Andrew Neil, that establishment/non-establishment thorn in the side, has been lent John Pienaar’s drive-time slot on Times Radio Drive for a couple of weeks. He’s enjoying it. Neil loves being in the thick of politics, analysing and gossiping and summarising. Unfortunately for him, he’s not had too many politicians to tussle with, but there has been plenty to discuss. A week is a long time in this world, as we know, and last week seems both like the endless, unchanging present (seven Groundhog Days!) and full of change and disorder.
As a radio presenter, Neil is pretty good, though his voice is blurry and slurry, which I never noticed on TV. His mind is sharp, however, at least, when it comes to current affairs. Last Tuesday, a day we might call Andy Burnham Day, or Hit the North 2 (the Return of the Manc), Neil had two of the Times’s political chaps with him, Tom 1 (Whipple, science editor) and Tom 2 (Newton Dunn, Times Radio’s chief political commentator). Of the two, I prefer 2. Newton Dunn gave a great summary of the situation regarding Greater Manchester, the government and tier 3. I particularly enjoyed his analysis of why the government is letting individual cities and councils impose a slightly localised version of tier 3 restrictions as a “political mechanism designed by the government to dip local leaders’ fingers in the blood”.
The show’s live coverage of Burnham’s speech about the failure of negotiations between government and local leaders was fine, the live coverage of Johnson’s subsequent blather, less so. There was time for Newton Dunn to get a question in (Johnson didn’t really answer it), but just as another journalist asked about whether Greater Manchester was going to get £60m or not, Times Radio pulled away. Bad timing.
Anyway, Neil was fine with all the political shenanigans, chatting away with gusto with Toms 1 and 2. He wasn’t quite so great with the other interviews required for a drive-time slot. Times Radio doesn’t really have many opinionated listeners calling in, but Neil is required to talk to the so-called ordinary people rounded up by producers. His interview with the owner of two stationery shops, one in Marple, which was moving into tier 3 on 23 October, and one in Wilmslow, which wasn’t, was rather shallow, as was his chat with Edmund O’Leary, a man who raised Twitter’s sympathy by tweeting that he was not OK. Neil doesn’t have the empathy that’s needed for these chats. Though he’s managing fine, his temporary drive-time job won’t worry the lively Tony Livesey and Anna Foster on 5 Live Drive or LBC’s political-rottweiler-cum-shoulder-to-cry-on 4-7pm host, Eddie Mair.
Speaking of the never-knowingly-relaxing LBC, the station’s owner, Global, has brought out yet another new podcast, this time hosted by Lionel Barber, who used to edit the Financial Times. (Gone are the days when people such as Neil and Barber had only the BBC to choose from, post-editorship.) What Next? with Lionel Barber focuses on the ways in which our lives have been changed by Covid-19 and how the world is adapting. The first episode featured Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Hatchett has advised the Obama and the Trump administrations on what to do when a virus goes, well, viral.
Hatchett is a scientist and he talks like one: precise, dry. Barber did his best, trying to get Hatchett to say that he was the first person to come up with the phrase “social distancing”, but the good doctor demurred, instead offering a long, accurate and deathly dull statement: “I think I was one of the first people to use the concept of social distance as a measure for disease control, but that even predated the pandemic preparedness efforts and I worked very closely with colleagues who were interested in similar themes down at CDC. I think the first person to actually use the term ‘social distancing’ was Dr Marty Cetron, who was the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine director, and he and I talked a lot about these issues.” Nurse, the edit button! Not even an excess of The Day Today-style significant news music could help this show become dramatic, no matter how wild the statistics, how crazy the economics. Audio needs work and this show needs more ruthless production.
Three great new ‘agony aunt’ shows
The Yungblud Podcast – BBC Sounds
Yungblud is a singer-songwriter from Doncaster with a massive following and this, his first podcast, has him speaking to one music fan every episode. The topics are the tricky times for young people: sexuality, gender identity, friendships, money, mental health. His first guest, Ashley, 21, who came out as lesbian at 14, now realises that’s she’s sometimes attracted to men: it’s the person, she says, “not what’s between your legs”. Yungblud’s enthusiasm and charm are wonderful – “you can change your sexuality, it’s OK to explore… if you just don’t know, be proud of that!” – and the conversation is joyful and inspiring.
Sorted with the Dyers – Spotify
Father and daughter Danny and Dani Dyer get together at Danny’s house and answer listeners’ problems. Two episodes in and we’ve had a man who can’t talk to his family about his stress, a woman who hates belly buttons and someone with a fake friend. Danny and Dani respond to them all, honestly and hilariously. The first episode is worth it for Danny’s description of his nan’s toenails, the second for his solution to a wife starved of affection (get a young personal trainer). A brilliant listen, laugh-out-loud funny, with gems of wisdom and kindness packed in every answer.
Philippa Perry’s Families in Crisis – Audible
Perry, a therapist who’s written an amazing book on families, The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did), talks to people whose families have been affected by someone with an addiction or mental health crisis. Heroin addiction, alcoholism, anorexia, OCD, psychosis and more are discussed, with an individual experience at the heart of each episode. Perry is empowering and insightful and these stories – individual therapy sessions really – are revealing and humane. Families that live out their daily lives dealing with one member’s problem are far more common than we like to think.