Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 16: Losing Laura Marshall - A Brilliant Speech Radio Producer

17 Apr 2014 at 23:41

I’m writing this on the 11.30pm back to Tonbridge after a lovely evening with my three LBC producers, Laura, Matt and Axel at the Hippodrome. The reason? Today was my last day working with Laura Marshall after two years of working together, firstly on the evening show and for the last year on Drive. Laura came to LBC from talkSport two and a half years ago and we first started working together on the evening show in April 2012.

We have built a very close knit team over that time and I am heartbroken to be losing Laura. She has been everything a presenter wants in a producer – a great contacts book, creative ideas, and she has always felt able to tell me when she thinks I am being a dick. She has made me a better presenter than I otherwise would have been and sitting here, eyes moist, I can hardly believe that today’s show was the last I will ever do with her – unless I end up on BBC Radio Newcastle, which is where she is moving to. Let’s face it. Unlikely. Laura is from the North East and I totally understand her reasons for wanting to go back to her roots, but she is going to be missed.

I think we both loved our evening shows where I truly believe we produced some special radio. It was very intimate, especially when we did programmes on very emotional subjects. We were both very proud to be nominated for the MIND Mental Health programme of the year. We will also remember the phone-ins we did on rape. Neither of us will forget Ann from Enfield. Or Bill on the M25 who told us he would commit suicide later that night. It was due to Laura’s aftercare and concern that in the end he didn’t go through with it. Yes, there were things both of us would rather forget – the opening ceremony of the Olympics where we did an OB where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We sat on the train afterwards not saying a word to each other. We didn’t need to. We knew if we could cope with that, we could cope with anything in the future.

I think the one moment Laura, Matt and I will remember forever is the afternoon of the Woolwich murders, when I spoke to James, an eyewitness. It was a hugely emotional ten minutes for everyone listening and part way through the interview we all realised James was in shock. I calmly said to him to hang on the line because I felt he needed some professional advice. Laura took over and arranged counselling for him and has kept in touch with him in the eleven months since, to check he’s OK. Yesterday the three of us met James for the first time. He was and is a very brave man, and he was truly appreciative of the ‘after care’ we all gave him. Laura will say it is what anyone would have done, but she’s wrong. She went that extra mile.

Laura and I achieved a professional bond which possibly only other radio presenters and producers will understand. I have a similar bond with Matt. They both know me so well that they know what I am thinking, what I am about to say and when to steer me in a different direction. It’s a true talent, which only the best speech radio producers have.

Laura, thank you so much for everything. I wish you all the best for the future, and everyone at BBC Radio Newcastle will soon come to realise how lucky they are to have you as a new colleague. I know how much you are looking forward to being back with your family near you. Make the most of it. And get a dog!

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TV/Film/Theatre

Theatre Review: Handbagged by Maggie & The Queen

14 Apr 2014 at 09:45

A play consisting of two Margaret Thatchers and two Queens and precious little else, well that’ll never work I thought when I first heard about HANDBAGGED. How wrong could I have been!

I am not sure if HANDBAGGED is meant to be a relatively serious commentary on the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, or a comedy. In truth it is both, and bizarrely it works. It could have gone so very wrong, but I doubt whether a single person walks out of the theatre thinking they had been cheated. It holds your attention right through and is the sort of play you probably need to see two or three times to really appreciate its many nuances.

It is based around four main characters – a young Margaret Thatcher (of 1979 vintage), a young Queen, an older Margaret Thatcher (1990 vintage) and an older Queen. There is also a kind of narrator, who also performs various characters and Denis, who at times transforms into Ronald Reagan, Rupert Murdoch, Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine and Neil Kinnock.

At times the play is moving, at other times it descends into slapstick, but somehow it works. Just don’t ask me how. Thatcher fans and Thatcher haters alike will love it. I was sitting behind Mary Beard on the opening night and she could hardly believe what she was seeing. Yes, it has a slight leftish bias, but not enough to put an ardent Thatcherite like me off finding it simply beguiling.

Close your eyes and you could really imagine the younger Margaret Thatcher really was Margaret Thatcher. Not only did Fenella Woolgar have the voice down to a tee, she also had all the mannerisms exactly right. The same with the older Queen, played by Marion Bailey. Together they stole the show. That’s not to criticise Stella Gonet who played the older Margaret Thatcher. She was quite brilliant too, but in a very different way. She too got the voice right, but perhaps she became a little too ‘Spitting Image’ and overplayed the slightly ‘mad’ element to her performance. The weakest performance of the whole cast, I felt, was played by Lucy Robinson, who played the younger Queen. It wasn’t that she was particularly bad, she wasn’t. But she looked nothing like the younger Queen and her voice wasn’t quite right. I gather she replaced the original young Queen at quite a late stage. But that is to carp. She just wasn’t quite as accurate as the other three.

The other star of the show was played by Neet Mohan who appeared on stage as the Queen’s butler, but went on to provide many of the evening’s comedic moments as he switched from one character to another, perhaps most memorably Nancy Reagan. It was he who also provided most of the left-wingery on stage as he questioned why there was no mention of the miners strike and such like. But he did it in a way which didn’t have the right wingers in the audience shifting uneasily in their seats.

Jeff Rawle, who played the hapless newsroom editor in Drop the Dead Donkey, was superb as Denis Thatcher, although I never did work out why he played him with a slight Brummie accent. He also played various other characters to varying degrees of accuracy. In a way it didn’t matter if he didn’t get the voices quite right. He had clearly studied their mannerisms so it was always clear who he was portraying, not least because he usually told us!

You don’t have to be a Thatcher fan or Thatcher hater to enjoy this fast moving, pacy production. You don’t have to be a royalist or a republican. All you need to do is go into the theatre determined to enjoy yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed. At all.

Because of my working hours I don’t get to go to the theatre much nowadays, but I can honestly say this is the most I have enjoyed myself in a theatre since I saw Frankie Howerd back in the early 1990s. I enjoyed it so much I will go and see it again. It’s five stars from me.

Stars: * * * * *

HANDBAGGED is on at the Vaudeville theatre in The Strand.

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Media

Attitude Column: Media Coverage of Gay Issues Has Changed...And For the Better

13 Apr 2014 at 08:11

As Attitude celebrates a milestone birthday you might expect me to roundup how far gay rights have come in the last twenty years. But frankly we all know that many legislative battles have been won, and there aren’t many more to fight. But is it the same with media coverage?

Back in the late 1980s Section 28 allowed many tabloid and broadsheet newspapers to launch vicious attacks on gay people, the like of which I’d like to think we wouldn’t see today. Indeed, it is fair to say that by and large even papers like The Sun and the Mail are far more sympathetic to us than they ever have been before. That’s not to say that that there isn’t room for improvement, there is.

However, it would be crass to pretend that on issues like civil partnerships and celebrities and sportspeople being comfortable to declare their sexuality, times haven’t changed. Even on equal marriage the most homophobic parts of the Daily Mail have struggled to be as outraged as they once might have been.

The one paper which doesn’t seem to have got the message is the good old Daily Express, whose readership is, admittedly, mostly over 60, if not 70. In 2010 they carried the headline NOW ASYLUM IF YOU’RE GAYTHEY MUST BE FREE TO GO TO KYLIE CONCERTS AND DRINK MULTI-COLOURED COCKTAILS, SAYS JUDGE. Now, as someone who has boogied his arse off with the Prime Minister only feet away from Kylie’s bum and also enjoyed the odd multi-coloured cocktail (non alcoholic, of course) I had to laugh at that one. But in many ways it was no laughing matter and led to a demonstration outside the Express HQ.

The truth is that most newspapers are led by the lifestyles and proclivities of their readers and the editor of The Sun knows full well that most of his readers have a much more liberal attitude to gay issues than they did even ten years ago. That’s why when Tom Daley came out their copy oozed understanding and empathy in a way which even five years ago would have been incredible. Even when they had a front page EXCLUSIVE on his boyfriend being the ripe old age of 39 the article itself was less prurient than a normal Sun reader might have expected. And the next day on its front page was not only a story with the sympathetic headline POP HUNK PAL WHO HELPED DIVE STAR COME OUT, but also a story about a girl who believes she is a boy. This wasn’t a sidebar story, it was the main front page splash. Twenty years ago one can only imagine the headline Kelvin MacKenzie might have used, but instead, in December 2013 it was headlined I’M A BOY, SAYS TWIN GIRL 6 – MUM FIGHTS BIGOTS. And inside was a double page spread giving a totally sympathetic hearing to the mother.

The blanket positive coverage given to the footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger’s decision to come out, and the story of Robbie Rogers, the former Leeds player, were further examples of how far things have come. However, it would be nice to think that in ten years’ time neither of these events, or Tom Daley’s very public coming out, would rate more than a couple of lines in a sidebar on page 58. The fact that celebrities declaring themselves gay is still considered news shows there is still some way to go before full equality is achieved. The day when a boyband member doesn’t consider it necessary to announce to the world he is gay, but merely turns up to an awards ceremony holding hands with his latest beau will be the day when we can think to ourselves that our work is done.

It’s easy to criticise the press, especially the tabloid press, but let’s not pretend that their coverage of how gay people are being treated in other parts of the world is anything other than exemplary. Vladimir Putin will have been furious to see page after page ridiculing his anti-gay laws.

So yes, the media can be infuriating and outrageous at time. But let’s acknowledge that its coverage of gay people and gay issues has changed for the better in the last few years. Credit where credit is due.

This article first appeared in the March edition of Attitude Magazine

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TV/Film/Theatre

Theatre review: Mamma Mia Still As Good As Ever

12 Apr 2014 at 14:49

I don’t get to go to the theatre much nowadays due to the fact that my radio show finishes at 8, and I am rarely in London at the weekend. So because I was presenting the LBC Breakfast Show last week, I decided to go totally overboard and on Thursday I went to not just one show, but two!

My goddaughter Zoe was nine in March and I couldn’t decide what to get her, so I did what all useless uncles do and asked her mother, my sister Sheena. “Well,” she said. “I really want to take her to see Mamma Mia, but I can’t believe the price of the tickets.” “OK, deal I said,” and booked tickets for the matinee on Thursday afternoon. What I hadn’t bargained for was for the Nigel Evans verdict to be announced shortly before I got to the theatre. My mobile phone rang. It was Matt, my LBC Drivetime producer. “This is going to be a bit bizarre, but will you come on Drive and talk about Nigel Evans?” So he was asking me to go on my own show and be interviewed by another presenter called Ian, (Payne). Weird. Anyway, back to Mamma Mia.

I waited a good few years to see Mamma Mia. Being a bit of an Abba purist, I thought I’d hate it, but so many friends reassured me that I’d love it so back in about 2007 I went to see it with Nadine Dorries. We ended up dancing in the aisles at the end of it. Luckily no pictures survive. As we took I our seats I was rather horrified at the number of young children in the audience. Some can’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old. Why would anyone take a three year old child to see a musical, especially when the tickets cost upwards of £90? Madness.

Anyway, it was a brilliant show. The actress who played the lead part of Donna was particularly impressive. She was the spitting image of LBC’s Petrie Hosken so I kept imagining Petrie blasting out DANCING QUEEN and SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS. Another of the lead characters, one of Donna’s two close friends, was a cross between Julia Hartley-Brewer and Susan Bookbinder. Sorry, but you had to be there.

The appeal of Mamma Mia endures and I suspect this is one musical that will run and run for many years to come. Having seen the film a couple of times too, the one thing I took away from this performances was the genius of fitting the songs into the storyline. Ye, the storyline may be somewhat weak and formulaic, but the lyrics of the songs were rarely inappropriate. There were the usual moments of high campery from the often half naked friends of Skye. My sister managed not to leave her tongue hanging out during one or two of their moments of stardom, as did I, of course.

The only weak performances were by the three men who Sophie suspected of being her father. They were each worse singers than Colin Firth in the film version, and that’s some achievement. Former Coronation Street star (and former Tory candidate!) James Gaddas looked stiff and uncomfortable most of the time and was totally miscast. But that shouldn’t hide the fact that it was a thoroughly enjoyable show which got a standing ovation from much of the audience. Quite some feat for a show which has been going for years.

Stars: * * * * *
COMING TOMORROW: My review of HANDBAGGED.

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Books

Attitude Column: The Problem With 'Gay' Books (And My 3 Favourites)

12 Apr 2014 at 10:03

Someone asked me the other day what my favourite ‘gay book’ was. What on earth does that mean, was my first thought. Do they mean that just because I am gay I only read books by gay authors or with a gay theme? I suppose if being gay is the main thing that defines you, then you might very well spend much of your time reading gay related literature, but even then I’d think it was a slightly odd thing to do. Why? Because unless you are someone who spends their entire life immersed in a gay sub-culture, you’re probably very much like the rest of the population. You have the same issues, problems, dilemmas, life-concerns and pastimes.

But it set me thinking. How many gay-related books have I actually read? Am I letting the side down? I think the answer has to be yes, considering the last three gay books I have read are ones my company ended up publishing. I’d like to think I’d have read them anyway, even if I hadn’t published them.

Bearing in mind most of the books I read are about politics or football, and I don’t read a lot of fiction there’s not a lot of room for gay authors to elbow their way into my reading time, especially those who write gay themed novels. Yes, I feel a complete philistine, but I suspect I am not alone.

Let me recommend three gay-related tomes with which you might like to idle away the odd hour or two.

Unless you come from Ireland you may not have heard of Senator David Norris. He is an independent minded politician and about the nearest the Irish have to their own version of Peter Tatchell, except that he has never tried to arrest Robert Mugabe. But he has probably done more for gay rights in Ireland than anyone else.

His life story, ‘A KICK AGAINST THE PRICKS’, is fascinating, and the fact that a gay man came within a whisker of the presidency says a lot for the way the country has become a little more liberal in recent times. But it was his relationship with a former lover in Israel which proved to be his downfall. This man was put on trial in Israel for a relationship with an underage boy, and Norris wrote to the court providing a character witness. The letter was exposed in the Irish press and bang went Norris’s presidential campaign.

His story is one of the most gripping I have read for many a year and when I finished the book I felt a profound sense of sadness that a political career was laid waste all because David Norris had the temerity to support a friend.

Another gay role model who has a fascinating story to tell is ex-soldier James Wharton. His story of life as an ‘out’ gay soldier, ‘OUT IN THE ARMY’ is emotional, funny and riveting. Indeed, there are times when you laugh out loud and other times when the reader is moved to tears. Wharton ‘s courageous decision to come out has made it easier for other people in the three armed services to do so, and as an epitaph it’s not a bad one.

