excerpt from 'Life on air : memoirs of a broadcaster' pp. 28-29 (357 words)

excerpt from 'Life on air : memoirs of a broadcaster' pp. 28-29 (357 words)

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Life on air : memoirs of a broadcaster

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Alan [Lomax] was particularly keen to include an Irish tinker woman, Margaret Barry, who accompanied herself on a banjo and had in her repertoire a version of a famous ballad about a ghost lover – As She Moved Through the Fair […]

Alan brought her up to Alexandra Palace.  After a brief run-through, she and Alan retired to their dressing rooms to rest for half an hour before the transmission which was, of course, like everything else at that time, live.  There, I suspect Margaret found a little Irish whisky […] Alan’s policy was not to return to the set with his guests until the very last minute so that they did not have to spend too much time sitting under the grilling lights.  This time, he left it dangerously close.  At the very last moment, he rushed in, took his seat and sang Travelling Along, the song with which he introduced each programme.  Then he introduced Margaret Barry.  Margaret took up her banjo which had been left lying on her chair since the run-through.  She struck a chord.  Unhappily, the heat of the lights had so affected it that not one string retained its original tuning.  Margaret seemed not to notice and sang the opening lines with the strength she normally used to cut through the conversation in a busy Irish pub.  As I instructed a camera to focus on her in close-up I saw that, while in her dressing room, she had removed her false teeth.  The sight of this gaunt strange woman, with few visible teeth accompanying herself with a jangling out of tune banjo was not, to put it mildly, the highlight of that week’s television.

                Viewers started to ring up in considerable numbers to complain […] A few viewers, however, recognised that Margaret was the custodian of a powerful and important tradition.  One, an expert in the art of canal barge painting and other folk traditions, was so impressed that she made contact with Margaret and took her to Covent Garden to hear Carmen – a work that did not greatly impress Margaret.  She said it lacked spirit.

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excerpt from 'Life on air : memoirs of a broadcaster' pp. 28-29 (357 words)


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