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

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

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred

Simon Danczuk
 

The epic mug battle is only the latest in a cheap set of campaign gimmicks set to define this election

Nash Riggins
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor