Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tony Barrell, living legend. Memorial service tomorrow

Have you ever heard a radio documentary that seared itself into your brain and stayed with you for ever?

There's a good chance Tony Barrell made it.

Only the other day he was PM sharing his knowledge of Japan's nuclear reactors with Mark Colvin.

Then a week ago writing for The Drum about the appalling length of time it takes to decommission a nuclear reactor.

Then presenting a two hour masterclass on the secrets of broadcasting the day before he suddenly died.

Humble, humane, enthusiastic, electrifingly brilliant...

Two memories.. meeting him by the Shibuya railway station as he crossed the street with earphones around his neck in the manner of someone addicted to his Walkman. Actually he explained, he was using the earphones to record Tokyo street sounds as he walked - the best way to get the real thing in stereo.

Fifteen years earlier going to get a pie in Darlinghurst I told him the Background Briefing he had just broadcast had at last made me understand the divisions being created in Thatcher's Britain. The program was about what was happening in the North, forgotten with the focus on London. "I'm glad you liked it," he said. "I was going home for Christmas there, and I thought, how can I made a radio documentary out of this?"

And then there were the days around 2-JJJ in William Street as he and Rick Tanaka were tying to explain to me and to anyone else that cared that Japan'e economic miracle was numbing the Japanese psyche.

Their best, most fun book about the whole thing is Higher Than Heaven: Japan, War and Everything

"The victors' grip on history is always hard to break. Millions of people still believe the atomic bombs were dropped to 'save' lives. The history of the Second World War and the events that created it are infested with many other myths. How are we to discover why civilian populations are bombed in Baghdad, Bosnia or Chechnya if we can't know what really happened in Japan fifty years ago?"

Of course their best radio documentary was the horrific Tokyo's Burning, not about the atomic bomb, but about something worse.

Download it here.

Mark Colvin writes about him well.

There's a page dedicated to his memory here.

Friends are invited to attend his memorial service at Balmain Town Hall, 366 Darling Street, Balmain, commencing 1pm tomorrow Thursday, April 7.

Here's Doug Anderson's tribute.

Go well.

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