Nicholas Lezard: Higher wittering on that does not deserve to be silenced


There seems to be some question about the future of Danny Baker's show on BBC London radio. Yesterday he tweeted that he's being sacrificed on the altar of cuts; the BBC says he's not.

Then again, it's possible it employs more than one person called Danny Baker, and that's who's under threat and it's all a big misunderstanding.

Getting rid of Baker isn't a welcome or clever proposition. BBC London may have dumbed down from its heyday in the 1990s, but you can't say that its presenters between 9am and five in the early evening are lazy, unengaging oafs who should be doing real jobs somewhere else. You have Vanessa Feltz as the doyenne of phone-in show hosts; Robert Elms as an engaging motormouth and source of interesting London lore; and from 3pm to 5pm, you have Danny Baker.

I've been following his career since the late 1970s when he was hired by the NME after co-founding the seminal punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue. This was the NME's golden era, and Danny Baker's shtick was to be funny. Although the other writers could crack a joke when they had to, it was with Baker that the knack came easiest.

He also had a very un-doctrinaire approach to music, unlike the practically Leavisite puritan fervour in those post-punk days. He liked disco, for goodness sake; and said so. Yet this led to a fascinating conversation with the Sex Pistols' John Lydon in the Christmas 1979 issue, one of the magazine's enduring high points.

His radio show, after some years of doing shouty TV (which tested some people's patience, admittedly), is a little marvel of what we may call The Higher Wittering On. The illusion of seamlessness is achieved by having music play continuously while he and his co-host talk, but it's not that much of an illusion. There is a natural gift of the gab there, and a professional ease that makes it all look effortless.

This all comes after a gruelling bout with cancer – whose defeat, he memorably attributed on Desert Island Discs, to science, not any personal qualities. (He also, equally memorably, described some of his colleagues as "halfwits and boss-eyed bozos".) Fittingly, when it comes to his playlist, you never know what he's going to play next. He recently began a show with "Hosanna" from Jesus Christ Superstar and an early Roy Wood rock'n'roll single which ends with a bagpipe solo. No show can live up to such an opening, said Baker after playing them back to back, but if anyone's show can, his can.

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