I’m so old that I remember the excitement involved when my dad fitted a push button Pye radio to his car, so he could flip from a small selection of crackling, pre-set AM and MW stations by ramming home one of three rectangular chromium buttons. The fact that he wired in this transistorised technical marvel himself also dates the scene.
He wasn’t a great fan of speech radio, or pop. Classical music was more his thing, so early 1970s journeys weren’t accompanied by hugely popular Radio 1 DJ Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, whose ‘Junior Choice’ slot played musical classics such as Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West,’ and the hellish earworm that was Terry Scott’s ‘My Brother,’ originally banned by the Beeb because its lyric contained the word ‘loo’. Anyway, when such aural offal polluting my dad’s ears, he would either wrench the ‘off’ switch or hurriedly re-tune to something like Radio 3. Aged about 10, I felt actively deprived.
As the years have gone by, my tastes have become marginally more discerning. When the inane babble of commercial radio found its way into my car, I understood my father’s irritation, and audio balm has tended to come from BBC Radio 4. Over the decades, never ending rush hour jams have been made bearable by The News Quiz, Dead Ringers or the enduring genius of panel game show parody ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue,’ whose credo Humphrey Lyttleton, the show’s original chairman, described as ‘blue chip filth.’
These stalwarts make up for the clunky afternoon plays with their unbelievable, bolted together dialogue and unsubtle plotting. I’ve developed a slightly irrational allergy to the syrupy delivery of broadcaster Grace Dent, who oozes concern in a regular human interest strand called ‘The Untold.’ The result, for this listener at least, is that the programme’s stories remain untold. Did I mention ‘Count’ Arthur Strong? Subjectively this ‘comedy’ is about as funny as an Anthrax cold cure.
So, I’m old enough and ugly enough to know what I like, but since change and renewal are allegedly good for you, I decided to try something I wouldn’t normally hear, so with only mild trepidation made Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine my travelling companion. In 2018 he was pulling in 7.42 million listeners, so I wasn’t alone. He has an unusual way of speaking. Some words are rushed out, others elongated and lingered over. “Lovely-to-be-back-with-you-on Raa-dio Twooooo. It’s the Jer-emy Viiiine-show.”
His programme is prefaced with a shopping list of subjects which lurch from heavy to fluffy. “Will Tony Blair always be thought of as a war criminal, or can you look past that?” and, “white rice and white bread have gone bang out of fashion, but why?”
There are censorious interviews, and phone in discussions, punctuated by music that generally hogs the middle of the road (think Sailor and the ever-toothsome Donny Osmond).
A discussion item on the Milton Keynes footballers who were given access to driverless cars was beyond fatuous in places. “We’re told they’re safer, because of course nothing is more dangerous than a human behind the wheel,” said Vine.
Nothing? Sandy, a horse owner from Norfolk, phoned in and was asked by Mr. Vine: “Are you worried that a computer won’t recognise a horse?”
“Yes,” said Sandy.
“Because of the shape of it?” questioned Vine in a serious tone. “They’ve got these days what they call ‘intelligent recognition’ (what???) and they could go on the tail maybe, ‘cos it swishes in a certain way, but if you have a horse without a tail you could be in danger. I dunno.”
Nor did I, but channelling my inner father, I stabbed the ‘off’ button. After some blissful silence, it was back to the safe haven of Radio 4.