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The "Professor and the Madman" Behind the OED

Linguist Geoff Nunberg comments on Simon Winchester's new book "The Professor and the Madman." It details the true story of the American psychopath who played a major role in compiling the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid 1800s.

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Other segments from the episode on September 30, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 30, 1998: Interview with Paul Abbott; Review of Simon Winchester's book "The Professor and the Madman"; Review of Benny Golson's album "Remembering Clifford."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 093001np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Paul Abbott
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross.

The PBS series "Mystery" begins its new season tomorrow night with a five-part mini-series called "Touching Evil." My guest Paul Abbott created and wrote the series. He also wrote for the TV drama "Cracker" and "Reckless."

"Touching Evil" is about the detectives in a new British crime unit, a rapid response team investigating serial murder and organized crime. This unit doesn't actually exist in England. It's something Abbott created for the series.

Robinson Green plays detective inspector Dave Kregan (ph), an officer who has just returned to the force after he was shot in the head in the line of duty. His near-death experience has left him obsessive about tracking down killers.

In the first episode, he's investigating the kidnapping of three children who may or may not still be alive. Although there are few clues, Detective Kregan has questioned a suspect named Hinks and is sure he's the kidnapper.

But his partner, Detective Inspector Susan Taylor, played by Nicola Walker, is afraid they're putting all their eggs in one basket without the evidence to justify it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- "TOUCHING EVIL")

NICOLA WALKER, ACTRESS: What if we can't find any evidence because there is none to find? That is worrying me. Why isn't it worrying you?

ROBINSON GREEN, ACTOR: We can't find any evidence so you presume it's not him. Why isn't it striking you that Hinks is bright enough to avoid us finding evidence?

WALKER: Because without more evidence, a conviction is a fantasy.

GREEN: Based on the fact that all you expect is a conviction. Hinks is a freak. He's an intelligent freak who credits himself with being in complete control of the facts. If all you're waiting for is evidence and we've got three dead kids around the corner care. He did it.

WALKER: I think you best speak to (unintelligible) before we go any further.

GREEN: If we don't find them, and he lets them die, he won't be blaming himself. I will.

WALKER: You need to stand back. I can't take responsibility for all of them Kregan.

GREEN: Well, that's the only reason that I'm here. The responsibility is the only reason why I came back, Taylor. Why are you here for?

GROSS: Paul Abbott, welcome to Fresh Air. I'd like to ask you to describe in your words the concept of the new series.

PAUL ABBOTT, WRITER, CREATOR OF NEW PBS MINI-SERIES "TOUCHING EVIL": Right. Well, I think "Touching Evil" came about from a need in British television to approach the kind of cop that is a bit more Americanized, that is a bit more sharper cop than we're used to in Britain. I mean, in terms of clean, a clean-line cop in the way that Robinson Green portrays this.

We've had "Cracker," we've had "Prime Suspects," in England for quite a long time. And they were deliberately very grainy, very low-contrast visual pieces. And just because I've worked on "Cracker" I was desperate to find something that was a bit more clipped, and a bit newer -- and I mean visually newer -- and something that was going to look fresh to the audience. That's the visual ambition of it.

I think the philosophical ambition of "Touching Evil" was to actually find a cop whose drive comes from history. I know they all have, but you still have to find one at the top. And when you sit down to write a guy who is going to carry you through six hours, 12 hours of television. And I toyed around with the character of Kregan for a few years in different occupations. I wanted to write about the kind of man who faces life having basically faced death at some point and what that does to you.

GROSS: And what does it do to him? What does it do to the character?

ABBOTT: I don't think he's nihilistic anymore. I think he's -- you know how cops are -- occupationally nihilistic. It's just my take on them. But I think Kregan opts to see a hope in life, which is kind of the opposite of what we were doing in "Cracker." In "Cracker" we found the character fits who was basically so psychologically-twisted himself that he understood psychologically-twisted people.

And that was a great way to go. I was looking for something new, and Kregan understands the world because he's kind of chosen to be here. He had a near-death experience from a shootout and he wants to understand the world better. He's genuinely more optimistic than cops generally are.

GROSS: He's also more obsessive, though, and that sometimes makes him more reckless.

ABBOTT: Yes, there's a word.

LAUGHTER

I think in trying to convince himself that he's -- you know, he's a man who chooses to leave his wife and family, not because he wants to abandon his family, it's because he doesn't think he's the right person for them.

