At last, BBC Radio 4 has reconciled itself to the great importance of the graffiti artist and music performer Goldie. He has been named as one of the station’s ‘New Elizabethans’, alongside the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Graham Greene, Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. The qualification for admission to this gilded list is as follows: they must be ‘men and women whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character, for better or worse.’ I think Goldie qualifies for that, don’t you?
But then, I was always ahead of my time. Whilst editor of Radio 4’s The World Tonight I tried to put Goldie on air to talk about something or other — possibly graffiti, possibly the Kosovan crisis, I can’t remember — thinking it might liven up the sound of this somewhat staid and respectable programme. I was thwarted by the presenter that evening, the excellent Isabel Hilton, who, having enquired as to who Goldie was and what he did, listened to my rather vague answer, waited for several seconds and looked me fixedly in the eye and said: ‘Rod, let me put it simply. I am not interviewing somebody who has the same name as my daughter’s hamster.’ And so Goldie didn’t get on air.
Of course, Isabel was right on any number of levels. It was a pathetic attempt by me to gain for the programme an iota of what I fondly thought was street cred, and it would only have made us look ridiculous and embarrassing. As ridiculous and embarrassing as the moment Jim Naughtie interviewed Afroman on the Today programme in order to explore the social content of his hit song, ‘Because I Got High’. (There was none, of course. There was just Jim, with great dignity and patience, trying to wrestle an intelligible monosyllable out of this whacked-out LA lump.) And as ridiculous and embarrassing as Goldie being named as one of the most influential people of the past 60 years by a panel of largely white, whining middle-class middlebrows (with the exception of Max Hastings).
I suppose, if you were being mean-spirited, you could argue that Goldie’s worth his place under the ‘worse’ category, for having helped to endow upon graffiti a spurious respectability. Or for not necessarily being the most successful dad of all time, seeing as how his son Jamie is currently doing a life stretch for a gang-related murder. But that would be way too harsh. Whenever I’ve heard him interviewed, Goldie seems a fairly humble and affable chap, and rather likeable. But monumentally influential? His bestselling album — his first — reached only no. 7 in the charts. His most successful performance for a single was no. 13. How on earth does this enable the chap to sit alongside Lennon and McCartney as a purveyor of music which changed our world — and to exclude, hilariously, the likes of Jagger, Townshend, Albarn, Gallagher and so on. My guess is that the panellists who drew up this list had a quick review of where they were and decided that they didn’t have enough hip and happening black folk on it.
And so, through some strange process, maybe we should call it the Mary Seacole Default Process, Goldie got the nod. Hell, there are plenty of black British musicians who, if the panel had thought about it, or even vaguely knew what they were talking about, might have got the nod: Chris and Eddie Amoo, pioneers of British soul music in the 1970s with their wonderful band The Real Thing, Eddie Grant — a pioneer of British soul and pop reggae — twice over, Errol Brown MBE of the hugely successful band Hot Chocolate, Joan Armatrading — and, more recently, seeing as the panel obviously wanted to be dead with it, Jazzie B. For sure, there are some who think that Goldie is an innovator within the drum and bass genre — but even here, there were black British musicians hard at work long before him. However, Goldie did come across as a nice bloke on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, so maybe that swung it for him.
No room at all on that list for Crick and Watson, Harold Macmillan, Trevor Huddlestone, Ben Okri, Chris Ofili, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, William Golding, Richard Dawkins… and not much room for anyone who was busy in business, in the sciences, even in education. Hell, you’d think Lady Plowden and Shirley Williams might have got a mention for having single-handedly destroyed the best education system in the world, wouldn’t you? And what’s that dissembling, self-satisfied old rogue Alex Salmond doing on the list? Did they think they were short of jocks and bunged down the first that came to mind? I suppose it’s a mercy Max Boyce wasn’t there.
But then this is what you get when you have an implacably middlebrow bien-pensant panel which includes a lecturer in imperialism and a lecturer in feminism and a left-leaning columnist and the whole shebang chaired by Tony Hall. Sir Max was the only crypto-fascist on the panel, unless you count Bamber Gascoigne (who I seem to remember once said he had voted SDP, in any case).
Anyway, I suppose Radio 4’s list has been a success, seeing as how everyone is quite aghast at it and thus engaged. For my own part, the two people who shaped the new Elizabethan age, for better or for worse, definitively, were Hitler and Gramsci. It would have been nice for the two of them to get the recognition they so richly deserve.