My favourite gay-themed novel remains Allan Hollinghurst ‘LINE OF BEAUTY’ . Set in the excess-fuelled Thatcher era (the Iron Lady even puts in an appearance) it remains a classic, and was so good it was eventually made into a TV drama. Centering around the character of Nick Guest, who rents a room from a Tory MP, it’s a hedonistic romp full of beautiful people and drugs. Having been a Commons researcher for a Tory MP at that time, I have to say I never encountered any of these kinds of excesses. Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places.

Gay related publishing is becoming increasingly difficult, not just in this country but also in the United States. The demise of physical bookstores, or indeed the virtual disappearance of specialist gay-related bookstores, has meant that fewer and fewer mainstream gay-related books ever see the light of day. The gay porn inspired fantasy fiction genre will always have its right-handed place, but if you are an author with a gay related book to publish, it’s increasingly difficult to find someone to publish it. All this means that such authors end up self-publishing their books as eBooks on the Kindle. So if you have a Kindle, search for gay novels and gay non-fiction and you might uncover a few gems. And usually for 99p!

This article first appeared in the February edition of Attitude Magazine

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UK Politics

Next Time It Won't Be Nigel Evans - It Will Be Joe Bloggs

11 Apr 2014 at 15:56

Nigel Evans, speaking outside Preston Crown Court, declared that his “life will never be the same again”. He showed no sign of euphoria after being found not guilty of all the preposterous charges laid against him by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. One reporter told me that in all her years of covering court cases she had never seen a weaker prosecution case. The fact of the matter is that most of us in the Westminster Village know the identity of the person who accused Nigel Evans of raping him. Yet this person continues his life knowing that for reasons best known to himself he has put Nigel through eleven months of hell. I think he dug himself so deep that he began to believe his own lies. He needs to ask himself some very searching questions. So does Sarah Wollaston MP. She no doubt felt she was exercising a duty of care towards the man who cried rape. She clearly believed his story, but today she must also be asking herself if she acted properly throughout this sorry saga.

But the two institutions who emerge from this will real stains on their reputations are the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. From their public statements they seem to think they did nothing wrong. I and others will not rest until they are made to come to terms with their poisonous agenda, wicked actions and duplicity. How on earth could they bring charges on behalf of four people who didn’t want them brought, didn’t consider themselves victims, and all of whom praised Nigel Evans. One even texted him good luck.

Many parts of our criminal justice system are broken. If their failures in this case are swept under the carpet the same thing will happen to someone else. But we won’t ever hear about it. Because that person won’t be called Nigel Evans. He will be Joe Bloggs.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary: The Nadine Vendetta, A 'Ladyshambles & Why Joe Bloggs Must Fear the CPS

11 Apr 2014 at 14:21

It’s a pity that the Telegraph has seemingly renewed its vendetta against Nadine Dorries. It had commissioned columnist Cristina Odone to interview Nadine Dorries about her debut novel THE FOUR STREETS. Odone duly read the book and could hardly contain her enthusiasm for it, tweeting at 6.09pm on Monday: “Just read The Four Streets – Fab first novel by Nadine Dorries. Catholic Liverpool, irish immigrants & black secrets behind net curtains.” Fourteen minutes later she reinforced the point, tweeting: “Well done @NadineDorriesMP on your debut novel The Four Streets – a funny and sometimes shocking saga set in Catholic Liverpool.” How very strange then that the following morning instead of publishing Odone’s no doubt very positive interview, they published a damning review by their Head of Stuffiness, Christopher Howse. You just need to look at his photo to know the kind of review he would write of a novel by a female politician. And then you need to take into account Howse used to be a member of Opus Dei. I doubt he took kindly to the storyline of the Catholic Priest abusing a young girl. True to form he gave it a one star review and called it the worst novel he’d read in ten years. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?
Clearly he’d been given a brief, and the reason? I’m told it was because Nadine had the temerity to give two interviews – on GMTV and my LBC show on Tuesday morning – in which she uttered views on MPs’ expenses which weren’t to the Telegraph’s liking. Readers may remember her criticism of the Telegraph, and the Barclay Brothers, over the original MPs’ expenses scandal. Nadine then upped the ante and withdrew an invitation to the Telegraph’s ‘Head of Bitchery’, Tim Walker (who writes their Mandrake diary column, as well as being an excellent theatre critic), to her booklaunch that evening. He responded in kind with a series of tweets which sought to denigrate both Nadine and her beleaguered publicist. Yesterday morning he went even further in a vitriolic attack on her. To be honest he showed himself up. Nadine wasn’t taking any of it and accused him of lying. When he was caught out denying Cristina Odone had ever been commissioned to write any piece for the Telegraph Nadine posted a tweet from Odone confirming she had indeed been asked to do just that. “Telegraph asked to interview Nadine – I read the book, couldn’t put it down and told her so.” At that point Walker retired in a huff, tweeting: “Speaking purely for myself, I am bored to tears of this particular honourable member.” I am sure the feeling was mutual.
*
On Tuesday evening I trotted off to the InterContinental Hotel which seems to have become THE place to hold booklaunches in Westminster, where Nadine was hosting the launch of her book. Well, she was supposed to be. I’ve never been at a booklaunch where the author didn’t turn up until nearly an hour after it started and then made a speech which can’t have been more than about 14 words long. The shortest in recent political memory, I’d have thought. But then again, Nadine does like to do things differently. And that’s why many of us love her.
*