He doesn't think with his state of mind that he's the right person to take that family through the next 10 years, 20 years, and the great thing about Kregan is that he forms a strong bond with the guy his wife Carrie has grown to know. The guy has moved in. He's a very good stepfather to the kids. And you get the sense in the series that Kregan prays that this is the case. He doesn't want a guy who is going to be worse than he was at being a father. He genuinely wants somebody to father his family better than he could.

And I think that's what I mean in terms of finding hope. Having faced death, I don't think he would have done that before he had experienced a near death -- in the shootout.

GROSS: Paul Abbott is my guest, and we're talking about the new series that he wrote "Touching Evil," which is part of the "Mystery Series" here in America on PBS. And it premieres Thursday night.

Now, the main character Detective Inspector Dave Kregan was shot in the head. That's what he recovered from. And he has a scar over his eye to prove that. Now I believe that you have a very similar scar over your eye. How did you get yours?

ABBOTT: I think mine was slightly less dramatic, in that I wasn't sure it was coming. It's very different from the way Kregan ran his life during the shootout.

But I -- I -- very simply, I got mugged. But it was quite a savage mugging. One night I had been out to see a friend play in band and left to get the car. When I went to get the car there was someone sitting in it.

In fact, I had only had the car about two days; didn't quite recognize it as it being mine and thought I must be mistaken. And in the time it took me to work all that out, his friend came from behind and I got kind of whacked with a baseball bat right where the knuckle does start. And then they -- they kind of needlessly cut me up, because I was already unconscious by the time they had done all this.

And I was kind of left on the floor and bleeding. And, I mean, it's bound to have an influence on the way you kind of face writing from that point on. It was -- it was quite a terrifying experience that took me about two years to get over. You know, I couldn't -- I couldn't walk in public places very easy. I couldn't -- certainly couldn't use multi-story car parks, stacker car parks.

I just got very afraid to go out. And it took me about two years to actually reduce that victim psychology into something that I could write about.

I wrote an awful lot about it, but nothing exorcised it like time did. And I eventually just kind of took to very much going in public places, very much parking up in multi-story car parks. And that kind of challenging fate and it made me artificially stronger. I knew the exercise was, you know, it wouldn't be recommended by a shrink, but I just felt that I had to do that to put me back in the public arena.

GROSS: Did you start arming yourself, too? Did you carry a knife or...

ABBOTT: No, no, no. I contemplated carrying a knife, but I mean that -- the penalties are so high I don't think any mitigation carries in Britain for carrying a knife. Say if I were to -- even if I were to be found with that, the police wouldn't accept the fact that I had been mugged as mitigation to carrying a weapon. It would be seen as carrying an illegal weapon and charged accordingly, which would ultimately effect whether I worked or not. So I chose not to.

GROSS: Was there ever a trial? Did the people who did this to you ever found?

ABBOTT: No, they weren't. They were -- curiously on the night that I gave a very good description of the guy who did this, because I happened to have trapped one of their legs in the car door and heard it crack, so I think I had broken his leg. And the description I gave them, his clothing, of his hair and demeanor absolutely matched a guy they arrested that night in a causality unit with a broken leg who was lying about his injuries. And it just wasn't the same guy.

I felt very sorry for the guy they brought in. They virtually plastered his leg up and dragged him out to the police station where I was being taken care of -- to the hospital to where I was being taken care of and made him do a line-up. And it just wasn't him. He was just a victim of his own stupidity that night.

GROSS: But about six months later I was out shopping, kind of buying jeans, and it was a bit like a Hitchcock scene because in the department store I actually saw the guy who did it. But I could only see him -- you know those awful ground floor of a department store -- it's always kind of makeup and perfume.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Right.

ABBOTT: And it's so busy and glazed and reflective. I couldn't see where he was standing. I could see the guy and he saw me looking and then he disappeared. And I ran and what I ran with was what looking at the time. And so I was being chased by two...

LAUGHTER

... by two security guards who thought I was on a shoplifting spree. And had to drops at the door to stop them chasing me. And just lost the guy. I didn't -- it was very haunting because I had -- I think six months in I felt like I was getting over it. And that event reminded me how much it -- how embedded it was in me. Because I couldn't speak for about a day. And that wasn't fear. It was anger.

GROSS: How did the cops handle it. What was your satisfaction -- your feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with them?

