Why the fuss over Tony Harrison’s poem V?

V tony harrisonOne year ago yesterday there was a look-back at Tony Harrison’s poem V?  It was an interesting juxtaposition against the death of Aaron Swartz a few days ago.  He fought against Internet censorship; the broadcasting of V in 1987 provoked a storm of protest at its use of the ‘most sexually explicit language to be heard on television’.  MP Gerald Howarth tried to get the broadcast banned.  A year ago the poem was re-broadcast – no repercussions at all!  How times change.


The Daily Mail,
that arbiter of moral worth
was first to hail the verse of V
They counted words, both F and C,
and with a smug contempt condemned
the unheard-of “torrent of filth”.
They ignored the wealth of language
the passion, power, anger,
the glowering at the descecration of a grave,
extirpation of a scarred society.

Then v. Now.
That was eighty-seven, channel four.
But soon we have the chance somehow
to hear the verse once more,
read by Tony Harrison himself.
And will the “filth”
provoke a similar bowdlerising storm
or, shorn of its abrasive shock,
will unlocked, subtler themes be heard?
The form of words give colour, depth,
a fuller incantation
of a society bereft.
Right v. Left.


15th January 2013 – headline from the BBC


Notes:  “Why the fuss over Tony Harrison’s poem V?”  It was described by the Daily Mail as a “torrent of filth”. MPs called for it to be banned from the airwaves. But does Tony Harrison’s controversial poem V still have the power to shock?  BBC Radio 4 is braced for a backlash over its decision to broadcast in full Tony Harrison’s poem about the desecration of his parents’ grave.  V is an angry, rueful reflection on Leeds-born Harrison’s estrangement from his working class roots and the divisions that scarred society in the mid-1980s, from the miners’ strike to racism on the football terraces.  The last time it was broadcast, in a film for Channel 4 in 1987, it was described by the Daily Mail as a “torrent of filth” in which “the crudest, most offensive word is used 17 times”.  The Observer said it was “the most sexually explicit language ever heard on television”.  Conservative MP Sir Gerald Howarth attempted to get the broadcast banned, tabling an Early Day Motion entitled “Television Obscenity” and accusing Channel 4 of trying to “assault the public [with] more effing and blinding”.


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