Radio 4: Just don't get him started on 'Veg Talk'...
Andy Kershaw is a fan of Radio 4, but thinks it's clogged up with shows that are mere fluff. The presenter sounds off to Ian Burrell
Monday 19 December 2005
Andy Kershaw sits in his London home with a copy of the Radio Times in front of him, and turns to the schedules for BBC Radio 4.
Hours earlier, he had been a guest of John Humphrys on the Today programme and, having been asked to give his views on the demise of Home Truths (the show formerly presented by his friend John Peel), he found himself taking Mark Damazer's station apart, piece by piece.
"I think there's a lot of dead wood. A number of programmes are long past their sell-by date," he told Humphrys, before questioning the relevance of such Radio 4 stalwarts as PM, Money Box and Woman's Hour.
Kershaw's views on broadcasting are worth hearing. As a nine-times Sony Gold award-winner, a current presenter for BBC Radio 3, and a former radio critic for The Independent, he knows his subject. And, as he flicks through the Radio Times, and the crackle of the turning pages is interspersed with sighs of despair and snorts of derision, it is clear that he thinks large parts of Radio 4 are due for the knacker's yard.
This is not, he wants to make clear, more grouching from a grumpy disc jockey about a former employer. "I'm a huge Radio 4 fan," he says. "I'm a veteran listener and I have it on for quite a lot of the day. One of the things I really miss when I'm on my foreign adventures is Radio 4."
He turns back to the Radio Times. "Right, this is the list for the firing squad," he says. Excess Baggage, the network's travel show presented by Sandi Toksvig, is first for the blindfold and the last cigarette: "It's a travel programme in which the participants never travel further than the distance between the lift at Broadcasting House and studio B15."
Next in line is the personal- finance show Money Box, which Kershaw finds "deeply boring": "It's a programme for those penny-pinching, Daily Express-reading, curtain-twitchers." He makes even less effort to conceal his distaste for Jenni Murray's Woman's Hour, a radio institution for 59 years. "There are two things wrong with Woman's Hour, and those are the two basic assumptions running through it: 1) all men are bastards; 2) all women are mesmerised by their own reproductive organs. They're not, but they're always talking about their bloody plumbing."
Kershaw even listens to Radio 4 at the crack of dawn: "They should get rid of that bloody 'UK Theme' at 5.30am. A compilation of all these tunes that are supposed to represent the British Isles, such as 'Danny Boy' and 'Men of Harlech'. It goes on and on and on." As does Kershaw: "I'd get rid of all religious programmes, too - it should be a secular network," he says. "It's all mumbo-jumbo, a retreat from enlightenment."
He breaks off from his critical onslaught to offer some words of praise for Damazer's schedule. "There's a lot of good stuff, actually. Analysis, File on 4..." Then the squad reloads and opens fire again, with You and Yours against the wall. "It goes on all day. No matter what time of day you switch on Radio 4, it's always You and Yours," he complains. "It's the fusspot, busybody tone of it. It's a waste of a good hour - if you're going to have You and Yours, have it for half an hour a week, not one hour five days a week."
Turns the page. "Oh, Shop Talk, more consumer piffle." Then he's back to realising why he bothers with the network in the first place. "There's some excellent stuff - dramas, analytical programmes... Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor, that's a cracking programme. What I'm asking for is more stimulating stuff. All in the Mind, which follows it, good programme. The Moral Maze, good programme." Indeed, Kershaw believes that there is a public hunger for debate, which, in spite of himself, he describes as "the new rock'n'roll".
The enthusiasm lasts until he sees the name of someone he regards as another suitable target for the death squad. "Those ghastly, smug, middle-class 'comedies' by Simon Brett, where the women are always called Victoria. They're just not funny. Self-satisfied, they are."
But no show provokes Kershaw's ire like Veg Talk, the station's long-running food show. "This programme, more than any, is emblematic of the fluff clogging up Radio 4. In its first series, I thought, 'This show should have been strangled at birth'. It's now on its seventh or eighth series. It's a weekly programme about veg-e-tab-les!" he says, incredulously. "There's only so much you can do with vegetables. And it's all delivered with this fake, barrow-boy bonhomie. Veg Talk must die."
Andy Kershaw is on BBC Radio 3 at 10.15pm on Sundays
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