HOW WE MET

RUSSELL WILLIAMS AND JONATHAN COLEMAN
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The Independent Culture
Russell Williams, 35, was born in Lytham St Anne's. He is one half of Virgin Radio's The Russ and Jono Breakfast Show, which began in 1993. He has also worked for Brighton's Southern Sound Radio, London's Capital Radio and Sky Sports. Last year he published a best-selling sports book, Football Babylon. He lives with his wife in north London.

Jonathan Coleman, 41, was born in London and grew up in Australia. He worked there as a cartoonist and an advertising copy-writer. He returned to Britain in 1990, working for Radio 4 and GLR before joining Virgin. He lives with his wife and son in north London; they are about to have a second child

RUSSELL WILLIAMS: Jono and I met in 1993 when we joined the radio station. Jonathan was doing the evening show, and I was doing the breakfast show. One day Jonathan came in to do a McDonald's promotion and we started chatting on air while we were plugging McDonald's, and Virgin liked what we did. I don't think Jono was having much fun in the evenings, and they asked him whether he'd like to do the breakfast show with me. We both said we'd give it a shot, and here we still are - four years on.

In the early days the chemistry between us was nowhere near what it's like now. I'm a much more disciplined broadcaster than Jonathan. He's never even "driven a desk" - when you operate the gear as any normal radio presenter does, and you have to be entertaining and witty and all that, you have to have discipline. Jono didn't. So we had to change that a bit; but it was fine. Jono's a professional. Both of us always thought of it as The Russ and Jono show; it was never Russ, featuring Jono. Jono's as responsible for the show as I am, which is nice because he has to take the rap with me if anything goes wrong.

When I first saw Jonathan I thought he was a bit large, but I genuinely thought he was a nice bloke. He's got his faults, but haven't we all? He gets a bit full of himself occasionally and tends to exaggerate some of the things he's done, but I'm sure there are things about me that he thinks are a bit odd. There was nothing about him that ever made me think, "Oh God, I can't possibly work with this man."

The relationship's grown, but you never realise it's been growing until you listen back to some old tapes, or until something happens very naturally. Often we say exactly the same thing at the same time on the radio, which is almost telepathy, or about as in-tune as you can get.

Immediately after the show began, we started going out socially. We'd go for breakfast after the show, or I'd nip up to his house and have a few drinkies. Doing a breakfast show, you end up with a closer bond on a different level. We spend more time together than either he does with his wife or I do with mine, because we're together five days a week. We socialise together. He invites me to his place, or we might go out for dinner with our wives.

There have been times when Jono and I have had big mid-week drinking sessions together and still gone into work the next morning, but what with the show and our separate careers, there isn't a lot of time to spend purely socialising. The work has never really affected my relationship with my wife. She's been a radio producer so she knows what it's like. It can be restricting on your time, and the last seven years of presenting a breakfast show means that I've never had a normal social life. To stand in a pub and hear last orders is something I never hear. But that's a small downside.

Jonathan and myself both feel that we should have our own identities outside Russ & Jono. Everyone ends up saying, "Well that Jonathan Coleman is all right and that Russell Williams is all right, but of course they can't do anything on their own."

Our show is based on two guys having a laugh about themselves and everything else, and it's unusual, in that no one else does what we do. But you do have to have other interests. I love football with a passion, it's half of my career, or a quarter of my career. I work in sports television, I write about it, and I feel privileged to be able to do that, too. How many people would want to do what I do?

There isn't a Russ character that exists outside of me. I am what you get. I like to think that Russ & Jono is very much like being down the pub, hanging around at the bar, chatting away, with the viewer or listener as a comfortable part of what they're seeing or hearing. It's funny, but no one, certainly not in public, has ever seen us as "Smashie and Nicey" figures. Maybe it's because we make fun of ourselves, we make fun of other people and we live real lives. We're a good combination. But to be honest, we got lucky . We were thrown together, we decided to give it a go and it worked. Nine times out of 10, it wouldn't have.

