The Week In Radio: Travelling man is heading in the wrong direction


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The Independent Culture

Over the past week the ghosts of dead DJs have been stalking the corridors of the BBC. Among the nastier apparitions has been Jimmy Savile, a man alleged to have abused scores of children though who, because of his connections and charitable work, was deemed beyond reproach. More cheeringly, we have also seen the reappearance, from beyond the grave, of Kenny Everett, a groundbreaking DJ and comic who was denounced from some quarters as a pervert on the basis of his homosexuality.

There is perhaps a sliver of comfort to be had from the fact that, while Savile's reputation is finally getting the drubbing it deserves, "Cuddly Ken" is now being celebrated as a mischievous spirit pushing the boundaries of comedy and broadcasting. While a recent biopic on BBC4 looked at Everett's private life, interspersing the inevitable sad clown narrative with re-creations of his sketches, Radio 4 Extra was dusting down a long-forgotten doc Kenny Everett: The BBC Local Radio Years, which told the story of what happened when the broadcaster was removed from the national airwaves at the peak of his powers.

Everett was forever getting into deep water at work, whether being reprimanded for criticising the BBC's music policy on air or being handed his P45 for cracking a joke during a news bulletin at the expense of the wife of a Tory politician on Radio 1. Everett was subsequently offered a slot on BBC Radio Bristol, much to the ire of his former bosses who thought he should never darken the corporation's doorstep again. We learned how, on his first broadcast, he sang a song, set to the tune of "The Blue Danube", bemoaning his circumstances: "No food in the fridge, boo-hoo, boo-hoo/ No heat in the pipes, boo-hoo, boo-hoo/ No dough in the bank, boo-hoo, boo-hoo…"

Once local producers got wind that Everett was available for work, the comic found himself doing pre-recorded stints across the country, from Merseyside and Nottingham, to Solent and Brighton. Tapes would be transported from his home in the Sussex countryside to the relevant destination by railway, with minions dispatched to stations to pluck them directly from the train. A vetting process would then take place with producers weighing up the wisdom of airing the more risqué gags.

The usual customs of broadcasting were of no interest to Everett. His programmes were platforms for his array of daft voices, improvised skits and terrifically silly – yet technically sophisticated – jingles. His record choices were quirky, to say the least. "If you don't like it, ring me and I'll take it off," was a typical introduction. Listening to the acres of improv in this affectionate and meticulously researched documentary, contemporary music radio seemed horribly anodyne by comparison. For once, the word genius is apt.

Another ghost returned to Radio 4 in the form of the very much alive Andy Kershaw. The presenter fell out of favour several years ago after a brush with the law and, it transpired, a nervous breakdown. But he has been back on his feet for some time, so it beats me why he hasn't been given a series doing what he does best: venturing to the farthest corners of the planet to assimilate new sounds and cultures.

Closer to Home, Cheaper Than Walking was a start, I suppose, a pleasant meditation on Britain's post-war vogue for extremely small cars such as the Peel P50 and the Frisky Family Three. Even so, hearing that Kershaw was "deep in rural Kent" in a barn full of souped-up lawnmowers didn't have quite the same impact as, say, him listening to singing waitresses in Pyongyang, North Korea. Sort it out, the BBC. Give the man a proper job and then put him on a plane.