A few quiet words with Danny Baker boy
Interview: Deborah Ross talks to DANNY BAKER
He then says he is very cross. What, at Gazza for doing what he is said to have done? No, at The Sun for having him sprawled across a bonnet when, in fact, he was doing no such thing. "What are the children at me kids' schools gonna think?" he asks. That you are one of the lads, I suggest, thinking I am being helpful. "One of the lads?" he howls, even more crossly. "One of the lads?" he repeats, now aghast. "I hate lads and the whole laddish movement. It's one-dimensional, innit? It's oafish and it ain't me.
"Yeah, I like football. Yeah, I talk the way I do. But that don't mean I'm a lad. What you do ain't who you are. I don't even go out very much, as it 'appens. I can't see the point in poncing about down The Groucho. I prefer to be at home with Wend and the kids. But because I'm on telly and I talk like I do everyone thinks, he's just a professional Cockney, isn't he? It's the middle classes who always say it. Why? Because they feel guilty about the working classes, don't they? So they say, that Danny Baker, he's just a loudmouth yob. People in telly are just as bad. I get stacks of offers for terrible people shows. Or they say things to me like `My grandmother worked down the coalmines in Durham', and other patronising stuff like that and ..."
All right, Danny, put a jellied eel in it. Or, failing that, tell me something about yourself which will prove, once and for all, that you're not just one of the boys. "Look, this isn't something I want to address," he replies impatiently. "I mean, I've got nothing to prove here."
The thing about Danny - and Chris and Gazza now I think about it - is that, aside from the rage that seems to go on inside them, they are, all three, brilliant ... and they are also complete plonkers. On the brilliant side, Danny's verbal dexterity is quite something. His mouth and brain work together at an awesome speed. He can talk off the cuff for astonishing periods and can, certainly, be brilliantly funny. When he wrote for NME, he was superb. His early radio stuff was thrilling, as is his current Sunday-morning pop show on GLR. But for everything that's been good, he seems to have done two things that are bad, particularly on the telly. Danny, I ask, do you think you've been wise in your career choices? In particular, I'm thinking of the TV chat show of a couple of years back, which wasn't so much disappointing as plain embarrassing.
"Look, the BBC phoned me up and said would you like to do a chat show, and I said yes, and that was it. Although, I'm actually the last person who should ever do a chat show. I don't listen. So, yes, I've done complete turkeys. But so what if something goes down the toilet? I can't blot my copy book because I've never thought of myself as 'aving a copy book."
Actually, I don't think he does care terribly. Which is a shame, really, because he's too often too good for whatever it is he's presenting. Although Radio 5 would not necessarily agree. Earlier this month, they fired him from his Wednesday-night football phone-in programme after an incredibly nasty tirade against the referee whose controversial penalty decision gave Chelsea victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup. "But I didn't tell Leicester fans to hit the referee. I just said I would understand if they did," he now says.
Can you ever go too far? I ask. No, he replies, you cannot. "You either do a good show or a lousy show and that's it." What if someone were to clout that referee, would he feel responsible? "Nope." Does he ever suffer any self-doubt whatsoever? "No, never. I don't think anything I do requires it. What would I have self-doubts about? Doing Daz adverts?"
Certainly, his belief in himself is unshakeable. He's always right. By sacking him, the BBC have been lily-livered "weasels". And, as if to prove it, he has since gone even further on his new Talk Radio slot. "Yes, it's a witch-hunt," he declared gaily, while adding that the referee, Mike Reed, "should be thrashed from the grass like a grouse." He apparently thinks he can get away with anything, no matter the consequences, which neatly brings us back to Chris and Gazza.
Danny does seem very in thrall to Gazza and Chris. Gazza, he boasts happily, kips on his sofa when in town. And, he enthuses admiringly, he's the perfect house guest. "He folds his blanket in the morning. He washes up his own cereal bowl. When he first started coming round, he was still having the odd cigarette, but he always went out on to the patio to smoke. I thought, `What a polite bloke.' " But Danny, I cry, he's not very polite to women. He may even have hit one or two recently. Doesn't that count with you?
"Yeah, I know he does this ugly stuff. He's plainly nuts, isn't he? But I've never seen that side of him meself. All I know is that he's a friend and we get on fantastic. When he's around, it's great. I respect him. He goes up to journalists and says: `Fuck off.' It's something I've always wanted to say but never had the guts." He then says if the tabloids can have him sprawled across a bonnet, how does he know Gazza even did what he is said to have done?
And Chris? Well, if Danny and Chris got any more bosom-pally they'd become one fat bloke with a red, sticky-up hairdo. Danny's the scriptwriter for Chris's Channel 4 show, TFI Friday, while Chris's company, Ginger Productions, produces Danny's new Saturday football show on Talk Radio.
"Yeah, we're extraordinarily close. We're in and out of each other's houses all the time. Chris spent last Christmas Day with us." Today, Danny is even wearing a pair of Chris's shoes, a fact I chance upon when I admire the creamy suede loafers poking incongruously out from under the hems of his old jeans. "Yeah, nice, aren't they? Chris gave 'em me. Someone sent them to him and he didn't want them so he said I could have 'em." Then, with some excitement, he adds. "Hey, I've stepped into Chris's shoes literally, haven't I?" And he looks very pleased.
