arts and design

On my radar: Ralph Steadman's cultural highlights

Artist Ralph Steadman’s work became synonymous with 70s counterculture due to his long association with the gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson. His distinctive political and satirical drawings have appeared in the New York Times, Punch and Rolling Stone. Steadman has created album artwork for the Who and Frank Zappa, designed an award-winning set of British stamps and illustrated special editions of Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451. A retrospective artbook, A Life in Ink, is out this month.

Alexander Graham Bell PB cover

1. Book

Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention by Charlotte Gray
I much prefer to read about real people’s lives rather than fiction. Currently I’m reading this biography by Canadian author Charlotte Gray. It seems to have won a lot of awards, which I usually think are badges of mediocrity, but this is rather good – very well written and researched. Bell was a fascinating man and invented so much more than the telephone. A lot of his work involved sound, including sonar probes and fibre optics. This biography really brings him to life.

2. Film

Freak Power: The Ballot Or the Bomb

A still from Freak Power: The Ballot Or the Bomb.
A still from Freak Power: The Ballot Or the Bomb.

I’ve just watched this excellent documentary by Daniel Watkins and Ajax Phillips. It’s about Hunter S Thompson’s political campaign to become sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970. All of the footage featured in this was only recently discovered and hasn’t been seen before. Watching it really took me back. What got me about the film was its representation of Hunter’s humour, that’s how I remember him. His manifesto of legalising marijuana, disarming the police and protecting the environment doesn’t seem so far out today. Those crooked Aspen politicians would fit right in as well.

3. Restaurant

Ozgur in Tenterden

Ozgur in Tenterden, Kent.
Ozgur in Tenterden, Kent. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

This Turkish restaurant is in Tenterden, near where I live in Kent. Ozgur is a family tradition – we’ve been going there for around 30 years, for all our celebrations and birthdays. I love the fact that it’s been there so long that it’s become part of a wonderful community. Mustafa, who runs the joint, knows all the other shop owners along the high street, and eating there in the summer on the pavement outside you could hear everyone talking to each other up and down the street. I really like the liver and onions – an old-fashioned dish that my father used to love.

4. Radio

Just a Minute, Radio 4

Nicholas Parsons.
Nicholas Parsons. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Radio 4 and the World Service play all through the night and most of the day in my house. It’s a soothing background and nice to wake up to. There was a special evening of programmes about Nicholas Parsons recently on Radio 4 that was just lovely. Parsons was such a nice, self-effacing man, but had an interesting life. Just a Minute, which Parsons hosted, is one of my favourite shows. Paul Merton is very witty and I love Sheila Hancock – she’s hilariously funny and quick.

5. TV

The Repair Shop

Upholstery restorer Sonnaz Nooranvary (right) on The Repair Shop.
Upholstery restorer Sonnaz Nooranvary (right) on The Repair Shop. Photograph: BBC

I’m fascinated by this BBC show about experts restoring family treasures and heirlooms. How these craftspeople make things work is just incredible. I get so engrossed watching them work. I particularly like upholstery restorer Sonnaz Nooranvary, who does the sewing and restores old pieces of material. She puts the glow back into these things – you literally see this glow appear. I love watching skill in action. I have such respect for expertise.

6. Sport

Outdoor swimming

Abergele beach in north Wales.
Abergele beach in north Wales. Photograph: Philip Smith/Alamy Stock Photo

I hate sport but I love to swim. I have an outdoor pool – it’s not a far shore, but it’s been terrific for swimming in lockdown and I haven’t missed a day all year. That’s been one good thing about this germ-riddled limbo we’re in. I’ve swum all my life, since the cold, pebbly beach at Abergele in north Wales where I grew up, and Rhyl swimming baths. I really like doing the breaststroke. It’s good for the sternum and I like the feeling of your chest pressing against the water.

7. Art book

The Comic Almanack: An Ephemeris in Jest and Earnest, Containing Merry Tales, Humorous Poetry, Quips and Oddities by Thackeray, Albert Smith, Gilbert à Beckett, the Brothers Mayhew

Stubbs's Calendar, or the Fatal Boots – a George Cruikshank illustration for the Comic Almanack 1839.
Stubbs’s Calendar, or the Fatal Boots – a George Cruikshank illustration for the Comic Almanack 1839. Photograph: World History Archive/Alamy

The Almanacks are collections of humorous writing and illustrations. They feature the greatest authors and artists of the Victorian era, especially illustrator George Cruikshank. Some of the work he did for his friend Charles Dickens is in here. I’ve always loved old books. I used to go round all the junk shops on a Saturday morning looking for them. Then, when I was older, I got to know antiquarian bookseller Bernard Stone, who had the Turret Bookshop in Kensington Church Walk. All the writers used to go there, it was a great meeting place.

A Life in Ink is published by Chronicle Books (£45). To order a copy for £39.15 go to Delivery charges may apply


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