Edinburgh Festival Diary: Monday - Boris, Benn, German Humour & Ruth Davidson

17 Aug 2015 at 21:49

To say today was back to back would be an understatement. The day started with a meeting with a Biteback author, and yes I know I am supposed to be on holiday. Strangely it also ended with a Biteback author too. But I’ll come to that later.

My first show of the day, at the Pleasance, was called TONY (BENN’S) LAST TAPE. It was a one man show with the actor Philip Bretherton playing Tony Benn in his twilight days, struggling to cope with the fact that he must now leave the fight to others. It didn’t really work on a number of levels. Bretherton looks nothing like Tony Benn did, which is hardly surprising as I’d guess he was half his age. He also didn’t sound a lot like him. Maybe I am being harsh because I knew Tony Benn and there were quite a few things which I just know Tony Benn would never have thought, let alone said. At 80 minutes it was also twenty minutes too long. That’s not to say that it was unenjoyable, I suppose I was hoping for something a bit more. A bit more emotional. A bit more Bennish.

The next show also involved an actor playing a politician. David Benson is someone I got to know many years ago when we’d both appear on Gyles Brandreth’s LBC radio show on a Sunday afternoon. He rose to fame for his depictions of Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd. At Edinburgh he plays Boris Johnson in BORIS: KING OF THE WORLD. By lucky coincience I met Gyles Brandreth and his wife Michele in the queue. Well, more accurately I spotted them in the queue, which enabled me to queue jump! The auditorium was jampacked full, and I was slightly surprised it was so small. David was totally believeable as Boris even though physically and facially he’s nothing like him. He absolutely got his voice and at time it was like listening to Boris himself. It was a very physical performance, sometimes verging on the slapstick. Actually, no. It was slapstick at times. I couldn’t work out at the end how satirical it was meant to be and whether it was meant to serve as a warning as to what a Boris Prime Ministership might entail, or if David Benson was actually being quite affectionate. It was a riproaring hour, and I imagine David lost quite a few pounds as it was incredibly hot, and he was, shall we say, sweating like a pig! If you can get tickets, this is a show not to be missed.

I had only twenty minutes to get to the next venue where I would be seeing UKIP: THE MUSICAL. In some ways this was all rather predictable. Yes, there were funny parts, but the jokes about UKIP being undercover Nazis wore a bit thin after a while. The singing was, however, superb, and it was all very fast moving, with a cast of around a dozen 20-25 year olds. It all got a bit strange when Nigel Farage won a general election but then more or less immediately resigned when he realised that the agenda of his colleaues was to forcibly remove all immigrants from the country. It was called the “Complete Solution”. The only surprise was that the decision wasn’t made at Wannsee. So in some ways it was a very lazy narrative with a lot of easy jokes. I was expecting a little more, to be honest. It was a sellout, though, so they must be doing something right. I deliberately haven’t looked at the reviews for this. Basically, if you’re of a left wing disposition and you think all UKIP supporters live in the past and are closet racists, you’ll probably love this. If you’re on the right or have an open mind, you probably won’t. I didn’t, although it didn’t totally suck.

My next port of call at 5pm was a few minutes walk away in a converted church in Cowgate, where the German comic Christian Schulte-Loh put on a free show. I saw him in Edinburgh on my last visit in 2010 and found him so hilarious that I then booked him to appear at an event I was hosting at that year’s Tory Party conference, where he went down a storm. He was in brilliant form, and if I’m honest, this was the most enjoyable show of the day. He relies on making fun of national stereotypes, not just his own. He picks on members of the audience, but not in an awkward way. This can, however backfire. He told a story of a woman he picked on who, when asked what she did for a living, she said “I work in the Holocaust Centre.” Christian paused for a second, before replying that his Grandfather had done something similar… And that was the last time he performed in Israel. Boom boom. He was also very funny when a member of the audience outed himself as a Greek. Christian told the Greek man not to worry about putting any money in the bucket at the end of the show, as the Germans in the audience would bail him out. If you have a chance, go and see him. He deserves to be a lot more well known than he actually is.

The final event of the evening was back at the Pleasance to see Matt Forde interview Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. I hadn’t met her before so I was quite keen to see what she’d be like in such an arena. You didn’t have to be a Tory to be impressed by her. Feisty, funny, intelligent, brave. She really wowed the audience and I think convinced everyone that the Tories could be on the verge of a bit of a breakthrough in Scotland. She certainly thinks she can win more seats next May than Labour, and on the current polling you’d have to say she’s not being unrealistic. I liked Matt’s interviewing style, and he managed to tease a lot out of her. This type of event isn’t really designed for a hardhitting political interrogation but it was no the worse for it. It also gave me an idea for an Edinburgh show in future years. I met Ruth for a drink in the bar afterwards and we had a right old gossip with my friend and Biteback author Joe Pike, who’s writing a book (out on September 18th) about the Scottish referendum and the last general election.

