Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Happy Birthday Candyman

He's been called the Mozart of talk radio. His array of Sony awards is as impressive as it can get. He chooses the music he plays, talks about what he wants to talk about, taps into people's memories and idiosyncrasies and might just be the most naturally talented broadcaster of his generation.

He is the Candyman, Danny Baker, back behind the microphoned having undergone treatment for throat cancer and he is 54 today.

I first encountered his extraordinary talent on the old Radio 5 breakfast show before it became a rolling news and sports network. Up until then I had been a Wogan/Today listener. Once I'd discovered the Bakerman there was no going back. I was commuting from the West Country to BBC Birmingham on a daily basis and I needed something to take my mind off the endless traffic holds ups and roadworks. Discovering Danny Baker was like lifting a heavy carpet and discovering a whole new world beneath it.

He obeyed none of the rules, he'd play a record but then talk all over it, his guests were never interviewed they became part of the mele of the show. Since then I've caught him whenever I can. His Radio London breakfast show was a joy but having won DJ of the year the next day he announced he's had enough, was packing it in. After a few weeks off the air he was back with a Radio London afternoon show juggling the absurdities of life with the surreal and the hilarious. Alhtough he works better with a side-kick it's always his show - he is the captain and he knows where his ship is going.

Though he gets calls and texts and emails he doesn't need them the way some of us do. He can happily fill an hour or two off the top of his head, following rabbits down holes then breaking out into the sunshine of a bright new subject and off he'll go again.

He's an original voice in a wilderness of pap. Where most shows work on the principal of giving the listener the SAME THING EVERDAY, he is a behemoth of constant change. There is so much to learn from this approach but do the radio Mandarins take note? We know the answer to that - "coming up, seven in a row".

His Radio 5 Live show is to be cherrished. There are those who think him a loud-mouth (nope), some sort of drunken cockney shock jock (nope), they could not be more wrong. The accent maybe be Eastend but his use of the language, his general knowledge and ability to think and speak in perfect step - with almost total recall - is sometimes bewildering. How many presenters quote P.G Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker and imagined dialogue from Apocalypse Now and Dad's Army as spoken by Marlon Brando ?

It's that kind of inventiveness that draws me in, that and his abilities as a storyteller. He brings all his talents to bear on a good tale, he knows how to pace the thing, where to embelish, how to wring the comedy from a moment and how to make it come to life with music and effects.

I worked with him once. We made a TV pilot of  pop quiz that never got beyond that. Six month later he was presenting his own chat show on the box. But it's on the radio that he has complete mastery. That someone who lives to talk should have been struck by throat cancer is a terrible thing - there is no god - to have survived it and come out the other side firing on all cylinders is perhaps evidence that there is a god. At least a radio god.

Happy Birthday Candyman.

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