BBC Radio 4 to broadcast Tony Harrison's poem V containing 25 instances of the f-word

The station defends its decision to broadcast the literary work next month saying "you cannot tamper with the integrity of the piece"

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BBC Radio 4 to broadcast Tony Harrison's poem V containing 25 instances of the f-word
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Tom Cole

BBC Radio 4 is to court controversy and broadcast a reading of Tony Harrison’s expletive-laden poem V.

Written during the 1984-85 miner’s strike, the poem examines religious, cultural and racial divides in Beeston, Leeds. But it does so by using what Harrison calls “the language of the football hooligan.”

Indeed, V is replete with usually unbroadcastable epithets like f***, c*** and n*****, Harrison having been inspired to write the poem after visiting a Leeds cemetery covered in obscene graffiti.

Radio 4’s controller Gwyneth Williams has pre-emptively defended the station’s decision to air such a controversial poem. Speaking on Today she said: “The audience doesn't like swearing and I don't like it. I tell my children not to swear.

"But you cannot tamper with the integrity of the piece. We would never do it gratuitously.”

V, which stands for ‘versus’, runs to about 3500 words and was first published in Harrison’s Penguin Selected Poems in 1985.

Director Richard Eyre filmed a version of V for Channel 4 two years after it was published, which caused such a furore when it was broadcast that it prompted an early day motion in the House of Commons.

Tony Phillips, Radio 4’s arts commissioning editor, said it was apt to air a new version of V now because Beeston was where one of the 7/7 bombers grew up, and assured listeners that V would only be aired with “signposting and messaging” before the broadcast to ensure that no-one is caught unawares.

V, which will be read by Harrison himself, will be aired on Radio 4 at 11:00pm on Monday 18 February.

BBC Radio has found itself at the centre of a number of swearing-related controversies in recent years: The Today programme famously turned the air blue in 2010 when presenters repeatedly mispronounced the then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s name, and Radio 3 raised eyebrows in 2011 when it broadcast an expletive-laden version of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

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