It was also good to run into Simon Mayo, Radio 2’s Drivetime host, whose 5 Live show I used to appear on a lot. Lucky devil is broadcasting from the fringe most of this week.

So, tomorrow I’ve got another five events. It’s a bit knackering, this fringe lark!



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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Barbara Taylor Bradford

Best selling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford discusses her new book SECRETS FROM THE PAST

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Edinburgh Festival Diary : Sunday - If You Hate Me After All I Say

16 Aug 2015 at 23:21

About five or six years ago I was asked to speak on a panel at the Edinburgh book festival, so I thought while I was there I’d take in a couple of shows on the festival fringe. I remember going to see Gyles Brandreth’s one man show and a German comedian called Christian Schulte-Loh. ‘One day, I’ll come back and do this properly,’ I thought. And that’s what I’m doing for the next three days. I’m seeing 15 different shows before I travel back to Norfolk on Thursday morning. I flew up from Norwich at lunchtime today in a twin propeller plane that only had 30 seats and 20 passengers. I’m not afraid of flying, but I did wonder what this flight would be like. It turned out to be very smooth and nothing to worry about at all.

I arrived in Edinburgh at around 3.30 and my first show was at 7, in a venue which turned out to be directly opposite my hotel on George Street. It was almost as if I had planned it. I went to pick up all my 15 tickets from the Assembly Rooms down the road, had a brief snooze and then crossed the road to queue up for a few minutes. The show was called ALAN LONGMUIR: AND I RAN WITH THE GANG. For the uninitiated, Alan Longmuir was a founding member of the Bay City Rollers. I assumed this would be a one man show with the great man telling his life story and doing a bit of singing. I was in for a surprise.

The man on stage was certainly not 67 years old. In short, we were watching an actor, Ewan Petrie, play a young Alan Longmuir, with help from an older actor, John McColl, who dipped into various characters, but mainly the Rollers manager Tam Paton. A third young actor, Rory Speed, played various roles, culminating in playing the lead singer of the Bay City Rollers Les McKeown. Even before the start of the production it was clear that the audience was predominantly made up of women of a certain age who had dragged their reluctant husbands along. Several of them were singing Rollers songs even before the actors took to the stage. It could be a long evening, I thought to myself.

I shouldn’t have worried, however as it was a really engaging hour. Ewan Petrie was superb, with just the right mix of acting, ham acting and humour. You actually came to believe he really was the man he was playing. And then, almost as he had completed the story, the man himself walked through the audience and onto the stage. It was a bizarrely moving moment and I felt myself tearing up. The women of a certain age went mental. There wasn’t a dry seat in the house. Alan turned out to be a man of few words, so the rest of the hour was devoted to Alan, the young Alan and the young Les belting out some of the Bay City Rollers Greatest Hits, culminating in ‘Shang-a-Lang’. OK, it was all a bit karaoke, but enjoyable nonetheless. The whole audience took to their feet and a good time was had by all. Really.

So with that behind me I hotfooted it down Princes Street to the Ghillie Dhu bar to see Belfast singer Brian Kennedy perform an acoustic set. The venue was very atmospheric. It was in a large upstairs room which looked as if it had once been part of a church. Come to think of it, it probably was. Kennedy looks like a cross between David Aaronovitch and Paul Staines but has the banter and wit of his fellow Ulsterman Stephen Nolan. He has a voice to die for and used his range to full effect in the 75 minutes he was on stage. The song which brought him to my attention was the first song he sang – ‘Captured’. Other notables were ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’, a song which is best known with Westlife singing it, but in fact Kennedy made it a hit when he sang it with Secret Garden. He didn’t actually sing it into the microphone and instead walked among the audience belting it out with no microphone at all. I think he got a shock when he saw Julian Clary sitting in the back row.

So at 9.45pm it was all over and I needed to eat, having not done so all day. Everything seemed to be shutting up, but in the end I found an Italian place just round the coerner from my hotel on Hanover Street, Bar Napoli. It proved to be an inspired choice and proved to be one of the best meals I have had in many a year.

Tomorrow, I’ve got five shows to see. Better get some sleep then.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Simon Callow & Jane Ridley

Simon Callow discusses his biography of Charles Dickens and Jane Ridley talks about her biography of Edward VII.

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ConHome Diary: Mourinho's Small Dick & the UKIP London Mayoral Stitch-Up

