This is the fourth of a new weekly column I am writing for Reaction.Life
Clinton, PBS America, Amazon Prime
George W Bush, PBS America
I’m a sucker for political and historical documentaries, but if I am honest, when I started to watch Amazon Prime’s CLINTON four part documentary, my expectations weren’t high. I thought I knew all about Clinton. This superb series showed me that I didn’t. It was so good, I then watched the GEORGE W BUSH two part documentary in the same series, currently running on PBS America on the Sky platform. There no ‘angle’. They weren’t seeking to prove anything, merely to present us with the facts and let us make up our own minds. There’s nothing innovative in the format of these documentaries, which are based around a series of ‘talking head’ interviews with people who were there at the time, but somehow they managed to find a way of telling the stories of both presidents in a much more engaging manner than I have seen before. Both documentaries are in the PBS American Experience series and are object lessons to their British counterparts in how to present such programmes. Too often in this country, whether it’s the BBC, ITV or anyone else, documentaries are fronted by opinionated presenters to seek to prove a theory. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different genre and should be seen as such. PBS is the very personification of public service broadcasting and is brilliant at making historical documentaries. The BBC should think very hard about making more of this sort of thing. Michael Cockerell used to excel at this, but when was the last time you saw a political documentary of this nature on the BBC which made you think ‘yup, that really hit the mark’? Why has there never been a series commissioned on Britain’s Prime Ministers. Having just completed editing a book on the subject, I know how fascinating a series of documentaries on them would be. Hmmm, now there’s a thought…
Steve Wright in the Afternoon, BBC Radio 2
Steve Wright is a broadcasting legend. Those of us who grew up listening to him on Radio 1 in the 1980s listen to him now and feel like we’re putting on an old jumper. And I mean that as a compliment. He may have been a bit more whacky and zany in his previous broadcasting incarnation, but he certainly hasn’t lost his sense of mischief. He’s got his posse who have become more prominent characters in their own right, but all they’re really doing is replacing the bunch of zany characters which filled his Radio 1 show. Who can forget Ruth from Belfast, Damian the Social Worker, Mr Angry from Purley or Gervais the Hairdresser (you couldn’t get away with that one today without the Woke Police complaining to Ofcom). And then of course there were the Geese. In a way Wright was doing Little Britain twenty years before Matt Lucas and David Walliams did. Nowadays Tim Smith and Janey Lee Grace play his foils. Sadly, the show has never found a replacement for The Old Woman, who sadly died in 2016.
Musically, the show is unchallenging, but who wants to be challenged by music you’ve never heard of in the middle of the afternoon? Steve Wright certainly attracts big name guests, many of which are pre-recorded, but it’s well hidden. It’s a very heavily produced show, and it’s all the better for it, even if at times you long for Steve to be let off the leash a little more. And that’s what his loyal fans want – more Steve.
One of the secrets of building a loyal listenership is for the presenter never to take a holiday. If people tune in at a particular time they want to hear the person they expect to hear – not a second rate stand-in. Steve Wright seems to be on holiday far too often. He’s been doing the show for 21 years now, so he has every right to take time off, but there are limits! Maybe he’s having the last laugh, though – leaving us wanting more.
Eamonn & The Gaffers podcast, 11-29 Media
Whatever people say about podcasts, they have helped revive the long form interview, and nowhere more so than in the world of sport. Presented by Eamonn Holmes, this podcast is a series of hour long interviews with a football manager. They always take place in a pub – I mean, why not – which adds to the relaxed tone and an environment in which the manager relaxes into telling some slightly more fruity anecdotes than they would do if they were in a cold, austere radio studio. Add this to Holmes’ brilliantly relaxed and intuitive interviewing style, and some great big-name, talkative guests, and you’ve got a sure fire winner of a podcast. Holmes knows his football, despite being a Man U supporter, and partly because he’s in the same age group as most of his interviewees, he really gets the best out of them. He’s just kicked off a new series with Brendan Rodgers and Sean Dyche, but if you want to get a taster, make sure you listen to the episodes with Sam Allardyce and Stuart Pearce.