On Radio 4: Warhorses of Letters

“Oh my horsey god”. This is why we have the licence fee and if the BBC only produced fifteen minutes as jaw dropping as this once a year then that ‘television tax’ would be worth it. It’s the best ever dissection of forbidden nineteenth century gay horse romance there has ever been and I hardly need tell you how much competition it’s up against for that title.

The premise is that a packet of letters has been discovered in the British Library. The letters are from Copenhagen, the Duke of Wellington’s horse, to Marengo, Napoleon’s horse. Although as Marengo explains he is, by technical definition, only a pony. In the first episode, Copenhagen introduces himself as a gay racehorse with fierce passion for Marengo who, for his part, marvels at the stupidity of the British and in particular their horses called Death to France. Amongst other things. No mere transcription can do justice to what was a frighteningly funny and smart quarter of an hour. The voicing by Daniel Rigby as the starstruck and nervous Copenhagen (with his many bracketed asides) was surprisingly touching whereas Stephen Fry as Marengo was gruffly European, neatly deflecting any accusation of worry with a gruff masculine vanity. The writing by Robert Hudson and Marie Philips was packed with so many good lines that I’m off to the iPlayer to find out what I missed.

The episode ended with the revelation that the horses were now at war (“which is basically the Napoleonic wars …”) and a tearful Copenhagen breaking off. But we are assured that within the National Gallery in a packet mislabeled as “Virginia Woolf, Racist Political Comments and other Juvenalia” there may be further letters. So it’s like the Flashman Papers only with homosexual horses (which isn’t a sentence I thought I’d write) and I am eagerly awaiting the next epistle.


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