Danny Baker lives in Deptford, south-east London, in a Victorian, three- bed terrace job that is just around the corner from the estate where he was born 39 years ago. Unlike other working-class boys made good, he seems to have remained true to his roots, rather than just sentimental about them. There have never been any swanky mansions, swanky cars or swanky dolly-birds of the mini-skirted, mini-brained, one-time game-show hostess sort.
He has been married to Wendy, a former secretary, for as long as anyone can remember. He is entirely devoted to his son and daughter, the alarmingly named Sonny and Bonnie. He earns a lot, yes - "I'm good at what I do. I gotta top agent. I expect top dollar" - but does not spend ostentatiously. Expensive holidays, he says, are as far as he goes. Where to? Mauritius? St Lucia? Nah, Florida. "I love Orlando and I'm not ashamed to say it," he says unashamedly. He then says he's not very good on the continent. "Walking round Rome and looking at buildings ... it's a waste of time."
His house is disappointingly tasteful inside. There are no swirly-patterned carpets, nasty ornaments or Dralon suites. Instead, the living room has a Moroccan feel to it - tapestried cushions adorn the deliciously plump, white sofa where Gazza kips - while, in the kitchen, all sorts of creamy- coloured handmade-looking things are going on. No, having a nice front room and kitchen does not make you middle class in any way. "Why do people always think the working classes can't have money or taste? Being working class isn't about that. It's about calling dinner `tea' and forgetting to put your cup back on the saucer in a restaurant."
Danny was born to Fred, a docker, and Elizabeth who, at one time, worked for Shuttleworth's, the chocolate makers. As a young boy, he used to wait excitedly for his mum to come back from work so he could smell the undersides of her Dr Scholls. "They always smelt of melted chocolate ... luvverly." I must look at him with something of a shocked expression, because he then adds: "Yes, Danny Baker smellt the soles of his mum's Dr Scholls. Now, what do you think Dr Freud would make of that?" Quite a lot, I imagine.
The youngest of three kids, he has an older sister, Sharon, and did have an older brother. But Michael died when he was 29 and Danny was 24. A docker, too, he simply went to bed one night and was dead by morning. Danny says he isn't too sure what he died of.
"There was a lot of wailing going on, so I never looked into it." He thinks, though, it had something to do with his sinuses, being sick and then choking on the sick. All the Baker children have sinus problems. That's why, he says, he fiddles with his nose a lot when he isn't talking. Which isn't very often.
Danny's a torrential talker. You don't so much have a conversation with him as take a verbal battering. Is he like this even when, say, he's at home of an evening with Wend, Sonny and Bonnie? "Yup, I'm relentless," he replies cheerfully.
He was a clever kid, a voracious reader (still is) who passed his 11- plus but refused to go to grammar school because none of his mates was going there. He ended up at West Greenwich Secondary Modern where he was brilliant at everything - "I loved my reports, which always started with Position In Year: First" - but left at 15. He says that if he'd stayed on they'd have eventually found him work in a bank, which wouldn't have been for him.
And, anyway, by this time he'd already "caught the whiff of rock 'n' roll". He worked in a West End record shop then co-founded Sniffin' Glue, a cleverly post-modern punk magazine. The next stop was NME, which he describes as absolutely the best period of his life. "It was a delicious time," he sighs nostalgically.
Originally employed to answer the phones, he quickly graduated to writing witty picture captions then flying all over the world to interview pop stars. His interview with Michael Jackson - who was desperate to discuss Benny Hill - went straight into the legend books. Danny became the funniest, most popular writer they ever had, even though he had a blase attitude to deadlines - he would often be writing up his pieces at the printers - and frequently couldn't be bothered to transcribe his tapes. Once, he interviewed Paul Weller, couldn't be bothered to listen to the tape, couldn't remember anything that was said, so just put down whatever he fancied. Later, he bumped into Paul, who cried: "I don't remember discussing any of those subjects." "Well, Paul," said Danny. "I'm sure we'd have got round to them given more time." He then says that he is first and foremost a writer. Probably. "I do writing best, although I've got little proof of it. I got sidetracked into selling soap powder."
The telly stuff started with The Six O'Clock Show - a programme best described as sort of trouser-dropping, red-nosed Picture Post - then continued through some terrible panelly things until radio discovered him. He launched Six O Six, the Radio 5 football programme that had him named Radio Personality of The Year but is now presented by David Mellor. No, he's not going to be rude about David Mellor. "Oh please, just give me a stick to beat a cripple," he cries.
So what now for Danny Baker? Good things, I hope, although, yes, I am worried about the company he keeps these days. Indeed, whenever I think of Danny and Chris and Gazza on the 48-hour bender which Danny only actually saw a few hours of, I think of an old Frank Crumit song, the one with the chorus that goes: "You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses and then the pig got up and slowly walked away." Thus far, Danny's done the walking away. But for how much longer?
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