Written by Books

Eleven and Good Morning Nantwich

I’ve read two books by comedians in the last couple of weeks – which is pretty unusual for me. I tend to stray away from anything written by anyone even approaching “celebrity” status. But for various reasons I made an effort to read these books both pretty much on their respective publication dates.

Eleven is the most recent novel from Mark Watson, who’s worryingly good at what he does. You might know him from We Need Answers, or just about any programme that takes comedians as pannelists. But he also wrote one of the best, if not the best, programme to air on television over Christmas 2009, A Child’s Christmases in Wales.
This book centres around Xavier Ireland, an overnight DJ on a London radio station with an unusual name (there is a reason for this). The number eleven refers to a number of other characters, who are related in various ways to one another, even if they’re not aware of it. Although we spend most of our time with Xavier, who continues to battle some demons from a previous life, while not really getting too involved emotionally in his current one, we also take meandering detours into the lives of others.
I always find books set in radio stations interesting, if only because they rarely, if ever, accurately represent the workplace. The station in Watson’s book isn’t too far from the truth however. And I guess that he either knows people who work on the radio, and has been a guest on enough stations to pick up the general gist of what happens.
I found the book to be a real pager turner with the plot not always following precisely the trajectory that you’re expecting.

Good Morning Nantwich, subtitled Adventures on Breakfast Radio, is also a page turner, if not for exactly the same reasons.
It’s fair that I should point out that I’m not especially a Phill Jupitus fan. I watch Buzcocks when it happens to be on, rather than seeking it out. And I must admit that I’ve never actually heard him on-air. I did hear Jupitus read an extract from this book at Latitude recently, and that did make me buy this, if out of interest only.
This is Jupitus’ book detailing his time spent on GLR, and mostly BBC 6 Music. Jupitus loves radio, but seems to like little of what actually gets broadcast. He admits to listening to solely listening to Radio 2 and Radio 4 towards the beginning of the book.
But when he gets a job on the BBC’s London station, GLR, he first of all enjoys the pleasure that relative freedom offers him, but by the end, he’s fallen out of love with the station as a new management broom sweeps through. The same is broadly speaking the case with 6 Music.
In particular he has a loathing of commercial radio. At one point in this book, he spends an entire chapter detailing a nameless four hour commercial radio breakfast show. I completely agree, that this particular breakfast show obviously is inane, with a woeful selection of music and a pair of presenters who sound dreadful. But, as even he understands, lots of people like this kind of radio. It’s not demanding, but lots of people – for good or for bad – don’t like to be challenged by the radio. It’s something that simply helps to get them through the day. He gets upset that Girls Aloud are played twice in the same show. Yet, the reality is that he wouldn’t ever choose to listen to a station that plays Girls Aloud out of choice. In the same way that I can get upset about what The Sun or the Daily Mail is printing, I make a choice in not buying those publications. However, personally upsetting I find those media outlets, I understand that they wouldn’t exist commercially, were it not for the fact that millions of people do enjoy them.
That of course, does not mean that we should all have to follow a lowest common denominator form of radio. And I believe that as well as 6 Music, there are other stations and programmes that are able avoid that kind of thing. But I also think it’s illuminating that Jupitus, by the end of his book, admits that as he began to fall out with his management, despite having more freedom on his show than just about anybody else in radio, commercial or otherwise, he’d been broadcasting a radio station that was directed to his own personal tastes. He also freely admits personally profiting from recording radio adverts for HMV and Duracell.
The recent hullaballoo surrounding the impending closure, and then saving of 6 Music has resulted in many more listeners finding the staiton and enjoying it. Jupitus’ work is bookended by concerns about the future of the station, although the vast majority of the book was obviously written before the station was placed on the chopping block. As a result, he doesn’t paint a gloriously rosy picture of 6 Music. He’s often upset that budgets didn’t allow for him to do more things with his show. But budgets are a reality for everyone – commercial and BBC. He gets sent to a bad hotel in Belfast and personally pays to book himself and his team into a much nicer (and more expensive) hotel. His annoyance about 6 Music taking three years to get the ability to receive texts from listeners is a fair complaint though.
The book is also a little “padded” for my taste. As well as spending a long chapter taking apart a commercial breakfast show link by link, we’re also treated to a full run-through of Jupitus’ final show which comes across as a bit nauseous in print. While I’m sure it was very special for him, his team, and many of his listeners, I think an editor should have cut it down.
Overall, this is a pretty honest book. It doesn’t especially make me like Jupitus any more or less than I had previously; indeed I’m not sure I’d want to employ Jupitus on the basis of this book. Everyone working in radio should strive to do the best that they can, be they working for the BBC or commercial radio, remaining mindful of the broad church of likes and tastes. Some parts of commercial radio deserve a good kicking, but I think that Jupitus isn’t painting a fair picture. If you were to do something as crass as put my iPod on shuffle, what you’d get is something that I’d love, but almost certainly nobody else. Just because it suits my tastes, I’m not sure it’d make good radio.
Note: Yes – I’ve been woeful at recording what I’m reading on this blog. Anyone would think that I’ve actually stopped reading. That’s not the case!