Magazine article The Spectator

Hung Up on Nick Ross

Magazine article The Spectator

Hung Up on Nick Ross

Article excerpt

In announcing the departure of Nick Ross from Call Nick Ross, Radio Four described the programme as the `most important phone-in on radio'. Is any phone-in important? Self-important, possibly, like the BBC itself but I saw no evidence that his removal will create a national outcry. His boss, Anne Winder, observing the obsequies, said solemnly that replacing him will be difficult but listeners should `rest assured that the tradition of excellence established by Nick will continue'.

Here I must declare an indifference. Ross is a winsome enough fellow, wellbrushed, neatly turned out, the sort of chap who never misses a train. He's a perfectly competent broadcaster and has a decent, ordinary voice but `tradition of excellence'? And I hardly think replacing him will keep executives awake at night as phone-ins are fairly straightforward programmes to chair. My personal difficulty with them is that they are much more enjoyable to present than to listen to.

Before Call Nick Ross began ten years ago, BBC local radio had pioneered this genre in Britain, and later independent local radio, appreciating its cheapness, followed suit. Of course, they all copied it from American talk shows. I chaired several for BBC Radio London when that station opened in 1970 and they were great fun to do. Unfortunately, hardly anyone was listening as we were broadcasting on FM which most radio sets didn't have at the time.

My first programme was about the merits of the Thames flood barrier which had yet to be built. As a precaution I put my then wife on stand-by at home, to ring if she sensed there was a deafening lack of interest among listeners. There was and she called under her maiden name, a Mrs Burgess of Putney. I was staggered to discover she knew more about this rather tedious subject than I did and with great skill she succeeded in interrogating councillors and a government minister for several minutes. I think we had a total of eight callers during the two hour slot.

Another subject was whether or not the Queen's Civil List should be abolished, and this attracted more callers, possibly because the scourge of the Royal Family, the Labour MP Willie Hamilton was a guest and did not disappoint, though he almost failed to turn up having forgotten the engagement. Much to Hamilton's annoyance we extended the programme. …

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