Gaddafi, King Idris and a Point of View
I have started a four week stint on Radio 4's A Point of View (this is the programme that I always thought was the one that rescued the poor listeners from the rigours of the Church Service on a Sunday morning -- but discovered that it goes out first after Any Questions on a Friday evening).
It is (so far) fun, but quite a lot of work -- first think of topical subject, a current beef to get off your chest, then cast it into an elegant 10 minutes worth of talk. Then go to London to record it.
My first choice was to look at tyrants ancient and modern, with an eye to arguing that the stereotypes of tyrannical behaviour prevent us looking more carefully at the different patterns of 'tyranny' .. and prevent us understanding why people might have supported these 'tyrants' in the first place. Maybe, even some of the worst monsters, are good in parts. You can read (and comment on) my text as broadcast here.
Anyway, it WAS a lot of prep; but even so I didn't do quite enough. When I went first to read it through to the mike, it was about 90 seconds too long. I know, I know: what would I have said to a graduate student who went to do a seminar and hadn't read the paper out to check the length it came out at...? Still, I hadn't. I'd relied on it being on roughly the right number of words.
So some last minute cutting had to be done. Some of this could be done by the usual sort of trimming: take out the repetitions, the redundant adverbs, superfluous asides. It made it (as it always done) a lot better; but you get rid of 90 seconds that way.
So one example had to go. And it was poor old King Idris. I had wanted to remind people that when Gaddafi came to power in 1969, he and his friends had been warmly welcomed by the international community. It was a coup waiting to happen (reports disagreed about whether there were no casualties, or just one), and the elderly King Idris was not only past it, he was at least passively corrupt, probably the pawn of a load of actively corrupt advisers, he tended to bang up or deport his opponents and was known to let his forces open fire on inconvenient student demonstrators.
He was actually on a medical holiday in Turkey when the coup happened, and I found some great (and, of course, possibly unreliable) newspaper accounts from the time. Some reports claimed that he had 60 million dollars worth of cash and stuff in the hotel safe and that -- appropriately enough -- Queen Fatima had been informed of the coup 'while out shopping'.
It's a nice reminder that for all the joy that now greets the National Transitional Council, the proof of the pudding comes later.