You can listen to the programme on BBC iPlayer Radio for the next 29 days from today, or download it, if allowed in your territory:
Kate Fox is just about the best and most celebrated poet with whom I have a nodding acquaintance. I have heard her perform live at Unity Works in Wakefield, and at 7 Arts in Leeds, and I had the pleasure of having a bit of a chat with her on both occasions. She has national coverage (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about her on the BBC) and is one of the most effective campaigners in England for the belief that contemporary poetry can be relevant – sometimes, even, vital – to everyday life, and is worth paying to hear.
Like Matt Abbott, Ian McMillan, Kate Tempest, and some others, Kate Fox mixes her spoken word career with other art forms: in her case, stand-up comedy. Today’s programme also had some musical accompaniment. There were elements of audience participation which, to my great relief, worked very well, and were not at all an embarrassing mess.
The subject of the programme, entitled, ‘The Perfect Body’, is the amount of money that people – mainly women, but men, as well – spend on their appearance, and whether it is worth the expense and effort. As regards hardly caring at all about what other people think of my appearance, I enjoy some advantages that Kate Fox doesn’t. I’m male, and, although I did spend a long time in childhood being regularly taunted about my appearance and voice (I went through an artificial puberty at the age of 7) my circumstances were such that it never got to me. All it did was to give me a rational fear of the mob mentality.
Despite the fact that this is not my kind of subject, I found the programme engaging and well worth listening to. The most engaging parts were when she was talking about her own, idiosyncratic experiences, rather than talking generally. But even the statistics about how much people spend on what items and procedures I found interesting. (There aren’t many statistics that I don’t find interesting, as long as they are derived from reputable sources). She even mentioned the subject of cosmetic surgery (which, if I ever see it mentioned in a TV programme, causes me to change channels immediately). Kate, if you are reading this, I know someone who may be getting in touch with you about your experiences. The parts about being <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> and having large breasts provoked the most masculine reaction in me. I find <adjective meaning ‘above average size’> women much more attractive than thin women. I like women with big bosoms. I know lots of men who are the same, but I unreservedly admit that this aesthetic does not fit the mainstream in this era (though it would have done in many previous eras – probably every era at least until Elizabethan times). Even I get it that breasts beyond a certain size can not only be a problem socially, and psychologically, but can cause other problems, not the least of which is chronic backache.
A female comedian doing a live performance about women’s relationships with their own bodies, from a point of view which is socially mainstream (or working class, if you will allow) but personally quirky and idiosyncratic, invites comparison with Victoria Wood. The fact that Kate Fox’s accent and outlook are also unmistakably Northern makes the comparison even more irresistible. I am delighted to say that Kate Fox’s use of self-deprecation and trying to make a virtue out of one’s own ignorance or alienation is much less than Victoria Wood’s. Even where Kate Fox uses these devices, the way she uses them is, in my opinion, more subtle and better-crafted than Victoria Wood’s. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that Victoria Wood was from the North West, and Kate Fox is from the North East. She now lives in North Yorkshire, but her accent is North Eastern.
This is the first time I have listened to one of Kate Fox’s BBC Radio programmes. I will certainly be looking up the others on iPlayer Radio, including a short extract from The Verb on BBC Radio 3 about swearing. Based on one hearing of this one episode of The Price of Happiness, the Kate Fox persona I perceived was different from the one I have heard live. Live Kate is freer, quicker, expects the audience to keep up with her in more of a lively fashion, expects the audience to be more imaginative and unshockable. BBC Kate sounds very slightly inhibited (duh – almost as if she were appearing on the BBC). One of the reasons I will be listening to more of her programmes is to try to detect moments where BBC Kate tips over into Live Kate.
On the subject of performance poets on the radio, there is a rumour that I may be re-appearing on Phoenix FM, broadcast from Halifax, in July.