It was a regular Thursday afternoon in the PM office. As usual our 5pm deadline was hurtling towards us like a sharp blade in a knife-throwing act. Then the editor of The World at One turned round from his desk to say –“Are any of you listening to Danny Baker? It’s amazing.”
It’s not uncommon for him to pipe up with unusual questions, so we’ve learnt to take them with a pinch of salt. Have we seen what Sharon Gless is wearing in Hello!? What happened in Zorro last night? What are wasps for? It usually falls to poor Martha Kearney to come up with the answers, but on this particular day she’d gone home to deal with a bee-related emergency. As you know, Martha keeps bees and is rarely seen without a mini-swarm around her noggin. Listeners have written in to complain about high levels of interference on Long Wave during The World at One but it’s just her bees making a racket. They adore her, as do we all, but someone needs to tell her that it’s beginning to affect the programme. And devoting The World at One’s extra 15 minutes a day to honey-related recipes? Is no one going to stop that?
We turned our dials to BBC London 94.9 and found that on this occasion the tip from the WATO editor was spot on. Danny Baker was live on air in full flow, railing against a decision by management to get rid of his daily 3-5pm show. It seems he’d found out about this shortly before going on air and was using the opportunity to speak candidly to his audience about what he believed were the shortcomings of the people running BBC London. It was fantastic radio.
I don’t normally catch Danny’s show on account of being secured to a giant circular piece of plywood and spun repeatedly in a circle at that time of day. But this performance was unmissable and I’ve been trying to assess why.
It wasn’t just because it was Danny Baker. He’s articulate, funny and insightful on anything he does. Certainly there was something about him having all his broadcasting gifts zero in relentlessly on one target for two hours, and the passion and humour he used as weapons. There were the gripping glimpses behind the scenes at the station where he said “everyone plainly hates each other”. And as the BBC wrestles with revelations about some of the darkest areas of human behaviour, these revelations were, by comparison, charmingly old-fashioned. This was classic radio in the style of DLT’s on-air resignation from Radio 1 almost 20 years previously.
But perhaps we were just relishing someone doing what we’ve all considered at some point, regardless of our station in life. Who among us hasn’t thought about winning the lottery and then going in to work to settle a few scores with our bosses? I couldn’t be happier with my bosses in BBC News, namely Steve Mitchell and Helen Boaden, but sometimes you’re forced to work with people who are precisely the pinheaded weasels Mr Baker described. Was Danny speaking for all of us? Doing something we can’t or won’t. Letting out that rage in the style of the mad prophet of the airwaves, Howard Beale?
I’m mad as hell, too, but I’m out of space.
Eddie Mair hosts iPM on Saturdays at 5:45am and PM from Monday-Friday at 5:00pm - both on Radio 4