How We Met: Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode
'The minute we met we fell to talking in a way some think sounds like a bickering married couple'
Sunday 29 March 2009
Simon Mayo, 50, has been a radio presenter at the BBC since 1981. After 15 years on Radio 1, he joined Radio Five Live in 2001, where he presents the weekday afternoon slot. In 2008 he won Radio Broadcaster of the Year. He lives in London with his wife and children
Mark and I first met in 1994 when I moved from the Radio 1 Breakfast Show to the mid-morning slot. One of the new things I wanted to bring in was movie reviews, so Matthew Bannister, the new controller, got Mark in to do a trial with me.
Shy, unassuming, not too opinionated – Mark was none of these things. It was instantly clear he had the two requirements for the role: extraordinary knowledge of film and total shamelessness in spouting his views – Mark has 100 per cent confidence in what he thinks.
It's not just about knowing your stuff, though, it's about being able to give a performance, and Mark is definitely a performer. I went to see him entertain in a different capacity the other day, in fact, playing with his rockabilly band the Dodge Brothers for their album launch. It was a bit like the Stray Cats in 1982, except without any of the hits. They do a very fine line in songs about transport and homicide.
After a five-year stint together on Radio 1, Mark decided he was too old for the station, so we didn't work together for a while, but as soon as I joined Five Live, I got him back for the weekly movie review.
It's hard to pinpoint where our on-air chemistry comes from. I think if it works, it is because we genuinely have fun. People have this belief that Mark and I don't like each other because we bicker. But quite clearly the only reason we can do that is because the opposite is true. If Mark strays towards the pompous or verbose, that's when I might wheedle my way into the conversation, or rather the monologue, and take him down a peg or two.
We occasionally go to film screenings together – the last one was Lesbian Vampire Killers. No one is allowed to so much as move in the cinema when Mark's around. I wanted to Twitter but he looked at me very crossly until I put my phone away. We are both supposed be Twittering for the show, but Mark hasn't got a clue. If he could even remotely engage with the technology of the 21st century it would make my life a lot easier. Unfortunately, he's stuck in the 1950s, probably because that's where his clothes come from.
Mark Kermode, 45, is a film critic who writes for Sight and Sound. He is resident reviewer on Simon Mayo's BBC Five Live show and co-presents The Culture Show on BBC Two. He lives in the New Forest with his wife and children
Simon and I virtually met on air and for years we almost never saw each other socially, partly because he lives in London and I live down in the New Forest, partly because we are equally anti-social people.
Our entire friendship was broadcast in weekly instalments. It didn't really need to develop as such, because the minute we met, we fell to talking to each other in the way we do now – a broadly combative mode of conversation that some think sounds like we hate each other and others think sounds like a bickering married couple.
[The arts journalist] Mark Lawson once said to me, "It sounded really tense between you two today," and I was really surprised. If you look on the internet, there are actually discussions about whether or not we hate each other. There was one in particular about a comment Simon made that was apparently met by silence from me, which was taken as being indicative of the moment we really fell out. But we thrive on conflict. It sounds terrible said aloud, but there is something special about the relationship we have and I don't think either of us fully understand it.
We never sat down and constructed our roles. His talent as a presenter is to bring the best out in people without anyone realising he is doing anything at all. I'm very aware that I have been able to do some of my best work on radio because of the environment Simon creates.
I left Radio 1 when I was about 35. I remember feeling very conscious that I was about twice the age of the average listener, so it was time to move on. Simon and I didn't work together for several years, but when I came back on to his show on Five Live, it was as if we hadn't been apart. In fact, I think the first thing I said may have been "And another thing..."
We tend to diverge in our opinions on film – I love horror, which he's not bothered about, and for a long time he had a fondness for Meg Ryan, which I found unfathomable. At my leaving do at Radio 1 I decided to do a film screening – Simon was expecting The Exorcist but I actually chose Dougal and the Blue Cat, the Magic Roundabout film, which he absolutely loathed. I truly believe that there are some films that if your friends don't get them, you cannot be friends any more. But in our case, we are so out of step in our likes and dislikes that those rules don't seem to apply.
My enduring image of Simon is the look on his face as I get to the end of a heaving rant, which is a mixture of parental affection, exasperation and resignation that just says, "Have you finished now?" n
The 5 Live Film Review with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode is on Fridays from 3pm on BBC Radio 5 Live. Podcasts of the show can be downloaded at bbc.co.uk/podcasts
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