Where Christmas television schedules tend to cleave to old favourites – giving us specials, period dramas and the return of sitcoms past – radio prefers to mimic our real-time Christmas experience by handing the controls to a bunch of guest presenters, rather like that unfortunate moment when Uncle Dave decides that he’s the best DJ in the world after a couple too many glasses of wine.
This year’s guest crew included both the traditional (Cliff Richard running down his favourite festive hits on Christmas Eve) and the rather more louche (Iggy Pop’s Rockin’ Rebels on 6 Music on Christmas Day), with Radio 2 giving everyone from French and Saunders and Miranda Hart to Glee’s Matthew Morrison the chance to showcase their taste.
The most interesting guest booking, however, was that of pop tartlet turned self-described national treasure Robbie Williams, who took over Dermot O’Leary’s three-hour Saturday afternoon show.
Williams, who hosts his own radio show on his blog, is clearly a fan of the form and had put obvious thought into ensuring that his guest spot stayed true to conventions. Thus there were games (pick your favourite potato, a psychiatric test, a brief appearance from Williams’ wife to call him out on his latest idiocy); some jokey if slightly awkward banter with Rizzle Kicks (during which Williams trod perilously close to middle-aged uncle trying to be down with the kids territory); more comfortable sessions with comedians Jimmy Carr and John Bishop; and an eclectic mix of songs which ran the gamut from Dolly Parton to Lorde via Chas & Dave, Al Green, and, brilliantly, Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John”. There was also time for Williams to give the odd plug or three for his new album – yet they were carried out with enough self-mocking good humour to make it hard to get too annoyed.
He also chose to book his dad as his main guest on the show – thanks to Jack Whitehall, father/son acts are all the rage these days – and Williams Snr turned out to have a nicely dry sense of humour, putting up with a psych test, gamely taking part in a quiz and describing his youthful brush with semi-fame.
These sort of cosy afternoon shows tend to stand or fall with the host, and Williams was pretty impressive: quick on his feet, willing to cover mishaps with self-deprecating humour, genuinely interested in his guests, and unlikely to scare away regular listeners. The perfect Radio 2 host in fact. Yes, he was a little bit too pleased with himself at times, but if he ever wants to give up the day job, then a career in afternoon radio surely awaits.
The stress of preparing Christmas lunch was considerably alleviated by the sonorous tones of James Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop, who presented the first of his guides to his favourite music at 1pm today (part two follows on New Year’s Day). Featuring everything from Link Wray and Jerry Lee Lewis to The Last Poets, Rockin’ Rebels was a fascinating peek into the mind of one of rock’s last originals, allowing Pop to reminisce about everything from the first time he heard the great protest song “A Change is Gonna Come” (“I was in a student apartment with a beautiful, slightly older and strapping Irish-American lass who wanted to educate me”) to his early days in The Stooges (“I didn’t really want to go to school and sign up for a lifetime of drudgery”).
Finally, a recommendation: Boxing Day finds the surviving members of The Clash presenting This Is Radio Clash on 6 Music – an entertaining, quirky, always interesting two-hour guide to their favourite tunes.