Archive for May, 2019

Broadcaster to Nations

May 28th, 2019

Rupert Willoughby: tête-parlante extraordinaire

Basingstoke: A Lament

For devotees of Basingstoke, my contribution to Sarah Walker’s live broadcast on Radio Berkshire on 16 May, to mark the 25th anniversary of The Anvil, can be heard here:, beginning at 41:29. It’s all over in two minutes, but I contrived to mention my encounter with ‘Nigel’ from The Archers.

I was invited to participate in my role as a ‘local historian’ and author of the seminal Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture.

From our vantage point in the foyer of the Anvil, Sarah and I looked directly along Church Street, the historic heart of Basingstoke, and could clearly witness the destruction that was wrought by the developers of the 1960s. On the right hand side, buildings that were variously charming, quirky, elegant and, without exception, historic; on the left, the vast, blank retaining wall of the Basingstoke ‘megastructure’, a grotesque ‘shopping centre’ in the sky, a dismal, desolate shrine to consumerism that is the dominant feature of modern Basingstoke.

The buildings that survived the holocaust seem mostly to have been protected by their nearness to the parish church, which was sacrosanct. Countless others were needlessly felled. The photographs below, taken on the same sunny morning as my broadcast, are of parts of old Basingstoke that survive and may surprise those who know the town only for its Modernist horrors.

Château Gaillard, une forteresse imprenable

As if this were not excitement enough, I then appeared as a ‘talking head’ in a documentary called Château Gaillard, une forteresse imprenable, broadcast on the French channel RMC Découverte on 22 May (you can see it again on 3 June at midnight!).

It was made by Thomas Risch, who interviewed me in London a few months ago. I described at length the building of the Norman castle by Richard the Lionheart and its siege by Philip of France in the reign of King John.

My cousin Jean, viewing the broadcast in Paris, kindly took the photograph at the head of this article. I have yet to see the programme, but have a good impression of it from the rather excitable trailer, in which I briefly appear: see it here – – or here –,-une-forteresse-imprenable,150565339.php.

Risch asked me to read a lengthy passage from a contemporary chronicler in the original Latin, and I do hope this was included in the final cut.

Church Street, Basingstoke: on the left, the infamous 'Great Wall'; on the right, the amputated remains of a medieval market-town.

This row of charming and historic buildings survived the destruction of the 1960s because of their proximity to the church, which was sacrosanct. The Anvil, a vast concert hall, can be seen in the distance.

How modern Basingstoke might have been: picturesque and thriving.