ABBOTT: Well, this happened in Central Manchester. I think the police, the police are very busy at weekends in Manchester. And you would have expected that I get the most cursory of attention from the cops. But they were absolutely fantastic. And there was a very young female cop, inspector, who was dealing with this, who just repeatedly said -- and I couldn't quite understand what anybody was saying at that time: you know, it wasn't your fault. Just remember it wasn't your fault. They came for you. It wasn't your fault.

And she kept saying: you will think after this. You've got that kind of face that people come after you. But they come after anyone. It wasn't your fault.

She kept saying this, and of course for there next two years that's exactly what I thought. I thought I've got the kind of face where this happens to people like me. And it never happened before. And never has since.

But it was such a intractable mantra that came to hit me. I was so delighted she had said that on the night, just to counterbalance the disorientation.

GROSS: How did her interaction with you and the performance of other cops who you came in contact with after you were mugged affect the way you write about cops in your TV shows?

ABBOTT: Well, to be honest, she fuels the way -- she's never known this. I've never been in a position to tell her -- she actually fuels the way I write most women characters, because there is such a trend in Britain to soft-soap women characters. There just was -- you know -- writers would always claim to be very good at writing women, but the evidence was never in their favor.

And she was somebody who -- you know she was dealing very casually with me and very tenderly. And at the same time she was dealing with a violet assault perpetrated by a guy on his wife. And you know, she dealt with him like a cop deals with a guy who's perpetrated an assault. She was fantastic with him, too.

And she was very, very strong, and you know, I've known strong women, but the fact that it happened that night in my life made me want to, certainly in terms of writing cops and certainly in writing women, want to make life a bit more real in the work I did.

GROSS: My guest is Paul Abbott, creator and writer of the mini-series "Touching Evil," which premieres tomorrow night on the PBS series Mystery.

We will talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.

BREAK

GROSS: Paul Abbot is my guest, and he conceived and wrote the new series "Touching Evil," which premieres Thursday on public television as part of the "Mystery Series." He also wrote for "Cracker" and wrote the series "Reckless."

You know, the main character in "Touching Evil, detective inspector Kregan has been -- because he was shot in the head he was close to another world. He very nearly died, and he kind of comes back from the edge, recovers, and then goes back to work with this renewed determination.

Were you close to another world, too, after you were mugged? Did you almost go to the other side?

ABBOTT: Not quite. I think it was a bit more sordid than that for me, in that I was left -- I was left unconscious and bleeding in a car park that serves one of the -- a car park hear the cathedral in Manchester that serves the Royal Exchange Theater. It's the "fur coat and no knickers" audience level of theater viewing.

And so I was surrounded by BMWs and Mercedes and, you know, five-star cars. And when I woke up, when I came round, I was still on the floor but most of these cars had gone. So I had been walked around by people who really should have done something about it, and I think that fueled -- I wanted to stop believing in humanity. That's sounds very dramatic, melodramatic, but that's the way it made me for two years. I wanted to stop believing in humanity; people doing things for other people and I -- you know -- to this day I can't -- I can't imagine why they did that.

But they're the kind of people who would walk around anybody in the street assuming they're a tramp and assuming that they ought to walk around tramps.

I don't know. It felt like another world. It was other-worldly in that I just thought: my God, I can't believe anybody would do that. I can't believe anybody could be so coldly selfish as to just take care of themselves that night. You know, it was clear, I was covered in blood. And wherever I came from I was in trouble.

GROSS: How did you regain consciousness? Did you come to on your own or did you wake up in the hospital? Who saved you?

ABBOTT: In fact, I regained consciousness and realized what had happened. I realized how many people weren't there who should have been there really to help me. And just below the car park was a well-known cab rank, you know, a taxi rank. And I went down there to get one of the taxi drivers to get some help. And he actually zoomed up the electric window and took off; didn't get any help and, in fact, it was two drunks coming out of a pub who called an ambulance.

Yeah, there are paradoxes I probably can't define in there but that, that's how I came out of that event.

GROSS: When I was growing up, most of the kind of crime and adventure shows and movies that I watched, when there was someone in jeopardy, it was usually a beautiful young woman. And there was always this kind of sexual edge to the kidnapping, and sexual edge to her being tied up and held hostage or whatever.

I notice now that so many of the hostages and victims in a lot of programs and movies are children. And I'm wondering if what you think has shifted.

