Arts: The week in radio

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The Independent Culture
LET ME be the first to congratulate Jeffrey Archer on his new radio show. He hasn't actually got one yet, but it is only a matter of time. Those who have made a bit of a twerp of themselves in politics are now almost guaranteed their own radio phone-in: David Mellor hosts a weekly football forum (BBC Radio 5 Live, Wednesdays, 10pm); Edwina Currie presents Late Night Currie (BBC Radio 5 Live, Saturdays and Sundays, 10pm); and now there is Derek Hatton's Degsy in the Morning (Talk Radio, Monday to Friday, 9am). Talk Radio boss Kelvin Mackenzie must be wondering when Jeffrey can start.

Hatton's studio guest last Tuesday was Ted Francis, the public-spirited fellow who wrecked Archer's political career the previous weekend. Francis was accompanied by his publicist, Max Clifford, who has a rapport with Hatton, possibly arising from a shared fondness for shiny suits. This was to be Francis speaking publicly for the first time, and Clifford had promised "further revelations".

Would we learn that the great man had his fragrant wife write all his books? Or that he habitually went with sailors? We got nothing of the kind. Not even that Archer bought his riverside penthouse from the chap who wrote "Congratulations" for Cliff Richard - which is true. Hatton's questioning, lasting a full hour, teased nothing from Francis that had not been reported in every paper that morning. He didn't even ask why on earth Archer should have felt compromised by having dinner with his personal assistant.

This fearless interview technique was brought to bear earlier in the show when Cliff Richard chatted on the phone to Degsy about the media indifference (in my case, frothing hostility) to his new charidee single, "The Millennium Prayer". This sets the words of the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". The accompanying video contains slow-motion images of Mother Teresa, a saint to the simple-minded who buy the sanctity of Sir Cliff and deify Princess Diana, but a fraud to those who of us who know about her acceptance of stolen money and her belief that it is a gift from God for the poor to suffer.

"What surprises me, Cliff, is whether you like this song or not, you would have thought that Radio 2, which is a public-service broadcaster, has a duty to play something from - and I'm not sort of overdoing it - a legend like yourself," said Degsy, overdoing it. Cliff denied it was a Christmas record. Selflessly, he has made it to "draw the nation together for the millennium". Neither is it a religious record: "It doesn't have any overtly Christian message," he claimed rather puzzlingly. "It's just a prayer saying give us a fabulous future."

"People who don't want to buy it need not buy it," Degsy helpfully explained before turning to Radio 2's reluctance to playlist the single even though it is number two in the charts. "Do you think," he asked Cliff, "that it had more to do with the fact that they wanted to put religion in a box and that box wasn't the sort of box they wanted to play on mainstream radio?" (As a DJ, I've always preferred to play the CD rather than the box. Many listeners seem to like it that way too).

"Well, I just wonder whether people would have reacted the same way had Elvis Costello recorded it," said Cliff nastily. This was becoming like one of those streams of non-sequiturs that are the lingua franca of the dayrooms in old folks' homes. ("Have we had our dinner?" "Yes. I'm 83, you know.")

Cruelly, Radio 2 has not banned "The Millennium Prayer". "They've bagged it as a Christmas record," Cliff revealed, "and therefore I'm going to have to wait for the Christmas rush before they play it, which is another two weeks' time." You have been warned.

This will be the last of my radio columns for the time being. Though it has been hugely enjoyable - especially when poking the Birtists with a sharp stick and then running away - it is much more time-consuming than I imagined. Preparing my own Radio 1 and World Service programmes is also a lengthy process which cannot be shortened. The bulk of this work is done at home, where we have a baby and a toddler. At this very moment Sonny, aged 2, is probably asking his mum once again, "Who dat funny man in the attic?"

I'd better go downstairs...