The fairytale of Radio 1


You know, I usually like Christmas. I’m not a curmudgeon in that sense, but there are a few things I really hate about this time of year. An obvious one is the big crush in Belfast city centre, with the late shoppers and their assorted rugrats turning Belfast into a close approximation of Mumbai. It’s bad enough when you don’t go into a shop – venture into most retail outlets (except Marks, which has a nicer class of mob) and you’ll witness a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies.

But what I really, really hate is the fucking “Fairytale of New York”. Which is odd, because I used to quite like it – a nice mix of sentiment with cynicism. But that was twenty years ago, and familiarity breeds contempt. Especially when most of the radio stations are playing it on a permanent loop. Especially when half the dopes in the country are downloading it for their Christmas parties, sending it racing up the charts and therefore being played even more often than usual. Especially when every busker in town has his own version. After leaving the safe confines of your home, it’s well nigh impossible to go more than 15 minutes without hearing the “Fairytale”.

That’s why I was rather tickled by the outrage at Radio 1 tinkering with the sainted “Fairytale” by bleeping out the word “faggot”. Radio 1, as you’ll know, has a long history of being censorious, most famously with Frankie’s “Relax”, so we should have expected this. And this is of course of a piece with the revelation that the Beeb has also been dickering about with its archive by editing homophobic slurs out of ancient episodes of Porridge, which even Lukewarm himself, Christopher Biggins, thought was a bit out of order. The fact that Radio 2 continued to play the unedited version suggests that this is Radio 1 taking seriously its remit to provide a good example for young people by not using homophobic language. Although I can see the sentiment, it’s all rather too reminiscent of the idea, lifted by political correctness from Orwell’s 1984, that if you eliminate bad language people will be unable to think bad thoughts.

And so it came to pass that, after remonstrations from irate listeners as well as the late Kirsty MacColl’s mother, the full version was reinstated to Radio 1. So that’s the demands of free speech satisfied. Now can we talk about maybe having a moratorium on the “Fairytale” for just one year? Before I feel an irresistible urge to start blowing up radio stations.


  1. Liam said,

    December 19, 2007 at 11:19 am

    A well informed piece about football and then disrespecting The Pogues in one week! This site is losing its bearings and is risking losing longstanding readers.

    Decent people wishing to see low quality videos of the Pogues performing Fairytale, Dirty Old Town and Rainy Night in Soho last night at the Brixton Academy are invited over to my site.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 19, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Usually I really like the Pogues – it’s just the permanent loop thing at this time of year…

  3. andy newman said,

    December 19, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    What i find bizarre is that the words of the song were to be changed for Radio 1 but not for radio 2, which gets far more listeners.

  4. chris y said,

    December 19, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    But radio 2 is targetted at old folks who won’t be corrupted.

  5. Garibaldy said,

    December 19, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    ITV did this years ago, when Ronan Keating was singing it with someone.
    Fuck Shane Mc Gowan too. He’s English and should get over it.

  6. Phil said,

    December 19, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    They censored it the other night on One Of Those Video Channels On Freeview That Aren’t MTV But Who Cares, You Only Ever Watch Them For Long Enough To See If The Next One’s Any Good. What interested me was that they blanked ‘faggot’ but left in ‘arse’ in the next line. When I was a kid ‘faggot’ was – well, ‘faggot’ specifically was a word Arlo Guthrie used in “Alice’s Restaurant” and you had to go and ask somebody, but ‘queer’, say, was just offensive language; ‘arse’ was bad language. Along similar lines, my son asked me the other day whether I thought b-i-t-c-h was ruder than ‘shit’; my immediate reaction was that ‘bitch’ isn’t actually rude at all, although obviously it’s not a nice thing to say. Perhaps that distinction doesn’t hold any more.

    I guess what I’m saying is that these days the words that are seen as really offensive are the ones that actually set out to offend people.

  7. Matt said,

    December 19, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    At a concert many years ago I once saw Shane unleash a torrent of gender-themed slurs on Margaret Thatcher. Before then I’d no idea that Lady Thatcher plied the streets of London in the worlds oldest profession for some pimp called Empire..

  8. Idris of Dungiven said,

    December 19, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    If you’ve ever heard Planxty or the Chieftains you know that the Pogues had little to do with real Irish music.

  9. WorldbyStorm said,

    December 19, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    I’m generally of a mind – at least to some degree – with Peter Tatchell, but I felt that in this instance he was overstating the point. While faggot is used in a derisory and insulting way somehow that is undermined by the overall approach of the song where it’s clearly a stream of consciousness thing. Whether that’s good or bad is a different matter. Idris, I’d completely agree. Re the Pogues, I used to dislike them in part due to a significant tranche of their audience who seemed more interested in seeing McGowan pissed on stage than anything else. But McGowan is sort of entertaining and weirdly witty in a strange way…

  10. Dr Paul said,

    December 19, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    In the Guardian today, Peter Tatchell complained about the use of the word ‘faggot’, then promptly used the word ‘queer’. Now I would no more use the word ‘queer’ than I would use ‘faggot’ as they are both insults; indeed, ‘queer’ used to be the standard English (as spoken in England) insult for gay men. The word ‘faggot’ is barely known outwith US films and telly shows. I guess that Tatchell must have reclaimed the word ‘queer’; perhaps he should now reclaim ‘faggot’.

  11. charliemarks said,

    December 20, 2007 at 6:57 am

    Correction: Radio 2 is for old folks who are *already* corrupted…

    I like Planxty, the Chieftans, *and* the Pogues. Didn’t the Chieftans get stick from the official Irish music body back in the day? McGowans book is a must read, you will laugh out loud at his tall tales. If you’ve any late xmas shopping to do, just buy a handful…

    You can’t reclaim faggot – it’s an ugly word, it sounds offensive. I’d rather someone say “Charlie’s queer” than “Charlie’s a faggot”. Queer has an air of mystery about it…

  12. charliemarks said,

    December 20, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Sorry, I made note of this at Liam’s blog but:

    Pogues guitarist Philip Chevron is gay and known for his activism. Besides, the song isn’t called “Kill some faggots in New York”, is it? It’s a wee story…

  13. Doug said,

    December 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Idris, what the fuck is ‘real Irish music’? What’s wrong with ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’ – not ‘authentic’ enough for you?

  14. Liam said,

    December 24, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Never mind the moratorium on Fairytale. Let’s put a stopp to jazz in public places.

    If this morning was anything to go by half the people on the streets of Belfast are either selling the Big Issue, rattling charity tins or busking. It was not possible to walk more than 20 yards without hearing dixieland jazz versions of every Christmas song ever written and if there is a form of musical life lower than dixieland jazz I’m still waiting to hear it.

    As for the Chieftains, I’ve always thought of them as diddly dee for the tourist market. They are much too scholastic and refined.

  15. charliemarks said,

    December 24, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    What even this – – but then I guess the tourist market isn’t a historically-aware place, so perhaps it’s just diddly-dee… Still, I like ’em.

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