14 Aug 2015 at 14:55

Last week I was asked to fill in for Adam Boulton while he’s on holiday and write a column for the Sunday Times. My mum would have been very proud. It is by far the best Sunday newspaper for comment and opinion pieces and it was the first time I had written a column for the main part of the newspaper, although I had written for the News Review before. It may come as a surprise to you that I have absolutely zero confidence in my ability as comment writer. I had a column on the Daily Telegraph for two years, yet each time I pressed SEND I always expected it to whizz its way back into my InBox with the message “it’s crap, do it again”. It never happened, but right to end I expected it to. Anyway, I duly trotted off 1,100 words on where internal opposition to David Cameron might come from, and sent it off. Then came the anxious wait… And hey presto, no it didn’t come back with any negative comment at all. In fact, apart from one minor fact I got wrong, they didn’t change a word. I almost basked. Anyway, you can read it on my blog HERE [add link http://iaindale.com/posts/2015/08/09/sunday-times-column-cameron-is-lucky-with-labour-and-even-luckier-with-his-tory-rebels ] if you really want to.
I’ve just booked to go to the Edinburgh Festival next week for four days. I’m flying up on Sunday on a plane from Norwich International Airport – it’s very important to include the word ‘international’ – which seems to have about 16 seats. Propellertastic. I’ve planned my itinerary very carefully and will be seeing fifteen shows, a lot of which have a political tinge. Could you resist seeing ‘UKIP: The Musical’ or ‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho’? Or ‘Tony Benn’s Last Tape’? Or ‘Boris World?’ Nope, me neither. But in order to try to convince the world I am not wholly obsessed by politics I’m also going to see a talk by one of the Bay City Rollers, a play about Bob Monkhouse and a very funny German comedian called Christian Schulte-Loh. But the highlight will be seeing Gyles Brandreth’s ‘Word Game’. He is such a star and his Edinburgh shows are always sold out. Anyway, I shall report back next week and I warn you now that the whole column will be an ‘Edinburgh special’. Or maybe not so special. Assuming the propeller plane actually gets me there and back in one piece.

So according to reports David Laws has been banned from getting a peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. What a disgrace. OK, he’s a friend of mine, and one of my authors so I am biased, but compared to many existing members of the House of Lords he’s a saint. He paid a heavy price for his expenses misdemeanour, but now he’s being punished for a second time by an unelected committee of the so-called ‘great and good’. Knowing David as I do I suspect he will look back on this in a few years’ time and thank his lucky stars it happened. The sooner we have an elected House of Lords the better, although even I have got to the point of wondering if we shouldn’t just get rid of it altogether and bolster the committee system in the House of Commons.
Arsenal 0 West Ham 2. What a day. We mullered them. But knowing West Ham as I do, as sure as eggs is eggs, we’ll lose at home to Leicester on Saturday.

You know when you think of someone as a friend and you confide things to them because you trust them and are trying to help them. And then they betray you. Publicly. That happened to me this week. It’s something I find hard to forgive. They say all’s fair in love and politics, but when you have bent over backwards to help someone and they repay you with lies, half-truths and spin, you wonder why you gave them the time of day in the first place. If I never have any contact with this person again, it will be too soon.
Talking of shits, Jose Mourinho hit the headlines this week for effectively constructively dismissing the Chelsea team doctor. Why? Because she rushed on to the pitch to help an injured Eden Hazard. Perish the thought she should do her job. Mourinho is a bully who whenever Chelsea fail to win starts a defection tactic to keep media attention away from his team’s all too apparent failings. And the media fall for it every time. The shame of it is that in this case a perfectly competent woman has pretty much lost her job over it. He should hang his head in shame and apologise to her. Trouble is, he isn’t man enough. He’s probably got a small dick, too.

The UKIP London mayoral selection may turn out to be rather more interesting than I first thought, as well as one which Vladimir Putin would be proud of. The two leading contenders are Suzanne Evans and their culture spokesman Peter Whittle but there are several others who have thrown their hats into the ring too. In any normal world Suzanne Evans would win the nomination by a country mile, but this is UKIP we are dealing with here. The putative candidates will face a selection panel at the end of the month, and it is they who will decide the winner. Yes, you heard that right. UKIP’s London members will have no say whatsoever. The concept of one member one vote seems to be alien to them. Quite how the UKIP national executive think this is an acceptable way of conducting a London mayoral nomination election is anyone’s guess. From what I hear the selection committee is stuffed full of Nigel Farage’s placemen (and virtually all of them are men) so whoever is chosen will certainly have the Farage rubber stamp. If Suzanne Evans isn’t selected that should tell us all we need to know about what future the party leader thinks Suzanne Evans has in UKIP.



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LBC 97.3: Iain talks to Lady Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Fraser discusses her new book PERILOUS QUESTION, about the 1832 Reform Act.

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 33: Being Muted And Then Shouted at By George Galloway

14 Aug 2015 at 10:43

I suppose this is rather more accurately titled ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Guest on George Galloway’s Radio Show’. Back in 2010 I was invited to appear on George Galloway’s talkSport show, which I had always enjoyed listening to. You never quite knew what was going to happen and George could fly off the handle at any moment with a caller. It was usually ‘must listen to’ radio. Anyway, I think I was on because it was the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from office and I was supposed to debate her merits or otherwise with George.

The interview didn’t get off to a good start as he introduced me as a ‘better sort of apologist’ for Margaret Thatcher. I took issue with the word ‘apologist’ as I regarded it as a negative word. It went downhill from there and we ended up having a screaming match. He muted my microphone so he could have monologue, something I realised he was doing and I took him to task for it. He didn’t like it. At all. ’Don’t you tell me how to run my radio show’, he shouted. In the end we both recovered our respective equilibriums and carried on.

