Going off Alarming by Danny Baker, book review: Some wonderfully told stories, often involving animals

While the first book described Baker’s occasional intersections with pop culture, by the Eighties he had become an active component, with varying success

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The Independent Culture

“The world is his straight man,” it was once said about the late radio producer John Walters, and the same applies to another maverick broadcaster, Danny Baker.

Like the hit Going to Sea in a Sieve, this second volume of autobiography gloriously demonstrates his belief in the equality of anecdotal opportunity, whether celebrating his bad-tempered, apparently indestructible mongrel Twizzle, his bad-tempered father Spud, or the bad-tempered celeb Frankie Howerd, who in Baker’s sight reduced a make-up girl to tears rather than admit the existence of his notoriously obvious toupee.

While the first book described the young Baker’s occasional intersections with pop culture, by the Eighties he had become an active component, with varying success. From presenting cheeky trivia on teatime telly to a disastrous panto stint, he’s like a living poster of Kipling’s If, happily talking over both Triumph and Disaster.

At a lowish ebb (nothing really gets him down, at least in public, as he admits when referring to his brother’s early death), he joins local radio. An acclaimed national sports phone-in follows and suddenly he’s in fashion. He parlays his perceived “integrity” and hosts some high-value shows before the box factory beckons again, and he’s back to penning adequate if lucrative zingers for professional mouths. Who even remembers his attempt to ape David Letterman’s chat show format? And Chris Evans’s TFI Friday, with weak links written by Baker, is now best known for losing a ratings war with decade-old Simpsons repeats shown on BBC2.

Yet the bright lad from the provinces (well, Bermondsey), who made his way as a scrivener in the wider world, knows well that such success is fleeting and worth only a passing mention. Instead this architect of argot, this Cockney Candide, this Russ Conway of the qwerty keyboard saves his verbal facility for the obscure and forgotten.

Obviously not everything that amuses the famously amused Baker deserves recounting – not meeting Bob Dylan is especially insignificant. But there are some wonderfully expressed tales here, often involving animals, and in particular there’s a deeply touching encomium to one-time “celebrity” pal Paul Gascoigne. Baker recognises their shared desire for continual sensation, but his own talents, at least as a memoirist, are closer to that other driven south Londoner Spike Milligan. Roll on volume three, featuring serious illness.