The Week in Radio: Lily raises a smile with her scintillating sister act


A weird thing happened on Radio 2 last Saturday afternoon. In the absence of Dermot O’Leary, who was off playing astronauts at Nasa for a Channel 4 documentary, a woman was permitted to sit in his seat. I know! Amazing, right?

The chosen one was the singer Lily Allen who, fresh from supposedly offending women the world over by saying that feminism shouldn’t be “a thing” any more, proceeded to disrespect the sisterhood  by announcing: “I am a woman and all of my  guests are women.”

It’s possible that this was less a rebuttal to the latest wave of detractors than simply a courteous warning to all those listeners for whom a female voice on Radio 2 in daylight hours is akin to going to a llama farm and finding a lemur lounging bold as brass in the middle of it.

If truth be told, I’m far more likely to switch to Radio 2 when the regular presenters have pulled a sickie, or hightailed it to the Seychelles, leaving someone dangerously capable to fill in (although has anyone ever managed to crowbar Ken Bruce out of his studio? I’m guessing only a natural disaster or a zombie invasion could do that).

Robbie Williams sitting in for O’Leary at Christmas certainly brought some sparkle to a show that has long been losing its sheen. If Williams was all about the showbiz, Allen came over like the office skivvy who had tricked her way on to the air and couldn’t believe she’d pulled it off. She was, in other words, completely delightful.

If she had a mission it was about redressing the gender balance. Her guests were the journalist and author Caitlin Moran, the editor of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman and the Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark. The music, handpicked by Allen, was similarly female-centric as she chose records by Adele, Carly Simon, Ms Dynamite, Britney Spears, Emmylou Harris, Etta James and TLC, with a scattering of Blur and Stone Roses.

In between, the conversation revolved around the merits of chicken wings, the joys of squeezing other people’s spots, the inadequacies of modern-day journalism and how the music industry is run by misogynist dunderheads. The latter was hardly shocking news but it was heartening to hear it uttered by someone at the centre of it.

There were one or two missteps – “What should we talk about”? is perhaps not the best way to kick off an interview – but, even so, I’d like to hear more of Allen standing up for women on the radio.

“Hmmmhhheeerrrrrllo,” said Iggy Pop on BBC6 Music on Sunday afternoon, a greeting that sounded somewhere between a groan and a yawn. Let’s call it a grawn. “I’m, uh, the musician known as Iggy Pop,” he continued. “And, uh, I have a show today, uh, of my own creeeeeation.”

Pop was another star parachuted in to replace a regular host, in this case Jarvis Cocker who is on sabbatical. Pop was calling his first show “Preachers and Seers”, in honour of the moral thread running through his playlist. This zigzagged across the genres and across the globe taking in British punk rock, American blues and gospel and Jamaican dub.

Each song came with a deeply sincere introduction about the visionary qualities or conviction of the artist, in which Pop radiated wisdom and made single syllables last for hours.

His esoteric playlist extended to a record by Bongo Joe that was over seven minutes long and came with a lengthy intro comprising oil drums, whistles and a barking dog, and went on to tell the tale of a flea-bitten, tick-infested mutt that was run over. It was deeply odd but I still shed a little tear.

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