Topaz – McGonagall on Radio 4

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 30th day of October at 12:25 am

A radio play based on an episode of the poet’s life was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday. Written by Lucy Gannon, and starring Dundee-born actor and film star Brian Cox as the great man, Topaz was a dramatic recreation of the famous trip to Balmoral.

The play is pretty free in mixing up elements of McGonagall’s life, and in inventing entirely new ones, in order to make a more engaging story. Most notably, in this version of events, he actually gets to meet Queen Victoria at the end of his journey! I suppose McGonagall purists (if such people exist) might take umbrage at this, but as evidence suggests that William wasn’t above embellishing his life story for dramatic effect, we can hardly chide Ms Gannon for doing the same.

If you’re quick, you can still listen to the play on the BBC iPlayer – it’s available until Saturday 2nd November. You can also read a review of it in The Stage.

McGonagall in the Lecture Hall

Filed under: Education; in the year 2013, on the 22nd day of October at 11:35 pm

Jason Blake, in an article on the Better Living Though Beowulf blog, describes how he uses McGonagall’s most (in)famous work in his English classes at the University of Ljubljana. Needless to say, he doesn’t present it as an example of high art – the article is entitled The Worst Poem Ever Published – but as “a perfect guide to what a poem should not be.”

Blake’s students are asked to identify the worst lines of the The Tay Bridge Disaster and explain what is wrong with them – a task which elicits “at least a dozen different and creative answers.” It sounds like a great class – no wonder they’re disappointed to hear that he won’t be featuring in the exam.

I would personally take issue with the “worst poem” label though. Whilst it breaks every rule in the poetical book (and more besides), we’re still reading and enjoying this poem 130 years after it was written. How many “good” poems can say that? Give me McGonagall’s inspired incompetence over his worthy-but-dull contemporaries any time!