BOOK REVIEW / Today's man on yesterday: Personal Perspectives: by Brian Redhead, Deutsch pounds 14.99

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The Independent Culture
LISTENING to Today, you would catch Brian Redhead's eerily cheery early-morning aggression in fragments, interrupted by gulps of coffee and Tories grasping for arguments. This heightened rather than hindered his intended effect as news catalyst and layman's mouthpiece, and kept his little bursts of rudeness invigorating, not irritating. But with the publication of this collection (in lieu of an official biography), you're faced with 244 undiluted pages of the Redhead worldview, like a long one-way conversation with an eccentric uncle.

And it's quickly clear that the Redhead writing voice doesn't match his speaking voice. These 80-odd pieces on Britain between 1984 and 1994 may have been written originally for the sedate Saga magazine, but that doesn't excuse sentences like these: 'they say history does not repeat itself. But it does. The actors change but the lines remain the same. And the consequences.'

Without his gruff vowels to roughen them, a lot of the sentiments here read as tritely as a 'common sense' Daily Mail editorial. One essay from 1990, written with the shadow of recession lengthening at Thatcher's twilight, seems to show a very different Redhead from the spiky radio version: 'Because our island has been immune from invasion for nine centuries, our institutions have had the chance to develop peacefully. . . We developed the habit of continuity . . . which informs all political parties. . . That is why we allow them to take turns running the country.'

Redhead's view of what Britain should be includes ideas about class and social equality ('there is no better use of taxes than to provide for those in need') that echo the Levellers more than a John Major speech. And the fierceness with which he clings to Britain - with lessons in regional history, recommendations of local festivals, odd potshots at foreign ideas - explains why he could be so furious on the radio at the politicians he saw as tearing the ancient fabric. (Conveniently for Redhead, the radical right came to regard him as a symbol of this old, more liberal order they wished to abolish.) Occasionally there's a hint of his radio temper: a pedantic rumination about leap years suddenly throws out the assertion that 'greed, ignorance and thoughtlessness are . . . polluting the planet', like a hot spark of a question jumping out at a half-awake minister.

Some of the book is just cosiness for its own sake, though. Redhead's fond indulgence towards rural post offices, cats and marmalade ('the greatest invention since the wheel') can be read as low-powered autobiography, but his authorial tics are more revealing: starting items with 'let me explain', mentioning suggestions he made to ministers for moving Bank Holidays, arguing with himself over daylight saving time and the number of days until the millennium. There are no big confessions - he does admit to 'banging on a bit', but still maintains he was 'overjoyed' to leave the Guardian on not being made editor. Instead, there's a wall of words, of Redhead's public thoughts in a more subdued setting than his Today studio. For the real thing, get a tape of that interview with Nigel Lawson.

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