The Peter & Jane show

For three years Peter Allen and Jane Garvey have been getting up early to make Radio 5's 'Breakfast Programme'. Now more and more of us are waking up with them. Could they be the sound of news to come?
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It is 8.20am and the distinct sound of male bonding can be heard in the Radio 5 Live studio. The talk is of Aussies and Poms, cricket and warm beer, and the men responsible for it all are the presenter Peter Allen and the cricketer David Boon.

"The rumours are that you used to like a beer or two," says Peter. "How does the modern cricketer compare?"

"Well, I'm not that old, mate," says David, adding: "I enjoy a beer, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you pick your time and do it in the right place."

Peter laughs - "Amen to that" - and then tries to give us a time update.

His co-presenter on The Breakfast Programme, Jane Garvey, interrupts. "Terrible smell of testosterone in here all of a sudden," she says, waving a hand in front of the mike.

"Oh, you do hate it when you're excluded for a minute," says Peter.

Jane screws up her voice to talk like a man. "So, how many pints can you drink?" She reverts to her own to answer the question. "Well in Peter's case that would be three."

Welcome to the Jane and Peter show - the double act that more and more of us are waking up to. They may not be new - both were in on the Radio 5 Live launch three years ago - but they may be news to you. This is because old habits die hard, and none harder than breakfast listening ones. The Breakfast Programme attracts 1.75 million listeners, up by 250,000 on last year, and this spring its time slot was extended by half an hour, until 9 o'clock. A BBC spokeswoman says: "People happen to listen in, like what they hear and come back."

What they hear is news, weather, sport, business, travel, laughter and repartee. It's the last one that really sets it apart from the formalities of Radio 4's Today programme and the frantic pace of Radio 1. The Peter and Jane show has a brisk and breezy style that is somewhere in between, but you don't have to listen long to figure out that Radio 5 is much more than 1 plus 4.

"Jane's phrase is that I'm a grumpy old git and she's a sex-starved spinster," says Peter.

"Well," says Jane, "there is an element of truth in both those statements."

In what way?

"He's a man, I'm a woman," says Jane, fairly unnecessarily.

"I'm 50, she's younger," says Peter. (In fact, she's 31.)

"He's from the South, I'm from the North," says Jane.

"I talk to Australian cricketers about how much drink they had, and call them 'mate'," says Peter.

"Oh, he's always on about how I'm a rampant feminist and I've been on the shelf for so long," says Jane - who is single, while Peter is married, with three children.

"It's a bit of an act, but there is no malice there," she says.

What there is, is a lot of chemistry. I mention this and they both shrug and mock themselves. "Oh yes, listen to them, they've got chemistry."

But while they credit it to a shared sense of humour, they also have that "click" that makes for a bit of magic. When one of them leaves the room, the atmosphere seems flatter. When one of them makes a joke, everyone in the studio starts to smile in anticipation of the retort.

They met in the studio for the pilot. Jane's background is local radio (BBC Hereford and Worcester) while Peter's is national radio and television (including being chief political correspondent at ITN). Their second meeting was on air and live, and they've been getting up early ever since.

"I don't think we've changed very much from how we were, say, two years ago. We didn't get much attention at all when we started, because we did not fail," says Jane. "Then we became a moderate success, which is of no interest to anybody. So it's good that things are taking off now, but we have been getting out of bed at 3am for years now."

The editor, Bill Rogers, sees the programme as "a bit of a soap opera", but also describes it as "relaxed, entertaining, informative, with things that surprise you as well as things that really matter to you". In newspaper terms, The Breakfast Programme might be the Daily Mail without the politics while Today resembles the Telegraph or Times with lashings of politics.

Jane and Peter see their core listener as a salesman of about 32, a football fan who is interested in current affairs. "We are anxious to increase the number of women listeners, too," Jane adds. "Radio 5 is not nearly as macho as people may have thought."

Neither of them sees Today as competition. "It sets the agenda; we reflect it," says Jane. The Corporation is sensitive to the idea that The Breakfast Programme might be poaching any of Today's 5 million listeners. "Radio 4 as a whole has lost 300,000 listeners in the first quarter of 1997," says a spokesman. "But the evidence points to those listeners going to their local stations. There is no evidence to suggest they are going to Radio 5 Live."

This may not be the case in the future. While everyone else has been going on about finding a new way to present the news, Peter and Jane seem to have found one. "We've tried to break through a broadcasting barrier, so that it is possible to project news and serious topics in a way that is more approachable than has ever been done before. It's always been one extreme or the other," says Peter. "What we are trying to do is to appeal to that whole mass of people who may not know the minutiae of what every politician has said, but who are interested in news, a bit of discussion about it and a bit of sport, all presented in a way that amuses and entertains."

In fact, what he describes is very much like a lively news conference. In most cases, however, this liveliness never makes it to the reader or listener. Not so on The Breakfast Programme, though leaving the jokes in is an art in itself.

"If you are doing a double act or whatever it is, you have to make sure it's not exclusive," says Jane. "At breakfast time people are feeling fairly vulnerable anyway, and they don't want to hear two idiots giggling at each other unless they know what they are giggling about."

They like getting out of the studio - this summer they are even taking the show on a camping trip - and prefer ordinary people to pundits any day. They insist that this is why they so often end up in bars. "Peter was in a bar in San Francisco for the US election; I was in one for the Olympics," says Jane.

But, I ask, is that not a rather noisy setting for a radio report? "A bit of noise is great," says Peter. "Somehow, hearing a guy shouting out about the election makes it much more real than any number of pundits talking about the swing to Clinton. That's the essence of what we do."

I might quibble with that, and so might they, because they always do. As for that cricket interview, Jane is not quite finished.

"But people do call each other "mate" in Australia," defends Peter.

"Do they? Oh, of course, you've lived there. Don't start that again."

"You understand nothing."

"I've heard your Antipodean travel tales a few times too many..."

With that, the sex-starved spinster turned to do an interview and the grumpy old git leaned back in his chair with a smile on his facen