ABBOTT: For me, for me creating a story was very, very simply from having two children of my own. And suddenly being completely obsessed about the fact that they were -- you know, recently -- well, recently to me, thinking about that story, we had had the Bulger (ph) kidnapping and murder which affected the way everybody perceived their children.

Here a two-year old child was abducted by 10-year old boys. Oh, my gosh. It wasn't even an adult -- two 10-year old boys -- and he was murdered on a railway track. And that changed the way people look after their kids in Britain. And that changed the way people monitor their kids in Britain. And it changed the way I wanted to write stories.

It was -- you know -- crudely it's -- I knew that people feared this more than anything. And I wanted to explore that.

GROSS: I get the impression from reading about you, too, that you also know something about what it's like to be a child in the hands of someone who isn't necessarily taking very good care of you.

ABBOTT: Yeah.

GROSS: Just to fill in the blanks here a little bit, I think you were -- grew up in a family of about 10 kids, and your mother left home when you were really young, and your father wasn't working and also wasn't collecting any sort of unemployment insurance, which meant that there wasn't a lot of money in the house.

ABBOTT: No, there wasn't. It was -- you know -- I look back on those times and, you know, you talk about these things to journalists and you wonder why you ever did. But the truth of it is that all my writing life has been influenced by all of that stuff. I think I'm completely -- I think everything I write about has a piece of that -- a piece of me in there that's formed by those events in childhood, like anyone else.

But my -- it was such a protracted period of what from the outside now and as an adult looking back, it was abject poverty. Of course, inside all that you don't realize that until you get to 21 and think: oh, my God, what was that, you know? I can't imagine we were actually brought up that way. But we were, and we all seemed to have come through it.

GROSS: Paul Abbott created and wrote the new mini-series "Touching Evil." It premieres tomorrow night on the PBS series "Mystery."

Abbott will be back in the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Back with Paul Abbott, creator and writer of "Touching Evil," the mini-series that premieres tomorrow night as part of the PBS series Mystery.

"Touching Evil" is about the detectives in a British crime unit investigating serial murders and organized crime. In the first episode, the detectives are investigating a series of kidnappings of children who may or may not still be alive.

When we left off, Abbott was telling us about his own childhood, growing up in a large and very poor family. His mother walked out when he was a boy.

Now, I read that you had a breakdown when you were about 15, ended up in the psychiatric unit at a hospital; and that actually ended up really helping you change your life around.

ABBOTT: Oh, God, yes. It was -- I think I went through such black time just through being, you know, transitional prepubescent teenager, and then having all this stuff -- all this family stuff to contend with. You know, I felt like it was -- as I'm sure all the kids in the family did, that you feel like it's your responsibility to keep things on the ball, make sure everyone is all right.

And you know, my father had left by this point, and we were being brought up by my 17-year old sister. And it just didn't hang together. The sums didn't add up you know. It was a desperately black time. And I think I at the same time as that, I was starting to -- I was the most academic in the family. I was the only one who kind of wanted to be a writer at that point. I want to be a doctor or a writer and at that point in my life. I was doing an awful lot of writing, which was completely alien to the family you know. We didn't read. We didn't have books.

And it sounds like a Monty Python sketch, you know -- just how poor can you be, but that, that -- it really is the way it was, that we -- there was no expectation to do anything but leave school at 15 or 16 and go out to work. And I kind of enjoyed -- I enjoyed the difference for awhile. I enjoyed you know -- well, I read a lot of books. I could read a book in a day. And I wrote short stories and I kind of went to writing seminars by people like P.D. James and it was a very odd thing for me to be doing. You know, it's a very wussie thing to want to do. My entire family were obsessed with cars...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Right.

ABBOTT: They're all car mechanics or builders now, and they just didn't understand all this. It seemed like I was deliberately opting out to be better. I chose to be better is, I think, was their perception of it.

I didn't feel like I got anywhere -- where I belonged. You know, I was very good at school but I chose not to be there because it was just -- there were too many people to have to explain yourself to. So I spent huge amounts of my last year at school just going off and walking which was -- you know it wasn't a bad thing. It wasn't -- the solitude wasn't the bad thing. It was -- because the house was packed. The school was packed. You just wanted peace and quiet.

I think, you know, considering all the blackness you have in your head when you're a kind of an average 13, 14-year old, mine seemed to be complicated by you know the kind of architecture of the family. And I think the solitude was really good for me. But if I was a shrink looking back at that, as they did, they thought that was a very desperate thing for one to do.

