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In bed with Phillip Adams

  • 08 March 2013

Bedtime Stories, Phillip Adams, Harper Collins, 2012. 


Broadcaster, columnist, 'collector of rare antiquities' and arguably Australia's best-known atheist Phillip Adams seems to have been around almost as long as the written word itself.

Adams has certainly amassed a tidy list of achievements. In addition to writing more 20 books, several screenplays and countless columns for The Australian magazine, he's chaired boards, including the Australian Film Commission, Greenpeace Australia and CARE Australia, and garnered two Orders of Australia.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that Adams, who grew up not far from where I live in Richmond — back then Melbourne's struggle town — is the archetypal self-made man, who left high school in his mid-teens.

And yet I can't say I exactly jumped for joy when Barry first suggested Adams' book Bedtime Stories, tales of his two-decade career at Radio National's Late Night Live, for this column. Somehow, Adams, radio raconteur, political stirrer and dedicated leftie left me a little unmoved.

Perhaps it's a generational thing (my 44 years to his ... well, timelessness), but I like to think of myself as open-minded and mildly intrepid. And so it was that I peeled back the cover of Bedtime Stories hoping for a little insight, rancour or, at the very least, high-brow gossip.

After all, Adams has interviewed some of the world's most 'influential politicians, historians, archaeologists, novelists, theologians, economists, philosophers and sundry conversationalists', according to the ABC's website.

For a book with such a wide net and an author with such strong views on God and religion, there's a conspicuous absence here. You won't find the strident ideas of the past (most pointedly formulated in Adams Versus God) in Bedtime Stories, because it is, in large part, a relational book. Here, the drivers aren't the arguments so much as the people who took turns warming the seat in ABC Radio's modest studio.

Not that all are exemplary characters. In the chapter entitled 'Strange Beasts', Adams shares his observations on, and relationships with, the deeply flawed, such as career criminal and murderer Bill Longley, decorated soldier and confessed killer Colonel David Hackworth and Anu Singh, who, in 1997, was convicted of murdering her boyfriend (a case forensically explored by Helen Garner in the heartbreaking Joe Cinque's Consolation).

Adams doesn't