Tearlach Ceannadach/Charles Kennedy: A Good Man Speaking, BBC Alba, iPlayer
This documentary about the former leader of the Leader Democrats was a joy to watch. Having said that, it was more an adulatamentary than an objective look at Charles Kennedy’s life, career, achievements and failings. By the end of the hour, he had been portrayed as a Highland folk hero, the greatest prime minister we never had and someone who had been failed by others. None of these things are true. While it is right not to speak ill of the dead, especially someone who died in such awful circumstances, a documentary ought to contain warts and all.
It also started in an odd place, with his unexpected victory in the 1983 general election. There was little context, little mention of his upbringing. Maybe that’s a carp too far, but I felt we could have learned more had there more about his family and education.
One advantage of this programme being made by BBC Alba, as opposed to BBC2 or BBC4, was that it contained many local voices which might not otherwise have been heard. It wasn’t a whole host of big names in politics doing the vox pop interviews, it was largely local voices from his constituency party, many of them speaking in Gaelic. They were insightful, human, and entertaining. And it was truly lovely to hear a language that is rarely heard south of Inverness. It sometimes felt like being in the middle of an episode of ‘Outlander’.
I knew Charles Kennedy a bit, and a nicer, more friendly guy, you could not hope to meet. Approachable, affable, funny, he was always someone I looked forward to meeting or interviewing. He was one of those rare breeds of politicians who are just the same off mic, as they are on mic. But for a man who always appeared an outward going extrovert, he was in many ways the direct opposite. He suffered a huge sense of imposter syndrome. He wasn’t a shy man, but he never quite appreciated his own talents. He was also let down by some of his closest advisers who, in the understandable quest of trying to mask his failings from the wider public, allowed him to get away with far too much.
No one should ever decry his many achievements, not least in leading the LibDems to their highest ever total of parliamentary seats and being a major presence in local government. His instincts against the war in Iraq gave his party a USP in British politics at the time. And yet he failed to build on that, and those achievements became clouded in the mists of his alcoholism. This dark period wasn’t ignored in this somewhat hagiographical documentary but perhaps there needed to be more detail of how it affected his role as leader and what his colleagues tried to do to help him. And they did try.
In some ways this was an old style political documentary, possibly more suited to the 1980s rather than the 2020s. But I’d like to see more of them. Too often political documentaries are based on controversy and opinion. All this one tried to do was portray the ‘good’ side of a good man. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. Sometimes we should be reminded that at their core, most politicians go into politics for the right reasons and they try to do good. And Charles Kennedy was one of those people.
I miss him.
Radio is experiencing a real boom period at the moment, with lots of new stations being launched on DAB or online. After local stations were gobbled up by national radio groups like Global and Bauer, ultra local community stations are mushrooming all over the country. Barriers to entry are fast disappearing, and the costs of transmission are reducing all the time. You don’t need an FM licence, or even to be on a local DAB network, in theory, although with the advent of ultra local DAB networks, even the costs for those have come down markedly.
Boom Radio is a new national station designed to appeal to the so-called Baby Boomer generation, which used to be catered for by Radio 2, but less so nowadays as it desperately seeks a younger audience. This innovative new station is the brainchild of two seasoned radio station operators/owners/launchers, David Lloyd and Phil Riley. They launched the Heart brand in the 1990s, ran LBC for some years and latterly the Orion Radio Group, which became Free Radio before it was sold to Bauer. Lloyd started out as a local radio DJ and on Boom he has returned to a presenting role in the mid morning slot. He’s joined by Diddy David Hamilton at lunchtime, Graham Dene at Breakfast and Nicky Horne at Drivetime. The superb Graham Torrington hosts the late night show, with Jane Markham on afternoons. They are all voices which those in their 50s, 60s and 70s will recognise from radio stations past. It’s got a very ‘mellow’, even ‘smooth’ feel to it and the joy is the presenters do their own thing. Their links are more than 30 seconds long and they don’t seem to be required to say ‘Boom’ twice in every link between songs. How refreshing, how Boom.
The big question is, can a new entrant like this pull listeners away from the competition without a national DAB presence. It’s on local DABs in the big cities, but local DAB is a crowded market. But with the increasing use of smart speakers and apps, it might just be possible to make a breakthrough and attract the kind of advertisers needed to turn a profit.
I’ve been dipping in and out of Boom over the last two weeks, and the thing I like about it is that I haven’t heard the same song more than once. I’m sure there must be a playlist, but it seems to be a lot more expensive than its rivals. If I tune in to Magic and hear ‘Do That To Me One More Time’ by the Captain and Tenile one more time I think I will scream. Every bloody time. And it only got to Number 7 for Christ Sake.
In a few short weeks I’ve found myself saying ‘Alexa, play Boom Radio’ more and more. And I suspect if you give it a try, you will too. If you are, like me, of a certain age…