The Week In Radio: When playing it safe isn't a sound move

On that sad day when circumstances compelled Radio 2 to replace Jonathan Ross on Saturday mornings, it looked around and its gaze quite naturally fell on Graham Norton. He was, in many ways, the obvious choice. Norton is a proven talent as well as a warm, genuinely likeable personality. Of all Radio 2's DJs, he's the one I'd most want to get trapped in a lift with. But given the brilliant, inventive extemporising with which Jonathan Ross used to kick off the weekend, Norton's new show, which started this week, felt totally... safe.

Now safe isn't necessarily bad. If you're under 30 it's a term of approval, though there won't have been many of them listening in. But compared to Ross's verbal pyrotechnics it was bland. His line-up of Amanda Holden and Joe McElderry, interspersed with mandatory discussion of The X Factor, could be a dictionary definition of middle-of-the-road. Then there's the weirdest part of the show, a feature called "Grill Graham", in which listeners ring in with "personal" dilemmas. The first morning's conundrum involved someone who had borrowed a friend's jacket and left it with sweat stains. Cue endless discussion about underarm rings and dry-cleaning techniques. This Saturday, we can look forward to a discussion of BO? Why on earth? There have been suggestions that Norton has been asked not to "camp it up", which is like asking the Pope to ditch the Latin and robes, and if so, it's a mistake. Camp can be endearing, witness the singular Steve Allen on LBC, whose Sunday morning newspaper review is unrivalled for its sparkling, quickfire bitchery. Admittedly, it's hard being camp about Middle Englanders with their wedding anniversaries, underarm stains and taking the kids to uni, but Norton shouldn't be quite so afraid of alienating his demographic. After all, his playlist, from The Rolling Stones, Blondie, Thin Lizzy, to Barry Manilow and T Rex is balm to the ears of most fifty-somethings, and even those of us not quite in this demographic found themselves hopping round the kitchen on Saturday morning.

And yet, Radio 2's 13 million audience came under new threat this week, if the PR is to be believed, with the launch of the national version of Smooth Radio, the first national commercial competitor to offer pop. Assembled from the amalgamation of Smooth's six local franchises, it's aiming to serve a 40-to-59-year-old audience, and is available on DAB and online, as well as the existing FM frequencies of the regional stations. The big signing is Simon Bates who doesn't arrive until January, but until then there's Mark Goodier, Lynn Parsons and Andy Peebles, making it feel like the ghost of BBC radio past. Smooth aims to occupy the middle ground, and its playlists certainly do. For launch week there was a competition to win a Honda Jazz, the question being to remember the last two songs you heard on Smooth Radio. The truth is, I think that might actually prove a challenge.

The best resurrection of the undead came in Craig Brown's Lost Diaries, which assembled a formidable clutch of impressionist talent, including Rory Bremner, Alistair McGowan and Jan Ravens, to deliver gobbets of satire on figures who may have vanished from public life, but burn brightly in collective memory. There was Edwina Currie's diary on her trysts with John Major: "'Essentially,' he coos, 'these proposals for renewing the essential health of our domestic economy are the same as those I previously mentioned.' 'Go on!' I beg him." There is John Prescott, whose malapropisms and bulimia are a gift, and Antonia Fraser on Harold Pinter's poem about Humpty Dumpty as a denunciation of the Bush regime. "Serves you bloody right for being an egg, chum!" Antonia records that, "Both mummy and daddy had their eyes closed in immense concentration." Bliss.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas