Few people at liberty and wearing jackets that do up from the front, I think it fair to say, have more affection for the radio phone-in than your diarist. When the great Brian Hayes introduced it to Britain in the mid 1970s, my pubescent self was a frequent caller to his LBC show, using a range of different characters and often appearing twice to offer diametrically contrasting opinions within the same hour. I even presented the things, briefly and badly, in the late 1980s (once taking 17 consecutive calls, during a particularly lively open line, about the cost and durability of inter-war period false teeth).
So, I both love the format and have an idea of its weaknesses. However, the quality of phone-ins on Radio Five Live, after sinking for years, reached a nadir on Victoria Derbyshire's morning show last week, suggesting the BBC needs urgently to review its reliance on them.
The topic was whether listeners supported the McCanns ...a faux-innocent question designed, as so many are, to entice a stream of toxic drivel loosely disguised as opinionated free speech. This one got out of hand, though, the viciousness being so torrential that enough people expressed revulsion to oblige the production team to hold a text vote on whether to continue. The subject was swiftly abandoned. That Five Live feels compelled to travel ever further down-market to hold its audience share is plain.
If the BBC is absolutely not for one thing, however, that thing is grubby, cynical, bone idle rabble-rousing designed to gratify spiteful minds and offend more civilised ones. Fiddling competitions and finessing documentary trailers are trivial ethical failures. Imposing on a BBC radio network the culture and mores of a Sun column seems a graver misuse of licence fee revenue.
that note of high pomposity brings us to the man who bestrides both those worlds like a portly colossus. While we await next month's publication of Undaunted, the biography of TalkSport presenter Jon Gaunt, we must sate our appetite on his weekly effort in the Sun. There we find him supporting the notion of giving pregnant women £120 for fresh fruit and veg, albeit with a twist. The money should be paid in voucher form, he posits, as should other benefits. "Yes, it would be humiliating to have to pull out the tokens at the till in Tesco," writes Gaunty, who is widely considered to have made the most beneficial contribution to his home town of Coventry since the Luftwaffe. "But perhaps it would also be the spur to get people back to work. Don't want to be humiliated?" concludes Gaunty. "Then get a job." It isn't just the prose style that impresses. Even more than that, it's the depth of the thought process behind it. Roll on October and the arrival of Undaunted.
Belated congrats to Bel Mooney. The Daily Mail's respected agony aunt, 60, recently wed a man 16 years her junior, and we wish him all the best. Should any tensions creep into the nuptials, the new Mr Mooney will learn to resolve them at the dinner table. In her previous berth at The Times, Bel advised a wife whose control freak husband was distressing her and the children thus: "Search for some plain wooden napkin rings to decorate. The identical outsides will bear all four of your names, symbolising the group. The inside of each will be painted in a different primary colour to symbolise your different natures ..." A set of wooden napkin rings, painted electric shades of terracotta, vermilion, petrol grey and canary yellow will be on their way to Bath the minute I've rung Peter Jones.
i am concerned for the morale of Bel's colleague Richard Littlejohn. The Daily Mail appears strangely averse to plugging Richard's hilarious twice weekly column on its front page, as it so often does for Allison Pearson and other star writers. Confidence is paramount to the humorous columnist, and we can't have Richard losing heart. The odd cover flash would do no harm at all.
"the washington post" sets the standard in avoiding potentially dangerous ambiguity. " 'Up until this week, it was Rumsfeld's war', said retired Army Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano," ran a report on General Petreaus's trip to Congress, "referring to former defense secretary Donald H Rumsfeld". Aha, the penny drops. For a moment I thought it was Hyram Q Rumsfeld, owner of the third-largest Chrysler franchise in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sometimes – and frankly British newspapers could learn from this – there really is no safe choice but to spell things out.
Having started with such a BBC downer, the notion of scrupulous balance still beloved across much of the Beeb demands that we finish on a happier note. So let's observe how good it is to note staff training going so smoothly. One training module includes an example in which the England football team beats Andorra 4-0 on the night the Scots defeat France 2-0, with head of sport Roger Mosey informing journalists that the more remarkable Scotland result should be the lead item. On Wednesday, we came close to that scenario, England easily beating Russia and Scotland miraculously winning in Paris. And yet, when my friend Huw Edwards toddled along with BBC1's Ten O'Clock News, the headlines featured the England win without any mention of the Scots (not an error replicated either by Radio 4 or ITV). Those Scots who routinely refer to the BBC as the English Broadcasting Corporation must have been tickled by this cheeky self-satire.