Radio: In praise of a little amateurishness

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The Independent Culture
IT'S THE Proms again, something radio is very good at, as you cannot see the audience. The Proms fill some people with buttock-clenching dread as they build up to the famed Last Night, that carnival of zombie patriotism that makes the Orange Order look like the Fabian Society. Apparently, things are to be more restrained this year, and indeed, under the directorship of Nicholas Kenyon, there does seem to be more modern stuff. That is, music other than Elgar's composed in the 20th century. The Proms are covered elsewhere in this section (on page 8), but I alight on them here for two reasons, the first being to salute one of the best apologies I have ever heard on air. The announcer - who shall be nameless - suddenly realised there was a big difference between the name and number of the Haydn symphony that was about to be played, and the name and number he was giving out. He got it wrong, in his words, "not once, not twice, but three times, which begins to look like deliberate policy. It is, of course...."

That is how to do it: to escape with maximum grace and charm from a potentially career-scuppering position. As mistakes go, it is not quite up there with Di getting Charles's name wrong at their wedding, or marching on Moscow in winter, but it was one of those slips that you can imagine making all too readily.

The second reason I mention the Proms is Nicholas Kenyon. Kenyon was once a music critic, and then became Controller of Radio 3. This column is very favourably disposed to giving columnists remarkably well- paid and high-profile jobs, but Kenyon nearly managed to bugger up Radio 3 quite badly. Things are better now, but it would seem that getting him to do the Proms was quite sensible. If you can get the Proms audience to listen to Messiaen without coughing and shuffling their programmes, then you are doing well.

It is nice to have Henry Blofeld back on Test Match Special (R4, LW). Ever since Brian Johnston's death his has been the quintessential voice of the programme, whether you like it or not: a fruity what-ho tone, utterly free of self-doubt yet never offensively so. Imagine a senior member of the Drones, assuming Bertie Wooster's club had senior members.

"Blowers" has been ill, and once again it looked as if the chill and bony hand of mortality was gripping TMS. There is too much change in the air as regards cricket: the telly coverage now on Channel 4, the counties renamed American-style, but only on Sundays (the Worcestershire Wombles, Middlesex Merkins, what have you), and the looming threat of Talk Radio for the winter tours.

But Blowers is back, and for the moment sanity reigns. Or a sort of near- sanity. I remember him once, commenting on a match at Lord's, pausing to observe "a very red bus" going up the road somewhere, a datum of information which, as a paradoxical factor of its own banality, has now become more lodged in my memory than any single line of poetry by the greats. This is what we want TMS for, the footling detail, the crazy reminiscence delivered at the same time as the ball, however much we might incline to disbelieve those who say that the programme is never more entertaining than when no play is going on. On Thursday morning, Blofeld looked around Lord's for us and noticed all the hospitality tents, where people were about to enjoy, he said, "their first drink of the day; a lovely moment". (He might have even said "glorious moment", but even I think 11.30am is a wee bit early for the first drink of the day, especially if the last one of the night before is still giving you trouble.)

The serious point to be made about Blofeld is that, if he was ever a professional cricketer, the world has forgotten it. (Unlike bloody Fred Trueman, who reminds us of his greatness at every opportunity.) These days, everyone has to be an expert, but in jobs like this - Proms director, cricket commentator, that kind of thing - a little amateurishness can be an asset. (Amateur, after all, also means "lover".) That is what the R4 series I Can Do That (just ended) brought home so well, from the Yorkshire grandmother who was given the chance to solve the Middle East peace crisis to the Shetland crofter who'd always wanted to be Director-General of the BBC. Some people say it was a spoof, but I'm not so sure.