Tuesday 3 July 2018

Larkin's Magician

Yesterday I caught a curious Radio 4 programme called I Was Philip Larkin's Magician – a rather misleading title, suggesting a retainer employed to provide entertainment at the glittering court of the poetic potentate. In fact the chap being interviewed was an eminent biochemist, Edwin Alfred Dawes, who is also an accomplished conjuror. He got to know Larkin when he arrived at Hull university to set up a Biochemistry department and went to see the university librarian (our Phil) about setting up a departmental library. Larkin was having none of that, but the two became good friends, and Dawes in due course became chairman of the library committee. And the poet was, we were told, greatly amused by Dawes's conjuring tricks. In the programme, the Professor demonstrated a few of his best ones to the interviewer, who was also impressed, though it remains true that magic on radio does not make for radio magic.
  There wasn't very much about Larkin really, and the discreet Dawes had no revelations. However, we were treated to a few of Larkin's better known poems (including the inevitable This Be the Verse, suitably bleeped) and excerpts therefrom, all read by the poet. As for Dawes, he went on to develop a successful biodegradable polymer that could be used to make disposable plastic items. It didn't catch on at the time, but is, unsurprisingly, attracting renewed interest now. Dawes also holds a Magic Circle gold medal, and is chairman of the Philip Larkin Society.
  Well, it was a nice programme, very Radio 4 in the best sense (one that, alas, is more about what Radio 4 once was than what it is now).

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