But it was a good example of how a presenter can control an exchange by judicious use of the fader. I have to say that I very rarely ever deploy that tactic and if I do I warn my interlocutor that if they don’t stop I’ll do it for them. That usually brings them into line.

Anyway, George hasn’t presented on a mainstream channel since he left talkSport in 2012, but that is about to change. On Saturday on LBC he’s covering for Ken Livingstone and David Mellor from 10am until 1pm, and then all next week he is sitting in for James O’Brien. Sadly I won’t see him as I’m off for two week’s holiday. Shame really, as I could then ask why he blocks me on Twitter. [UPDATE: He’s unblocked me and now follows me. Yay!]

I have interviewed George quite a few times in my time at LBC and I always enjoy it. You know you’re going to give as good as you get. You know you can turn it into whatever you want to. If you want a shouting match, he’ll give you one, but what I have found is that if you play it straight, you may not agree with or like what he says, but you actually get more out of him.

I for one will be tuning in on Saturday morning!



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to a Caller About His Dating Horror Stories

John in Southgate rang in... hilarious.

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Labour Politics

WATCH: London Labour Mayoral Hustings on LBC

14 Aug 2015 at 00:14

Here is the full video of the LBC London Labour Mayoral Hustings with Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell, David Lammy and Diane Abbott. They all agreed afterwards it was the best debate they had done. I hadn’t realised it was the final time they were debating each other. If you like sparky political debate, you’ll enjoy this.



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Jeffrey Archer (again)

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UK Politics

SUNDAY TIMES COLUMN: Cameron is lucky with Labour and even luckier with his Tory rebels

9 Aug 2015 at 18:41

Today I made my debut as a columnist in the Sunday Times, deputising for Adam Boulton. I’ve written for most other papers at some time or other but never the Sunday Times, which I have always regarded as the best newspaper in the country. My mum would have been proud. Anyway, here’s the article which looks at what opposition David Cameron is likely to face from his own party in this parliament.

It seems I have unintentionally become a hate figure for Blairites across the country. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it, but it was me — or more accurately one of my LBC radio listeners (Sarah in London, since you ask) — who put the idea of running for the Labour leadership into Jeremy Corbyn’s head.

The fateful moment came during an interview Corbyn did with me on my show two days after the election. When Sarah suggested he run, the old leftie reacted with incredulity, but as he came off air he was clearly scratching his beard, thinking: “You know what, why the hell not? It’s not as if I’ll win.” Ahem.

I spoke to one former Blairite cabinet minister last week who is convinced Corbyn is heading for victory. If that happens, we are surely in for a few years of internecine battles for control of all parts of the Labour party. If I’m right, Labour politicos will be spending more time fighting each other, at least for the next three years, than fighting the government and holding Conservative politicians to account.

So if Labour doesn’t do that, who will? There will be parts of the media that try to fill the void, but the big question is whether David Cameron will face growing opposition from his own ranks. Tory backbenchers are an increasingly rebellious bunch, as Professor Philip Cowley, the political geek’s geek, will confirm. Far from being the political lapdogs most voters think they are, backbench Tory MPs have become ever-less beholden to the party whip. But will a small parliamentary majority encourage them to be more obedient, or will they use that fact to hold their own government hostage?

Political commentators inevitably suspect that internal opposition will coalesce around Boris Johnson, whose first few months back in the House of Commons have been dominated by a drenching from Theresa May’s very own water cannon. But that hasn’t happened yet. In some ways Boris has cut a sorry figure in the Commons, and many backbenchers just don’t know what to say to him.

Some in the media look to Boris to lead the “no” campaign in the EU referendum so he can show what he’s really made of on a national stage. It’s. Not. Going. To. Happen. Boris pretends to be an out-and-out Eurosceptic, but delve beneath the surface and you’re likely to find a rather pragmatic pro-European. Just like his dad, Stanley. The trouble with Boris is he has left a trail of clues as to his real views from his time in the 1990s as Brussels correspondent with The Daily Telegraph.

One Tory backbencher told me he can’t see Boris being the ringleader of any internal opposition to Cameron either. “He isn’t a coalition-builder who charms people into joining him on the ramparts,” he said. “It’s that public-school thing of expecting the worker bees to take orders and fall in line, and Tory backbenchers don’t react well to that.”

So if opposition in the Tory party isn’t going to focus around Johnson, where will it come from? At the moment, the government is going through an extended honeymoon period, which shows little sign of ending. In the short term, opposition is going to be issue-based, rather than the so-called “usual suspects” rebelling on everything under the sun. And I am not just talking about my old boss David Davis.

Cameron is said to consider himself very lucky in his political enemies on his own side. He thinks Davis doesn’t command any support on the back benches and other serial rebels are busted flushes. Liam Fox still has a following of sorts, but not one powerful enough to do the leadership much damage. A handful of backbenchers such as John Redwood, John Baron, Andrew Percy, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone will continue to irritate on individual issues, but in reality won’t have the support to mount any serious challenges.

