Russell Brand v Barry Manilow

Why should Radio 2 try to be cool? Its quirkiness is unique

Russell Brand has left BBC 6 Music - where he is credited with helping the station achieve record listening figures - for the rather less edgy confines of BBC Radio 2. Lesley Douglas, who controls both stations, believes that Brand's new Saturday night show will be a must-listen.

He proved a hit when he sat in for Mark Radcliffe earlier this year and has, she says, "established himself as a genuine radio talent". To which I say: not so fast - many downloads do not a universal success make. In September, his show was downloaded 140,000 times, making it the only digital show in the BBC's top ten podcasts.

But he might be a disaster.

Not that his move came as a surprise. Radio 2 grows ever weirder. Of course, there are some (Douglas is one, presumably) who think that it is an admirably broad church, embracing as it does such different characters as, say, Jonathan Ross and Terry Wogan, or Chris Evans and - oh no! - Elaine Paige. I, on the other hand, worry that it is developing a split personality. The evenings, in particular, are beginning to look mighty strange. How will the camp rantings of Russell "I wear cravats, me" Brand sit beside Radio 2's more suburban fare? I thought about this as I settled down for I Write the Songs - the Barry Manilow Story (8.30pm, Tuesday). A classic of its kind, this was the sort of show to which one's Auntie Elsie might happily have sliced a hard-boiled egg. But if Douglas has gone doolally for the likes of Brand, how much longer will she allow such peculiar gems to go on being commissioned?

I realise that Barry M is not to everyone's taste - my husband laughed openly at me when he caught me jigging to "Could It Be Magic?" - and the show was not without its faults. It was presented by Michael Ball, whose stunningly flat delivery called to mind an East Sheen accountant describing the best way to Mortlake. It was also hagiography. But for pure Brooklyn cheese, it was the best. Where else are you likely to learn that "Mandy" was called "Brandy" by the man who wrote it? How versatile! A gay artist should think about recording it under the title "Andy". And did you know that Manilow was once married? Me neither. It would be a terrible shame if, in the rush for cool, such shows disappeared from Radio 2. They are what make it unique, and so very cheering and adorable.

In other news, Carolyn Quinn is to be the next presenter of the Westminster Hour, Radio 4's Sunday night politics show (its long-standing front man, Andrew Rawnsley, is off to ITV), which means that she will now have to give up presenting the Saturday edition of PM. I will miss her in that slot.

Still, congratulations are due all round. Quinn is calm and capable, and wears her intelligence lightly. Now she will have a show that she can make her own. It is especially pleasing that the job has gone to a woman, rather than to one of the BBC's alpha-male attack dogs. The macho nonsense that swirls around political life in this country is increasingly tiresome. The swagger on both sides - politicians and interviewers - is a turn-off, and even if this doesn't concern the boneheads who manage the country, it should surely be something that worries those who run radio. Though this is not at all to suggest that Quinn won't bite ankles if provoked.

Pick of the week

Take That: live and exclusive
25 November, 8pm, Radio 2
Are they back for good? Concert showcasing new album and old hits. Bless.

The Clonard Priest
29 November, 11am, Radio 4
The untold story of father Alec Reid, who acted as go-between for the IRA and the British and Irish governments.

Don't miss . . .

Peter Beard

He accompanied Truman Capote to San Quentin prison, taught Jackie Kennedy to take photographs, and hung out with Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon. But in between hob-nobbing with the rich and powerful, Peter Beard has faithfully documented the changing landscape of Africa.

He first travelled to Kenya in 1955, and became fascinated with its people and wildlife.

This show is inspired by a visit in 2006, after an absence of six years. His giant prints are transformed into a layered story with diary excerpts and small photographs, chronicling the rapid pace of change.

Runs 30 November - 25 January

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