Every Sunday morning at nine on Radio 4 there’s an excellent programme called “Paddy O’Connell’s Broadcasting House with me Paddy O’Connell”. Younger listeners may not realise that for the first few years of the show, Paddy had to have stand-ins on account of him being in a “facility”. He’s fine now and rarely misses a performance but it used to fall to me or Fig Lover to step in and do the honours.
While standing in for Paddy had its compensations (free newspaper ink on your hands and a fighting chance of sharing the croissant the BBC provides for the host and all the guests), there was no real pleasure in getting up before 6am and driving to work as drunk people walked in the opposite direction. I can tell you that by the time Paddy got the all-clear, it was a blessed relief to both Fig and me. We had our Sunday mornings back! So it was with mixed feelings that I took a call recently from the good people at The Andrew Marr Show.
To be serious for a moment, it was a shock to all when Andrew suffered a stroke, and Sundays aren’t the same without him. We all wish him well and can’t wait to have him back on the airwaves. A whole pile of BBC people have been doing a fine job deputising for him and I didn’t really expect to be added to the list.
But, as the Marr people kindly revealed during the phone call, there was absolutely no one else available for the third weekend in February. Apparently it was me or dead air. The dilemma had gone all the way up to the acting director-general and I understand it was finally decided on a coin-toss. So I’m now in a position to reveal the behind-the-scenes secrets of Sunday morning’s most-watched-programme-that’s-not-pretending-to-be-even-a-little-bit-about-religion.
First of all, they have great offices. Some central parts of New Broadcasting House are as far from natural daylight as a cow in Debbie’s mega-dairy on The Archers. It can resemble a call centre. I swear I passed the desks of The World Tonight and heard a producer on the phone offering substantial discounts if the person on the other end would take dual-fuel by direct debit.
The Marr team, by contrast, have a well-lit corner office with views up the tree-lined streets to Regent’s Park. There are bookshelves. It is paradise. I can quite see why Andrew rushes to the office each week on that scooter of his.
Which brings me to another true story. The stand-in presenters have access to that scooter. Most take up the offer, except Sian Williams who uses her own Harley-Davidson. I was nervous, after a serious fall I suffered some years ago from a bike. Actually it may have been an elephant. Either way, it was outside a supermarket and a waste of 2p.
Citing my safety concerns, I asked for a scooter driver. Letting someone else drive was a masterstroke. I was able to spend time thumbing through the papers then wolfed down the on-board yogurt muesli breakfast provided. I arrived at the office safely and on time, though my face was pebble-dashed with uncooked rolled oats and I stank of strawberries. No wonder guest Iain Duncan Smith looked at me funny.
Eddie presents PM on Monday-Wednesday, Friday at 5:00pm as well as iPM on Saturday at 5:45am and Saturday PM at 5:00pm - all on Radio 4