And I do remember days I spent on my own not doing anything, but I would read a book and I was swim. It was like Tom Sawyer.

LAUGHTER

But -- but that was always perceived of as a bad thing by psychiatric care, assessors.

GROSS: How did having a nervous breakdown end up helping you?

ABBOTT: Well, because I -- I lived in a place called Burnly (ph), and, you know, it's classically health underfunded and all that. And so you don't get top notch shrinks there, but it was very -- and it's very fast track service. They get you in and out in 15 minutes for these counseling sessions. And there was just the shrink there saying -- you know he was looking at the family history and saying: look, it would take you 50 years to get through all this stuff. I don't know why you don't just kind of switch off and move forward.

And you know, switch that off for awhile until you're kind of ready to confront it, and we will just keep moving forward; which is what I did. And I was -- I was separated from the family and put into foster care for the next three years until I was 18. And I had the time of my life, I have to say. I was quite close -- you know -- I was geographically close to my family. It was only about a mile away, but you know, this was a family with wealth. They had only got two small kids -- and a duddle (ph) to look after.

And you know, the kind of space, a garden, and it just -- I was very, very, very happy there. And I was allowed to move on because these people had kind of slightly, if not middle class, upper-working class ambitions for academics and that. And I was allowed to pursue writing or reading or whatever I wanted to do.

In fact, I think I seem to remember at that time I wanted to become a doctor again. And they were very happy to encourage that. It didn't seem alien to some how to want to aspire academically; which I never did, but you know, the ambition was there from them and the ambition was there for me.

GROSS: And so who encouraged you to write, since you were from a family in which writing was pretty foreign?

ABBOTT: I think -- you know -- at school they kind of leap on anything you want to do just to keep you there. Well, they did at the kind of school I went to. And I had a brilliant Canadian English teacher who just loved the stuff that I wrote and put in one of the stories for a national short story competition. And I won 10 pounds. And that was, you know, 10 pounds was a lot of money. It felt like a lot of money. But crucially, it taught me that you could have money from writing.

And that -- that can of clicked in when I was about 19, and I started to pursue that. And I haven't stopped since.

GROSS: Did you watch a lot of TV when you were young? Did you have a TV in your house?

ABBOTT: No.

GROSS: I asked this because you're writing for TV now.

ABBOTT: Yeah. No, we didn't. We didn't actually own one until I was about 15. We just didn't watch it in the house. You couldn't sit in the house. It was just too packed. It was -- it was a very, very small house where you don't usually have 10 or 12 people there.

And you just more often than not wanted to get out. You wanted to be out in open space. And so I hadn't seen that much television. I think that -- that's not a bad thing. I think when I got into kind of owning an apartment and buying my own television, I started to watch television with an adult eye, so I don't feel being ingrained by that much stuff that would steer me as writer.

I was writing short stories at that point, but I had no wish to write television. I was writing short stories and theater. And that seemed to suit me fine. I got into television by accident by working for BBC Radio-4 doing radio drama. And quite a few of those plays were recorded in Manchester. And it just so happens that the country's biggest soap was made in Manchester, and they called me down the road and asked if I'd like a story editor's job from the three plays they'd heard. They were quite pleased.

So I took that and started -- I think that was officially the time when I felt I had become a writer because I was being paid a salary. Ironically, I think most writers would die to be paid a salary. They just want their own prices for their own voices. But that was a very mechanical job, but was a great start.

GROSS: My guest is Paul Abbott, the creator and writer of the mini-series "Touching Evil," which premieres tomorrow night on the PBS series "Mystery."

We will talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest Paul Abbott is the writer and director -- that is the writer and creator of the new mini-series "Touching Evil," about the detectives in a British crime unit investigating serial murders. The series premieres tomorrow night on PBS.

Your new series "Touching Evil" is about to premiere on public television as part of the Mystery Series. I know you also have contracts now to write shows for American TV, for one of the networks, and for Fox TV.

ABBOTT: Uh-huh.

GROSS: And I'm wondering if you think that there's any difference between writing for a British TV series and writing for American ones? Do you think you will have to make any changes? Is there a difference to you?

