Ian Burrell: Victoria's secret: how Radio 5 has got Westminster running scared

Media Studies: Derbyshire will mix it with politicians but can also be sensitive with callers

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The Independent Online

Maybe it's the Ken Clarke factor? Government ministers have become strangely frightened of appearing on Victoria Derbyshire's show for Radio 5 Live, from which the Justice Secretary scurried out in his hush puppies after a dreadful mauling last year.

Ken's pursuers that day were the 5 Live listeners, after he had been skilfully turned on his heels by the show's no-nonsense Lancastrian presenter over an ill-advised attempt to define rape in various shades of seriousness.

"Rape is rape, with respect," Derbyshire reminded him. "No, it's not," responded Clarke, as the usually unruffled cigar-smoking, jazz-loving daddy-o descended into a stammering defence of his proposal to discount the sentences of rapists, and victims of rapists called into the show to argue with him.

Since that interview last summer, for which Derbyshire has been given one of two nominations in next month's Sony radio awards, the presenter's relationship with the Government has been difficult. "What we are finding is tricky is getting a Conservative minister on to the programme to talk to listeners," she says. "Obviously there is no rule that says they have to come on to our programme and talk to listeners but in the end listeners are voters and it is part of their job description to engage with voters about policy."

This fear of Derbyshire's listeners might be because she has coached them well. Her interviewing style has many admirers, including The Daily Telegraph's Gillian Reynolds, doyenne of radio critics, who describes her as "skilful and patient". But she hasn't always felt the support of her bosses.

When Adrian van Klaveren arrived as Radio 5 Live's controller in 2008, Derbyshire was convinced that he was not a fan after he cut an hour from her show. "I felt a bit under siege then and I thought, 'That's it, the new boss doesn't like me and we are going to have to do something about this because I love this job'. We worked very hard to differentiate ourselves again and focused on long interviews."

She has proved her point with Sony nominations for Best Interview and for Speech Broadcaster of the Year. Recently she has been living with her mother in Bolton, a consequence of 5 Live's move to Salford. The BBC is terrified of negative coverage of its northern relocation and will be reassured by Derbyshire's assertion that it has made "absolutely zero difference" to her show's ability to attract interviewees as "we don't do celebrity or show-business guests".

The key to her broadcasting technique is that she listens to what her guests have to say and doesn't cut them short. She will mix it with politicians but can be sensitive with callers like Rachel, the doctor who phoned in one morning to say she was an alcoholic and poured herself a Guinness while she was talking.

She wants to do things that radio broadcasters haven't done before, like getting a serving High Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, to come and talk about his life. Sir Paul revealed that he is one of five judges who ride motorcycles into the Royal Courts of Justice and refer to themselves as Hell's Angels. She is planning a live broadcast next month from an abortion clinic.

Radio 5 was once known as "Radio Bloke" but Derbyshire has helped to dispel that. "It's so ridiculous. Which is the speech radio station that has the most female presenters and production staff? It's us!"

With her experience in long-form heavyweight interviews she must now be a contender for a role on Radio 4's Today – which is still criticised for not having enough women in its presenting team.


The former referee who thinks a line has to be drawn

I'm sitting watching Arsenal's game with Chelsea on a live television feed in the company of the former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher as he sends a text to Mike Riley, the boss of the men in black.

Gallagher is the Premier League's watchman, who monitors each game live in front of a bank of TV screens and alerts Riley to any contentious incidents that may result in difficult questions from the sports media.

"I will phone up Mike immediately and then he has a head start – because last season he had to wait until watching Match of the Day," says Gallagher, who also increasingly appears on air to explain controversial decisions.

Having the benefit of instant replays hasn't convinced him that football should follow rugby and allow officials to see replays. But he does want goal-line cameras.

"Number one for me is goal-line technology because everything is about scoring a goal – whether the ball is in the net or not is a fact. Whether something is a foul or not is a subjective decision based on the referee's opinion."

It’s good to see these libel proceedings withdrawn

After his tussle with Ken Livingstone in Thursday's Sky News debate, Boris Johnson has had another bruising encounter – with Britain's "suing judge", Lord Justice Sedley. The judge took legal action over a recent Boris Daily Telegraph column which made allegations about m'lud's supposed political affiliations.

The Telegraph published a clarification but Lord Justice Sedley was unsatisfied and instructed Bindmans to seek costs and damages, claiming "it is not easy to think of a more damaging accusation to make against a judge". It is extremely rare for a judge to launch libel proceedings. But Lord Justice Sedley is a serial complainant and forced a previous apology (plus a charitable donation) from The Telegraph last year, not to mention one from The Independent in 1996. Having been told that Boris had a right to his opinion in a comment column, the judge has thankfully backed down.