Radio RADIO LIVES Radio 4

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The Independent Culture
According to Paul Gambaccini, speaking on last night's Radio Lives, Kenny Everett's great achievement was to introduce irreverence into pop broadcasting, and his legacy is still audible today: what Chris Evans does wouldn't have been possible without Steve Wright, and what Steve Wright did wouldn't have been possible without unspecified DJs of the Seventies. And Kenny? "Kenny was a link in the chain without which the chain wouldn't be what it is." What, shorter does he mean?

There's no doubt that Everett was a uniquely innovative DJ, but just because he was so different from the run of the mill it's hard to estimate how much impact he had on subsequent generations. Probably not as much as Gambo thinks. Surely irreverence would have crept into DJing sooner or later, somehow; after all, it's happened in most other branches of broadcasting. Take biographical features like Radio Lives: to call something a "warts and all" portrait is hardly to make a claim to distinction these days. We expect the warts - or, at any rate, a few decent pimples and the odd mole - and we feel a mite puzzled and cheated if we can't spot them.

This edition of Radio Lives was certainly up to scratch in the wart department, at least as far as Kenny Everett's private life went. Not that he was a nasty man - by all accounts, he was an exceptionally likeable one - but as Robert Sandall put it, in a narration that sometimes veered a little too close to cliche, "Like many professionally funny men, Everett's humour disguised a darker side." In Everett's case, the darker side was all to do with his homosexuality - or rather, his inability to reconcile his homosexuality with his working-class, Catholic upbringing. Friend after friend came on to talk about how everybody knew he was gay, but he kept trying to hide it. In the end, even his wife, Lee, was telling him to come out of the closet - she was very proud of having fixed him up with his first boyfriend, a good-looking young waiter who served them at a restaurant one evening.

What's peculiar about this brand of biography is that, while you're given the fully warty treatment of the subject's emotional life, it avoids a properly critical look at his professional achievement. At the beginning of the programme, Sandall said that, "what the Beatles did for British pop music, Everett did for music broadcasting in this country", which seems absurdly inflated. Later, Gambaccini pointed to the fact that the DJs who attended Everett's memorial service earlier this year kept silent - an eloquent testimony to his greatness, as Gambo maintained, or something to do with the fact that you don't, as a rule, talk at memorial services?

The truth is, much of his work was brilliant (and there were some extraordinary jingles and extracts from the great "Captain Kremmen" saga here to remind you), but a lot of it was very primitive, relying on irritating silly voices and a painfully wacky intonation. If you're not going to be honest about the bad stuff, how can you be about the good? Really, Everett's best stuff could stand up on its own, without any apologists. It's a great sadness that there won't be any more of it.