From cocaine to cornflakes: Bacon is back for a big laugh breakfast

Richard Bacon has proved that there is life after an ignominious sacking. Ciar Byrne reports
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The Independent Online

Richard Bacon has food poisoning. During our interview in a swanky Soho private members' club, he runs to the lavatory several times to regurgitate the mussels he ate at lunchtime. But he is a trooper - a quality that will endear him to his bosses in BBC radio - and between loo visits he strives to answer my questions. The show must go on.

Richard Bacon has food poisoning. During our interview in a swanky Soho private members' club, he runs to the lavatory several times to regurgitate the mussels he ate at lunchtime. But he is a trooper - a quality that will endear him to his bosses in BBC radio - and between loo visits he strives to answer my questions. The show must go on.

This faintly ridiculous situation is apt for a presenter who is about to become the voice of breakfast comedy on the digital radio station BBC7. Starting from this morning, Bacon will provide the links between tracks from classic comedy shows including The Goons, Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. "It will be the funniest show on the radio, but not because of me, because of the material that we are using," he promises. "I'll try to make the links mildly amusing, although it's hard to compete with the content we've got."

The comedy hour is just the latest stint in Bacon's picaresque career. He achieved notoriety in 1998 when he was sacked from Blue Peter after he admitted taking cocaine. But it was not long before he was back on television as the "man on the road" on Channel 4's The Big Breakfast. He now presents a late night phone-in on Five Live at the weekend and does other freelance work in television and radio, although he is selective about what he accepts. During our interview, he gets a message from his agent about a new reality show described as a cross between Faking It and Pop Idol. His response includes the words "dead", "body and "over".

Is he a genuine comedy fan? "Everybody likes to have a laugh. 'I don't like comedy' would be a really strange thing to say. Am I a closer follower than the average person? I would say yes, definitely." To prove his point, he enthuses knowledgeably about Tony Hancock and admits that Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles had a point when he described him as a "real-life Alan Partridge".

Is he naturally funny? "I'm hit and miss. Not always. No, not necessarily, but I can give it a shot." In his BBC7 links he plans to respond to listeners' e-mails about the comedy featured and is hoping for some opinionated comments. Humour aside, his main goal at the moment is to be perceived as more serious. He has just quit his weekly show on Xfm, because the management of Five Live did not feel that it fitted with the late-night news and current affairs discussion shows that he has presented since December 2003 when he replaced Edwina Currie.

"I took over from Tim Vincent on Blue Peter and it was like 'OK, I understand why that happened'. Taking over from Edwina Currie was kind of unusual for me, but I really like doing it. I have a real interest in current affairs. Five Live was keen for me to stop doing a weekly show on Xfm. I worked there for two and a half years and I loved it, but it was slightly at odds radio wise with Five Live. On a Friday at Xfm I'd be subverting the news agenda and then on Saturday night discussing it. The danger is that you become seen as neither one thing nor another."

He is keen to do more on Five Live, but thinks the station's plans for him are more long term. He admits that he is "something of a risk" for the station, because he does not come from a journalistic background. Last month, as the scale of the tsunami in South-east Asia was becoming apparent, he stood in for Victoria Derbyshire presenting the station's mid-morning phone-in. Other tragedies that have occurred on his watch include the Madrid train bombing and the Reading rail crash.

"For me they've been a really important experience. They're terrible events, but at the same time they're the things I need to get right. It's a learning curve. I still need to sharpen my journalistic instincts."

His new-found gravitas has brought in offers that would have been unlikely to come his way when he was doing irreverent presenting slots. He has just filmed a BBC2 series called Weighing In about seriously overweight children who need to diet for medical reasons. "That came about because the commissioners had heard me do more serious stuff on Five Live. It can have a wider impact on your career."

For a 29-year-old, Bacon has achieved a lot, but he insists that when he started his career aged 17 doing the "And Finally" slots on BBC Radio Nottingham, he had no ambition other than to become a local radio reporter. That all changed in 1996, when he joined Live TV and a year later became Blue Peter's 24th presenter.

Getting sacked from Blue Peter may have turned out to be a career boost in disguise. "It's not a career path I'd recommend. I never knew how it was going to turn out. But I got lucky."

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