I was looking forward to interviewing the winner of the IEA BREXIT prize on Wednesday morning, as I have been covering the LBC Breakfast Show all this week. He would be receiving 100,000 euros for a 10,000 word essay on how the UK could exit the EU. So when I received an email from the IEA on Tuesday night informing me that he wouldn’t do an interview I admit I blew several gaskets. It turns out he is a Foreign Office Diplomat, and “our man” in Manilla. They banned him from talking to the media about it as his views are not exactly government policy. I wonder if they would have the same if he had written a 10,000 word essay on the advantages for Britain of joining the euro. I think we all know the answer to that one. As they used to say, the Ministry of Agriculture represents the interests of farmers and the Foreign Office represents the interests of foreigners. Little has changed. I imagine the IEA was as furious as I was.
*
Two stories this week illustrate why fairly moderate people are losing all patience with the EU. New laws are coming into force which could threaten the viability of many thriving small food producing businesses in this country. In February last year the European Commission proposed that public bodies should be allowed to make a charge every time an official visited food premises to check hygiene practices. It could mean unexpected bills of at least £500 for small artisan food producers and farm shops every time they receive a random inspection. After a concerted lobbying effort the European Commission’s public health directorate agreed an exemption for businesses with fewer than 10 employees or annual sales below €2 million. However, this exemption was quietly deleted from the proposed rules by MEPs on the ENVI environmental, public health and food safety committee last week. With the European Parliament due to vote on the issue next Monday, April 14th, the move effectively leaves no time for further consultation. That’s how the EU works, folks. Or doesn’t.

And then we learn that the EU is about to abolish UK numberplates in favour of a pan-european system. As if we are not capable of running our own number plate system. Cue Liberal Democrats who will no doubt tell us how it will help us fight crime, or some other ludicrous argument.

I am a Eurosceptic, but I have never been wholly convinced by the argument that we would necessarily be better off out. But it’s stories like this (both of which are apparently 100% true) which might tip me to vote that way when the time comes.
*
Like most political commentators I’ve never been brilliant at predictions, but I did predict the timing of Maria Miller’s resignation and also that Nicky Morgan would be promoted. Well, I got that one half right. She was indeed promoted but not quite to the position I had tipped! But it was yet another Number 10 shambles. I agreed with every word of Peter Oborne’s excellent analysis of the Number 10 machine and its appalling lack of strategic vision or attention to detail. Was Nicky Morgan in the Cabinet, just attending Cabinet or neither? Over a period of a few hours it was all three. Ladyshambles. The moment I knew Maria Miller was doomed was when I realised that she had few allies who were willing to publicly defend her. Her trouble was that she made so few friends and allies on the way up who were willing to defend her in her time of need. Speaking to Andrew Pierce and Peter Oborne, it turned out the three of us had never, ever spoken to her or interviewed her. And from my discussions with various Tory MPs over the last few days, they had a similar experience. On a personal level I felt for Maria as she nearly broke down during her post resignation interviews with the BBC and Sky. Unfortunately, I see no way back for her, whatever David Cameron may have said in their exchange of letters. The general public may have been unfair to her, but I am afraid that her very name has become toxic. And let’s dismiss any talk of a media witch hunt. It was nothing of the sort.
*

Nigel Evans, speaking outside Preston Crown Court, declared that his “life will never be the same again”. He showed no sign of euphoria after being found not guilty of all the preposterous charges laid against him by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. One reporter told me that in all her years of covering court cases she had never seen a weaker prosecution case. The fact of the matter is that most of us in the Westminster Village know the identity of the person who accused Nigel Evans of raping him. Yet this person continues his life knowing that for reasons best known to himself he has put Nigel through eleven months of hell. I think he dug himself so deep that he began to believe his own lies. He needs to ask himself some very searching questions. So does Sarah Wollaston MP. She no doubt felt she was exercising a duty of care towards the man who cried rape. She clearly believed his story, but today she must also be asking herself if she acted properly throughout this sorry saga.

But the two institutions who emerge from this will real stains on their reputations are the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. From their public statements they seem to think they did nothing wrong. I and others will not rest until they are made to come to terms with their poisonous agenda, wicked actions and duplicity. How on earth could they bring charges on behalf of four people who didn’t want them brought, didn’t consider themselves victims, and all of whom praised Nigel Evans. One even texted him good luck.
Many parts of our criminal justice system are broken. If their failures in this case are swept under the carpet the same thing will happen to someone else. But we won’t ever hear about it. Because that person won’t be called Nigel Evans. He will be Joe Bloggs.

