Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

There's a moment in late May in town when the flags go up, and the bunting gets hung, when you know that the festival in Hay is starting to swing. The bookshops' windows are spectacular, the restaurants are stockpiling wine and leaves, and if we're really lucky the sun might shine.

Actually there hasn't been a sunny Bank Holiday weekend here since 1997. I know this as keenly as my farmer neighbours, and my fairground friends. Last year's monsoon dropped a fifth of our annual rainfall in four days. But this year we're really, really lucky.

Sunshine brings ease and linen and a spring in the step, and the promise of ideas and stories and very good jokes.

Prep to interview David Frost, the grandmaster interviewer, doubly cool now he's been mythologised by Peter Morgan and Michael Sheen. I've watched the D V D of the 'real' Nixon interviews (22 hours of material cut into six) overnight. Frost is ruthless, prosecutorial, relentless with facts and quotes. Deeply impressive. I've always seen him on camera one-to-one direct with the viewer or with a single interviewee on a sofa, so it's fascinating to see him full-length and with an audience. The charm and ease is genuine and attractive. Elegant. You just like him, irresistibly. On stage, he's very funny about evasiveness, the political seduction of a hostile interviewee, and about Nixon and the tapes. All the best jokes are against himself, and familiar as they are, they're delivered with a rascally dash that defines old-school class. As he's talking it occurs to me that there's a moment when Nixon removes his armour, starts treating Frost like his confidant, his friend, and starts to work towards 'the apology'. And it occurs to me that there's something missing from the taped interview - and what's missing is the process of how Nixon got to like David Frost enough to ask his advice. I ask him about this, and am rewarded with the sweetest, most elegantly executed non-denial denial you ever did see. It is so good a thousand people are howling with laughter and longing to hear him joke more. I really want to see the stuff on that cutting-room floor, because Frost's right: honey gets you bees.

People are pouring into the festival in far greater numbers than ever before. This really doesn't taste like recession. Nor is it simply 'staycationing' driven by a strong euro.

There's something strange going on here.

The economists are all talking to vast audiences and so are the entertainers. Not a ticket to be had for Nick Stern or Frank Skinner or Vince Cable or Hugh Masekela. We want to take the crisis news both more seriously and with frivolous contempt. Enough with the bad times, the low morale and enough with politicians making out it's all going to be fine if we mortgage the present off to our grandchildren. …

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