I would have added Tracey Crouch to the rebel list but the prime minister made her sports minister, a job at which she is so far excelling. Though even from those lofty heights, Crouch made known her total opposition to the proposed hunting bill. It was partly her intervention both publicly and behind the scenes that killed it off. Quite an achievement.

The most pressing issue facing the prime minister when parliament returns in September will be whether to hold a vote on authorising military action in Syria. Cameron is still scarred by Ed Miliband’s duplicity the last time this issue came up in 2013. If he’s wise he will hold the vote in early September before the Labour leadership election result, but he will know that the Tory rebels from 2013 won’t be easily persuaded.

Of the 30 Tory MPs who rebelled then, all but three of them are still in the Commons. They include Julian Lewis and Crispin Blunt, the new respective chairmen of the defence and foreign affairs select committees. Of the 30 rebels, 15 of them were MPs elected in 2010 and it’s a fair bet that there will be quite a few of the 2015 intake who will take some convincing now that they have found their feet and aren’t in awe of the place, or the whips for that matter.

But like their 2010 colleagues, the 2015 intake tend to act in concert, slightly to the irritation of their older colleagues. They do it because they recognise that as a group they can have more influence. However, one new MP made clear that it would be a very rare occasion indeed where they acted together to force the government to retreat. “We got elected by our own hard work but also on the backs of Cameron and [George] Osborne and we know that.”

The opposition to Cameron can be divided into three groups — those who hate him for their own personal reasons, those who have never been given ministerial jobs, and those who have been sacked from ministerial jobs. The task of the chief whip, Mark Harper, is to ensure that those three groups never join forces.

It’s amazing what a majority of 12 can do to concentrate the minds of Tory MPs. This is a very different parliament from that of 1992-97, when John Major also had a small majority and was assailed by the flapping white coats of his various “bastards”. Of course there are still divisions, but the main difference between now and then is that the Tory party is 95% Eurosceptic.

I promised myself that I would get to the end of this article without quoting Lord Kilmuir’s belief that “loyalty is the secret weapon of the Conservative party” but I’ve clearly failed. It has never seemed like that throughout my adult life. But maybe, just maybe, the Tory party is about to revert to type. David Cameron can but hope.


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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Tribute to Sir Simon Milton

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 32: Getting Something New Out of an Interviewee Who's Been on Every BBC Outlet Going

7 Aug 2015 at 14:59

Earlier today I did a 25 minute interview with Camila Batmangehlidh from Kid’s Company. We covered a lot of ground. It was one of those interviews where as an interviewer you know you’re going to struggle to cover anything new, as she had been all over the BBC for most of yesterday. However, there were new allegations overnight and I really wanted to corner over some of the things she had alleged, in particular her view that the government was trying to silence her because she knew too much about the child sex abuse inquiry.

I went into the interview with few predetermined view about her, apart from the fact that I thought she had done some excellent work with some very damaged children, but had probably made a lot of mistakes in the administration of the organisation due it growing too quickly.

It was one of those interviews where, as an interviewer, you think you’re probably going to get further with an interviewee, and more out of them, if you don’t appear too aggressive, and show some empathy for the situation they find themselves in. It doesn’t prevent you asking some tough questions, but it means that by not hectoring them you’re going to get more out of them in the long run. That’s why it was important the interview lasted longer than the usual six or seven minutes.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Joan Rivers

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ConHome Diary: Tracey Crouch Gives John Humphrys a Taste of His Own Medicine

7 Aug 2015 at 14:18

Tracey Crouch is rapidly becoming a bit of a star in her role as Sports Minister. She didn’t exactly have a hard act to follow. The thing is, as I’ve written before, she knows her subject inside out, as evidenced by her interview on Tuesday’s TODAY PROGRAMME about her new ten year Sports Strategy. I had limbered her up an hour earlier on the LBC Breakfast Show where I asked her why her completely useless predecessor hadn’t come up with any form of sports strategy, let alone submitted herself for any interview. Tracey brushed it aside easily. With John Humphrys she didn’t just brush his questions aside, she trampled on his aching carcass.
Humphrys was in his usual dismissive mood right from the off. He asserted that too much money was being spent on elite sports and too little on ordinary school sport. Tracey was ready for him. “You are confusing two different issues actually, if I may, John,” she hissed. “I think there are two different issues,” Crouch added. “It’s a straightforward question,” Humphrys hit back. La Crouch stood her ground. “And I am giving you a straightforward answer which is that there are two different issues.” Humphrys wasn’t giving up but Crouch hit a winning volley: “I think you’ll find that it’s your emphasis on elite sports,” Crouch said.
In retrospect Humphrys probably wishes he had ended the interview there. Instead, he hit the ball into his own net when he decided to ask Tracey’s view on the launch of a new strip for Manchester United lady footballers saying “it’s very low cut and people are saying ‘they wouldn’t do that to men, would they?”
The lesson here is never mess with someone who knows far more about the subject than you do. Crouch was unforgiving in her reply. “Manchester United have got a new strip for their women supporters, not for their footballers, because unfortunately Manchester United do not have a women’s football team…”. Cue awkward outburst of breath, otherwise known as a groan from Humphrys – he hates being badly briefed. Crouch then stuck the knife in further. “People will buy it if they want to buy it and they won’t if they feel offended by it.”
That’s called a Slam Dunk. Memo to self: Never let her do that to me. I do hope Number Ten were listening.
Oh dear. Zac Goldsmith has pulled out of the Bow Group’s summer reception on Monday. Isn’t it all too predictable how Ben Harris Quinney’s bessie mate has rushed to his aid on Breitbart to trash Zac Goldsmith insinuating he was scared of making a ‘keynote speech’? Yet another Bow Group failure for their “chairman” to explain to all the people who had paid £10 for the pleasure. Half of them UKIP supporters, no doubt. When will the Bow Group Council finally come to their senses and rid themselves of this turbulent prick?

Talking of turbulent priests, I see Anjem Choudhary has been arrested. Not before time. Let’s hope that the Police case against him is watertight this time. He’s banned from appearing on my radio show on the basis that he is a hate preacher and represents no one.
I have no idea whether Heath was a paedophile or not. If the evidence is produced that he was, then his reputation deserves to sink lower than it already is. I believe he was the worst Prime Minister since the war and on the few occasions I met him I did not find him exactly convivial company. But, and there is a bug BUT here, does anyone deserve for their reputation to be dragged through the mud like his has this week on the basis of, well, what exactly? The word of an ex rent boy and the word of an ex brothel keeper, who has now denied she ever accused of anything. I continue to believe that victims of predatory paedophiles, whoever they are or were, or how powerful they are or were, should get justice and the knowledge that their suffering is acknowledged by wider society. But what evidence is there against Ted Heath? He sailed his yacht in Jersey, where there was a child abuse scandal. And, er, that’s about it. In August 1961 when he supposedly picked up a 12 year old boy on the A2 in Kent, he spent most of the month in Europe negotiating our abortive entry into the Common Market. His diary apparently shows he was out of the country. The allegation was that the boy was taken back to his Park Lane Flat. Except he never lived in a Park Lane flat. His flat was in The Albany, which is half a mile away off Piccadilly. And so it goes on. But the Great British Public are only too willing to believe that all their politicians were, and are up to no good. One caller to my radio show even alleged that the whole British government is made up of paedophiles. But the most sickening sight this week was the policeman who stood outside Ted Heath’s former house in Salisbury making a plea for any of his victims to come forward. Effectively this man was shaking the tree to see what fruit would fall into his lap. This was a disgusting stunt. If he was to do that it should have been done from Wiltshire Police HQ. I realise that if indeed Sir Edward is proved to be the political equivalent of Jimmy Savile, then this item will look rather ridiculous. But I do believe in the concept of innocent until guilty, and if it’s good enough for Sir Cliff Richard (which of course it wasn’t because of the disgraceful behaviour of the BBC) it is good enough for Sir Edward Heath.
In addition, I wonder whether if we did a poll of the British public, they would prefer their money to be spent on rooting our current day paedos in Rotherham and Rochdale, or conducting a very expensive investigation into the past, when the perpetrators by definition can’t be brought to justice. That’s not to decry the just wishes of victims to know that their abusers have been found out and they have been telling the truth all along. All I am saying is that it is sometimes a very difficult balance to strike.

I still can’t bring myself to believe that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour Party leadership. Surely the Labour Party isn’t going through a collective nervous breakdown is it? I’ve just gone through the list of the Shadow Cabinet and I just cannot see that most of them would agree to serve under him. The big question is what happens to him if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper wins. Would they give him a job, and if so which one? We only have a month to wait to find out.



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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 31: When People Say Presenting a Radio Show is a Piece of P***...

1 Aug 2015 at 20:12

I’ve lost count of the times people say to me: “God, I wish I had a job as easy as yours. I mean, you just sit there and talk, which is what you love doing anyway.” Oh if only they knew. Yes of course, if you’re a talk radio host you like talking and hearing the sound of your own voice, but there is so much more to it than that. You don’t just have to know how to talk, you have to know how to listen too, and be able to hold an intelligent conversation, often about a subject you are by no means an expert on. Or sometimes know nothing about at all, or have no real interest in. Oh yes, it’s soooooo easy! Let me explain.

Presenting a talk radio show is a bit like being a swan. To the listener you need to appear completely calm and in control of everything. But although you might (or sometimes might not) be successful in doing that, under the water your feet are paddling ten to the dozen. Because for the whole of the three hours you’re in air (or four in my case – although that’s changing in September)* you’re effectively the personification of the word ‘multi-tasking’.

