Music: There's No Such Thing as Sociology ; NICHOLAS LEZARD ON RADIO

By Lezard, Nicholas | The Independent (London, England), October 24, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Music: There's No Such Thing as Sociology ; NICHOLAS LEZARD ON RADIO


Lezard, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)


Ever since I asked readers to offer suggestions as to whom this column's Radio Curse should fall on next (Fred Trueman's dismissal being, so to speak, like the Bond villain's demolition of a quaint but strategically useless landmark just to show he means business), I have been almost literally snowed under with two replies, one of which I couldn't read and the other of which deserves some consideration. Mr KC from Middlesex writes: "If you are still pursuing victims of the `Curse of the Radio Column' - what about LAURIE TAYLOR?" (Those capital letters are a bit scary, aren't they?) "During the late afternoon (admittedly the "dead hour") he talks about nothing - but does it very lucidly. My son attended his sociology lectures at York University and was less then impressed. He seems to have found a niche with Radio 4. Is he cheap?"

These are all good questions, Mr KC. Talking lucidly about nothing, though, is at least talking lucidly, for which we should be pathetically grateful. As for cheapness, nobody who talks on Radio 4 or, as Taylor does, writes for the New Statesman, could ever be accused of being money-grubbing. There are junior nurses who would scorn the money offered by those two institutions. Plus I would also say that it is in the very nature of a sociology course that one should be less than impressed thereby.

But I decided to give Laurie Taylor a surprise inspection by switching on his R4 Wednesday afternoon slot, Thinking Allowed, five minutes after it started. I used to listen to this programme for pleasure but stopped abruptly when I saw that its last word was not, as I had hitherto thought, "aloud". Oh, so thinking is "allowed", is it? And it is then not, presumably, allowed in any other programme?

Anyway, one could tell straightaway that something was up. Taylor is gentlemanly and courteous to his guests, and never has someone on just so he can duff them up, but this time he seemed to be going too far. There was an oleaginous quality to his questions, a continuous undercurrent of fawning laughter, in short, a kind of sucking-up that was distressing to note in one normally so self-containedly intelligent.

I worked out what was going on pretty quickly: he was interviewing a fellow sociologist. Not just any old sociologist, but Anthony Giddens, Director of the LSE, populariser of the vapid and misleading term "the Third Way", and the man who thinks that the world has changed because you are more likely to recognise Nelson Mandela than your next-door neighbour. (Forgetting that the same could have been said 90 years ago about David Lloyd George.

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