Despite 'Manuelgate', Radio 5 Live's controller risks playing it for laughs

Adrian van Klaveren, the station's new boss, wants comedy on the network, he tells Ian Burrell

Comedy hasn't been a laughing matter at BBC Radio for some weeks now. Suddenly it's a genre fraught with danger that makes producers blanch with fear, having already cost two powerful executives their jobs and besmirched the careers of two of the corporation's most famous presenters.

So it's a surprise that Adrian van Klaveren, the new controller of Radio 5 Live, known for breaking news and sport, is planning to recast his network as a new home of humour, preparing to pepper his schedule with comedians such as Andy Parsons, Dom Joly and Danny Wallace. "In people's everyday lives they laugh and smile a lot, and if what's coming out of the radio doesn't reflect the way people live their lives, it's a difficulty for us. We have to be a mix and reflect all parts of life – and I think humour is a part of it."

Van Klaveren, 46, tall, bald and businesslike, doesn't look like he's much of a gag merchant. I couldn't see him down at the Chuckle Club, not even as a heckler. He's a BBC news man to the core, with 25 years' experience as an executive on such heavyweight productions as Newsnight, Panorama and the Nine O'Clock News.

Yet in a period when current affairs is, even more than usual, drenched in misery, Van Klaveren wants to intersperse dispatches on climate change and analysis of recession with the odd chortle. "5 Live is a station which is about the richness of life and bringing a smile to you in terms of what's going on. Humour is an important part of people's lives, and a topical humour is something 5 Live needs to have as part of its range of what it can offer," he says with the formality of a general practitioner doling out a prescription.

The tonic that he prescribes is in three parts. Aside from the comedy, he wants to capitalise on technological developments to make 5 Live an increasingly visual medium, and to get the station out on the road a bit more.

The funny stuff will arrive in time for the festive season, a series of "Christmas treats", as Van Klaveren terms them. Parsons will be making a show called PMQ, in which he will play the Speaker and guests have to respond to given situations as if they were Gordon Brown, only in a humorous way. The controller hopes it will become a current affairs equivalent of Colin Murray's successful Fighting Talk, "which works brilliantly in terms of sport, but what we haven't got is a vehicle which is as strong in terms of news and topical events". The Big Ask, a new series of three programmes hosted by Martin Kelner is intended as a witty approach to some of life's big questions, such as whether money can buy you happiness.

Joly and Wallace come together for Dom and Danny do Christmas, which will go to air on Christmas Day at noon. Van Klaveren admits that many families will have better things to do at that time, but predicts the show will live on strongly on the BBC's online listen again facility and as a podcast. "This is showing us is how radio is changing. If we were only talking about a programme that went out at 12 o'clock on Christmas Day, then would people make an appointment to listen? Would we get the numbers we want? Probably not. For all of this content, the key thing is that it's usable in different forms, that we are able to make it available through the iPlayer so that it's available to listen again, that it has the potential to podcast."

As for risking his job, after only seven months in post, by venturing into comedic territory, he doesn't seem too worried. "We can produce content which is surprising, going to make them laugh and be different. In the end, it's about understanding what our editorial boundaries are and what judgements need to be made. There will always be some people who will find certain things funny and people who don't. That's very different from invasion of privacy or causing significant offence to people," he says, offering little sympathy to Jonathan Ross.

These comedy shows, which extend to a Fighting Talk special called "Old Chestnuts" and featuring former presenters Johnny Vaughan and Christian O'Connell and an Unsporting Review of 2008 hosted by Stuart Cosgrove, are termed by Van Klaveren as "stand-out moments" with podcast potential. More seriously, he has commissioned the first black British world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis to make Galveston Giant, about the pioneering pugilist Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champ.

The second strand of Van Klaveren's strategy for reshaping 5 Live is to take the radio network beyond the confines of simply being an audio medium. "We want to do much more in terms of visualising our content. If you are listening through your computer or something with a screen, what are you seeing? We have a lot of information coming into us, texts and so on, so how do you make more of that available so people can see it?"

The Breakfast show with Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty features a webcam and Van Klaveren wants the network's output to do more. "We are moving towards an era when you can put three or four cameras around a studio and it will cut depending on who is speaking," he says, voicing the expectation that more listeners will tune in via mobile phones and other hand-held devices. When the network moves to Salford in 2011, Van Klaveren anticipates that many interviews will be conducted via video-conferencing and he wants the audience, where possible, to see pictures. "The sense of being able to see expressions and relate in a visual way is important for presenters. That technology is developing very fast now and the best of it is very good. We would want to bring the listeners into that."

He says he is not trying to turn 5 Live into a television network. "What we don't want to do is make radio that's trying to be television because 20 per cent of your listening is in a car, for a start. The beauty of radio is its flexibility, the mobility of it – for many people it is a secondary activity. What we've got to do is find a way of enhancing things for those with access to a screen without jeopardising the audio only experience."

The final part of Van Klaveren's plan involves getting out and about around the country, doing more outside broadcasts (such as Fogarty's show from a children's hospice and 5 Live's reporting on the resignation of Kevin Keegan). He dismisses claims that some of his presenting staff are fighting the move to the MediaCity site in Salford, but is clear that everyone in the main schedule must move north. "We are not leaving elements here and there and trying to stitch it all back together on air."

And he rejects the notion that the relocated station might speak with more of a Mancunian accent. "I don't think there should be a northern feel," he says. "We are very much about trying to be informal, doing things in everyday language, trying to reach out to people wherever they are."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water