Matthew Norman: How, in an instant, I came to love the real Jim Naughtie

The obituaries might as well be written. Whatever else he has done or has yet to do, he will be remembered solely for that inter-consonantal ballistic missile

Share
Related Topics

If any of you can cite a more perfect irony than the one which made 7.59.50am on 6 December 2010 the most listened to moment in British radio history since Edward VIII announced his abdication – 47.7 million people now claim to have been to tuned to Radio 4 on Monday morn – I will send you a signed copy of the James Naughtie Lexicon of Modern Rhyming Slang (Roger Mellie Press, £14.99) by courier forthwith.

However one may have come to regard Jim down the years (and feelings tend to be mixed), the one quality with which nobody wise has ever associated him is brevity. On a good morning, Jim's interrogative manner suggests Garth Crooks on the tranquilisers Nurse Ratched reserved for the more overtly deranged of her charges. On a bad one, you could grow a beard to astound the president of the Greek Orthodox branch of the ZZ Top Fan Club in the time he takes to crank out an enquiry.

For 15 years, Jim made a radiophonic art form of plapping on and on until even the Zen monk demographic finds itself screaming "For Buddha's sake, you loquacious git, come to the point". If the shortest recordable time period known to humanity is the gap between hearing "And now on Radio 4, it's Midweek with Libby Purves" and lurching for the off button, as mainstream quantum gravity thinking holds, the longest might just be Jim asking anyone anything about anything.

And then he reinvented himself with what Mrs Malaprop would have referred to as a syllabub. And not even the full syllabub. Somehow, in the midst of the mayhem raging in his head, Jim showed the speed of mind not always discernible from his work to excise that final "t". The forthcoming interviewee was trailed, as a trip to YouTube will confirm, as Jeremy Cun. Which would make pedantic linguistic sense only if the Hulture Secretary were the Rt Hon Jeremy Hun. Did we fight Hitler so that one day the Hun might serve in Her Majesty's Cabinet? I don't believe so.

And that, for Jim, is that. Three letters, one truncated syllable, and the obituaries might as well be written today. Whatever else he has done during tens of thousands of hours of broadcasting, whatever he has yet to do, he will be remembered solely for that inter-consonantal ballistic missile.

It will be a mixed blessing. For the ensuing weeks, Jim will faux-sheepishly revel in being the centre of attention, retelling the tale to doe-eyed young women at Christmas parties with practised ease, and revelling in his freshly minted role as unwitting national jester and speaker of brutal truth to power. But early in the New Year, he will begin to tire of being approached in concert halls by mobile-wielding Sibelius-lovers pleading, "Jim, I've got my mum on the phone, and she's your biggest fan. Have a word, will you? Her name's Margot, but she'd be so thrilled if you'd call her an absolute Jeremy."

There will be compensations. I gather that Simon Cowell – rhyming slang himself these days, of course, as in "How's your irritable bowel syndrome?" "Don't ask. Me Simons aren't irritable, pal, they're positively psychotic" – has approached him and bandwagon-jumping compatriot Andrew Marr. The X Factor supremo hopes to sign the McPotty-Mouth twins to his Syco record label, with a view to them recording their updated, Caledonian version of Derek and Clive.

And let's not overlook how that syllabub and his reaction to it humanised him. I haven't always been Jim's greatest admirer, in sooth, while he, having been relentlessly teased in various diaries down the years, has hardly been mine. A couple of years ago I took a growing boy of my acquaintance to lunch in a fish restaurant in Chiswick, and there he sat at the only other occupied table. "Dad," he whispered, "why is that man staring at you as if he wants to kill you?". "That would be," was the reply, "because he wants to kill me."

Yet if he regards me still as every inch the Jezza, the feeling is no longer reciprocated. I came to love Jim Naughtie in that instant, not so much for the Freudo-Spoonerian slip, wondrously hilarious though it was, but for the giggling that followed and the flawed yet heroic rearguard he waged to suppress it. The Naughtie of my misunderestimation would have tried to bulldoze through the disaster with pious and sonorous bombast, and snapped "grow up" at anyone who mentioned it. The real Jim handled it with gently amused humility. He was adorable.

If this is a game of lakes and snadders for him, alas it means only a slide for the plucky little media supremo from Surrey. For one thing, this hardly aids Mr Hunt's intent to act as Rupert Murdoch's enabler in his plan to take a 100 per cent stake in BSkyB and use it as the springboard to dominate a far vaster chunk of the British media even than now. Any favouritism shown towards Murdoch, for all that nothing else has been shown him by any government since 1979, might look vengefully anti-BBC from the man called a cun on Today. For another, Jeremy's displacement of military crooner James Blunt as the official rhyming slang does little for any personal ambition.

Until Monday, this affable pussy cat was being talked up as David Cameron's likeliest long-term successor. Unfair as it is, his spontaneous mutation into a human punchline must damage his credibility. It wasn't only the sub-header on his own obituary that Jim provided on Monday morning.

Still, a slice of immortality is nothing for even the fall guy to sniff at, and Jeremy recovered by winsomely Tweeting that no one laughed louder than he. It hardly matched the one alluded to at the start, but there is a minor irony in Jim using that word, or three quarters of it, of arguably the least offensive (Tory) member of the Cabinet.Having said that, on current form it shouldn't be long before the Frankie Boyle of Radio 4 sets about inarguably the most.

Should he find Liam Fox's surname too open a goal for a striker of his linguistic suppleness, Jim might remind listeners that the definition of the Countryside Alliance is "a loose coalition of parties joined by the desire to hunt down one particular Fox and tear him to pieces".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links