I'm not actually very good at waking up. I have one of those little gadgets that you stick your radio into so that it will come on at any time you wish. Except for me. Luckily, I have another device that knows how to make the first device work properly. It is called a wife. I would programme the wife to programme the timer to programme the radio to come on at 7.30 in the morning, then exhausted from all this effort I would get into bed, knowing that the next thing to greet my ears would be Brian Redhead saying, 'But you can't possibly mean that . . .'
He was probably only talking to Cecil Parkinson or some poor defenceless wretch in what they call the radio car, but I always felt that he was addressing me. Panic would rise in me as I tried to think of an answer to his probing question, till I would suddenly realise the truth and I would be so elated with relief that I would go straight back to sleep again. Then I would wake up again to hear Brian Redhead saying in silky tones: 'Won't you get me a cup of tea?'
Not Redhead. It was my wife talking. To me. The very same wife whom I had programmed to set the timer was now turning the tables and programming me to get a cup of tea. And it always worked. Like a badly trained robot, I would get out of bed, get into one slipper, go downstairs bouncing off both walls like a ping-pong ball and fall into the kitchen. There I would make tea, interrogate the cat to see if it had got its own breakfast and, if not, what it wanted. Then I would go back to the bedroom, which was by now full of Thought For The Day, and try to let it lull me back to sleep, until Brian Redhead came on again. That would wake me up.
That was because there was always something vaguely unsettling about Brian Redhead which wouldn't let you sleep. Listening to him, in my slumbers, I would semi-consciously feel that if I got any sleepier, he would let loose that tricky question which I would not know how to answer. That's probably why the politicians in the radio car fared no better than they did. I always imagined the BBC radio car to contain a rather comfortable bed with soft pillows, and that when Cecil Parkinson arived for his early-morning interview, yawning suavely, he was gently changed into silk pyjamas and tucked up in bed, softening him up for Redhead's questions. Next time you hear someone say, 'And now over to the radio car, where I believe Malcolm Rifkind is nearly ready for us', just try to imagine the little Scot with the strangled accent being helped into bed by his publicity chap, and I assure you the interview will seem that much more colourful.
It was not always thus. When I lived in London I was loyal to LBC for a while, and abandoned Radio 4 for several years. Before that I relied on Radio 3 to wake me up ('And now here is one of the first tone poems that Kanachek wrote after the break-up of his passionate affair with Lisa Notnik . . .') or do I mean put me to sleep again? And way back in my youth I was woken up every day of the week by the American Forces Network in Munich, giving me sordid news about Eisenhower and the Cold War. This was because I had switched on the previous night to plug myself into the greatest radio programme ever made, the Voice of America Jazz Hour from Washington DC, presented by Willis Conover. This came on late at night, and I would settle down under the bedclothes to educate myself by listening to the latest Horace Silver, Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk. Inevitably, I would fall asleep without switching off and in the morning the American service would still be on, but
no longer giving me jazz, only propaganda . . .
Enough of this. The point is that for many of us Brian Redhead was not a good or bad interviewer. Nor was he merely that rare thing, a man who became famous without going on television. His voice was not just the promise of breakfast to me, nor even the harbinger of bad things from Bosnia; it became something to aspire to. While I was stumbling around trying to shave with my eyes shut, Redhead was being suave, blunt, humorous and no-nonsense on the radio. 'Within an hour or two,' you said to yourself, 'I could be nearly as awake and articulate as that man is now] Yes, it is tempting to go back to bed, but Brian Redhead proves that there is life after breakfast and it is worth getting up and carrying on with the day.'
The only consolation is that Brian Redhead was probably not as lively as the rest of us, come the evening.