It was clear when the Today programme cut across to Libby Purves this morning that her final edition of Midweek was going out on a bang and not a whimper. When asked if she’d return to the network in the future, she laughed and said “I’m an old Radio 4 cockroach – watch your backs!”
And so, at 9.00am the final line-up of guests was introduced by Libby: actress Harriet Walter, writer and director Richard Curtis, musician Suzi Quatro and former jockey Declan Murphy.
There was no accompanying elephant in the room – the fact that this was the final show was met head on and, indeed, as it drew to a close Richard Curtis could be heard shouting out “THANK YOU, LIBBY”. And, while there was no sense of resentment or bitterness in our host’s voice – she’s far too professional for that – it was obvious that this was not a decision that filled her with joy. “Midwexit” is how she referred to it this morning, with sharp irony.
Curtis was first up and revealed that his time spent pulling together Comic Relief allows to him “stew” his writing ideas: we can expect work to start on a new rom-com film in about a year. He set the comic anecdotes bar high with his tale of how he shared the stage with Rowan Atkinson in a two-man show. David Bowie came backstage afterwards and had no idea who he was “even though he’d been staring directly at my face for an hour… I am a ghastly actor.”
Purves’s ability to segue from one guest to another is incomparable, as was proven by moving from a king of comedy to a jockey whose career and life were almost terminated. It’s taken Declan Murphy 23 years to come to terms with the fall at Haydock that left him with a smashed skull and in a coma. “It took one freak accident to end my career,” he explained. But, with some gently probing, Libby encouraged him to talk about his painful recovery – as much emotional as physical – and how, just 18 months after the fall, he got back into the saddle again for one last race, which he won, before retiring.
Harriet Walter was next under the expert stewardship of Purves. Co-star of the new film The Sense of an Ending, the irony of the movie’s title was not lost on either woman in this final edition of Midweek, but Walter had plenty more to say on what she called “Shakespeare’s long shadow.” Her view is that this has led drama down a closed path where “the proactive decision maker is a man and women are there in relation to him, they are not an engine in their own right.” She’s been confounding this by taking on key male roles: Brutus, Henry IV and Prospero. Great parts do not have to be defined by the gender of the actor chosen to play them.
Cue another perfect segue opportunity for Libby as she moved over to Suzi Quatro: “I don’t do gender,” stated the tiny bass-player, who took the UK by storm in 1973 when she appeared on Top of the Pops clad in a black leather jumpsuit. This just happens to be the same year of the first broadcast of Midweek – anyone would think there was a plan behind all this. When asked if she’s as tough as she looks, Suzi tells a tale of a man who made lewd sexual gesticulations at a concert. She went over and whacked him across the head with her bass and continued playing. People thought it was part of the act.
“That would be a big reveal on your final show, wouldn’t it Libby”, guffaws Curtis. “Quatro – murderess!” And so with laughter and thanks the final Midweek came to a close. “For all of us tough broads who don’t give in,” said Purves, the fire still burning in her belly.
And, unlike a cockroach, there was no scuttling off – she went out like a dragon.