The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show on Absolute Radio: Absolutely fatuous

What happened to the drinks sideboard as a item of furniture; the mighty Katherine Jenkins possibly looking less attractive without her make-up; what appears to be a Wickes-sponsored section on power tools - just some of the unbelievably boring conversati

The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show
Absolute Radio

“What do we all think now that Becks has retired, then?” asks Christian O’Connell, the presenter of Absolute Radio’s Breakfast Show (weekdays, 6am) – and, as of 13 May, the first radio personality to win ten gold Sony Awards, the sector’s most prestigious accolade. “I mean, it’s big news,” he insists. “Front page of every single newspaper – looking dashing, as ever.” A brief silence as O’Connell contemplates Beckham, the ultimate figure of fiction. “It is big news,” concedes his co-host, Richie, like Auden considering Freud, “but I found that once he’d left the Premier League, I was kind of like, ‘OK, fine, go and have your fun,’ and then there was America and I was like, ‘OK, you know . . .’ and then France.” More drinking things in.

“Then I saw Chris Waddle yesterday,” expands Richie, his voice growing daring, “and he said, ‘Good player – but wouldn’t have said great.’” Typical Waddle. How a man with hair universally agreed to more closely resemble a psychological dysfunction can say of anyone, least of all Theo Walcott, “He doesn’t have a football brain,” is beyond me.

“Oh, really?” counters O’Connell, “because I would have thought you could say he was a great player” – and so on, proving that Beckham is simultaneously the most underrated and overrated player of all time. Also that people knock him not just because they are annoyed at the way he always hurled himself into self-promotion but because of the way the media consistently sold him as great, even during the times when he wasn’t. The whole thing is unbelievably boring – I apologise for even bringing it up.

But then The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show is unbelievably boring. This conversation – deemed to be so electrifying that it headlines the weekly Absolute podcast – was one of several equally boring conversations: what happened to the drinks sideboard as a item of furniture; the mighty Katherine Jenkins possibly looking less attractive without her make-up; and what appears to be the usual Wickes-sponsored section on power tools, all topped by Ian Wright thoroughly running the dangers of self-parody concerning the Premiership season. “The top end has been fine,” confirmed Wright, from a deep place in his unconscious soul. “The middle section has been good. And obviously . . . the bottom. You know what I mean?”

Newton Faulkner and Gary Kemp in the studio with Christian O'Connell (centre) in the Absolute Radio studios in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, You were the future once

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Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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