Odi et amo", as the Catullus poem goes. I hate and I love, both at the same time. Well it happens with radio presenters too. There are some you like, and some who induce nothing more than mild irritation, like a headache that will go off if you stop thinking about it. But there are some who achieve that rare status – provoking a dislike so intense and addictive it has something in common with love.
George Lamb is one such. His detractors cite his ego the size of a bus, his ignorance, his laddish jokes, his catchphrase "Shabba!", his annoying mockney. And those are just the good points. According to one tweet in the debate about 6 Music, George Lamb "makes Vernon Kay look like Plato". His presenting skills have sparked an online petition called "Get George Lamb off 6 Music!", which objects to his over-indulgence in celebrity chat and paucity of musical knowledge. To read the message boards about Lamb is to peer into a cauldron of bile that would make a politician shudder. More than 2,000 people have signed the page on Facebook, which is quite something given 6 Music's listening figures.
Well now they have got their wish (almost) as George and what the BBC actually calls his "inane banter" have been bumped into the weekend breakfast slot, where listeners are thin on the ground. "I get the distinct impression we've just woken you up," he greeted a befuddled girl called Lindsey whom he appeared to call out of the blue at dawn on Sunday. There was an interview with Rupert Everett and the chocolatier Willie Harcourt-Cooze, and George talked about his school nativity play, but that is to give an impression of coherence that is in fact entirely absent in the Lamb world. Marc Hughes and other regulars chip in, everyone giggles constantly and talks over each other, so the overall impression is of an indistinct, noisy party that you hear through the wall and makes you want to call the police. Quite apart from the fact that the majority of the target audience are surely unconscious at this hour, zoo radio is hard to take at 7am and the instinct is to hit the off switch. It is only the music that stays the hand. The tracks are almost invariably good and go some way to make up for the "chat", although that is to dignify the inane hilarity that sounds like the really stupid people at the back of the class who you knew were going to work on a checkout when they grew up. But then George Lamb has won a Rising Star Sony award, possesses good looks, a confident manner and television experience, which means almost certainly that he will go far. So what do I know.
There are plenty of others who occupy the love-to-hate category, including Fearne Cotton, Victoria Derbyshire and Fi Glover. For some, LBC's Steve Allen might also fit the bill. Hearing his show is like waking up to find yourself in panto at Bognor Regis. No topic is too trivial, no gossip too arch and he is entirely unfettered by political correctness. Yet soon, addiction follows. Steve's world, his hatred of celebrities like Jordan, his life in Twickenham where he recently switched on the Christmas lights, his diabetes, his dreams and his pansy growing, exert a magnetic pull. This explains why he is a survivor, indeed the station's longest serving presenter, and being as camp as a row of tents means that he can express his more acerbic views without succumbing to the thuggish shock-jock techniques of some of his station colleagues.
But as far as column inches go, the love-to-hate title holders must be the contributors to Radio 4's Thought for the Day. The debate that swirls round this God slot generally centres on religion, and my festive bet is that next year the BBC Trust will let the humanists in. But in fact the real dissonance lies between the intellectual level of the programme and the fortune-cookie sentiments offered by some of the contributors. A change of perspective is one thing, but switching from a forensic political grilling on radio's foremost current affairs show to patronising platitudes from a contributor like Anne Atkins, seems just bizarre. A few, like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Giles Fraser, offer intelligent insights, but overall, a bland, politically correct homogeneity reigns. Religion is great, the BBC seems to say, as long as it never provokes or offends. But wait, isn't that what religion is supposed to do? Or could it just be the BBC looked at what you get elsewhere in the form of religious exhortation, from American evangelicals to radical imams, and decided a bit of inane banter in the morning is a blessing?
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