My Hampstead: BBC radio producer Piers Plowright on the Heath, basements and his admiration for Sicilian anti-Mafia activist Danilo Dolci
PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 April 2014
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Piers Plowright was a BBC radio producer from 1968 to 1997. He continues to work in broadcasting, teaching and book reviewing, and hosts events at Burgh House, Keats Community Library and the Hampstead Arts Festival. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
What brought you to Hampstead?
I was born there in 1937 in Church Row, son of “Hampstead’s Doctor” Oliver Plowright and Molly Eugster, my ebullient mother who in another age would have gone on the stage. I was brought up there after the Second World War and – apart from a brief river spell in St Margaret’s, Twickenham, and four years in the Sudan, working for the British Council – have lived in and around ‘the village’ ever since.
What’s the best thing about the area?
Hampstead Heath, the most glorious open-space in any city in the world, and, in particular, the bathing ponds, which I swim in round the year. Runner-up would be the Royal Free Hospital, which has done great good to me and all my family.
And the worst?
Hampstead snobs – though I’m probably one myself!
If you were editor of the Ham&High for a day, what local issue would you focus on?
Ban the basements! It can only be a matter of time before the whole place slides downhill – never mind climate change.
Where in the world would you twin with Hampstead?
Tailloires on the Lake of Annecy, Haute Savoie, France. Forget the horrible murder that happened 18 months ago and think of a beautiful lake, splendid mountain and those lovely views that Cézanne painted. We spent all our family holidays there from 1946 to 1956 and I long to go back.
Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met?
Danilo Dolci, immensely brave Sicilian anti-Mafia activist, forgotten now, but a man who risked his life to tackle corruption and violence on the island at a time when no-one else was doing it. He came to Oxford in 1957 to talk in the town hall and I met him afterwards for a chat. Snub-nosed, short-sighted, self-deprecating, but a real hero.
If you had to write your own epitaph what would it say?
I like Spike Milligan’s best: “I told you I was ill”. But since he’s already used that, may I borrow a rather long one from another hero of mine, Seán O’Casey: “I have found life an enchanting, active, and sometimes terrifying experience, and enjoyed it completely. A lament in one ear, maybe, but always a song in the other.”
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