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Books

Book Review: Saving Susie-Belle by Janetta Harvey

6 Apr 2014 at 19:28

I can’t say I have read a lot of books about dogs, especially ones which have made me cry. But after reading SAVING SUSIE-BELLERESCUED FROM A PUPPY FARM: ONE DOG’S UPLIFTING TRUE STORY I suspect I may start to make a habit of it. Let me explain how I came to read it.

All my life I have lived in a home with Jack Russells. Our Jack Russell, Gio, died in July 2011 at the age of twelve. We were both bereft and couldn’t quite imagine how we could ever get another dog. It seemed as though we would be betraying Gio’s memory. If you don’t own a dog, or are not a doggy person you will think I’ve lost leave of my senses, but his loss hit us just as hard as the death of a human member of our family would have. In the weeks that followed the house seemed so empty. Then one day John and I both decided that we would indeed get another dog. I tentatively suggested we get two dogs so they could be company for each other. Much to my surprise John said he had been having the same thoughts. The only question was would we get one Jack Russell or two. In the end we got a Jack Russell called Dude and a Miniature Schnauzer called Bubba. He came from a breeder in Romford. We tried to get puppies from Battersea, where Gio had come from, but they didn’t have any of either breed. John also went to what turned out to be a puppy farm in Hastings to look at a Jack Russell, but was so horrified by what he saw he came back empty handed, despite wanting to scoop up every poor puppy wo lived there and bring the whole lot home.

Dude and Bubba have both been a joy and are devoted to each other, which is a relief. They are the sweetest, most loving dogs anyone could wish for. Gio could be a bit nippy. He didn’t like children or people on bikes. He even bit me once, which I found profoundly upsetting! These two wouldn’t know the meaning of the word ‘bite’ let alone know what to do.

Several months ago I was flicking through the Daily Mail and came across a double page spread about how a woman called Janetta Harvey had rescued a Miniature Schnauzer from a puppy farm. She described the horrors experienced by dogs who are kept purely to breed and the horrendous conditions they live in. It turned out she had written a book about her own experience, so I decided to buy it.

The subtitle of the book uses the word ‘uplifting’ and it really is. It’s also very upsetting if you are someone like me and cannot comprehend how anyone can treat dogs badly. The story is all about Susie-Belle, a Miniature Schnauzer who was used an abused by a puppy farm, but now lives with Janetta and her chef-husband Michel. It tells how she was rescued from the puppy farm, and slowly but surely overcame her nervousness and fear of human beings. She turns out to be a real character but it took a very long time for the Harvey family to bring her out of her shell. The poor dog had been traumatised and had no understanding of the basics of dog-human interaction. But slowly but surely, over a long period of time a bond of trust started to build between Susie-Belle and Janetta, and her other Miniature Schnauzer, who became her step-sister. There are some incredibly touching moments, and this is a book you shouldn’t read without a tissue by your side. I read it over several train journeys and I often wondered what my fellow passengers made of the fact that they were sitting opposite a 51 year old man with tears running down his face. I may be a silly old Hector, but this book is THAT good.

It is also a book which makes dog owners examine their own motives for owning dogs and how they treat them. Several times I got some really good ideas for how to improve the lives of our two dogs, although there were also one or two occasions when I took issue with Janetta’s approach to dogs, especially over their diets. I think dogs like routine, and they also like routine in their diets. That’s not to say they can’t have treats, but I don’t think rich diets do dogs any good. I certainly don’t think dogs needs the kind of variety in their diets, or the amount of fresh food which Janetta’s dogs no doubt enjoy very much!

Anyway, if you own a dog, or ever have done, you will absolutely love this book. It’s a gripping read and when it finishes you wish it hadn’t. I can’t give a higher recommendation that that.

SAVING SUSIE-BELLERESCUED FROM A PUPPY FARM: ONE DOG’S UPLIFTING TRUE STORY is published by John Blake Publishing in hardback at £12.99

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines talks about his new book AN ENGLISH AFFAIR and the impact of the Profumo scandal on British society.

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Diary

ConservativeHome Diary: The Vince Enigma, Two Funerals & Two Debates

4 Apr 2014 at 17:34

I remember interviewing Vince Cable for Total Politics before the last election. I spent ninety minutes with him trying to elicit some sort of interesting line from him. I found him to be the coldest, most unemotional politician I had ever interviewed. We didn’t ‘click’ at all. I found his answers on economic policy to be deeply unconvincing and I left the interview wondering about his reputation as an economic ‘sage’. And frankly on that point I am still wondering. Many broadcast interviews later, I have found him to be slightly more congenial, even on the odd occasion displaying a well-developed sense of humour, but in four years as Business Secretary, what has he actually achieved? This week he has come under fire for losing the taxpayer up to £2.3 billion in the Royal Mail privatisation and refused to apologise for it. I understand why. Imagine if he had ignored the advice of his merchant bank advisers and gone for a higher initial share price and the offering had then bombed? Even so, my sympathy is somewhat limited by his failure to ensure that some of the institutional shareholders who were given preference actually held onto their shares as a long term investment.

