Talk­ing the talk with dig­nity and warmth

Talk­ing Heads 6.30pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Ian Cuth­bert­son

THE dig­ni­fied and unas­sum­ing ABC chat pro­gram Talk­ing Heads qui­etly reached its 100th episode ear­lier this month with a pro­gram fea­tur­ing re­tired gen­eral Peter Cos­grove. There are no Andrew Den­ton- style staged the­atrics with sil­ver- haired Peter Thompson in the host’s chair, no em­bar­rass­ing Chaser an­tics, no de­fus­ing other guests who can steal at­ten­tion or sup­ply their own punch­lines, as on Parkin­son . With Talk­ing Heads , what you see is what you get: one mainly po­lite, ex­pe­ri­enced ABC broad­caster with one sub­ject, once a week, for the half hour lead­ing up to the 7pm news. So reg­u­lar it’s prob­a­bly good for you.

The first episode went to air on March 25, 2005, pro­fil­ing dancer Paul Mer­cu­rio. Since then, about 100 guests have shared a couch with Thompson in a fairly struc­tured half hour that tends to stick to the orig­i­nal three- sec­tion brief: early in­flu­ences, ca­reer choices, high­lights and fu­ture as­pi­ra­tions.

The for­mat breaks oc­ca­sion­ally to fea­ture in­ter­views with fam­ily and friends of the sub­ject, show clips of work, and for live per­for­mances if the guest hap­pens to be a gig­ging mu­si­cian.

Tonight’s guest is vet­eran Aussie au­thor Tom Ke­neally.

Af­ter the briefest of in­tro­duc­tions, Thompson dives in with, ‘‘ Do books change the world?’’

‘‘ I hope that in our grop­ing to the light there are some great books that stand as en­light­en­ers and guides along the way,’’ is just part of Ke­neally’s an­swer.

At the two- minute mark, we move to a video that has been recorded in ad­vance, with nar­ra­tion and ap­pear- an­ces by the au­thor, com­plete with baby pic­tures and a folk song sound­track. This is a great de­vice be­cause it saves Thompson hav­ing to run through the job in­ter­view rou­tine ques­tions, and it al­lows Ke­neally to share with us what he feels is vi­tal in his own back­ground, in words and pic­tures.

‘‘ I was one of those an­noy­ing, rather snotty kids who spilled his ink a lot,’’ Ke­neally tells us with his typ­i­cal can­dour.

Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches dwellers will ap­pre­ci­ate a tour of the beau­ti­ful St Pa­trick’s Sem­i­nary in Manly, where Ke­neally went in 1953 to study for the priest­hood. It stands as an en­dur­ing mon­u­ment to faith and Catholi­cism, but it was more than the young Ke­neally could stand: he left to be­come a young nov­el­ist, and quickly mar­ried. The ac­cep­tance of his first novel put paid to a long pe­riod of de­pres­sion and feel­ings of fail­ure in re­la­tion to quit­ting.

Though he may lack Den­ton’s wit and Parkin­son’s warmth, Thompson is among the very few in­ter­view­ers who keep the fo­cus of the pro­gram al­most en­tirely on the sub­ject.

No the­atrics: Peter Thompson sticks to the straight and nar­row

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