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The Times Onlne logo Noise from the Boys
  THE TIMES October 1992
by Libby Purves

The 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.

The 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 name but a few.

This 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 1.

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 air.

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.

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