ABBOTT: I mean, there's definitely a difference in the way they're put together. But you know, we sit here and watch "NYPD." We watch "Homicide." And you know, they're kind of the best of exports.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

ABBOTT: You think when you're commissioned to write something in America, that that's what they naturally want. But those shows were usually created by people who had a very good television experience, you know, like Botscho (ph) and Tom -- I've forgotten his name again. The guy who created "Homicide," who were renegades and well-known renegades. But they were given a break, and you know...

GROSS: Tom Fontana.

ABBOTT: Tom Fontana, yeah, yeah. I mean, it's a fantastic show, "Homicide," but I don't believe they ever commissioned it knowing what they were going to get. You know, it's been like "Cracker." It ended up on there by accident. Nobody, nobody in the commissioning territory knew quite what they were going to get, just that it would be written by Jimmy McGovern (ph) and have Robert Coltrane (ph) in it. I think that was the prime selling point, and they were slightly mortified when they saw what was coming out; you ,know how dark it was, how strong it was. But -- and the only thing that would shut them up was an audience of about 60 percent. And I feel that's what happened with "NYPD." I feel that's what happened with "Homicide."

And you imagine when you're commissioned that they're going to want this kind of stuff from you because this is what you're writing. You know, you write "Touching Evil" or write "Cracker" and they have got to be looking for that kind of stuff.

But I think they're slightly more scared of letting an incomer try that kind of stuff, so they usually want more straightforward format material, stronger stuff that is bound to work. And if it's bound to work, it doesn't actually have much of you in it.

GROSS: You say that in "Touching Evil" you wanted to write a more Americanized kind of series, or at least a more Americanized kind of detective. What did you mean by more Americanized?

ABBOTT: It was very childish of me, but of course in Britain, cops don't have guns. And there are only certain branches of the police force who would have guns. And you know, slightly elite forces. So I went for the crisper FBI-style, which isn't -- isn't very common in Britain. There are only four or five units permanently supplied with arms.

And I just think that you can raise the stakes on the drama when there are weapons, and I'd hate for the police to be armed in Britain in reality. But I think it actually allows you to take certain storylines further down the road if there's a confrontation with weapons involved. The truth of it is, in Britain if a cop confronts a guy with a weapon, he has to summon people with weapons. He can't actually pull one out of his belt and start firing back.

It's -- that actually takes time in drama, so I wanted to sharpen them up and make them slightly more, well, the reason I said Americanize is that they -- that's the true distinction. You know, the kind of -- the "NYPD" and the "Homicide" -- you know, the height of the drama is just boosted by the fact that weapons are present to raise the stakes.

GROSS: Now, as we talked about, you were victimized a few years ago and that has really figured into your interest writing about crime. But I wonder when you're watching a TV show that you didn't have any thing to do with that's about crime, like "Homicide" or "NYPD Blue," does it make you feel uncomfortable or more vulnerable because you have been a victim, or is it, you know, is it easier to watch? Maybe you can watch it as a professional writer, too.

ABBOTT: I think "Homicide" and "NYPD" -- I'm a fan, not a writer. If I want to know what the episodes were about professionally, I'd get the scripts. And...

LAUGHTER

... but I sit down and watch those shows, and, in fact, they're designed to make me feel better, whatever you are. I think if you've been a victim, they're designed to make you feel better because you've got Sipowitz (ph)...

GROSS: Right.

ABBOTT: ... running the world for you. And it's -- it's -- they're just there to be gladiators on your behalf. And so you feel -- feel more protected. It's, you know, people with that kind of morality, with that kind of integrity and that kind of strength are in charge.

GROSS: Some people worry that crime movies and crime TV shows are in a way educational aids for potential criminals because it teaches them all kinds of cool ways of breaking in and new sadistic crimes they might not have thought of on their own. Do you have any concerns about that? Do you think that's a legit fear?

ABBOTT: I don't think writers are as inventive as criminals at dealing with crime. I think they find their own way through. They don't need any help. But I think, generally, it's looking at the structure of preparing a crime show, basically, it's nine-tenths in favor of an optimistic morality. So if they're learning -- it's like the argument about, you know, what do people learn from you know -- do they learn -- are kids influenced negatively by these kind of shows. And I would say: well, if they're influenced negatively, they have to be influenced positively by all the good things that you've had from Fits, from Kregan. You know, there are people who want to do the right ,thing and that's the overriding sentiment of all cop shows: that the right thing has to be done -- even corrupt cop shows.

