the interview SIMON BATES

His treacly Our Tune and his Smashie & Nicey sincerity make him an easy target, but when it comes to broadcasting, he's a man of principle

`what is the law if it is not an ass? What is society if it is not stupid? Is that contempt of court? Yes it is. Good." You don't expect to hear revolution preached from your radio at seven o'clock in the morning, but the voice of sedition has a familiar treacly ring to it. It is the voice of Simon Bates, erstwhile Radio 1 coffee-time overlord, now addressing the issues of the moment - in this case a graffiti tagger who has been sent to prison - every weekday morning on Talk Radio UK.

Talk radio has a bad name in this country. Mention of it conjures up nightmarish images of lonely cab drivers ringing up to talk about their kidney stones. Breakfast with Bates is not like that. It has guests and everything. Admittedly the public at large are invited to put their individual oars in over the phone, but anyone endeavouring to outstay their welcome is brushed aside with a flourish. Bates' presentation - "I read your book last night; it scared the hell out of me" - has a commendable sense of urgency, and the show which results is a vigorous and pretty successful assault on the middle ground between GMTV's hellish trivia trench and the commanding heights of Radio 4's Today Programme.

Simon Bates comes off air clutching a cafetiere (he makes his own coffee), touchingly unsure as to why anyone would want to interview him. Does he not realise that the generation whose adolescence was scarred by his on- air reminiscences of "making love at dawn on a beach in Bali" will shortly ascend to political power in this country? And there's Our Tune to be considered. Bates' baby still goes out at 9.45am daily on Talk Radio (now sponsored by Kleenex!) and twice a week -complete with tasteful Crimewatch- style reconstructions -on Anne and Nick. As if this wasn't enough, millions more people carry deep in their subconscious the erotically charged image of Simon Bates warning them that the video they are about to watch contains "some sexual swear-words".

Thanks to the hard work of the video pirate community, the Bates visage has, in fact is, global currency. "I can get a free meal in Delhi or a free drink in Moscow anytime I want," he says happily, his voice resonating every bit as mightily within the studio as it does without. The supreme frugality of his radio show's travel tips - "Guess how much I paid for that insurance ... pounds 82!" - suggests this might be more than just a figure of speech.

Simon Bates's "obsession" with travel began in the mid-Sixties, in his late teens (he is now 48). He put on his metaphorical Jack Kerouac hat and set out from the Shropshire farm he'd been raised on by his mother and grandparents (his father left when he was very young) to circle the globe. "It's very difficult in the context of the 1990s to picture it as being as easy as it was," he insists. "You could get on boats and hitch lifts and it would never occur to you that someone might have nefarious plans for you ... All I did really was go one step further than the guy who went to London."

While in New Zealand, Bates had a job artificially inseminating cattle. He must get asked this all the time, but could he take take us through the insemination process? "It involves rubber gloves, a certain amount of muscular activity with your right arm, and sensitivity towards the cow ... because the intrusion isn't always welcome." This must have been useful training, not only for Bates's subsequent radio career, but also for his other line of business; the 300-acre Buckinghamshire stud farm he runs with his wife Carolyn - a professional concern, far from the "funny farmstead" of Smashie & Nicey legend, it "has to make a profit, or we're in trouble".

It would not take a genius to guess Simon Bates's opinion on the big Radio 1-not-playing-useless-new-Beatles-single issue. Having tuned in randomly on several occasions to hear him slagging off Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister (once the butt of DJ banter as a humble Newsbeat reporter, Bannister's purge at the station was responsible for Bates's pre-emptive resignation), the evidence suggests that Bates is still boiling with fury at his old paymasters. If rage there be, it is well bottled up off the air. "The new culture on Radio 1 is as valid as the old one and the one before mine," he insists with quiet dignity. "I just disagree fundamentally with the idea of getting up and saying `Oh well, if we lose an audience, we lose it'."

For all Chris Evans's success in putting a smile back on Radio 1's public face, most of the millions of listeners lost in the course of the station's radical make-over have yet to return. Bates admits that the old one-nation- fantasy version of Radio 1 was on its way out, but discerns an anti-populist bias in the station's hipper-than-thou new look. "The popular base is something that British broadcasters - and I'm not just talking about Radio 1 now - are rather frightened of," he observes trenchantly. "People are always saying `We can't possibly have this or that because it's not credible'. But credible is a very dangerous word. It's the classic pomposity of the British class system; the idea that you're not happy to run something people want to listen to, you've got to be `taken seriously'."

Being taken seriously was hardly on the agenda for Talk Radio UK's debut line-up, featuring as it did the razor-sharp mental reflexes of Caesar the Geezer: a man once heard to say "People think I'm stupid but actually I'm a member of Mencap." "When this station started there was obviously a strong American influence," Simon Bates admits. "The Americans came over here and said, `Well, this works in Dumbfuck Idaho [Warning: an off- air conversation with Simon Bates will contain some sexual swear-words]'. Of course it won't work here, why in God's name would they think it would?"

With commendable enthusiasm, Bates sets about explaining the difference between the corporate structures of British and American radio. Ours "stems from a protestant ethic in the Thirties, a propaganda effort in in the Second World War, a sense of oneness and a sense of nation". America on the other hand "is all about being open to all-comers, so their radio is much more accessible. If you take the two skeletons," he concludes, "I don't think there's any connection between them. The pirates always believed they sounded American, but actually they sounded like British people - slightly nervous."

Simon Bates' first job at the BBC was as a Radio 4 continuity announcer and newsreader. "I was very bad at it too," he maintains. "I never mastered the art of saying `Radio 4' between the end of one programme and the start of the next. If you try it, it's really very difficult." He tries it. It really is very difficult. There were problems with newsreading too. "I'm not very good with facts. And Michael Aspel once told me that to be a good newsreader the stuff has to go in through the eyes, out through the mouth and bypass the brain, otherwise you'd realise the enormity of what you were saying."

But isn't that the essence of DJ-hood; that you would have your personal opinion, but somehow it wouldn't be relevant? Bates guffaws. "I think that's the most intelligent thing you could say about 17 years at Radio 1. The broadcaster's opinion doesn't matter." But how does that feel? "You mean does it feel like a negation of yourself? No, not at all, because you have so much personal involvement in any programme that you make. It's not like you just turn up and get given a script - that would be a terrible way to make a living."

Simon Bates had the chance to take the money and read when he left Radio 1, but he didn't take it, and now he's glad he didn't. "At Talk Radio I can do 10 minutes on [justly infamous Shropshire poet] AE Housman," he enthuses "and the audience wont walk away." He's happy he didn't go for a TV career either. A self-deprecating shrug: "I mean, look at me. I've done the odd series - one or two have been quite good, some have been appalling - but I've never understood why it is assumed that everyone wants to put on a bright green blazer and a pair of unfortunate slacks and go out in front of the cameras."

An anguished pause ensues. "I can see myself with some cards in my hands and some poor benighted contestants." He shudders. "I'd be a total ..." The voice trails away. They said it couldn't happen, but Simon Bates is lost for words.

8 `Breakfast with Bates': Talk Radio UK, 1089 kHz, Mon-Fri, 7-10am

Suggested Topics
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Logistics Analyst

    £23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be a part of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Manager - R&D - Paint

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This growing successful busines...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Advisor - Automotive Parts

    £16400 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading online E-commerce ...

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Parts Manager

    £27300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a leading...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea