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The fruity tones of Simon Callow

The actor takes Antonia Quirke on a musical wine-tasting.

Tasting Notes
Classic FM

“Now we drift slowly into the north of the Bordeaux region to Libourne with its imposing 14th-century defensive walls, heading past the quays where two centuries ago . . .” Simon Callow, 3pm Sunday, presenting Tasting Notes with Laithwaite’s Wine on Classic FM (Sundays, 3pm). He sounded a little perkier on this, his second autumnal afternoon of a ten-week run “sharing some of the best wine from France, Spain, Germany, Australia, Hungary, New Zealand and America” with the “perfect classical music accompaniments”.

His inaugural show, one listener complained, had sounded too scripted. Callow had delivered long paragraphs with a tone of mild self-disgust, giving the impression that this was the first time he had cast his eye over them. He sounded now and again a little like Olivier on cruise control, who once admitted to Richard Burton that his machine-gun metallic rattle with an occasional shout thrown in was designed to “keep the bastards awake”.

A listener, Keith from Cambridge, emailed the station to point out that “there was little life and sparkle to this programme; I presume that Classic FM’s budget couldn’t stretch to his travelling to the regions concerned?” Sadly not! As the series continues, it doesn’t sound as if Simon has been allowed even a small glass of Puligny-Montrachet to accompany his musings, voiced in a crazy range of personalities, some up, some down, some contemplative and some just a bit weird. “After Chloé has been abducted
by a gang of marauding pirates,” he confided this week, of a ballet by Ravel, “Daphnis rescues her with a daring raid.” All spoken with the wholesome simplicity of a mother adding oatbran to the family diet.

This, just as it had begun to feel as though the airwaves had been given over entirely to Callow, since he had piped up selling Audis in the ad break too (and, it must be said, doing absolute marvels with the for-radio speeded-up small-print epilogue.) Who could not admire Callow’s work with the phrase Vorsprung durch Technik? In his mouth it’s as though it were the motto for some progressive school, teaching not merely intellectual rigour but sympathy with all the world’s liberal causes. Ingenuous. Tasting Notes is forgiven.

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 29 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Something Rotten