A POEM containing a torrent of swear words which sparked outrage 25 years ago is to be broadcast on BBC radio to mark its anniversary.
Tony Harrison, originally from Leeds but a long-term resident of Gosforth, Newcastle, wrote V in 1985 after discovering his parents’ gravestones had been sprayed with obscene graffiti.
After opening with a quote from miners’ strike leader Arthur Scargill, V explored issues of class and social division in Britain at the time.
A film version of the work, directed by Richard Eyre, caused controversy when it was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1987, with the Daily Mail calling it “a torrent of four-letter filth” and Mary Whitehouse saying it was a work “of singular nastiness”.
The poem has since been acclaimed by many writers and critics, with Harrison, 75, saying the vulgar language and descriptions of racist insults sprayed on the graveyard were an integral part of the work.
“It is the language of the football hooligan and is seen and heard every day,” he said.
Radio 4 plan to broadcast a new 30-minute reading of the work by the poet, which is set to be made on location and in the Corporation’s studios in Leeds on Friday.
BBC bosses admitted broadcasting the poem might still cause controversy, but said it was a “poignant and seminal” work.
Tony Phillips, Radio 4’s arts commissioning editor, said: “V did cause a little bit of a flurry of activity in the 1980s when it first went out.”
But he said themes of religious division in the poem took on a special significance almost three decades after it was written, as Beeston, Leeds, where Harrison describes his parents’ gravestones, is also the area where one of the London 7/7 tube bombers grew up.
“It strikes me as really poignant and potentially very interesting to revisit this poem, knowing that one of the 7/7 bombers would at that stage have been a very young child,” Mr Phillips said.
On the poem’s language, he added: “It’s very important that, as much as we can, we air the poem as Harrison wrote it.
“There will be many, many warnings and explanations and it will be late at night.”
Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams argued that removing swearing would be “tampering with the integrity of the piece”.
“We would never do it gratuitously,” she said.
The work will be introduced on Radio 4 by writer Blake Morrison.
Tony Harrison has written extensively for theatre, television and film. He was awarded the Northern Rock Foundation Writers’ Award in 2004, the Wilfred Owen prize for poetry in 2006 and the European prize for literature in 2011.
There will be many, many warnings and explanations and it will be late at night