My Vanessa Feltz fixation
She is witty, warm and clever - and I'm not being ironic
As you may know by now, I cannot stand phone-ins. Nick Ferrari's breakfast show on London's LBC makes me ill, literally. The last time I heard it - I was in a cab, of course - I became nauseous and had to have a lie-down.
Ferrari is a Tory of the Richard Littlejohn school, and his show is nasty, small-minded and muddle-headed. He often says things that are simply inaccurate, though no one ever corrects him. Victoria Derbyshire's morning phone-in on BBC 5 Live is more benign, but it sounds increasingly desperate, always seeking to stir controversy where there is, in reality, none to be had. Her subjects are beyond satire. It can't be long before she asks listeners to call if they're fed up with the weather: "Do you hate the rain? Does it make you wet? Does it play havoc with your hair? And what do you make of umbrellas? Call us now on . . ." (I also hate the way Derbyshire's voice changes when she talks to a certain kind of bloke, or about football. It reminds me of the way Tony Blair carries on when he's trying to be down with the kids.)
So it's disturbing in the extreme that I have recently developed a fixation on Vanessa Feltz, who presents a weekday morning show on BBC London (if you live outside the capital, listen online at www.bbc.co.uk/london). The combination of Feltz, once voted the 93rd Worst Briton in a Channel 4 poll, with a phone-in (for that is what her show is) might seem toxic. But it's compulsive.
I'm not being ironic. Were it not for her image problem, which is considerable, Feltz would be a mainstay of 5 Live. As it is, the poor thing is marooned at BBC London, where every day she must hand over at noon to Robert "Did I mention that I own a Regency house in Camden?" Elms. How, I wonder, does she endure that?
I mentioned Feltz's image problem. In the 1990s, she was ubiquitous, writing columns, appearing on daytime television. Then she lost her daytime TV show, partly on account of some of the "normal people" in her daily mob being actors. In 2001, she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, where she acted just a little oddly.
The trouble is, although I can remember all these facts, and although I know she exudes a steely suburban self-confidence that she learned, presumably, at the feet of her adoring parents in Totteridge, it is clear that she is also a clever woman with - dread phrase - the common touch. She has the wit not to go down dead ends, the patience to deal with ranters, and a genuine love for the rhythms and rituals of everyday life.
A lot of London radio tries not to be "local", affecting a metropolitan hauteur that the content is unable to live up to. But Feltz's show is local and proud. For every chance she gives her listeners to discuss prison sentences, speed cameras and obesity, she'll throw out something that is specific to the city: a controversial billboard she has seen, say, or a problem on the buses. I surprise myself by enjoying this. Anyway, if you tremble at the very idea of Feltz, I'd urge you to give her a chance. Try not to think of her mermaid hair, or her Eighties-style shimmery pink lipstick, or the pictures you may have seen of her in Hello!. You may even be a fan already. She has plenty of listeners, and it's clear, from the voices of those who call in, that they consider her a kind but authoritative friend.
Crikey. Who'd have thought it?
Pick of the week
Lunchtime Concert – Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
24 October, 1pm, Radio 3
The first of eight highlights from one of the world’s most prestigious festivals of chamber music.
Me, Myself and I
19-22 October, BBC6 Music
Four days of programmes devoted to life as a singleton.
Don't miss . . .
China Power Station
Prior to redevelopment, London's landmark Battersea Power Station lends its post-industrial majesty to a display of contemporary Chinese art. The exhibition, co-organised by the Serpentine Gallery, takes place in three parts, the first in London, the second in Oslo in 2007, and the third in Beijing in 2008. The London show includes sound and moving-image installations, with Chinese modern art and architecture presented against the backdrop of the expansive surroundings. This project celebrates the work of a vibrant new generation.
Until 5 November at Battersea Power Station, London SW8. www.serpentinegallery.org