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Monday, August 20, 2012

Does anybody have this much fun in the media nowadays?

In 1992 I was doing a weekly music show on Friday evenings on GLR, as the BBC's London station was called at the time. When the host of the morning show went on holiday they asked me to sit in.

The producer was the late Chris Whatmough. Chris said to me, if you're interested in guests, I'll get you guests. In the two weeks I hosted the programme he delivered Michael Palin, Julie Burchill, Roy Jenkins, Anthony Burgess, Michael Winner, Nick Hornby, Malcolm Bradbury, Brian Eno, General Sir Peter de la Billiere, Imran Khan and the two fat ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. There were others but those are the names that stick in my mind.

He didn't have to go out of his way to get those people, some of whom seem almost historical figures twenty years later. They were all on the publicity circuit, plugging new books or TV programmes. All the interviews followed the same form. Twenty minutes of chat, interrupted by a couple of pop records. As I look back it's the combination of serious chat with pop records that amazes me most. I'd go from asking Roy Jenkins about representing the British government at JFK's funeral to playing some record by Crowded House and then come back to ask him about wine. Many of them were people not used to hearing pop records. Anthony Burgess winced and said to me off-air "how can you listen to this kind of thing?"

Nonetheless it worked. Nobody came in with minders. Nobody tried to lay down "ground rules" for the interview. Nobody asked whether the guests were relevant to the audience or what the London angle was. Obviously it couldn't last and it didn't. All these things - radio formats, magazines, ways of doing things in different areas of the media - pass, which is as it should be. However what I can't help but mourn is the fact that there seems to be a determination nowadays, in every area of the media, that nothing quite as freewheeling as this should ever happen again. If things similarly freewheeling and odd are going, I must have missed them. If they aren't, well, I was even more privileged to have had the GLR experience.