now, as and informed

comment or a judgment, you

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say, "Well, maybe yes, maybe no."

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It has been proven very, very wrong.

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They would say that.

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But then the other times,

when the remarks they

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would make really indicated

they were completely out of sympathy

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with what the BBC stood for.

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And to have people in

the nonexecutive body, the

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Board of Governors,

who really disliked

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what the BBC stood for,

and

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this is one of the reasons why

the relationships between the Board

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of Governors and the executive board

fell apart in those years, 1992,

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1993 under the chairman.

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You know, you've got

to respect an organisation

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if you are responsible for it.

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Your subsequent career, of course,

took you into the arts.

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You ran the Barbican Centre.

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You had a great

commitment to the arts.

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You then worked in

academia in the same

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university of the arts.

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When you moved from

the BBC with all its

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difficulties and always bureaucratic

problems, trying to deal with

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artists and artist management, and

produce a programme that he plays

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like the Barbican with all its

different aspects, what was the

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difference?

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I always thought there was a lot

in common, because both

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artists in their totality...

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A lot of hysterical people.

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And journalists in their totality.

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We all do things

which they believe in.

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They are on the whole not

very well paid, and they

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are acutely aware of the need

to relate to the audience, to the

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public.

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So from that point of view,

I felt completely at home with

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artists as with journalists.

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Putting together the

artistic programme was

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something that I didn't do.

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I tried to create

the atmosphere within

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which an organisation could exist,

and then the artistic field under

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Graham Sheffield did that,

but you did need both.

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Your own story is a fascinating one.

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Born in Czechoslovakia.

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Although you save one

of your regrets in the book is

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that you never learned

to speak Czech.

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You might have been delivered

by Tom Stoppard's father.

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You may have been.

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Yes.

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There were two doctors

on duty that night and one

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of them was his father.

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That's right.

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Did you find when you came

and of course were educated wholly

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in this country and so on that

you still had the perspective of an

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outsider simply by

the accident of birth?

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I think I always have done.

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I mean, I am British.

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I'm not English.

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I can't be English.

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I think British intellect

is a wonderful, inclusive

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identity.

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Part of that Britishness,

which I think many people will feel,

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is the ability to use your origin -

in my case, Czechoslovakia -

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as a way of looking

at life in a slightly,

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slightly different way.

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And, you know, bits of Czechness

crop up, appear here and there.

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I feel a huge identity with,

for example, the great national

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hero, the good soldier,

Svejk.

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Svejk survives dictatorship

and autocracy by

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pretending to be an idiot,

and saying, "I am an idiot."

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And there's something

about that defensive

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strategy which I find

very, very attractive.

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You say you're British,

do you feel European?

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I feel intensely European.

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One of the reasons that I'm now

applying for my Czech

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passport, which of course I never

have, but I never abandoned Czech

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citizenship, Is that

I do not want to be cut

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out from Europe if,

I

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would say, the worst

comes to the worst,

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and Britain leaves the EU.

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I am intensely European.

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I travel there a great deal.

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European culture

in all its aspects...

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And it's not just my culture.

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It's Britain's culture,

for heaven's sake.

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You know, Britain is part of Europe.

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And I don't want to be cut off

from that in any way at all.

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It's a glory and a privilege.

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And yet, the picture

of the country that

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you portray here is,

for all its difficulties,

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for example here at the BBC

or in funding for the arts,

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which you are intensely passionate

about, it's nonetheless a rich,

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diverse and culturally alive place,

isn't it, which you continue to

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celebrate?

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You are not someone

who is depressed.

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No, I refuse to be depressed.

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And I don't think...

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I think there are

many reasons for not

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being depressed, and the sheer

intense variety of the culture of

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this country.

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The diversity of this country.

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I mean, the way that London has just

accommodated people,

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nations, whole wodges

of other nations'

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and London is the rich.

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You know, in history,

all the evidence is that city

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nations which take in outsiders,

strangers, they

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are the ones that flourish.

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They flourish

economically, creatively

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and intellectually.

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There is a lesson there for us.

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John Tusa, author of

Making A Noise, thank you

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very much.

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Thank you, Jim.

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James Naughtie talks with the arts administrator, journalist and author Sir John Tusa about his new book Making A Noise: Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong, In Life, the Arts and Broadcasting.