The Week In Radio: New voice gives early risers reasons to be cheerful

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

What do you want at five o'clock in the morning? Ideally deep slumber between silken sheets, of course, but if you have to be awake, is Vanessa Feltz the answer? For most radio networks, getting-up time is the most intimate part of the day, the time when listeners are at their most irascible. Annoy them at your peril. Sarah Kennedy, who departed the Radio 2 early morning show abruptly last year, had, to say the least, a distinctive style. She was Bunty Bagshaw, listeners were the Dawn Patrollers. There was cosy giggling and in-jokes. How will three million listeners take to Vanessa, a crisp, no-nonsense Cambridge First? And how will Feltz cope with a 3.30am start, as well as hosting her daily Radio London show, a new Channel 5 show, and deputising for Jeremy Vine?

On first showing, perfectly well, except for the fact that she seemed to have undergone a personality transplant. Unlike her brisk Radio London persona, she sounds curiously sweet, like someone trying to coax a nervous cat in. Declaring herself "absolutely thrilled to bits", she referenced soothing parts of her personal life – her school play, her chicken soup – selected an upbeat medley "Reasons to be Cheerful", "I Wanna Wake Up with You" and declared her mission to "cheer everybody up if we possibly can". Tuesday she moved on to Baby Bottom cream and hangover cures, but touched on Goldman Sachs pay and Justin Webb's paternity. One has the sense that the bedside manner may soon become sharper as real life begins to intrude. She has indeed said she will soon "gear up and become my true unbridled self". But Radio 2, which has already managed the transition from cosy to brash when Chris Evans replaced Terry Wogan, is plainly confident that Vanessa has the charisma to see it through.

At the other extreme of the schedule, Radio 3's The Essay turned up trumps again with a series on Montaigne. Unlike the "event radio" currently in fashion, through which listeners suffer total immersion in Mozart or the history of cinema, or whatever, The Essay is never less than eclectic – occasionally dreary, generally stimulating and full of gobbets of wisdom. And given that Montaigne was the father of the essay, he seems a perfect subject. Jonathan Bate said Montaigne was "the first writer in history simply to speak what he felt". And he spoke, Alain de Botton said, about how he liked to raise his hat, melons and radishes, his bowels and his intellectual overconfidence. Theodore Zeldin drew deeper parallels with Montaigne's insight and our modern malaise, concluding that "the great famine of our time is hunger for appreciation and recognition".

Which applies to spies too, judging by Tom Mangold's bizarre spy-themed cruise in which a series of ex-spies, including former CIA directors Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, lectured on radical Islam, communism and similar scares. The revelation in Radio 4's Ship of Spies was that the US security services feel hard done by. "This is not a pleasure trip to me," said one aggrieved spook. "It's to spread the message the intelligence community is under attack, civil libertarians are crying for scalps, there's all kind of indignities, we are at war." Embolded perhaps by the holiday atmosphere, nobody ducked the issue of torture. "Faced with difficult decisions good people have to make hard choices," said Michael Hayden. "Did it work? Yes it did. One suspect clammed up, we decided to use enhanced techniques on him, including waterboarding, at which point he became a gusher of information." As Mangold drifted round the ship, it was clear that all the customers were of a similar political persuasion – ie far starboard.

The organiser admitted libertarian groups would be about as welcome onboard as norovirus. They had been invited, he explained, but "They didn't feel comfortable being supportive of such a venture." No kidding.