It’s not just Vince Cable who has some serious questions to answer, it is some of the institutions who took advantage of their privileged position to make a fast buck. But therein lies the quandary for supporters of the Business Secretary. He has talked a lot about the evils of bankers over the last few years, rather ignoring the fact that he is responsible for banking regulation and could easily have done something about it. Instead he has just talked. And talked. And talked some more. Rather than ‘action this day’ he has been the very personification of ‘delay, delay, delay’. And with only a year to go before the LibDems are turfed out of office, hopefully for a very long time, he finds himself running out of time. Cable has been the worst Business Secretary since Stephen Byers. Can any non Liberal Democrat seriously disagree with that?
*
I’ve attended two funerals in the last week. This sort of thing happens when you get to my age. In your twenties, thirties and forties you attend weddings. Once you get to your fifties the weddings become rarer and the funerals become more frequent. On Thursday it was Tony Benn’s funeral at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster and a day later it was the turn of my friend Corinne de Souza to have her send-off in Brighton. Both were unique events but in their own ways both turned out to be very what I have come to term ‘happy-sad’ occasions. Tony’s was a very public event, made intimate by the wonderful tributes paid by three of his children, whose funny and at times very emotional eulogies made many of us shed a tear, as well as laugh heartily. Laughing at a funeral seems very wrong and always makes me feel as if I am misbehaving. As you would expect, it was a gathering of the left-wing clans, although I was very happy to see the number of Conservative politicians in attendance – Peter Bottomley, Bernard Jenkin and Michael Heseltine were among them. I arrived quite early and sat right at the back. I was delighted to be joined by (Lord) Peter Hennessy, Helena Kennedy and Robert Peston, who had thankfully ditched the red shoes I saw him wearing on budget day. I have to admit I left a few minutes before the end. I had spotted that the final act in the service was for us to sing The Red Flag. I’m afraid I draw the line at that. I heard later they sang it twice. In a church!
*

I write a monthly column for the gay lifestyle magazine ‘Attitude’. Yes, UKIP supporters, how very shocking. I do keep my clothes on though. It’s a sort of GQ for gay men, in case you’ve never read a copy. On Saturday I went to their 20th anniversary party at the Grosvenor House. I fell into conversation with a chap who works for Channel 4. “I couldn’t believe you had stood as a Tory candidate when someone told me,” he said. “You always sound so left wing on the radio.” This is becoming a trend. I don’t feel I have changed my political views that much, but so many people keep telling me I’m becoming a bit of a leftie, I have tried to analyse how my views have changed. And the truth is that by and large they haven’t. I am still dry as dust on economic issues, but I have always been a bit of a liberal on social issues. I suppose hosting a four hour phone-in each day has brought this part of my political make-up to the fore. I am less of a shock jock, more of an agony uncle. I can empathise with people’s human misery. Just because I agree that the government is right to reform welfare, that doesn’t mean I can’t empathise with a disabled person who has been treated appallingly by ATOS. Just because I agree that prisoners need to be punished, doesn’t mean that I can’t articulate why I think rehabilitation is just as important as denying someone their freedom. And part of that rehabilitation is the freedom to read books, isn’t it Lord Chancellor? So yes, I signed the Howard League letter complaining about the fact that prisoners are no longer able to receive books from friends and family. Mr Grayling was displeased with me. But if they’re cooped up for 23 hours a day, surely it’s good for prisoners to have something to occupy them. Yes, prisons have libraries, but libraries often don’t have the range of books most people would want. And surely the freedom to enjoy literature is something which should be open to everyone, not just those of us who aren’t in prison?
*
I felt very sorry for the BBC on Wednesday night. Yes, you read that right. How on earth could they follow the original LBC Clegg/Farage debate? I’d have hated to be the producer of their second debate. Sure enough, it was very much after the Lord Mayor’s show. But both Clegg and Farage achieved what they wanted to from the two debates, and it was a clever move from Clegg to propose them. I wonder what his next surprise will be. Whatever it is, it doesn’t change a self- evident truth. He and his party are f
ed.
*
*
I don’t know Mark Menzies very well, but on a basic human level you have to feel sorry for him. He may have been the architect of his own political downfall, but how would any of us cope psychologically with having our careers turned upside down by a tabloid expose? I have to say that as a proponent of legalising prostitution I don’t see anything wrong with two consenting adults agreeing a sexually related financial transaction. Mark’s problem is the drugs allegations and he needs to explain or refute. And quickly.
*
One of the proudest moments of my life came last July when I was named Radio presenter of the Year. I’d also been nominated for a Sony. In any field, achieving the recognition of your peers has to be a satisfying moment. Not for a moment did I think it would be repeated this year, but on Wednesday the Radio Academy put me on the shortlist for Radio Interview of the Year for my interview with James, an eyewitness to the Woolwich murders. LBC got an astonishing 10 nominations, with 5 Live only picking up a couple for their news and current affairs output. It shows how far as a station we have come. Sony don’t sponsor the awards any longer, but everyone still calls them the ‘Sonys’. I just wish my Mum was still alive. Like most sons, all I ever wanted was for her to be proud of me.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Miranda Hart

Comedienne Miranda Hart talks about her new book, IS IT ME?

