Hay Festival: Part 1

Hereford Times: Comedian Lee Mack Comedian Lee Mack

Adam Knight went to hear Carl Bernstein’s Watergate memories

WALKING out to Led Zeppelin, Carl Bernstein was undoubtedly one of the opening weekend’s heavy hitters, a rock star to Hay Festival’s academics, newspapermen and literary groupies.

Peter Florence described the show as unique, “the only event where 45 journalists have actually paid for their tickets”, and the big beast of journalism did not disappoint.

Our grand days out Starting out as a part-time music critic for the Washington Post – Bernstein (pictured, right) once dismissed Led Zepp as “just noise” – he told a captive audience how he was one unreturned phone call from following Hunter S Thompson to Rolling Stone magazine and not bringing down the Nixon presidency.

“While I waited,” he said, “Watergate happened.”

It is the story, in fact the hundreds of stories, for which he is now known. The description of the long hours, “taking the night road”, and the backing and patience he received from the Washington Post may have sounded arcane to journalists accustomed to the 24 hour news cycle, of putting copy online within minutes.

But the spirit, insisted Bernstein, is still there. He urged listeners to look at the work being done by journalists in the Middle East and in Russia, or the threats to free speech closer to (his) home with AP journalists being unlawfully put under surveillance.

Bernstein himself still has an appetite for it. He is suitably grizzled, fiercely cynical and still writing - having just penned a book on Hilary Clinton’s presidential potential, he is now turning his steely gaze to television.

Leaving his rock and roll days behind – although his son Max is the touring guitarist for pop starlet Kesha – Bernstein will continue, as always, his “quest for the best obtainable version of the truth”.

Jess Phillips watched the early-morning climax of a popular national radio contest for young writers at the Hay Festival

WHERE could you find a former England cricket captain, Monty Python star and not one, but two, Blue Peter presenters all under one – temporary – roof?

You’d be bang on if you’d guessed the final of BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words competition, on Chris Evans’ breakfast show broadcast live from a marquee at Hay Festival filled with the 50 young finalists and their parents.

Setting the scene at an early but pleasant 6.30am, Chris told more than nine million listeners Hay was “a bit misty, a bit damp but beautiful.”

The competition, for children 13 and under, invited entrants to submit a short story of 500 words, with a massive 90,000 entries received and read by volunteer teachers and librarians around the UK before the Scottish Book Trust selected the 50 finalists.

Judges Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Charlie Higson, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond then chose three winners in each category – children aged nine and below and those aged 10-13.

Each of the six winners heard their stories read by a celebrity narrator live on air, with One Show host Alex Jones on standby to chat to the winners.

With the winning stories triggering laughs, goosebumps and even – I’m unashamed to admit – a few tears, each one was inspiringly talented.

Oliver Phelps – Harry Potter’s George Weasley – presented Archie O’Dair with his bronze award in the 10-13 category while Michael Vaughan presented Harry McMurray’s silver prize. Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood presented Olivia Hunt’s gold award for her story, Your Life, which raised goosebumps with its imagining of an alternative reality.

Monty Python star Michael Palin presented the bronze award for the nine and under category while BBC news reader Susanna Reid presented the silver.

Miranda Richardson, Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder II, presented the gold prize to Roxanna Toyne, daughter of author Simon Toyne who said he had never been so proud.

Roxanna’s story, The Starlings of West Pier, was a sad but uplifting story about loss and memory.

With Chris Evans’ usual humour-infused hosting, the whole event was a delightful and touching celebration of the talent and brilliance of young writers.

Paul Rogers finds out what makes a current hot comedy favourite tick

AUDIENCE members were rolling in the aisles with laughter as comedian Lee Mack gave a rousing display at the Hay Festival.

The 44-year-old – who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) last year – has come a long way from being a stable boy, when he had the opportunity to ride triple Grand National winning horse Red Rum, to starring in some of the country’s most popular sitcoms.

Lee is currently one of the stars of Friday night entertainment on BBC One – as one of the team captains of comedy panel show Would I Lie To You? and starring in the self-penned sitcom Not Going Out.

He was at Hay to promote his autobiography, entitled Mack the Life, and to give an intimate insight into his life during a conversation with author Jasper Rees.

“I didn’t want to write about personal stuff and I didn’t even think about my mum,” said Lee, who was born Lee McKillop.

“I also didn’t want to mention my stepdad, so I thought that I would say that his name was Fernando Torres, the Chelsea striker. I think he once saw Chelsea play.”

Ironically, Lee’s first stage performance featured him doing impressions of Bobby Ball, who ended up playing his dad in Not Going Out.

That was when he was 12 and 13 and for the next 30 or so years, Lee has known no different – constantly making people laugh in any way he can.

He became a Bluecoat for Pontins, but an offensive remark to a member of the audience when he forgot his jokes resulted in him being sacked.

Nevertheless, he persevered, did his first open mic gig in 1994 and, within 18 months, he was a full-time comedian.

“My first joke was that I said that I had a letter in the post that said, ‘do not bend’. I thought – ‘how can I pick it up?’.”

“I have always wanted to make people laugh – the hard part is writing the joke.”

Ian Morris delves into novels inspired by the turbulent histories of two of the world’s emergent economic powers, Brazil and India

BRAZIL and India have long been tipped by leading economists to be among the 21st century’s most improved markets.

And while South American writer Edney Silvestre and Asian author Lavanya Sankaran agree that progress has been made in their respective nations, they told those gathered at an intimate Hay Festival debate that a lot still remains to be done.

Edney’s first novel, If I Close my Eyes Now, is set in Brazil in 1961 at a time of hope and ambition for the Latin giant.

But the democratic nature of João Goulart’s government was soon displaced by a brutal military dictatorship that sent many of Edney’s friends into exile.

The author compared the expectations present in Brazil in 1961 to those found today – and said history teaches one to be cautious when looking to the future because of the relative youthfulness of his country’s democracy.

India, like Brazil, has also witnessed considerable development over the past two decades.

Lavanya has seen this growth at first-hand in the form of a population boom in her home town of Bangalore.

Three million residents have become nine million during the past three decades and the writer admits that she no longer recognises the streets where she grew up.

Explaining that writers have a responsibility to “bear witness to what is happening and record it”, Lavanya said many societies emerging from poverty do not have sufficient infrastructures to cope with the pace of change.

But despite the anarchy and chaos, miracles do happen and through incredible strength, hope and diligence, young Indians are able to claw themselves into the lower middle class – a subject touched upon in her book, The Hope Factory.

Both authors spoke of corruption and sexism as two of the main barriers for progression in their homelands.

While Edney also exposed the myth that is Brazil’s racial democracy as another particular problem for the South American nation.

“We never had segregation in Brazil like there was in South Africa,” he said.

“But there are subtle and brutal aspects to life in Brazil (for people of colour).”

However, despite the similar challenges facing the two countries, the writers recognise change has been made.

Most notably with a woman president in Brazil and the improved nutritional levels of the poor.

“You have a saying in English that for every two steps forward you take one back,” added Edney.

“And that is how I feel about Brazil.”

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