Sunday 5 August 2018

Natalie Haynes Doesn't Stand Up for (Dead) Christopher Hitchens

Natalie Haynes, standing up

One Radio 4 series I've always rather enjoyed is Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics

It's in its fourth series now and I've heard and, up till now, enjoyed every episode of it.

It's USP is that it's a BBC programme about Classical Greece and Rome presented by a former stand-up comedienne. 

I like quirky Natalie's enthusiasm for the classics. She makes me smile and, every so often, laugh even. And her enthusiasm spurs me into exploring things I've not explored before. 

It's not hard to see it as classic old-fashioned BBC: Inform, educate and entertain. 

But it's also very contemporary BBC. 

Its mock-amateurism-plus-experts is just for starters in that respect...

This week's episode talked about Phryne, the beautiful Greek courtesan who inspired the great Athenian sculptor Praxiteles of Athens to create a trend-blazing full-sized female nude, the Aphrodite of Knidos (which aroused at least one Athenian male to embarrass himself to the point of disgrace and suicide), and who was tried for impiety.

According to tradition, at her trial her lawyer Hypereides (the Michael Mansfield of his day), with the trial seeming to be going against here, disrobed her and showed the jurors her naked body and, "out of pity", the jurors acquitted her. 

Alas poor bare-breasted Phryne (her name a Tommy Robinson-style moniker that meant 'Toad') struggled to retain her position as the episode's focus. Her champion Natalie Haynes usurped her place and spent a remarkable amount of time ranting....yes, ranting....about herself and how upset and hard-done-by she felt personally about Vanity Fair piece by the late Christopher Hitchens called Why Women Aren't Funny.

We were in full feminist rant mode here. 

And, to my shocked astonishment, Natalie banged on and on, and joked on and on, about how she's still alive while he's dead.

She really did. 

(He died of cancer in 2011). 

And the ruder she got about her aliveness and his deadness the more BBC audience whooped and clapped.

Now, why did that BBC audience whoop and clap rather than gasp, groan and boo (or stay stonily silent)? How do I know? But...

Phryne (as Aphrodite)

Probably they did so because they - or the most vocal parts of 'they' - felt that it's the right thing to do when you're in such an audience and faced with such jokes: applaud a right-on feminist rant from a BBC comedienne because it sounds like the right thing to do, and whoop and clap even harder if you think it reaches Frankie Boyle levels of offensiveness against a deserving target, even if you know next to nothing about that target or his views {and even when the jokes come nowhere near Frankie's jokes, quality-wise}. You're a BBC Radio 4 audience after all. That's what you do.  

So, am I just being a snowflake here? Shouldn't I just laugh along with Natalie here?

Yes, she's not died from cancer yet but Christopher Hitchens has. (You go girl!) And he upset her with a provocative article in an American magazine and now he's dead. (Karma!). What's to object to?

And BBC Radio 4 must have thought the same way. They gave this edition of the programme a pass.


  1. Only in Natalie Haynes wildest dreams could she compete with the sharpness of wit and intelligence of Christopher Hitchens.

  2. But is Natalie Haynes still alive? I only ask because she has often said "I have been Natalie Haynes, (who are you now then?)" at the end of her stunts.

  3. It sounds as though Natalie Haynes was unwittingly doing her best to prove that Christopher Hitchens was correct, that women are not funny.

  4. Haynes and Boyle: proof that the BBC really don't care about hate speech as long as it's their kind of hate speech.


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