The Week In Radio: Anxious Anneka doesn't quite rise to the challenge


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The Independent Culture

"Well, here I am," said Anneka Rice, espressos lined up on the desk, nerves jangling audibly, at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

The time was 6.05am and she was presenting a new breakfast show on Radio 2, taking over from Zoë Ball who, in fairness, is a tough act to follow. This was a big gig for Rice, the most prominent since her Challenge Anneka days when she raced around the country carrying out impossibly zany tasks with a camera gaffer-taped to her backside. It was also a major event for the BBC, which, under scrutiny and battered by publicity about its reluctance to employ women, especially the older kind, hoped the appointment might muffle, if not silence its critics. It won't, of course. Not until they tackle the problem of Today.

Anyway, it would be great to report that Rice breathed new life into the breakfast genre, that she, to use the parlance of talent show judges, killed it. But she didn't. She was hesitant and nervous and eager to please, thanking us for allowing her to be there as if we, the listeners, had been instrumental in her employment. There were some half-baked diversions to help pass the time including a search for a "knight in shining pyjamas" who was just clocking off from a heroic job such as, say, manning lifeboats or driving ambulances. In the event, she got a load of truckers who were very clearly fantasising about her jumpsuits of yore, a situation not improved by her insistence on talking about her netball days. More than anything, Rice sounded lonely, stuck in a shiny new studio that, she told us on at least three occasions, had a window. This was clearly a luxury, though you wondered if it added to her sense of isolation, making her conscious of the curtains still drawn across the country.

Though many of us determinedly sleep through them, Saturday breakfast shows are crucial in terms of ratings and in setting the tone to weekend's radio. Even people who don't care much for the radio are likely to switch on in order to coax themselves into life. Breakfast shows span all tastes and age gaps. Who or what you listen to in the mornings says a lot about you, whether you're a wake-up-and-tackle-the-serious-stuff-with-John-Humphrys sort of person or more likely to slap yourself around the face, neck a Red Bull and crank up Chris Moyles.

Edith Bowman has the early-morning Radio 1 slot on Saturdays, and right from the off exuded warmth and bonhomie. She had the air of a woman who, two hours previously, was probably knocking back vodka shots and giving it large on the dance floor in an east London nightclub, and was now ready to drag the rest of the world out of bed. She was confident, charismatic and in love with the music that she was playing, a contrast to Rice who played Gotye, and then confessed to having no idea who he was.

But if anyone's got the plum Saturday job, it's Alan Titchmarsh on Classic FM. Starting at 9am, he has the benefit of listeners who are out of bed and ready to text him at mind-numbing length about his musical choices. It's hard to see what he brings to the morning show beyond a cosy voice and a direct line to Middle England. He only has to speak every 10 minutes, which presumably leaves him plenty time to bash out new chapters of his latest bonkbuster. A productive Saturday morning, then, and home by lunchtime. Nice work if you can get it.