You know, they are designed in a way -- you can't get away from clean morality has to be spelled out before you can show any negative effect. I think it's a very powerful overriding signal on any cop show.

GROSS: Well, I want to think you very much for talking with us.

ABBOTT: Well, thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Paul Abbott created and wrote the mini-series "Touching Evil." It premieres tomorrow night on the PBS series "Mystery."

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Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Paul Abbott
High: Writer Paul Abbott talks about the new mini-series "Touching Evil." It premieres tomorrow night on PBS' Mystery show. Abbott's project is a five-part detective drama that takes place at a fictional London based crime unit that specializes in serial killers and organized crime. Abbott also wrote the dramas "Crackers" and "Reckless". Abbott lives in Manchester, England.
Spec: Paul Abbott; Media; Literature; PBS; "Touching Evil"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Paul Abbott

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 093002NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "The Professor and the Madman"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: An American psychopath played a major role in compiling the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid-19th century. His story is told in Simon Winchester's new book "The Professor and the Madman."

The book has gotten a lot of favorable attention. It's reported that Mel Gibson has optioned the film rights.

But our linguist Geoff Nunberg thinks that people may have missed some of the real significance of this story.

GEOFFREY NUNBERG, LINGUIST: "God loves language and forgives everyone who by it lives."

Unfortunately, those lines of Oden were written a couple of decades too late to serve as an epitaph for William Chester Miner, one member of the Victorian odd couple, whose story Simon Winchester tells in his new book "The Professor and the Madman."

Miner was born to an old New England family and studied medicine at Yale. His psychological disintegration may have begun during the Civil War, when as a surgeon in the Union Army he was required to brand the letter "D" on to the face of a Irish deserter.

After the war, he began to show increasing signs of paranoia. And in 1871 when he was living in London, he shot and killed a working man whom he took for a member of the Fenians, an Irish militant group that he believed to be persecuting him.

The court found him not guilty by reason of insanity and sent him to asylum for the criminally insane at Broadmoor (ph).

It's at this point that the professor enters the story, in the person of James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Miner somehow saw an appeal that Murray had circulated asking for volunteer readers to comb over the works of literature looking for citations that could be used to document the evolution of the English vocabulary.

A sympathetic warden allowed Miner to acquire books, and he threw himself into the task with a vengeance, collecting and systematizing thousands of citations slips for the dictionary's files.

Over the next 20 years Miner continued to work on the dictionary even as his paranoid delusions became more tortured and fanciful. He reported that there were little men living under the floorboards of his room, who came out at night to spirit him away and make him perform vile sexual acts.

After a long correspondence, Murray went to visit Miner at the asylum and the two eventually became friends.

Winchester gives us a nice picture of the madman and the professor walking slowly in step along the terrace of the asylum looking remarkably similar, tall men with long, white swallow-tail beards lost in conversation about English words.

That picture is worth pausing over. Modern readers may find the pairing incongruous, but, in fact, it isn't odd that Miner would have found the collection of citations so absorbing a task.

Most people are not very good at reading text looking for the interesting uses of words. Either they get caught up in the story, or they start skimming. And either way they miss important material.

But I can easily imagine Miner sitting there for hour after hour pouring over books with schizoid attentiveness, waiting for the revealing citation to spring up at him like a Leprechaun out of the floorboards.

And for that matter, the dictionary project itself would have been congenial to the paranoid's proclivity for assuming that everything has a place in some vast logical system.

We've gotten so accustomed to having the OED around that we may forget what a demented and delusional project it really was. Actual speech is a chaotic and unsettled business.

As Samuel Johnson said, when you look at words, their meanings seem to shift around like branches blown about in a storm. To suppose that you can get it all down in a single book, where every word is pigeonholed into an appropriate sense, and assigned a neat definition, well, it isn't mad exactly. But it has something of the paranoid's refusal to acknowledge that the world is a messy place that doesn't always make sense.

The compilers of the OED weren't psychopaths, of course, but they were a pretty loopy lot. There was Murray's predecessor Frederick Frenovil (ph), for example, who mixed his lexicography with efforts to protect the virtue of young Cockney women by encouraging them to take up rowing.

And Murray himself had more than a touch of obsessive monomania. You would have to sit for 40 years in a damp iron shed in your garden sorting through millions of slips of paper with the uses of words written on them.

By the way, there's a wonderful portrait of Murray in a recently reissued biography written by his granddaughter called "Caught in the Web of Words."

