On my radar: Sandi Toksvig’s cultural highlights

The comedian and writer on Gainsborough’s family portraits, busting myths about men and women and the snuggest place for some Danish hygge

Born in Copenhagen in 1958, Sandi Toksvig is a comedian, writer and presenter. She has written more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books, including Hitler’s Canary (2005) and The End of the Sky (2017), and has also written for theatre. She has presented QI since 2016, and co-hosts The Great British Bake Off with Noel Fielding. An activist for gender equality, she co-founded the Women’s Equality party in 2015. Her comedy show National Trevor is on tour from 9 January to 8 February.

1. Film

Watch a trailer for The Hate U Give.

The Hate U Give
Finding a film that our 13-year-old can enjoy with us is never easy. I was thrilled that she was so intent on us seeing this one. It’s a very American piece, as it deals with the fallout from a high school student witnessing a police shooting. It has received glowing reviews. I thought there were flaws in it as a piece of writing, but it’s great that complex social subjects are being examined within the teenage market. It stirred up a lot of emotions and led to intense family debate, which can only be a good thing.

2. Stage

Rosalie Craig as Bobbie in Company at the Gielgud theatre, London.
Rosalie Craig as Bobbie in Company at the Gielgud theatre, London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

I first saw this musical on Broadway with the great Elaine Stritch. I did not think that production could be improved on, but was intrigued to learn that the main role of Bobbie was going to be played in London by a woman, Rosalie Craig. I am an uber fan of musicals and so always have something critical to say, but not in this case. This is as near to theatrical perfection as anything I’ve ever seen. The direction, the acting, the singing… My only complaint is that I only had tickets to see it once.

Cover image for Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine

3. Book

Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine
Endless books claim that the brains of men and women are wired differently. They have titles such as “Why Men Don’t Iron” and set out to convince us that women are somehow biologically suited to getting the creases out of clothes while men peruse maps. This brilliant book proves our attitudes to men and women are cultural, not natural. Fine makes the neuroscience clear and provides a wealth of ammunition to debunk the myth that sex inequality is just something we’re born with.

4. Cafe

Brontë Aurell outside the ScandiKitchen cafe in London.
Cinnamon snug: Brontë Aurell outside the ScandiKitchen cafe in London. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

No matter how far I travel from Denmark, I still miss the food, so ScandiKitchen in Great Titchfield Street in central London is an essential part of my life. If I feel low or weary and I am anywhere near it, I will always trek the extra mile to get there. Under the leadership of Brontë Aurell, this food store and cafe provides every comfort, especially if you need a little of that famous Danish hygge. A coffee and cinnamon bun in this snug little place can cure most ills.

5. Art

Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Daughters by Thomas Gainsborough.
Intimate view: Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist’s Daughters by Thomas Gainsborough. Photograph: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London;

Gainsborough’s Family Album
This lovely exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London makes you feel as though you really know an 18th-century family. The whole display feels intimate as you get to know the man’s kids or wife. It could only be a family album – the portraits are so loving and intense. Gainsborough was from a working-class background and there would be something ordinary about the collection, except that the skill on display shows we are in the presence of genius. How I wish I had more than smartphone pics of my kids.

6. TV

BBC Broadcasting House in London.
Balanced view: BBC Broadcasting House in London. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

BBC News
Too often, there are complaints in the British papers about the BBC. It’s too left wing, too right wing, too pro-Brexit, too anti and so on. It’s only when you go abroad and try to find out what is going on in the world that everyone falls with gratitude before the BBC News. I believe it is the most balanced and fair reporting available anywhere and worth every penny of the licence fee. There are lots of things I like on TV, but nothing else I regard as absolutely essential.


Sandi Toksvig

The GuardianTramp

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