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.


  1. Ah, GLR of fond and distant memory. Johnny Walker doing the morning show with one of the regular features being a very strange Indian doctor who seemed to believe that a dozen bananas a day would cure most ills. Chris Evans when he was still fresh and funny.

    And then the Hepworth show. I won a prize once, in one of your little competitions. You sent me a Slayer CD.

    Still haven't forgiven you...

  2. Ah, GLR...about the same time, when I was 'resting' from my publishing job, I did a stint as a rather random book reviewer on the Diana Luke show in the afternoons. I just rang up and offered myself, and there it was, start next week. It all came to an ignominious end when I swore magnificently over a mike I didn't realise was open, but it was fun while it lasted. Most enduring memory was coming out of the studio to find Bjorn Again waiting to go on, in complete spandex, lurex and platforms - for the radio.

  3. Can't believe Burgess wouldn't appreciate Crowded House. Philistine.

  4. Anthony Burgess had longstanding form. Here he is on pop in 1968:

    "I remember an old proverb that says that youth thinks itself wise just as a drunk men think themselves sober. Youth is not wise. Youth knows nothing about life. Youth knows nothing about anything except a mass of clich├ęs which - for the most part through the media of pop songs - are foisted on them by middle-aged entrepreneurs and exploiters who should know better."

    He didn't actually write that; it's a transcript from an interview. Yes, some working-class Mancunians could actually talk like that in 1968, Liam.

  5. Burgess wasn't as hi-falutin' as all that. Some time in the 80s I was his paperback publisher for a while on the Abacus list. I arranged to meet him and his rather intimidating wife in a hotel in London. I took along a stock list which contained the Abacus titles so that he could see the company he was keeping. Abacus was the posh end of Sphere, which was about as mass-market as it gets.

    I told him I'd send him some books if he fancied anything. He completely ignored the Abacus bit and went straight to the genre stuff - SF, crime, thrillers etc - and proceeded to mark up the list with dozens of ticks, as if he was ordering titles for a bookshop. I ended up sending a huge box of mass-market fiction to him in Monaco - he never acknowledged it, and I have no idea if he read any of the books, but the glee with which he piled in to the list suggests either that he was very acquisitive or his tastes were broader than you might think.