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V Tony Harrison

‘V’ Tony Harrison

‘V’ – the poem they tried to ban

‘V’ is a poem of its time which has found a voice in these troubled and divided times, writes John Knowles of Fetch Theatre.

‘V’ is an epic modern poem by the highly acclaimed Tony Harrison set in the 1980’s in his home town of Leeds. The poem gained notoriety in the 80’s when Channel 4 decided to show a film of the piece, directed by Richard Eyres.

At the time the Clean Up Campaign fronted by Mary Whitehouse was on the warpath, with the intent of  cleaning up the airways for the good people of Britain, and alongside a host of Tory MPs she tried to get the broadcast banned in the name of common decency.

The red-top newspapers and the likes of the Daily Mail duly jumped on the banned wagon, claiming that this four-letter word filled poem had no artistic merit and no place on our televisions. As usual ignorance was at the heart of the debate, with few of the Tory MPs or the right wing press bothering to read the poem or try to understand the context of the work. 

‘V’ is a response by Tony Harrison to finding his parents’ graves covered in swastikas and the symbol ‘V’ (Leeds V whichever team they were playing). He is filled with the guilt of someone who has moved away from home and is therefore guilty of leaving the graves unattended, plus the guilt of joining the Southern middle-class establishment, reflected in an imaginary argument with a spray can wielding skinhead.

Time of discord

This powerful piece of work, reflects on a turbulent time of discord, with the country split down social divides, with the miners’ strike a recent bitter defeat for the working classes and the ‘Irish problem’ still raging on our streets and TV screens.

The UK is now more divided than ever, split down the middle by Brexit and facing social, moral and political divisions, which sadly over-spill into violence and intolerance. We have in many respects become less willing to debate, trapped in our own bubbles and intolerant of each other.

‘V’ is a call for debate, for understanding, it’s a poem about owning up to our own betrayals and about intolerance and brutality. Yes, it contains the ‘C’ word in plenty, but you should be more concerned by the deep-rooted poverty of ideals that the young man in this poem voices than by a word, for never more so than now, we need poets and writers to explore and give voice to the marginalised and to, if not heal, then at least make us aware of, our anger, our shame, our discontent.

We have been given permission by the author to create a performance piece which has already been picked up by the Leeds LitFest. This will be part performance and part audio response, performed by Leeds born Jonny Magnanti and produced by Fetch Theatre. ‘V’ will premiere on Sunday 20 January (2pm) and Monday and Tuesday 21st and 22nd (7.30pm) at the St Leonards public house on London Road.


Tickets at £8 can be purchased here.

For more details contact Fetch Theatre on

Posted 13:06 Friday, Jan 18, 2019 In: Performance

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