Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: How double-booking leaves me broadcasting to audience of one

Even if some of us gather our impressions of the countryside from The Archers, developers should nev

Even if some of us gather our impressions of the countryside from The Archers, developers should never underestimate the depth of public reverence for all things bucolic. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A producer of a flagship morning radio show rang me just as I was drenching my voice with talent-boosting echo effects during a recording session.

Would I like to take part in a live discussion about the English people’s abiding love of the countryside? I considered this matter.

Our relationship with the countryside, I believe, can verge upon the spiritual.

I know I regularly take the mick out of those born-again ruralists who’ve recently settled here in great numbers from Londonshire but I believe them to be sincere.

They really do want to know about things like lesser-speckled grebethwistles, crusted newts and the purple goatflax flowers they enthuse about during their Wild Writing courses.

And why should they not love the countryside in which they find themselves?

Well, that was the point, said the radio producer. “But did we all really love the countryside or was it all nonsense?” After some deliberation, I reiterated that I thought we did. Even if some of us still gather our chief impressions of the countryside from listening to The Archers, potential developers should never underestimate the depth of public reverence for all things bucolic.

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Being the old motor-mouth that I am, I also added that if people nowadays had some peculiar ideas about the countryside it was possibly because recent Governments, at least since 1997, no longer included many MPs familiar with farming, soldiering or midwifery.

Ideally, a truly stable Cabinet might boast a few people with hands-on experience of, say, a muck fork, a civil insurgency or a maternity ward, rather than a bunch of lily-handed desk-jockeys.

Otherwise, whenever there is a major crisis, such as the one presented by the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, we may find ourselves with a team of hapless policy-wonks flapping uselessly around, instead of people who might be up to the job.

The radio producer seemed amused that I had such strong views on the subject and so we began to organise my travel arrangements for the flagship morning show.

In case there was any further doubt about the forthright type of person that I am, I nailed my negligee firmly to the mast. I told her I hadn’t done many jobs for our national broadcaster of late, since they didn’t seem to have much money.

My first response nowadays, in fact, before doing anything at all for them, is to chirrup crisply: “I want a hundred quid, please!” Because otherwise they might not offer and then they’d be getting my dazzling wit and erudition for absolutely nothing and that’s hardly fair, is it?

I carried on. I expressed my admiration for Carrie Gracie, their former China editor who quit over the pay disparity between men and women.

I also opined that since the DJ on one of their other channels was paid loads, why didn’t they just redistribute some of that to their underpaid female broadcasters?

There they are, up in That London, telling us all what to do, and all the time their own female staff are not even paid a tenth of the amount they pay a popular DJ who punctuates his playlist by squeaking a lot and making infuriating Tarzan noises.

The radio producer stifled a laugh and repeated “I can’t possibly comment.” She was actually a thoroughly nice woman, so I ratcheted myself down a bit and said “Okay, if you still want me to do the show, let’s do it.” We made the arrangements for a very early pick-up the next morning and I returned to my terrible recording session.

When, unexpectedly, the producer phoned me back that evening, it was to cancel. Apparently, someone at Mission Control had double-booked.

She sounded genuinely upset and apologised profusely for having mucked me around. I wasn’t that upset.

In the 1990s and during the early part of the millennium I was always doing radio and, sometimes, TV shows.

One thing I learned was that the bigger the show, the more last-minute and liable to sudden cancellation jobs might be.

A friend recently recounted how, after achieving a major international musical triumph, she and her partner were parked unceremoniously by the broadcaster in a waiting room for three hours, without explanation or refreshment.

Media biz is a rum old do. It can occasionally veer into an unmannerly No Man’s Land. There are no victims, however. Only volunteers.

I still think they ought to pay women the same as men, though. Don’t you?

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