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Diary

New Statesman Diary: Two Funerals & an Invitation to Ed

3 Apr 2014 at 21:41

It was a privilege to attend Tony Benn’s funeral. Bearing in mind there were 750 people inside St Margaret’s, Westminster, it was still an intensely personal and intimate event. I was one of the first to arrive and decided to sit on my own, in the back row, off to the right-hand side of the church. From that vantage point I was amused to watch the various VIPs arrive and pretend they didn’t want to sit at the front. Much has been written about the wonderful tributes paid by three of Tony Benn’s children. I feel uncomfortable when people applaud in a church, even though I’m an agnostic, but on this occasion it was appropriate. I delivered the eulogy at my mother’s funeral two years ago and thought I had done her justice, but it was nothing compared to the tributes given by Stephen, Hilary and Melissa. They ensured that we all emulated their father’s famous tendency to become lachrymose.

At that moment I thought of Ruth Winstone, his dear friend and editor of all eight volumes of the Benn diaries. When I interviewed her on the day of Tony’s death, she ended the interview by telling me: “Tony really liked you, Iain. He thought you were a brilliant entrepreneur.” Like Tony, I’m a bit of a blubber, but I just about managed to compose myself and bid her farewell.


Tony would have enjoyed the Clegg v Farage EU debate hosted by LBC last week. Why? Because it really seemed to engage people in politics. I hosted the pre-match build-up and post-match commentary and we were deluged with people tweeting and texting message such as this one from Chris in Hastings: “These live debates are great. I’m a youngish voter and politics has always been stale in my eyes. However, the live debating really brings it into the limelight and gives it energy.”

Can there be any doubt that there will be TV debates before and during the next general election campaign? If Ukip tops the polls in the European election (as I expect it to) the case for excluding Nigel Farage from the 2015 debates will become ever weaker. The Conservatives say the participants should be those who could become prime minister. This is an argument that holds little water: we operate not a presidential, but a parliamentary democracy.

My preference would be for one debate during the campaign, between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, and another one featuring the leaders of any party standing candidates in 95 per cent of the seats throughout the United Kingdom. And, after the success of the second Clegg-Farage debate this week, I am sure that LBC would be delighted to host both events!


When you get to my ripe old age of 51, you start attending more funerals than weddings. Having been to Tony Benn’s on Thursday, I was in Brighton a day later to attend the funeral of a dear friend, Corinne de Souza. Streaming with a cold, I sat in the chapel contemplating the horrible unfairness of her being taken at the age of 58.

Every detail of her funeral was planned, Corinne having had six months to do so since being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She was a woman of decidedly left-of-centre views, which led to some vigorous debates between the two of us. As the coffin was carried out of the chapel to the strains of the Gipsy Kings singing “Volare”, I felt a profound sense of my own mortality.


The theory goes that we all get more right-wing as we get older. Not in my case, it seems. I was at Attitude magazine’s 20th-anniversary party on Saturday 29 March when I was told by someone I hadn’t met before: “I couldn’t believe it when I was told you had been a Tory candidate. You’re so left-wing on the radio!” My producer, Matt Harris, keeps telling me he thinks I am inexorably moving towards being a fellow Blairite. Well, all I can say is, it’s news to me. All I can think is it must be because I’m fairly liberal on most social issues.

On prison reform, for instance, I am as wet as a lettuce. I incurred Chris Grayling’s wrath for signing the Howard League for Penal Reform’s letter on books in prisons, for instance. Call me a raving lefty but I happen to believe that prison ought to be as much about rehabilitation as punishment. I have become critical of the police. Does that make me left-wing? I don’t think so. I think people should be allowed a spare room without being penalised financially: I must be a commie.

In fact, terms such as “left-wing” and “right-wing” have started to lose their meaning. Just as more and more people fail to identify with conventional political parties, they are also moving away from political labels.


Hosting a four-hour phone-in show every day inevitably makes you question some long-held views. I would defy anyone to sit in front of a microphone and not be affected by a stream of devastatingly emotional stories. This is why the phone-ins we do with politicians on LBC – Call Clegg, Phone Farage, Ask Boris, Balls Calls, Call Chuka, Tickle Pickles, Harangue Harriet (OK, we haven’t quite got the right names for the last two) – are so successful. They allow people to interact with politicians and to engage with them. Even when I do shows with relatively unknown junior ministers the lines are very busy. Clegg makes headlines with his phone-in with Nick Ferrari every week.

Perhaps it is time for Ed Miliband to take up the open invitation he’s had for the past year to do the same with me. He needs to show his human side to an electorate which, according to focus groups, views him as a bit “weird”. Those who know him know something rather different.

Come on, Ed. You know you want to. You never know, you might even persuade me to vote for you. But then again . . .

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to West Ham Co-Chair David Gold

Iain & David Gold talk about the politics of football.

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