JONATHAN COLEMAN: I first met Russ when I came to work for Virgin Radio in 1993. I was originally working in the evening, the 6-10pm slot, and me and Russ used to meet up because we had this free bar area where there were always beers in the fridge.

Just before my show, I'd have a few beers, and sometimes Russ was still around, so we just used to chew the fat, and we got a bit of a rapport happening. About three months after the station started, because I was friendly with Russ, I was asked to come in and do a hamburger promotion on Russ's breakfast show. Virgin said to me, "Would you come in and do something with Russ to make this promotion a bit more fun?"

So I arrived as this wacky burger guy, stayed for about three days and then said, "Thank God I don't have to do this anymore." They said, "Look, it's really good. Why don't you guys start doing some stuff together?" I was used to doing breakfast TV in Australia and I didn't like the hours, as I'm a night-time person, but I said I'd do it for three months, and that three months became a year, and now we've been doing it for over four years.

Basically, we're like two guys in a pub, talking. In Australia I'd worked in a radio and TV double act for a long time called Jono and Dano, so it was second nature for me to bounce off somebody. I think that Russ was also a bit bored of talking just to the listeners.

We try and maximise the entertainment value out of whatever's happening in the news, and our style is very much based on us bitching about what's in the newspapers and in the showbiz world. The thing that makes it work too is the fact that we're both quite different people.

Russ is into football and curry and going to the pub; and I'm more into television and films. I like Australian football; Russ is totally obsessed with Spurs and English football. It works because it's that juxtaposed thing. If Russ says black then I'll say white. Sometimes we agree with each other, but never in a sycophantic, old-style "Smashie and Nicey" way. Usually, it's more of an "Oi, mate, you're talking out of your arse!" sort of thing. It's very much like two blokes in a pub - and it's also very much an Australian style of radio.

I think Russell is very committed to what he does. He lives for his job - which is great, because I'm just the opposite. I live for my leisure time and I live for the next laugh, and the fact that Russell is so together and organised makes up for me being so disorganised. He's got his faults, which I usually run through most days on the show. He loses his temper. Whereas I will just joke my way through something, Russell will lose his rag from time to time. Sometimes he's unwilling to try bizarre food or bizarre alcohol, like octopus, squid and expensive champagne.

Sometimes if we disagree about something on the show, we'll be glad to see the back of each other for that day, but the next morning it's back to normal. We never have big arguments or anything like that. It's a relationship, like a marriage. We talk together in sentences: I'll start a sentence and he'll finish it.

But it's very easy going. When we first started working together, Russ would look at me as if to say, "what the f*** are you talking about?" on air. Now we trust each other a lot more. If someone starts a rave we'll take it to its natural conclusion, or we'll bring in a record if it's dying on its arse. The thing with our show, and with our relationship, is that it's very free-form. I'm a very free-form, loose-cannon kind of person, and that's why I like it.

Our wives our very long suffering. They usually get on quite well at social functions, spending most of the time agreeing about what crap husbands we are. But the show doesn't disturb our marriage too much. Because my wife is a film producer for commercials, she has a very erratic lifestyle herself. She might be on location shooting for a week or two weeks at a time, and sometimes she's just coming back from somewhere just as I'm about to go off somewhere. But having a baby imminently may mean I'll get to see a bit more of her.

Sometimes Russ and I go out and have a curry at lunchtime, or I'll drag him off to the Groucho Club. It's bizarre, but it works because it is bizarre. When we go out, I'll usually have a bottle of red wine, and Russell will have a bit of the wine, but he's more your beer bloke. He's much more your imported lager man.

We've had a few rock'n'roll evenings, but we try not to have too many lost weekends during the week. There have been some Friday lunches where Friday lunch has turned into Friday dinner. We've stayed in a restaurant until they've kicked us out, and our wives have had to come and pick us up and take us home.

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