Rewind radio: World at One; Simon Mayo – review

Celebrations of the 90th anniversary of BBC radio were necessarily muted as the Savile and Newsnight scandals rumbled on

World at One (Radio 4) | iPlayer
Simon Mayo (Radio 2) | iPlayer

At this year's Radio Festival, held in Salford, all talk was of the BBC. Unfortunately for this most august of institutions, such chatter did not centre on BBC radio's 90th birthday celebrations, its still-successful Reithian remit, its enviable reputation around the world. All gossip was, of course, of George Entwistle and his unfeasibly useless Today interview. Crikey, he was ill-prepared. And yet, according to BBC types at the festival, Entwistle's close advisers were the heads of in-house departments entitled communications and strategy. Which, if true, is laughable. Entwistle had to resign, not because he couldn't do the job, but because of his appalling communication skills and apparent lack of strategy.

Still, everything's going to be OK now, because the adviser to Tim Davie, acting DG, is… Alan Yentob. I know! But, quoth the insiders, this is good. Yentob knows the BBC inside out, he's a journalist and he's a fighter. Davie, head of BBC radio for the past few years, is certainly clever and more worldly than Entwistle. Which means that he won't want the job full-time. The consensus is that whoever ends up as boss of the BBC has an impossible task: he or she has to be both head of journalism and chief executive and the two jobs pull in completely different directions.

Oh, it's all such a terrible shame: for Newsnight, for the BBC in general, and for poor, wrongly accused Lord McAlpine, who gave an interview to Radio 4's World at One on Thursday lunchtime. McAlpine is elderly. He wheezes, his words arrive like leaves on the wind. But those words were devastating. "Horrendous", "shattered", "it gets into your soul, you think there's something wrong with the world". If Newsnight had simply bothered to call him, he would have told them the accusations were rubbish. But, presumably, they thought they didn't need to, because no one in the programme actually said his name.

McAlpine was gracious, generous, intelligent and sympathetic. He said he'd been angry, but tried to stop himself, as "anger gets in your bones, it rots your life". He also said that abuse victim Steven Messham, who'd wrongly identified him, had "suffered a lot". "I've been blessed in my life," said McAlpine. "He's had a terrible time."

And behind all this humanity and inhumanity, this mess that someone else is clearing up, the Savile scandal rumbled on. On Thursday, another ex-Radio 1 DJ, Dave Lee Travis, was arrested, accused of molesting two women (not children).

No wonder last week's celebrations of 90 years of BBC Radio were muted. The pivotal moment was at 5.33pm on Wednesday, when a 90-second audio composition by Damon Albarn was broadcast on every single BBC radio station worldwide to an audience of 120 million. I listened on Radio 2, with Simon Mayo doing his cheerful best in a live broadcast from the Science Museum in London. "Here's Scouting For Girls. Ummm, that doesn't seem to be working. How about Video Killed the Radio Star instead."

Mayo, ex-Radio 1, was careful on the topic of the station. He spoke to Tony Blackburn, very briefly, about his move from Radio Caroline to Radio 1 (Blackburn's was the first voice heard on Radio 1). He had a longer chat with Tim Davie, straight after Albarn's composition was played. Davie was cool and collected, a straight bat, informing us that moments like this, when we're reminded of the good that the BBC can do, make his job worthwhile. No need for a communications strategist here.

Damon's piece, called 2LO Calling, after the 2LO transmitter used in the first BBC radio broadcast, was very Albarn: crunchy, baffling, whirligig-rhythmed, resolving into a pretty piano piece played over the pips. I liked the children's voices, fading in and out, as though we were spinning our dials across the radio waves… of the past, the future?

"Music is everything; without it there's nothing, just silence," said one of the voices. "In 90 years' time we'll be living on Mars so we don't, like, die from the sun coming into us," explained another. And, my favourite, in a strong Northern Irish accent: "I think there'll be more people and because there'll be more people, I would tell them to be careful not to get lost. Because it might be really, really busy." That part was strangely moving. Be careful, people. Don't get lost.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rewind radio: Jeremy Vine; Arthur Smith's Balham Bash; The Simon Day Show – review

Jeremy Vine's stories about the Queen's Irish visit and parental porn might seem an incongruous mix for Radio 2, but he makes it work, writes Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

21, May, 2011 @11:04 PM

Article image
Rewind radio: Lauren Laverne – review

6 Music's live extravaganza shows the way forward for the BBC's music coverage, writes Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

06, Oct, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Rewind radio: Chris Evans; Vinyl Revival; Classic UK Clubs; Woman's Hour; Victoria Derbyshire; Lauren Laverne – review
Miranda Sawyer: Music shows provide a much-needed tonic to the onslaught of bad news

Miranda Sawyer

11, Dec, 2011 @12:06 AM

Article image
The week in radio and podcasts: Scala Radio; Don’t Log Off; Moving Pictures – review
If you find Classic FM too cheesy and Radio 3 too highbrow, Simon Mayo’s bright and breezy Scala Radio could be just the thing

Miranda Sawyer

10, Mar, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Rewind radio: World at One; Mind Myths; The Songs My Son Loved; Woman's Hour – review
An extended World at One only enhances Radio 4's news portfolio, says Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

13, Nov, 2011 @12:06 AM

Article image
Rewind radio: Russell Brand in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust; Noise: A Human History – review

Russell Brand might be a loose cannon on live radio, but no one is such a joy to listen to, writes Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

24, Mar, 2013 @6:00 PM

Article image
Rewind radio: Life and Fate; Charles Hazlewood; Out in the World – review

Radio 4's 13-part dramatisation of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate was engrossing, Charles Hazlewood's dissection of an Elbow song merely frustrating, writes Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

24, Sep, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Rewind radio: Nicky Campbell; The Truth About the Roma; The Call; Song Stories: Without You – review
Halle Berry's assertion that her daughter is black brought the best out of Nicky Campbell – and his callers, writes Miranda Sawyer

Miranda Sawyer

13, Feb, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
Simon Mayo confirmed as Chris Evans's successor on BBC Radio 2
Radio 5 Live presenter will take over Radio 2 drivetime show when Evans replaces Wogan, but continue film show. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

15, Sep, 2009 @12:23 PM

Article image
The week in radio: Desert Island Discs; The Surgery With Gemma and Dr Radha
It was three cheers for castaway Noel Gallagher. And Radio 1’s teen advice show turned to bad first dates

Miranda Sawyer

26, Jul, 2015 @6:00 AM