At any point in the show these are the things you’re doing or thinking…

* talking
* listening to an instruction/suggestion in your ear from the producer
* listening to an interviewee/caller
* thinking of the next question to ask
* looking at the clock
* wondering if you can fit another caller in before the news/travel junction
* monitoring texts or tweets and deciding which are good enough to read out
* thinking ahead to the next subject and how to tease it before a junction
* thinking ahead to the next hour, mulling over your talkup at one minute to the hour
* remembering to give the timecheck every so often – very important at Drive and Breakfast

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head! It’s a real act of concentration, and it’s constant. Yes, there are news and ad breaks for you to get your thoughts together, have a chat with your producers in the gallery or pop to the loo, but make no mistake, there isn’t much time when your brain is working at its maximum capacity. I’ve never known anything as intense as this.

And of course you’re aware that anything you say, with just one word out of place, could spell the end of your radio career. You’re also aware that something an interviewee or caller might say might also take you off the air or lead to an Ofcom complaint. In some senses you know that for three hours you’re walking a tightrope. Some people walk it with ease, others fall off, and a few should never have been allowed on it in the first place.

I came into radio presenting comparatively late in life and have no formal training. But even seasoned broadcasters who’ve been doing it for years will tell you of the mental strain presenting a three hour talk radio/news show can bring. Drivetime and Breakfast shows are even more tiring than others because you have far more guest interviewees on subjects you know very little about. They’re much faster paced shows than a morning or afternoon show, which generally are more caller based rather than news based. For instance, this is how the first hour of the LBC Breakfast Show looks…

6.59 Talk up lasting 45 seconds telling the listener why they should stay tuned
7.05 Opener giving a taster of what you’re going to do in the next hour
7.06 Opening monologue introducing first news topic and punt for calls
7.07 Interview relevant guest
7.10 Interview guest with opposing viewpoint
7.13 Possible third interview or call
7.15 Throw to news and travel
7.20 Reintroduce phonein topic
7.21 News hit on new topic
7.24 Go through the front pages of the newspapers
7.25 Introduce paper reviewer and go through first story
7.28 Take call
7.30 Tease what’s coming up in next half an hour & introduce news
7.34 Reintroduce phonein subject & then go to business news
7.36 Second newspaper story with paper reviewer
7.39 Take two calls
7.45 Go to news
7.49 News hit
7.54 Call
7.56 Final paper review story
7.59 Talk-up to 8pm news introducing what’s coming up in the next hour

At Drive we don’t have a paper reviewer or a 20 past news hit, but we often do one after 5.30, so it’s just as frenetic. Breakfast is in some ways easier because a lot of it has been set up overnight. But on Drive the news hits are often inserted into the show while we are on air. We get a lot of breaking news happen between 4 and 8, again, often on subjects I as a presenter will know nothing about. I’m totally reliant on my production team putting info on my screen while I try to trawl through Twitter or various news sites to get the latest. All this while doing an interview or taking a call. It certainly gets the adrenaline flowing, especially on days when there is a huge breaking news story like the Woolwich murder of Flight MH370 dropping out of the sky. That’s when you’re really found out as a news broadcaster. You either sink or swim. I well remember the day when the Malaysian Airliner was shot down over Ukraine shortly before we went on air. It was something where I instinctively knew we’d go into breaking news mode, which means we concentrate on that one story almost to the exclusion of everything else. It really is broadcasting by the seat of your pants, especially when there isn’t much that you know, little has been confirmed and you’re aware that wild speculation is not only often highly inappropriate, it can be very dangerous as well, not to say with a high probability of making you look very foolish if your speculation is way off beam.

Sometimes you read comments on internet forums where people complain that a presenter didn’t seem very knowledgeable about a particular subject and why hadn’t they prepared better? An understandable complaint sometimes maybe, but on a breaking news programme you have to rely on your general knowledge a lot. That’s why it pays to have a few grey hairs – a bit of life experience. I usually get into LBC three hours before my show starts, but if I present Breakfast I’ll only have an hour to prepare. On Breakfast you get a lot of overnight briefing papers from the set-up producer. On Drive you don’t have that luxury. At 1pm I have no clue what we’re going to be doing at 4pm. I sit down with my producers and we go through the news of the day and try to set up a four hour show bringing something new to whatever stories we decide to cover. I try not to repeat subjects which have been covered already unless we can think of a new angle on them, but our rule of thumb is that on the 5pm hour we cover whatever the biggest news story of the day is, even if it has been done before by James O’Brien or Shelagh Fogarty. It’s very rare we can’t think of an original question to ask. The challenge is to make compelling radio on a very light news day. When I was doing the evening show it was easier to do slightly more esoteric or lighter subjects, but on Drive and Breakfast people expect to be told what’s going on in the world, why it’s important and why they should phone in and give their views.

Nowadays, of course, in our new multimedia, multicamera studio we often either livestream a programme, or programme segment on our website, or record it to put out on social media. This means that as well as conducting a radio show, you’re also effectively conducting a TV show. No stripy shirts. No T shirts. No wanker signs to your producer. No facial signs if you think a caller is barking mad. No pressure!

