Late Night Woman’s Hour assumes that all women think about is dating, desire and drinking

Plus: the poetry emerging from the rubble of the Syrian civil war

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

Late Night Woman’s Hour has created a Twitter storm with its twice-weekly (Thursdays and Fridays) doses of ‘mischievous and unbridled conversation’. The 11 p.m.–midnight slot is an ideal opportunity for cardigans to be unbuttoned and tongues unloosed, a chance to show that Radio 4’s venerable magazine programme for women can still shake up the station. Lauren Laverne was brought in from 6 Music to host the first few editions, signalling that there would be nothing mumsy about these hour-long chats around the table with a selection of well-chosen guests. Her style is refreshingly different, frank and a little bit cheeky, not at all Radio 4. How could it be when she spends most of her working life talking to musicians or hanging out at Glastonbury?

‘Welcome Richard,’ she announced on the first edition I happened upon while getting ready for bed. ‘How’s it hanging?’ I nearly swallowed my dental floss. It’s just not an expression you expect to hear on Radio 4, no matter the hour. That night’s theme was masculinity and Laverne was talking to the comedian Richard Herring. ‘What makes you feel like a man?’ she continued. He waffled for a bit, about gender and the like, before Laverne went straight to the point: ‘It’s just the penis for you?’

None of her other guests that night (a doctor who works with patients suffering from erectile dysfunction, a lyricist, a philosopher and a colonel in the British army) could quite match Laverne’s willingness to face up to the biological fait accompli. ‘I always need to fix things,’ said the doctor and gender specialist. His wife complains, ‘I don’t need it solved. I just need you to listen.’

Other editions looked at dating, where the guests were all female and their conversation focused on Tinder, the phenomenally successful dating app; or at our capacity to tell lies, where again the guests were all women and included Kellie Maloney (the boxing promoter who used to be known as Frank) and an undercover reporter who often works for the Daily Mirror. ‘You cannot love a person you’ve never smelled,’ said Irma Kurtz, the veteran agony aunt, when asked what she thought about Tinder (where you decide whether or not you want to date someone purely on photos, on how they look). Kurtz is worried that our obsession with digital aids is making us less and less reliant on intuition, that animal sense we’re now quite terrified of.

It’s a great idea to put a chat show into that late-evening slot, as the darkness intensifies, midnight approaches. Comedy never quite works in that hour because, although it’s winding-down time, it’s not light relief you need so much as an outlet for those bigger questions that start infiltrating the thinking mind as the business of the day dies down, the curtains are drawn, and one is left with silence.

Existential worries rise to the surface. What does it mean to be alive? How much time have I wasted today? What lies ahead tomorrow? But Late Night Woman’s Hour had none of that. On the contrary it seemed determined to prove that all women think about is dating, desire and drinking. In spite of Laverne’s engaging style — her knack of making people talk — there was something too predictable about what everyone was saying (except perhaps for Kurtz).

‘They say they don’t care about words. But why, then, are the poets always among the people they are most keen to kill?’ said Ghias al-Jundi on Poems from Syria (Sunday, Radio 4). He was talking to the journalist Mike Embley about the fighters on both sides of the conflict in his homeland. Embley asked him whether poetry was surviving amid the horror and devastation, as if desperate for something to cling on to, to hope for. Was anything creative coming out of the rubble?

‘Writing a poem is as dangerous as carrying a gun,’ al-Jundi insisted. He should know. He was once imprisoned for three years in Damascus. He told us of another poet, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, who had written song lyrics attacking the jihadists and had been killed just for that — his throat slit in a visceral attempt to stop the echo of his words.

This arresting programme was an illustration of how much we should care for words, that ability to speak, and how lily-livered we who are lucky enough to live outside the war zones have become. After we had heard a haunting poem by Ghada al-Atrash (who now lives in exile in Canada), about a woman whose student son had been killed when the university at Aleppo was bombed by President Assad’s planes, Embley asked: is there a distinctive woman’s voice coming out of the Syrian war? The response was another poem, written in Arabic, by the female writer Najat Abdul Samad, and translated for us: ‘Rather than be humiliated when I am overcome with weakness, I bandage my heart with a woman’s patience in adversity, as she rises from the banquets of death and carries on shepherding life’s rituals.’

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Show comments
  • Margot5000

    Heard one of the Late Night Woman’s Hour and it was sex,sex,sex and REALLY boring. The occasional gobsmacking, jawdropping bits (which would have probably got off the internet if I’d put in some rude words) so maybe kept it on for 5 minutes longer than I would have – ten minutes – but wasn’t even tempted to keep it on as wallpaper until the next programme. And all when the world is imploding and there would be a lot of stuff that would make good discussions. This made it seem that most women are totally brain dead and only interested in their vaginas. ? anybody any thoughts. Occasionally hear stuff on the World Service and it’s usually brilliant – most of it would be well worth repeating on 4 – def. a better use of air time than sex discussions that most people had at about age 13.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Late Night Woman’s Hour assumes that all women think about is dating, desire and drinking”
    Don’t forget shopping.

    • Annette

      Men spend more on themselves than women do. Fact.

      • ViolinSonaten b minor.

        It really depends on what can be improved upon and what must
        be excepted .

  • jeremy Morfey

    So yet another hour dedicated to feminist supremacism, gender-specific exclusion of anything that might be inoffensive to men, who have no right to tune in at that time.

    I’m sorry, but this is the time I go to bed. I like the Book at Bedtime and Today in Parliament, and above all the Shipping Forecast because it helps me nod off. I get so angry with the men-hating BBC feminists claiming to be so liberal, but in fact being unbearably narrow-minded, that I have to turn the wretched thing off if I am not going to spend the whole night fuming in anger at the way the BBC shuts me out of living simply because I am the wrong gender.

    • Annette

      Oh do be quiet you paranoid freak.

      If you want masculinist supremacism just read the spectator or tune in to the today programme: a 4 hour snore fest of what men think, what they’re blowing up or playing today.

      • jeremy Morfey

        This nasty response makes my point really. I hardly think the Shipping Forecast is masculinist supremacism, but feminists seem truly to believe that everything that is not directly about women’s rights is de facto anti-women.

        As for Today in Parliament, those politicians that deserve to get on, male or female, are those that can argue beyond their own favoured faction and see the whole picture and speak for the whole nation.

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        • SchtenGraby

          You’re both as tiresome and incorrect as each other.
          Now get a room…

          • jeremy Morfey

            Please substantiate your insult.

  • ‘I just need you to listen’

    God that is so not me. I’m a problem-solver and sometimes I don’t want to listen or be listened to, I want to get on with getting over whatever the problem is rather than moan about it. But then I also don’t have a rich breadwinner as husband. And he tells me when the lightbulb needs changing.

  • You cannot love a person you’ve never smelled
    Oh yes, you can. You might not want to kiss them if you ever get to smell them, but if love just boils down to physics and chemistry then my whole life has been an illusion.