Radio: Sue Barker - the coolest desert island dreamer

Sue Barker
Sue Barker

IT only happens now and again, but the thrill of the latest episode of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs was the music. Who would have guessed Sue Barker would be quite so cool? You can’t beat a bit of Al Green and Bobby Womack, can you?

Yes, admittedly, she did pick Elton John too, but at least it was one of his better tunes (Philadelphia Freedom). And anyway she made up for it by selecting Keith Mansfield’s theme to the vintage BBC sports programme, Grandstand. “A Proustian rush for the whole nation,” as presenter Lauren Laverne pointed out. (When they get around to inviting me on I’m definitely having the Match of the Day theme tune.)

Not that you should judge anyone on their taste in music (David Cameron liked The Smiths and The Jam but that hardly makes up for austerity and Brexit). Still, Barker came across very well here; honest about her failings and upfront (though not bitter) about the media sexism she encountered during her early years in broadcasting. When she worked as part of a small team of women on BSkyB they were nicknamed “Bananarama” in the office. “They probably didn’t know that was a compliment,” Laverne suggested. Too right.

My favourite moment was Barker’s description of arriving in Los Angeles at 17 years old, upgrading her hire car to a convertible.

“And I’m driving down the freeway as a 17-year-old, down the 405 Highway to Newport Beach thinking, ‘This is the life.’ And on the radio comes this song and I thought: ‘Yep, that’s me. I’ve arrived’.”

Cue the Beach Boys singing California Girls. We all get to think we’re cool in our own head now and again.

Not that everyone’s idea of cool is the same. On Tuesday on 5 Live, Richard Osman said he doesn’t want to be involved in the filming of his hugely successful Thursday Murder Club mysteries. “I don’t want to go to LA,” he told Nihal Arthanayake. “There might be snooker on and I’ll miss it.”

At the start of the week radio threw everything at the coverage of the Queen’s funeral. Here was pomp and ceremony writ large, a stage-managed moment in history to immerse yourself in or opt out, depending on your sensibilities.

I fear I erred towards the latter. I can’t say I listened religiously to the BBC’s coverage, ranged across the network including Radio 4, 5 Live and Radio Scotland on Monday. But then sometimes it’s little details caught in passing that cut through.

About 20 minutes into the broadcast, presenter Martha Kearney was talking to Colonel David Hannah who had long been involved in the planning for the funeral. Discussing the bearer party for the Queen’s coffin, he mentioned that they had been “carefully selected from the Queen’s Company of the Grenadier Guards”. There is a very practical aspect to this, he added. “They need to be tall and strong because it’s a lead-lined coffin.”

Lead-lined. Hearing that made me shiver. I suddenly had a flashback to carrying my own father’s coffin and the anxiety I had felt beforehand that I might drop it; a fear I had carried with me since I was a kid seeing my father carry his own father. For a moment I thought of those young Grenadier Guards and my heart went out to them. I needn’t have worried. They carried out their part on the day to perfection.

Listen Out For: Steve Wright, Radio 2, Friday, 2pm

The end of an era as Steve Wright presents his last ever Radio 2 afternoon show after the best part of a quarter of a century in the job.