Should we still be shocked by the amount of fuss that can be caused by a BBC radio presenter? And not by them behaving badly, either. Reams of print and online blather is generated simply by a presenter slightly changing their work circumstances: think of the palaver over John Humphrys leaving, or Lauren Laverne staying, or Sara Cox moving from evenings to afternoon. Of course, it’s only certain radio stations (and certain shows) that get the attention. The order of press interest is: Radio 4, Radio 2, Radio 1. There’s never very much written about 5 Live, and even less when it comes to, say, 1Xtra. But, hey, such are the newshounds and their particular radio tastes.
Which brings me to Woman’s Hour. Over the past couple of months, both Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey have announced that they’re vacating the WH chair. Murray, the longest-serving show host (33 years), is off to unspecified pastures new. Garvey will have a Radio 4 interview programme and will continue with Fortunately…, the excellent podcast she hosts with Fi Glover. Plus Fortunately… is to get its own slot on 4, one of the few podcasts deemed important enough to cross over to radio (Have You Heard George’s Podcast? is another).
I did wonder, with Murray and Garvey leaving, whether Radio 4 might drop WH altogether, or hire a different presenter for each day, or reduce it to a single weekly show that runs for two hours and allows callers to phone in for one of those hours. But, nope, nothing so radical. Woman’s Hour will continue in its usual 10am slot. From January next year, it will be hosted from Monday to Thursday by the estimable Emma Barnett, who will, I have no doubt, give the whole caboodle a kick up the bum. Other presenters are to be trialled in the Friday to Saturday WH slot. A woman of colour should be appointed. Any one of Andi Oliver (TV food presenter), Gemma Cairney (6 Music) or Clara Amfo (Radio 1) would be a fab choice for the more upbeat weekend slot. Or Radio 4 stalwarts Samira Ahmed (Front Row), Ritula Shah (The World Tonight), Mishal Husain (Today), if any of them fancied a move.
The shift of Barnett from 5 Live’s weekday mornings leaves a large gap in that station’s schedule; several of its female presenters could grab her mic. Drive’s Anna Foster is outstanding, as is Breakfast’s Rachel Burden: is it time for them to have their own solo show? Or would 5 Live bosses rehire Victoria Derbyshire, whose TV programme has been so badly treated?
There are shifts at other stations too. (It’s that time of year: new school timetable.) LBC, while keeping its main weekday slots solid, is tinkering around the edges, giving Tom Swarbrick a Sunday morning show, bringing in David Lammy for a regular Saturday afternoon slot, moving Rachel Johnson to Sundays and bringing in Ruth Davidson. Her show will be called An Inconvenient Ruth; LBC does love a pun. Plus, it’s hired the campaigner for child mental health Natasha Devon as well as Denise Headley, who called into Iain Dale’s show to talk about Black Lives Matter and proved so popular she’s been given a regular fortnightly slot as his co-presenter.
Despite the new appointments, it’s noticeable that the station’s line-up is still very white and male (apart from Shelagh Fogarty). Still, things are changing. TalkSport, once the most white bloke station of the lot, made Laura Woods its weekday breakfast host earlier this year. Now it’s given Ade Oladipo a weekday afternoon show on Talk Sport 2, Darren Bent a Sunday show on Talk Sport; plus Reshmin Chowdhury, Gabby Agbonlahor, Natalie Sawyer and Faye Carruthers all have new, bigger roles. Great stuff.
Aside from Woman’s Hour, Radio 4 has bagged Radio 1’s brilliant Alice Levine – who would herself have been amazing on WH – and given her rather a duff slot as John Lloyd’s co-host on The Museum of Curiosity. Levine started this week and was fine, delivering her scripted lines with lightness and wit. She’s in the wrong show, though. She’s far better when working live, and allowed free rein to be herself. If Radio 4 want to keep her – and they should – they need to dream up a slot that uses her talent properly.
Three unexpected audio treats
George Ezra on How Do You Cope?
5 Live’s Elis James and John Robins are just great: funny, warm and honest, they’ve been busily reducing the stigma around mental health issues with their podcast How Do You Cope? The show’s recent interview with Brit-winning singer-songwriter George Ezra is an eye-opener. Ezra suffers from “pure O” OCD, and talks about this very difficult and complicated illness – yet somehow, he, James and Robins get the funnies in too. At the end of the episode, when Robins describes how he can mentally beat himself up for no reason at all, I found myself empathising while crying with laughter.
Today in Focus: the world’s most expensive painting
This is a delight! Art historian and writer Ben Lewis tells Rachel Humphreys the story of the Salvator Mundi, recently bought in auction for $450m, reputedly by the Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The painting has been authenticated as being by Leonardo da Vinci, but is it, really? Lewis is a good storyteller, and this is a superb – meaning nutso – story. Lewis really tickles when he describes standing in front of the painting: “Well, I didn’t hear the music of the spheres,” he says. “He’s got a kind of froggy face.” God, art and money make a mad combination.
Susan Sontag on Radio 3’s Sunday Feature
Produced by Falling Tree, always a strong indicator of quality, Afterwords is a wonderful portrait of the intellectual Sontag that uses her own words, as well as those of other clever people: journalist Boyd Tonkin, writer Lisa Appignanesi, Andrew Bolton, who curated an exhibition on “camp” (Sontag’s essays helped define the word). Archive audio, some from the BBC, some from Studs Terkel’s radio archive, enlivens the whole show and there’s an amazing part where Sontag gets cruelly snotty with an interviewer. She’s monstrous, but fantastic. (Although is she monstrous? Or just viewed through old ideas of gender?) An intelligent programme that treats the listener as intelligent.