Caught by the River

Radio On

Sue Brooks | 1st February 2015

Fear and Loathing in Harrogate. Sue Brooks listens in:

On July 5th 2014, Johnny Greene, ex Tour Manager of The Clash, and a small group of friends are standing on a steep hill in Yorkshire, preparing to make a radio programme. It’s Radio 4’s poetry slot on Sunday afternoon, and the title is Fear and Loathing in Harrogate.

Listen here on the BBC iPlayer.

Why have you invited me? asks Phil Jupitus. Johnny Greene explains. There may be nothing much to see at the moment – an empty road, a few people standing around – but later, if they can be patient, Le Spectacle will arrive. The Tour de France is about to hit Harrogate, and Johnny Greene is one of its greatest fans. He wants to share it with his friends, and with Radio 4, Johnny Greene style. A piece of Gonzo Journalism.

Will there be poetry? Our host has hired Harrogate Theatre for One Night Only, and expectations are high. Phil Jupitus, Mike Garry and co, do their best. It looks like a ball from the photos of the evening performance on the website, but the bits on the radio are execrable. Too execrable to repeat, and it matters not one iota. It’s all part of the madness which is the Tour de France.

Le Spectacle is 110 years old, and the organisers most certainly know what they are doing. It’s like sex, according to Johnny Greene. It’s all in the expectation. Three quarters of an hour of foreplay as the caravan rolls through, and then L’arrivee. The peloton flashes past in one minute. I love the Tour de France he says. It’s a family sport. Look at all these people, there’s no class or gender to divide them. They’re here for the show. No security. No crowd control. If you want to dress up in a gorilla suit and take on the leaders – go ahead.

It’s a constantly fluid moveable feast. Each stage takes a day to build, and an hour after it’s gone, there’s nothing to say it happened. I’m hooked. I want to be there the next time the Carnival come to town. Gonzo Journalism takes Radio 4 by storm and the last words are still ringing in my ears. Chaotic Inferno is precisely the point.