August 8, 2010: The Real Eleanor of Aquitaine - The Blythe Spirit of Noel Coward - Designed For Living (Doc) - I am a Girl (Doc)
This week our Summer guest host was Kevin Sylvester.
The Real Eleanor of Aquitaine - You can't blame historians for being just a bit envious of novelists. Novelists get to make stuff up in the cause of a good yarn. Historians have to stick to the facts. British author and historian Alison Weir lives in the best of both worlds. She is known for her best-selling histories of British and European royalty. Her latest book is a novel about one of history's most fascinating woman. Summer host Kevin Sylvester spoke to Alison Weir about, Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the rich alchemy of fact and fiction.
Read more here
Listen to Hour One:
Hour Two: The Blythe Spirit of Noel Coward - He was the man who defined wit and elegance. Noel Coward wrote over 50 plays, a dozen musicals, hundreds of songs. He dominated English theatre for the first half of the 20th century. He also painted. And hob-knobbed with the world's elite. He perfected the art of being famous. Then in the 1950's, Noel Coward fell out of favour and was dismissed as being irrelevant. But he has made a posthumous comeback than any artist would envy. This morning, a repeat broadcast of Karin Wells' 2009 documentary Designed For Living.
Read more here
Listen to Hour Two:
Elsewhere on the Show: When Lorraine Johnson walks down a city street she sees farmland acres of it sitting unused, and bursting with potential. She joined us to discuss her personal crusade to make the city more... rural; and Alisa Siegel took us inside a High School portable that is home to a very close-knit group of students, in her documentary, I am a Girl.
Song: Improvisations on the First Movement of Mozart's String Quintet in G
Artist: Duane Andrews
The Real Eleanor of Aquitaine
It's a toss up whether historians are more envious of novelists or the other way around. After all, each role has its advantages. The novelist is free to ignore fact or even reality while the historian can make the greater claim to truth, even truth that is stranger than fiction.
Alison Weir has handily managed to avoid this dilemma. There is the Alison Weir who is the author of a number of best-selling history books, largely dealing with the larger than life Tudor era. And there is the Alison Weir who is the author of a number of best selling historical novels, many of which deal with that stranger than fiction Tudor era.
Strangely enough, Alison Weir's first inclination to straddle the worlds of fact and fiction came to her in the 1970s when she was researching the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of British King Henry II. Now she is managing to have her cake and eating it too.
Alison Weir's Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine has just been published and Alison Weir joins me this morning in our studios.
Artist: Peggy Lee
Album: The Best of Peggy Lee
During the school year, the cafeteria at Humber Summit Middle School in Rexdale - a melting pot suburb of Toronto -sounds and looks like any other. Kids slouching at tables, sharing french fries covered in brown, goopy gravy. Jeans hanging half way down their behinds. Pushing and shoving and making plans. But every Wednesday, just steps past the cafeteria, in an aluminum sided portable, something special happens.
A flock of 13-year-old girls - short and tall - quiet and noisy - sullen and spirited - crowd in and bring the room to life. They call themselves "The Sisterhood". Grade 8 girls who come together to pour their hearts out. To talk about friendship and gossip. About their hopes and their worries. About sex and boys and family.
Their teacher and mentor, Juanita Taylor, asks questions, listens, only occasionally offers advice, and keeps it all moving. But one Wednesday earlier this year was extra special. Because The Sisterhood was stepping out - preparing to perform the poem that is their anthem for a school-wide assembly.
Song: Bach to Bop
Artist: Kye Marshall Jazz Quartet
Album: Say When
Song: Blue Browne
Artist: Brian Browne
Album: Blue Browne
A Chicken in Every Lot
At the outset of World War Two the Canadian government directed all citizens to garden. The edict read: "Every available bit of land that is suitable should be put into a garden. Those with experience should help their neighbours who wish to start". Victory Gardens sprang up everywhere in an effort to cultivate and secure domestic supplies of food during the war years.
Well thankfully we are not in the midst of a World War but if my next guest was Prime Minister I think at the top of her to-do list would be to renew the call to trowels from the nineteen forties...."get out of the house and grow". Lorraine Johnson is the author of several books about plants and gardening. Her new book is called City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing. It contains all kinds of history and modern day developments on the urban garden front as well as providing a compelling argument to do whatever you can to experience the pleasure of growing food. Oh, and chickens too. Hermione, Nog and Roo live a life of chicken luxury in Lorraine's backyard, along with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. This morning Lorraine is in our studio in Paris France.
Song: Honey and Crumbs
Artist: Kim Beggs
Album: Blue Bones
The Blythe Spirit of Noel Coward
In the summer of 1930, T.E. Lawrence's Lawrence of Arabia went down to the Phoenix Theatre in London and watched a rehearsal of Noel Coward's play Private Lives. Coward was up on the stage in a silk dressing gown with his cigarette holder completely in charge. He was the star. He had written the play, written the music. He directed the production. Lawrence wrote to his sister afterwards and said he found Coward "a hasty kind of genius".
That hasty kind of genius dominated theatre for half a century.
Noel Coward wrote over 50 plays, a dozen musicals, hundreds of songs. He painted. He wrote a novel. He kept a diary. Then there were the letters - one a week for 50 years to his mother; chatty letters to Virginia Woolf; Winston Churchill; David Niven; tips on writing plays to Harold Pinter and warm loving letters to "the family", as he called his close friends. He perfected the art of being famous. When it all got to be too much, he would get on a ship and wander, often by himself, around the world.
Noel Coward, elegant and witty, epitomized the English theatre of that time. But fashion in the theatre changes and Coward fell from favor in the 1950's. He was called superficial, condemned as irrelevant, written off for not having enough to say.
Well, sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in.
In the spring of 2009 Blithe Spirit was revived on Broadway - Angela Lansbury won a Tony; a movie of Easy Virtue came out; Andre Previn premiered his opera based on the Coward movie Brief Encounter and in the summer of 2009 the Shaw Festival presented the 10 one-act plays that Coward called "Tonight at 8:30". This was the first time they had been done as a package since Coward's original productions.
Karin Wells went to Niagara on the Lake in search of the whys and wherefores of the Coward resurgence. Her documentary is called Designed for Living and was first broadcast on September 20, 2009. One of the actors in Karin's documentary is Goldie Semple, a veteran on the Canadian theatre scene. Ms. Semple died from cancer in December 2009.
Song: Shepherd's Hey
Artist: Percy Grainger
Album: Famous Folk Settings