Radio - Rachel Cooke

For those fed up with 5 Live, mild- mannered Marcus Brigstocke is the perfect balm

The BBC 5 Live website is incredibly weird. When I visited it the other day, I almost laughed out loud. Take the "presenters" page: it's up there with Hello! when it comes to insight. Each of the station's big names - and some of its small names, too, like Jo Sale, who reads out the traffic news - have answered a mini-quiz about themselves. Presumably, the idea is that this will make them seem friendly and accessible, but what I want to know is: who thought up the questions? And why did the presenters make so little effort to sound even vaguely interesting?

First, I looked up Jane Garvey (Drive, weekdays, 4pm-7pm), my radio heroine on account of her taking so little rubbish either from politicians or her hoity-toity co-presenter, Peter Allen. Oh dear. According to the website, Garvey's "favourite item of clothing" is her M&S support pants. Next, I clicked on Garry Richardson (Sportsweek, Sundays, 9am), because he is surely the presenter on whom Steve Coogan based Alan Partridge. His "favourite weather" is warm and sunny. Finally, I turned to Phil Williams, the station's holiday cover of choice. He had really got into the question about clothing. His favourite jacket is from Gap. It cost only £5.99 - down from £80! If only he'd bought a few more at the same time, he went on, he could have flogged them and made a tidy profit.

Looking at this stuff, I wondered if it didn't provide some clue as to why I am going off BBC 5 Live. These feeble dribblings speak volumes: they betray a near-pathological fear of controversy. If the phone-ins on which 5 Live is so dependent have any point, it is surely to let people (callers and presenters) let rip. But no. Everyone is so polite, pussyfooting their way around the most incendiary issues. Recently, I caught one about the government's doomed efforts to pass a law making it illegal to incite religious hatred. As issues go, this was as hot as hell - yet you'd never have known it. "Here's Muhammad in Gants Hill," Victoria Derbyshire would say. Cue lots of sympathetic "umming" and "aaahing" on her part. I've heard more interesting conversations at the bus stop.

If, like me, you travel in hope and still tune in to 5 Live, only to spend the next six hours banging your head on your desk, let me suggest a balm: Marcus Brigstocke. I have an aural crush on the mild-mannered, laconic comedian, who stars in several Radio 4 shows, not least the very jolly Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off, in which he plays a kind-hearted but tragically thick Sloane. His new series, As Safe As Houses (Radio 4, Saturdays, 10.30am), is about property. But it is not another programme for people who like to talk decking; I suggest they ring Victoria Derbyshire. Rather, it seeks to explain the peculiarly British attachment to owning one's home (70 per cent of us do).

The first part went right back to tenant farmers, with our hero attempting to conduct a survey of Cambridgeshire using only a few arrows and a length of chain. Various historians were wheeled on to tell us about the Diggers or John Locke. The joy of it was that any time they were in danger of becoming boring, Brigstocke would make a funny aside. At one point, a moral philosopher told him a favourite moral philosophers' joke. It wasn't very funny, though moral philosophers up and down the land were doubtless clutching their sides. "I'm on at the Comedy Store tonight," said Brigstocke, under his breath. And then: "I might not open with it."

Yes, Brigstocke is brilliant. How different things might be if 5 Live put him at the end of a telephone.

Next Article