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Thursday, November 30

It's All Talk

I listened to Radio 4's Down The Line on the way home yesterday. This programme said anything I could possibly say about Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show in beautifully crafted pastiche. Coming from the Paul Whitehouse/Charlie Higson stable, it's unsurprising that this show is very funny, and its accuracy is probably the reason why some people complained about its first broadcast, assuming they were listening to a genuine phone-in programme on BBC Radio.

With a presenter who is intentionally trying to provoke discussion while simultaneously trying to ignore the person he's got on the line by talking over them with "active listening", and with callers more interested in the price of parking than important issues like racial discrimination, parts of this comedy were so painfully accurate that you didn't know whether to laugh or despair.

I have the misfortune to listen to the real thing on lunchtimes, and it's usually the callers that make me despair for real. Usually. We have a bunch of Daily Mail reading bigots in our nation, full of demands to get everything for free from an increasingly nannying state. A lot of these morons ring in, and it usually makes my blood boil.

It was odd, then, today, just after hearing the spoof version, to hear an unusually touching and genuine moment occur. The subject of the day was Cystic Fibrosis, and we'd had the usual campaigner complaining about why every man woman and child in the country hadn't been screened for carrying the recessive gene which can cause a 25% chance of a Cystic Fibrosis condition in one's offspring if both partners are carriers. When I came back to the car, though, having filled with petrol, the caller had been replaced by a mother whose child had the condition. She had to be strong and supportive of her child, but was worried about the long-term prospects and was, quite naturally, devastated when she confronted her fears about what may happen and how difficult it was to explain to the child why she had to go through her various treatments.

Motherhood and fear make for extreme emotion, and all credit to Jeremy Vine, he was not even slightly brash with this caller as he talked through her points with her. Cue another caller, to join the conversation, who was a 36 year old Cystic Fibrosis sufferer (I'm struggling for the words to describe someone with Cystic Fibrosis). Given that the life expectancy for the condition is not necessarily that long, the someone who had lived through the condition and its treatment into their mid thirties could offer more than just shallow reassurances to the upset mother. Although there are no guarantees, and there's a lot of hardship to go through with such a fundamentally threatening condition, it was a good bit of human kindness that unfolded as one woman supported the other.

As I was listening, I was wondering exactly how such a moment on radio could naturally end. There's no "Well, very well done to you. Next caller." in this situation. Jeremy could hardly just stick a record on - "Here's Shania Twain". I pondered exactly how he could get out of this situation. I think it was sensitively handled, but it was also getting difficult to do much with - some things simply don't belong on a radio programme. Luckily, the woman with the condition offered to swap numbers with the upset mother and Jeremy had an out "You two can talk about this together then." - it was simple, but he was at least able to go to a Take That record.

Talk radio doesn't have to be a load of bigoted nonsense. Jeremy Vine is probably a talented presenter. I still think his programme is a load of rubbish, though.


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