Matthew Norman's Media Diary

What is it about BBC radio audiences that makes them both so grumpy and so madly illogical?

What is it about BBC radio audiences that makes them both so grumpy and so madly illogical? For once I have in mind here not the R4 ultras who march on Whitehall at the hint of any interference with the news pips, but fans of Radio 5 Live. Last week, these medium-wave militants roasted station controller Bob Shennan for hours in a website chat over the perceived downmarket lurch... a line of attack cunningly deflected the next day by the Reverend Simon Mayo, whose afternoon show featured a live match between rival champions in that least visual of sports, darts. Despite this, listeners remain unhappy, not least with Richard Bacon, who presents a weekend current affairs show with all the grasp of geopolitical nuance of a Nebraskan farmer whose mother, sister and current girlfriend wear the same pair of shoes.

I'm especially saddened, meanwhile, to find Victoria Derbyshire also under attack for her sparkling morning phone-in. She recently asked whether you should ever be sacked for something done outside the workplace (a question with special resonance for Richard, who never took cocaine in the Blue Peter studio), and if people can't discern how cleverly balanced that question is - just think of the priest who fiddles with boys outside his own parish - that's their problem. Mr Shennan is too coy to say this, but his strategy is to fight commercial rivals - most notably, Kelvin MacKenzie's TalkSport - on their territory. When it aped the original 1970s schedule of London station LBC, Radio 5 was superb. But that was then, and the endless degrading of quality (I haven't the strength to dole out the ritual kicking to the Sunshine Boys of football commentary, Jonathan Pearce and Alan Green) is increasingly tiresome. Mr Shennan may wish to raise his game before the tips of those darts come coated with hemlock.

* Playing, very briefly, in a columnists's tournament on the internet site Paradise Poker, I was shocked by an intruder, calling himself Pro Indian, who had hacked in to make facetious and disruptive comments. While investigations continue, it would be wrong and maybe even libellous to point the finger. But Moggy, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. If you want to play with the other kids, just ask.

* The headline of last week belonged, meanwhile, to a paper once edited by William Rees Mogg himself. "Spirited Away: Why The End Is Nigh For Religion," insisted The Times, the day after Mr Bush was returned to power by millions of creationists, evangelicals and born-agains like Mr Rupert Murdoch. "Christianity may well be eclipsed in 30 years." Lovely timing.

* As for the Daily Express, it seemed oddly outspoken towards the President. "Scrounging in Paradise. Family From Hell Run Up Hotel Bills" was its front-page headline above a picture of the Bush clan enjoying TV coverage of the genius's triumph. There are suggestions that the headline referred to some idiotic reworking of the usual cobblers about people who run a fully staffed holiday home in the Hamptons from benefits. As if the Express would splash with something so feeble the day after the US election. Please.

* As for the Daily Mail, I am still struggling to penetrate its editor's thinking on John Kerry. Before last Tuesday's enchantment, a leader article seemed - despite the clumsy bet-hedging formulation "Time For A Change?" - clearly to endorse the Democrat. His defeat having duly ensued, the tone changed. Mr Bush was "lucky to have the lacklustre, flip-flopping Mr Kerry as a rival". The Mail's quite right about the perils of the flip-flop. Apart from anything, as Paul Dacre well knows, it is very exhausting never quite knowing your own mind.

* Still with the Mail, sensation attends the Lynda Lee-Potter succession. When last we examined the market, Polly Toynbee was 100-30 favourite "with a run", but late last week William Hill suspended the betting after a tall, balding man tried to place an £80,000 cash bet, in its Kensington High Street shop, on that neocon Cassandra of The Daily Telegraph, Janet "Call Me Crazy" Daley. Crazy Jan was a 125-1 shot, which means the mystery punter would have stood to win £10m. He left the shop "in a shocking rage", according to staff, "ranting and raving about the left-leaning media and a nanny state that doesn't let a man place a decent bet". Most odd.

* Lastly, news of an old friend, as Gerald Kaufman seeks to extend his political interests beyond the Media Select Committee he chairs with such elegance. Last week, Gerald asked no fewer than three intriguing questions of Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin, each wondering when the Foreign Secretary would reply to letters he had sent him regarding constituents. The answers, as taken from Hansard, were: 1) My Right Hon Friend replied on 20 October 2004; 2) My Right Hon Friend replied on 29 October 2004; and, by way of highlighting the contrast, 3) My Right Hon Friend replied on 29 October 2004. I hate to quibble with him when he's so frantic rehearsing for the Manchester Gorton Musical Society's revival of Grease, but these written questions are far from cheap; so please, Gerald, be a love, and OPEN... YOUR... POST.

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