So all this is a roundabout way of saying that when 8pm comes round I am dog tired. Good for nothing. I might as well have run a 10k. I go home, have something to eat. Then intend to watch some TV, but I rarely get past 20 minutes without falling asleep. And then an hour later wake up and slink off to bed. And then the next day I get up and do it again.

I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t change it for anything. But I do smile when I hear people that that what I do is a piece of p***.

John Stapleton, who is one of the nicest people i have met in broadcasting, and has been around the block a bit told me once that he doesn’t know how I do four hours a day five days a week. Someone else who is a highly experienced broadcaster reckons presenting my type of show is the most difficult thing to do in live broadcasting. I’ll take their word for it as I haven’t got a lot to compare it with.

One thing I do know is that it’s certainly not a piece of p***!

If you’d like to read the other articles in the ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Radio Presenter’ series click HERE

*UPDATE: I mentioned above that I will be moving from 4-8pm, which I have been doing since March 2013. I will in future be hosting Drive from 4-7, which moves me in line with the length of all the other shows on LBC. And it will mean I can actually go out in the evenings and have a social life again! And be less tired :)



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ConHome Diary: Jeremy Corbyn is a Modern Day Harry Perkins

31 Jul 2015 at 14:03

OK, I’ve got to say this. I can’t stand Sir Alastair Graham. Whenever there’s any political scandal, up he pops to dispense his holier than thou brand of puritanism. Yes, Lord Sewel was stupid, yes he broke the law, but for God’s sake, apart from the feelings of his wife and family, no one was hurt, no one was stolen from, no one was murdered.
One day someone is going to top themselves over something like this, and it won’t just be partly the fault of the newspaper who does the sting, it will be the fault of gobs on sticks like Sir Alastair Graham who lose no opportunity to prey on a rotting political corpse.

I mean, he left his role as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life eight years ago. And yet, we, the media beat a path to his door every time any politician does something wrong, or when there’s a scandal about MPs’ pay.

It’s not as if we think he’s actually going to say anything of interest. We know what he’s going to say. ‘So and so has some serious questions to answer’. ‘They need to look themselves in the mirror’. ‘It shows how politicians don’t get it’. Well thanks for that unique insight, Sir Alastair.

If I never interview him again, it will be too soon.

So glad to get that off my chest.

Back to watching Series 3 of The Newsroom.

I remain of the view that in the coalition Eric Pickles was one of the best, if not THE best ministers in terms of achieving things. But one thing that I wish he hadn’t done was to change the law to enable office blocks to be turned into blocks of flats. I can see why he did it because around the country there are many offices that have been empty for years, so why not change their planning use? In London, however, so many office blocks are being converted into flats that the supply of offices has almost dried up and as a consequence office rentals have shot up exponentially. The latest building to be emptied of office tenants is none other than Millbank Tower, previously home to New Labour, and indeed the Conservative Party. The block will be turned into flats and hotels. It won’t be long before smaller companies won’t be able to afford to stay in the capital and will have to move out. My publishing company’s lease comes to an end in August. It has been impossible to find anywhere to move to and we seriously considered moving out of London to Kent. In the end we have negotiated to stay where we are, but our rent has gone up by a massive amount and we will be paying around £50,000 extra just to stay put. I’ve negotiated six or seven leases over the last two decades and each time have got a bit of a bargain deal just by being hardnosed. Those days are over. So now I have to work out how I can find £50k of cost savings or extra revenue. Not exactly my favourite activity.
Perhaps signing up David Laws to write a new book might go some way to easing the pain of increased office costs. He’s going to write a book called COALITION! To be published in the spring. Snappy title, eh. It’s what I call a Ronseal title. It does what it says on the tin. If it sells anything like his last book, 22 DAYS IN MAY, I shall be a very happy publisher. I think David is a real loss to Parliament, but I suspect he’s quite relieved that he’s no there are one of the 8 LibDem MPs. I suspect they’re not enjoying life at all.

Well at least I won’t have to write about Ivan Massow any longer. His shambles of a London mayoral campaign was snuffed out by the interview committee last Saturday and we’ll no longer have to endure any of his “butt cock” clenchingly awful videos. He reckons, according to Sterpike column in The Spectator that he didn’t get through because of his outspoken attacks on Section 28 back in the late 1990s. No Ivan, you didn’t get through because they thought you were a bit of a dick. Perhaps the fact that he has 32 portraits of himself on the walls of his London house gave them a bit of a clue.

As predicted by me last week, four candidates went through to the final selection, although Philippa Roe didn’t make it and Andrew Boff did. That, of course, has given Labour a stick to beat the Conservatives with as there are no women in the final four. Roe must have performed disastrously not to make it, as there was little doubt that CCHQ were desperate for her to be on the final list.
Do you remember Chris Mullin’s novel A VERY BRITISH COUP, which was made into a drama by Channel 4? I reckon Jeremy Corbyn is a modern day Harry Perkins…



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