Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Book Festival: Broadcaster's flashes of genius as he excavates his lost world

By Michael Conaghan

One of modern culture's supreme iconoclasts and broadcasters, Jonathan Meades shows no sign of wanting to embrace national treasure status anytime soon. Would last night reveal his softer side?

In conversation with Marcus Patton he switched from architecture to archaeology as he set about excavating the lost world of his Fifties childhood, differentiating between the proper nostalgia of a yearning for home and the nostalgia industry represented by the likes of the Prince of Wales' architectural experiment, Poundbury.

Readings from his autobiography showed a love of language and a typical zest for ideas, plus a cast of characters straight out of British social comedy at its seediest.

At times, though, the evening seemed rather too stuck in the Fifties, like two old duffers looking at fading photographs.

Though an evidently cuddlier version of his TV persona, Meades still evinced an admiration for those Victorians "out of their heads on laudanum" and those brutalist Seventies architects whose attitude was basically "sod you".

An arch-modernist like Meades surely needs a little more edge when dealing with a live audience up close and personal.

There were flashes of it during the Q&A session where a question on modern London brought a withering zinger or two about Boris Johnson's "bling architecture" for oligarchs and city spivs.

That and a wry observation or two about World Cup mascots lifted the conversation out the merely routine and showed more of the Jonathan Meades we know and love.

Three stars

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