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Mary Beard talks Twitter, Boris and Tom Hiddleston's bottom

The Cambridge classicist also reveals her weakness for hospital drama Casualty

Published: Sunday, 3rd July 2016 at 8:34 am

Can you actually see your TV among the stacks of learned tomes?


I’m afraid the room is piled with books, but my husband is an art historian and very keen on the quality of the image. So we have a large screen, which I slightly disapprove of. I could watch telly on my iPhone.

What do you watch together?

We really enjoyed the first series of Homeland, and Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager absolutely became Sunday evenings for us.

Which had the stronger pull for you: le Carré’s plotting or Hiddleston’s bare bottom?

Hiddleston was a classicist at Cambridge. I remember him when he was a student, so I don’t need to see his bottom. He wasn’t in my class, but I’m sure he was good.

Anything lower brow?

I have a weakness for hospital soaps. It developed when our kids were little. At the end of a Saturday in the park, when we’d got them to bed and were absolutely knackered, I’d have a date with Casualty and a bottle of wine. It was wonderful, because you knew exactly what was going to happen. If somebody got on a boat, you knew there was going to be a disaster. I liked the stereotypes ­– once a year there was a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. I haven’t put it on for ages, but the last time I did I saw that Charlie was still there.

Do you watch your own programmes?

I always watch when they are first broadcast, because telly is part of social media now and I tweet during them. I like seeing how the programme is going down. It’s cruel, of course; if people don’t like it, they say it.

Do you like your performances?

I don’t always feel 100 per cent pleased, but I recognise myself and I think that is terribly important. People say, “You wave your hands around,” and it’s true, I do. Sorry, that’s me.

You seem to take criticism well.

That’s because I am 61. Earlier in life I would have been more fragile about it. I can be upset but I am resilient – if someone says something stupid, I answer them back. I don’t think, “Oh gosh!”

Sometimes people are vile about you.

Perfectly nice and decent people can say very horrible and stupid things on Twitter. I don’t mean to sound naive and think everybody will come round if they are spoken to nicely, but I think a lot of people who say these nasty things are lonely or drunk and they feel powerless. Social media makes claims it can’t deliver on – you’re going to be in touch with the Prime Minister! Well, the Prime Minister doesn’t read your tweets. But there clearly are some very nasty people out there. We don’t know yet if it is connected to this culture of abuse gone terrifically mad, but look at what happened to MP Jo Cox.

Did the behaviour of politicians – some with classical educations – make you cross during the referendum campaign?

Boris? Yes. I think he is letting his classical education down. I haven’t told him to his face, but I would. I’ve debated with Boris about Greece v Rome before. He’s a great debater and he knows how to be economical with the truth. With Greece v Rome it doesn’t matter; it does matter about the EU.


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