That's the first thing I recommend whenever somebody asks me for a good book about language.

In Murray's case, of course, the obsession led not to an asylum but to a knighthood. But in their different ways, he and Miner where typical of their age.

For Murray and Fernival (ph), to Disraeli and Gladstone, to General Gordon and General Custer, you're always struck by how many of those eminent Victorians had a couple of oars out of the water.

That's ultimately where Winchester's books gets its nostalgic charm, in evoking an age that found so much useful work for its madmen to do.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox-Palo Alto Research Center. He reviewed "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Geoffrey Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg comments on Simon Winchester's new book "The Professor and the Madman." It details the true story of the American psychopath who played a major role in compiling the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid 1800's.
Spec: Language; "The Professor and the Madman"; Simon Winchester

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "The Professor and the Madman"

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 30, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 093003NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "Remembering Clifford"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Most jazz fans recognize the tunes of Benny
Golson even if they don't know he wrote them. Art Blinkie's (ph) Jazz
Messengers played Golson's "Blues March" every night for decades. His
"Stable Mates" has been a jam session favorite since the 1950s. And
literally hundreds of trumpeters have taken a crack at "I Remember
Clifford."

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Golson is still writing good
tunes and revisiting old ones.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- FROM BENNY GOLSON'S "I REMEMBER CLIFFORD")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, JAZZ CRITIC: Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson
playing his tune "Matinee." Golson composes like an improviser and
improvises like a composer. His melodies sound good on their own, but
they also have a sly way of drawing out improvisers who play them.

He doesn't just write nice chord progressions or catchy rifts to
kick a tune along, but also melodies whose shape is so distinctive a
soloist can just hint at them and still sound like they're playing the
tune.

Golson is so highly regarded as a jazz composer, he gets
overlooked as a saxophonist; which is odd, because he brings the same
sense of musical architecture to his writing and playing.

Here's Golson in 1997 on one of his '50s classics, "5-Spot After
Dark."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- "5-SPOT AFTER DARK")

WHITEHEAD: If you ever meet Benny Golson, you'll notice that he
talks the way he plays, with a soothing tone, melifluous syllable and
elegant turns of phrase. His CD "Remembering Clifford" presents
itself as a tribute to trumpet saint Clifford Brown. But it's really
about Golson's own ability to find fresh inspiration in an approach
he's been using for 40 years.

He's led sextets with three horns before, like his old "jazztet."
But the sextet on his new album has the slightly unusual front line of
trumpet flanked by two tenor saxists. Golson's "Brown Immortal" is a
variation on his jazz standard "I Remember Clifford."

These days, of course, everyone remembers Clifford Brown,
especially younger trumpet players like John Swanna (ph).

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- TRUMPETER JOHN SWANNA PERFORMING)
WHITEHEAD: Benny Golson's new CD also includes a tribute to New
York born Mambo king Tito Puente. It's called "Tito Puente," and
features guest percussionists Fetalto Valdes (ph) and Tito Puente.
This solo is by tenor saxophonist Ron Blake, whose tone is harder than
Golson's, but who spins out some clever lines of his own.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- TENOR SAXOPHONIST RON BLAKE PERFORMING)

WHITEHEAD: The rest of that rhythm section is Mike Ladonn (ph)
on piano, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth (ph),
all a generation or more than the leader. If Benny Golson's side
folks sound very much on his wavelength, it's likely they all played
enough of his tunes when they were coming up to learn something about
how his mind works.

"Remembering Clifford" isn't the best record Golson ever made,
but like most of his work, it's consistently good; good enough to
remind us not to forget him, either.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He
reviewed "Remembering Clifford" by Benny Golson and his group.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "Remembering Clifford," the
new release by tenor saxophonist Benny Golson.
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Benny Golson

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights
reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc.
Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes
from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without
attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in
whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The rest of that rhythm section is Mike Ladonn (ph) on
piano, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth (ph), all
a generation or more than the leader. If Benny Golson's side folks
sound very much on his wavelength, it's likely they all played enough
of his tunes when they were coming up to learn something about how his
mind works.

"Remembering Clifford" isn't the best record Golson ever made,
but like most of his work, it's consistently good; good enough to
remind us not to forget him, either.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He
reviewed "Remembering Clifford" by Benny Golson and his group.

I'm Terry Gross.
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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