Jane Garvey and Peter Allen fronted 5 Live Breakfast together for 13 years and were one of the most popular duos on UK radio. Garvey then went on to present Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 and Allen found new partners on 5 Live – but now they’re back together on a new Sunday-night series. On Five Live, of course…
Is it possible to recapture your radio rapport after such a long break?
Peter Allen When we first worked together I was the grumpy old git. She was defined as the sex-starved spinster.
Jane Garvey You’ve said that so often…
Peter Yeah, but I haven’t changed. You’ve become a grumpy old git as well.
Jane People talk about how funny Peter and I were, but we weren’t. We didn’t know each other. But right from the start we were always loyal to each other, which is unusual in radio partnerships. If people said to me, “I think Peter is rubbish”, I’d go, “Well, I don’t”.
Peter She’s stepping down from the mountain. I’ve been working by myself for quite a while, so I’m going to have to get used to giving way; used to the idea of stopping for a second and letting somebody else come in.
Jane We’ll get on. The thing about Peter and I is that neither of us has ever been a member of the inner crowd in media terms, or the pinko liberal circle. We never go anywhere, we don’t have friends in high places.
Your new show is all about people who are in the news. But are you worried that some people call Sunday nights on radio the “graveyard shift”…
Peter I’ve never heard it called that. Do you call it that Jane?
Jane You could say it was the graveyard shift, but Sunday nights can be a vulnerable time for a lot of people. What Peter and myself have always prided ourselves on is that we’re companionable – we’re not great intellects but we are decent company.
Do you feel that 5 Live now gives too much time to football and not enough to news?
Peter People go, “That’s a sports channel, isn’t it?” as if they are saying it’s not a thoughtful channel. But it is – we do loads of thinking.
Jane I resent the suggestion that you’re not a news person if you’re interested in sport. Sometimes there’s slight snobbishness about it. And you can be a feminist and be a fan of sport. It’s rubbish to suggest that the two can’t go together – I was a feminist before I went to Woman’s Hour.
You moved to Radio 4 back in 2007, Jane – was it a bit of a culture shock after 5 Live?
Jane I used to get quite jealous when I listened to Peter’s show, especially if it was a good news day. On Woman’s Hour, I interview a lot of actresses and people in the arts and sometimes they’re not the easiest encounters. This week I’ve had performance artistes and tricky novelists.
Did Woman’s Hour become more 5 Live-ish after you joined?
Jane I love Radio 4, but one of the frustrations of working there is that it doesn’t have the flexibility of 5 Live, and I missed that. But Woman’s Hour has moulded itself about me, so we talk more about sport than perhaps we use to. I think most people will agree that the tone when I’m presenting is different to how it used to be. We’re much more interactive with the audience, much more flexible.
Peter I listened. Not because it was Woman’s Hour, because I’m not convinced by something that calls itself Woman’s Hour, but Jane convinces me.
Did Radio 4 listeners resist you, Jane?
Jane Some listeners had concerns at first. I didn’t sound like other presenters on Radio 4. I still don’t sound like a lot like them – and I don’t want to sound like some of the other presenters. But the Woman’s Hour audience has gone up. Some people hate me and love Jenni [Murray]; and some people are the other way round.
Garvey and Murray – are you the more working-class one in that pairing?
Jane Working class! My mother would be horrified. I’m a luvvie now!
Are there mixed feelings when you see EmmaBarnett’s star rise as Peter departs 5 Live?
Peter I’m delighted for Emma. She’s a formidable lady. It was time for me to leave. I’m sure the boss thought the same. It’s a lovely job but people do tend to cling on to it.
Jane Emma’s a force of nature. I’m full of admiration. I think we need more women on the radio, there’s no doubt about it. So I’d be rather hypocritical if I didn’t think it was great. She’s energetic, she’s got fire in her belly. The worst reaction for any presenter is no reaction at all. Indifference is a nightmare.
Are these happy times at the BBC?
Jane What organisation is healthy and happy? People have been carping about BBC management for as long as I have worked for the BBC, which is getting on for 25 years, That is not going to change. But am I glad I’m here? Yes.
Peter There are troubles, obviously there are troubles. An unholy thought struck me on the way in here – we had a vote for Brexit and we went for Brexit, we had a vote for Trump and we went for Trump. If we had a vote for the BBC, which way would it go? Let’s make sure it goes our way.
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