TIMES October 1992
LISTENING TO THE NOISE FROM THE BOYS
by Libby Purves
Locker Room was a weekly programme about men and masculinity broadcast
on BBC Radio Four for a total of six series between 1992 and 1995. These
half hour programmes, hosted by Tom Robinson, went out at 6.50 pm on Saturdays,
with a repeat at 11.30 pm the following Wednesday.
topics under discussion ranged from humorous to tragic, trivial to heavyweight:
fatherhood, vasectomy, intimacy, commitment, rape, mens' groups, dieting,
seven deadly sins, feminism, sport, seduction, advertising, impotence,
cars, gyms, health, hypochondria, beards, anger, housework, queerbashers,
mothers, gadgets and gluttony...to name but a few.
Times article by broadcaster Libby Purves about The Locker Room was published
shortly after the programme was first launched...
The pillars of the temple have had a nasty shaking this autumn. In the
very same week that the General Synod voted for women priests, Radio 4
delivered a shock to its settled Saturday evening audience.
Just at that comfortable pre-supper moment when for a decade or more
we had expected the brittle, well-armed masculine banter of Stop The Week
under Robert Robinson, here was another group of men gruffly hurling their
armour to the four winds to discuss the meaning of manhood, exchanging
recipes for duck with kumquats, and cheerfully admitting that they cry
in their cars while listening to Simon Bates' "Our Song" spot on Radio
The poor old Sunday. Telegraph lashed out in instinctive terror at this
"New Lachrymosity" and 50 listeners rang in immediately. One was a vegetarian
furious about the fate of the duck. A few others said "Steady on, lads!"
in alarmed tones, but the rest, to the secret amazement of the management,
chorused "About time too!"
Men's Hour - well, half-hour - had arrived. Since the BBC pays Jenni
Murray to deny, daily, any suggestion that men must work and women must
weep, men have understandably retaliated by asserting their right to weep.
Not just in recherche men's groups, but on mainstream radio, before Robert
Robinson's chair had even cooled.
The Locker Room announced itself as "the place where men bare their souls'.
Its presenter, by an irony not lost on the Saturday evening G&T drinkers,
even has the nerve to be called Robinson. He is Tom Robinson, the pop
singer who sang Glad to be Gay.
Six weeks on, with the series' final programme in preparation, it is
possible for Chris Paling, the producer, to assess what he has done to
British manhood. There are no audience figures as yet, but judging by
letters and calls, it is a success d'estime at least.
Protests were swiftly met by counter-protests: when the Feedback programme
broadcast a letter from a woman outraged at having to listen to an item
about penile implants while her eight-year-old child was awake, another
woman wrote in to say that she would be perfectly happy for hers to hear
all about erections anytime, and that the programme was a breath of fresh
As for the men, in the main, they expressed unrestrained delight. Some
observed that they had spent years driving along the motorway puffing
up with the female body and soul as bared on Woman's Hour, so sauce for
the gander (with or without kumquats) was well in order.
On the question of penile surgery, one was sharp about the disgust in
some women's letters: had not he been putting up with items on menstruation
for years without complaining?
There is a heady sense of a dialogue building up, a vacuum being filled.
As I walked into Mr. Paling's office this week, he was playing back the
latest batch of answering machine messages. All were interested and full
of suggestions for the second series, except one furious, unreconstructed
Duke of Edinburgh soundalike who barked: "What a lot of rubbish! Must
be organised by the Woman's Hour caper. Never been in a perishing locker
room in their life, those bods!"
His particular target was last week's discussion on men's groups. This
was interesting because, although it ran over the familiar ground about
"getting in touch with your emotionality", for balance, Mr Paling had
invited an excessively macho character from Manchester called Alan Beswick.
He kept snapping out unsupportive remarks like "What do you mean, a desire
for community.?" and rubbished self-discovery as a suitable pastime for
a grown man. "Coom on. what does it matter who you are?'
In fact, one of the series' unexpected strengths has been the determination
of Robinson, in particular, to challenge knee-jerk liberalism. "My big
regret," he says, "is the discussion on homosexuality." Referring to the
programme's guest, Adam Mars-Jones, the critic, Robinson explains, "We
really should have got a red-blooded homophobe in the studio to make Adam
work for it. Mr Ordinaire, that's who we want."
Those who cringed - though with a certain delight, a sense that something
not at all regrettable was happening mon Radio 4 - along with the chap
who could not bear the idea of touching another man will agree that Mr
Ordinaire can be riveting listening. "I'm sorry but I just ... can't.
Let's get off the subject?" said the victim, audibly wincing.
The most powerful moment, for Mr Robinson, was the discussion on whether
a real man has to be able to fight physically. He, a slightly ashamed
coward, faced a nightclub bouncer, a Falklands para and a convicted armed
robber. Whereon the para nearly cried, and admitted he thought of his
mum while he was at Goose Green. The armed robber said "It wasn't a real
gun, If anyone had said, 'Piss-off, you're not having my money,' I'd have
gone away." and the bouncer admitted his terror of killing someone. "It's
the worst feeling in the world when their head hits the floor."
It is a new kind of public talk, this man-to-man frankness I did not realise
how new until near the end of the report on penile implants. We suddenly
heard the shrill, girlie voice of a nurse in the operating theatre recovery
room, faintly patronising the patient, Among those interested, sympathetic
pathetic, supportive male voices, it came as a rather shocking intrusion.
For a moment, I think I understood the Garrick Club.
Which may not have been what the programme intended at all.