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Radio review: The Reith Lectures – Grayson Perry; Desert Island Discs; Woman’s Hour

Grayson Perry. Photo: BBC/Richard Ansett

What was so refreshing about Grayson Perry’s series of Reith Lectures, Playing to the Gallery, was that the flamboyant potter and cross-dresser seemed happily unfazed by the gravitas that surrounds – and often stifles – this august cultural occasion.

For those of us who find the very idea of a lecture offputting, Perry was a real breath of fresh air – funny, irreverent, colloquial and quirky, more stand-up than lecturer.

The energy, attack and emphasis of his delivery made him easy on the ear, and what he had to say about art, aspiration and creativity struck so many chords you could have set it to music.

I especially liked his description of his own creative process as “a place in my head where I can go and process the world and its complexities, a kind of inner shed”.

In his final lecture (of four) at Central St Martins, apparently clad in a multicoloured, silk pierrot outfit, Perry recalled feeling turned on by his first experience of pottery at school, possibly because he was made to wear a shiny, blue PVC smock. Every child starts off being creative, he said, the problem was how to access that need to express ourselves creatively as we get older.

It was a message echoed by the charismatic educational reformer Ken Robinson, Kirsty Young’s guest on Desert Island Discs, whose talk on creativity in the classroom has been watched by 17 million people on YouTube.

Robinson’s thesis, expounded in person and in the Labour-commissioned report All Our Futures – Creativity, Culture and Education, that our current education system stifles and drains creativity, has largely fallen on deaf governmental ears for the past two decades, despite his undoubted communication skills. Young described him as part education reformer, part stand-up comedian.

Robinson, who shares Perry’s down-to-earth attitude to the arts, also had an interesting take on the proliferation of attention deficit disorder: “If you sit children down day after day doing passive activities, don’t be surprised if they fidget.”

Should casting directors receive more recognition at film awards ceremonies? Woody Allen says they should and, unsurprisingly, casting directors Lucinda Syson and Gail Stevens, guesting on Woman’s Hour this week, agreed with him. It is one of those Cinderella jobs where the only time you think about it is when someone is obviously miscast, which isn’t always the fault of the casting people.

“Because someone is hot, producers sometimes think they’ll help [to sell] the film when, creatively, they don’t fit,” said Syson. “We have to use our womanly wiles to find a good alternative.”

Presenter Jane Garvey asked why casting directors are invariably women. “It is a question of being open to things,” said Stevens. “The job entails a lot of nurturing.”

The colourful Rula Lenska was a guest on Midweek, recalling her youthful imprisonment on the island of Sardinia on a trumped-up charge of drug dealing. If you want to know more, you’d better buy her autobiography, entitled My Colourful Life.

The Reith Lectures: Grayson Perry – Playing to the Gallery, R4, Tuesday, November 5
Desert Island Discs, R4, Friday, November 8
Woman’s Hour, R4, Tuesday, November 5
Midweek, R4, Wednesday, November 6

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