The Critics - Radio: Home truths? I'll give him home truths

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The Independent Culture
Radio, a medium whose practitioners crave love and attention like anyone else, has its own Oscars in the form of the Sony Awards. This is a big black-tie shindig in Grosvenor House, London, only slightly warped in that when you want to sidle up to someone famous, you have to listen out for their voices rather than look out for their faces. Apart, of course, for that noted radio personality, Caprice. She had to be there because no media event can strictly be said to have taken place without Caprice's appearance at some stage in the proceedings.

So, how many things do you think happen in radio that are worthy of awards? The answer is 31. This seems quite daunting and you wonder if they can get through them all in one night - bear in mind that each award has to be announced by a different guest. But when you consider how many things go on in radio, and how many stations there are, 31 seems reasonable - although you do wonder about some of the categories.

The Station Branding Award, for instance (hotly contested by Surf 107, Classic FM and Radio 2; the winner was, of course, the very memorably branded Classic FM - I think). Or the Short Form Award. This last - beating the other nominees, Lily's Years (Radio Nottingham) and Violence in the Home (102.5 Clyde 1 FM) - was won by the little inserts that go in John Peel's Home Truths. That programme, which has been ruining my Saturday mornings for some months now, picked up three awards in all, and for a while it seemed as if we were watching John Peel Night. One of his prizes was even presented by Feargal Sharkey, who used to be the lead singer of one of Peel's favourite bands, the Undertones.

That was actually a bit surreal - as when Farming Today won the News Award, or The Enthronement of 7th Bishop (sic) from Radio Merseyside won the Event Award. For what Peel was being praised for is, in my opinion, the worst thing he has ever done: an overstretched piece of whimsy which wastes valuable airtime on the eccentric, the cute, the plucky and the earnest. The common link is that all these characters come from and illustrate ... the family. And that's it. The show runs the gamut from Funny Names Families Have for the Remote Control to Our Son Was Banged Up in a Thai Jail for Smuggling a Small Amount of Dope. As such, it is like those fantastically irritating and presumptuous circular letters that certain families send out every Christmas, and one could have foretold - if one was of a grimly ironic disposition - that the man who plays some of the most avant-garde (which means, in some cases, horribly unlistenable) music on the airwaves should now become the nation's cuddliest man, saviour of our most threatened institution, supposedly.

And, with his three awards for Home Truths, it would seem that this is now official (I once rang up the BBC to ask, miserably, how long the show's run was going to be, and they said, for ever and ever). There was a time when I would have given Peelie my last Rolo, but until Home Truths is silenced it stays in the tube. But I feel like a voice in the wilderness. For one programme - albeit one that seems to last all day - to win three Sonys in one night is quite out of the normal run of things, and a huge public pat on the back.

Peel's demeanour, of course, was impeccable - he does, at least, have beautiful manners, would appear not to know the meaning of the word "conceited", and was one of two men who felt cool enough not to wear a tie to the proceedings (the other was Andy Hamilton, who won the Comedy Award for Old Harry's Game, although he is going to have to replace the Jill Dando joke he made in the first programme of the new series when it goes out again). But one day it is all going to go wrong, and the BBC will realise that they have overused Peel in a way we haven't seen since the days when Terry Wogan did everything.

Even Zoe Ball (Winner of The Nation's Thanks for Not Being Chris Evans) is cutting back on her work these days. (She's surprisingly tall, I discovered.) But the strangest part of the evening was when Paul Gambaccini took the stage.

Gambaccini has one of those cosy mid-Atlantic accents which used to be very much in vogue a couple of decades ago; at one point, in a kind of spoiler operation designed to poach some of Classic FM's unfussy listeners, he was deemed worthy of presenting a show on Radio 3, which drove its audience almost insane with rage and despair. Anyway, Gambaccini, who I always thought was blandness personified, made a snorting rant of a speech which made free and frequent use of a word beginning with "c" which you can only quote in full in the papers if it appears in a Tony Harrison poem. (And which, incidentally, is about five times more offensive to Americans than it even is to us.)

I can't remember much of what he said, as it was getting late by this stage and I had dropped my pen in astonishment, but you got the impression that years of being nice behind the microphone had finally got to him, and there was something he very much wanted to get off his chest.