The week in radio: 5 Live Drive; Nazanin; Shaun Keaveny’s Community Garden Radio and more

Clare McDonnell is a Drivetime natural; Ceri Thomas explores the story behind Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s heartbreaking plight; and Shaun Keaveny has been busy

5 Live Drive (BBC 5 Live) | iPlayer
Nazanin (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Shaun Keaveny’s Community Garden Radio/Shaun Keaveny’s Creative Cul De Sac

“A lot of news today,” said Clare McDonnell on Tuesday, her second day on 5 Live Drive alongside veteran Tony Livesey. She wasn’t wrong: the Prince Andrew statement landed just as the programme started.

McDonnell was unfazed. A vastly experienced presenter, with the BBC 6 Music, Radio Kent and the World Service under her belt, as well as often covering 5 Live slots, she’s stepped into Anna Foster’s place with aplomb (Foster is now the BBC’s Middle East correspondent) and she’s already into her stride. “She’ll do,” said one text to the programme on Tuesday and McDonnell was chuffed. She should be: a newbie at the helm of an established BBC radio show isn’t always welcomed. Radio listeners do not always like change, as Jo Whiley, Craig Charles or Emma Barnett can attest. To be fair, the listeners are sometimes right: controllers can be clumsy in forcing out old favourites or moving presenters around. But the warm and newsy McDonnell is not one of those appointments. She’s made for this show.

On Tuesday, her interviews with various US lawyers about thesettlement between Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre – about what it might actually mean, beneath the legalese – were insightful and pointed. On Wednesday, she spoke to Matt, a young man with autism who volunteers at a farm, and Kwajo Tweneboa, the inspirational campaigner for better social housing. In both interviews, she was empathic as well as serious, teasing out the background that creates these gripping individual stories.

I do enjoy 5 Live Drive; the camaraderie between Livesey and McDonnell is cheering and its news stories mix well with more human tales. This is due to excellent production, as well as great presentation. Plus: the listeners. On Tuesday, they were asked to suggest who could play Livesey in the forthcoming Netflix film Bank of Dave (based on the real life of Dave Fishwick, Livesey’s childhood friend). “Sean Bean,” said one. “Or if he’s not available, Mr Bean.” On Wednesday, they got in touch to describe when they had met famous people in real life. This was inspired by Livesey and McDonnell being about to go to see Echo and the Bunnymen and McDonnell not wanting to go backstage, for fear of embarrassment. A listener texted in to say that, a few years ago, he’d pretended to be Ian McCulloch, lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, in order to blag his way into a gig. The producers got him on the phone. If you’re feeling down about the world, 5 Live Drive will keep you cheerful while you eat your tea.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella. Photograph: Free-Nazanin/Facebook

While we’re talking great producers, here’s Ceri Thomas, chief producer on the Today programme between 2006 and 2012, before he moved to Panorama and, for the past few years, Tortoise Media. Now Thomas has turned reporter-presenter, for Nazanin, a five-part Radio 4 series that explains the background to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being held hostage in Iran. Unsurprisingly, Thomas is excellent. His opening salvo, about how ordinary people can get caught up in world events, has stayed with me: “It’s as if the scenery steps forward and engulfs us.” He explained everything: the debt that the UK owes to Iran; why it’s hard to pay it; how decisions taken before Zaghari-Ratcliffe was even born are now being played out, with her as one of the pawns. He was especially good on political will: Jeremy Hunt talked about how close he got to getting Zaghari-Ratcliffe out, before he failed. God, this is heartbreaking stuff. “The state is the coldest of cold monsters,” said Thomas.

Shaun Keaveny, one of those presenters who fell victim to a controller reshuffle, has been busily continuing his audio career. I mentioned last week that he’s set up an internet “station”, Community Garden Radio, where he broadcasts live for two hours every Friday. If you join his Patreon for £4 a month, you get the station and also a podcast, Creative Cul De Sac, as well as Keaveny’s regular blogs and musings. (This on top of another, free-to-access podcast, about festivals: The Line-Up. He’s working hard.) The radio shows are very Keaveny, meaning: packed with familiar music (Jarvis, the Style Council, Blur), plus funny little features: Lost and Found, Wedding Playlist (something old, something new etc). The plan is eventually to have callers, said Keaveny on Friday, but not immediately: “The shoes are new. They’re still a bit squeaky and rubbing at the back.”

Shaun Keaveny.
‘Working hard’: Shaun Keaveny. Photograph: John Phillips/Getty Images

In Creative Cul De Sac, Keaveny and his guest explore their unrealised ideas, the ones written down but never used. After Keaveny’s somewhat rambly opener, his conversation with Greg James, his first guest, was great. James spoke about why most of his ideas are radio ones, rather than anything else: “The listeners, they come back with the other half.” Just as in 5 Live Drive. And it is listeners that Keaveny is gradually building. It may take a while, but you feel he’ll get there.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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