From the old East End to the Bobster
Hidden gems on Radio 4, and Radio 2 signs a real treasure
Radio 4 is full of hidden gems just now. A case in point was the short but deliciously sweet documentary Free George Davis (6 December, 11am). George Davis, as you might remember, was the East End minicab driver who, in 1975, received a 20-year prison sentence for armed robbery. The only catch was that he had a solid alibi: a man called Peter Chappell had seen him at the time of the robbery.
When Davis's conviction was handed down, Chappell, along with Davis's then wife, Rosie, embarked on a campaign to secure his release. This involved painting the words "George Davis is innocent" on railway bridges - a slogan that can be seen in places to this day. Chappell also drove his lorry into the Fleet Street lobbies of the Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard, and helped dig up the Headingley cricket ground during an Ashes series. For this protest, Chappell picked up an 18-month stretch for criminal damage. Still, it was worth it: in May 1976, Davis was released, a stunning turn of events that Chappell, then in solitary confinement, heard on a prison warder's radio.
But the story did not end there. Eighteen months after his release, Davis was caught red-handed attempting to rob the Bank of Cyprus. Interviewed for the programme, Chappell, with great understatement, admitted that, yes, he had been pretty "disappointed" at this news; Rosie Davis, on the other hand, was "bloody furious", and later divorced her husband. I loved listening to these two. Cheesy as it sounds, theirs were authentic voices of the old East End: decent, but also angry and bewildered by turns.
It was unexpectedly moving to hear Chappell describe his amazement when Davis did not thank him on his release. What impressed most, however, was Chappell's refusal to lose sight of what had led him into battle with the establishment in the first place. He remains proud of what he stirred up - the law surrounding identification evidence was changed so that such evidence had to be corroborated - and relishes the old campaign graffiti. Would he do it all again? Yes. "It did change me life," he said, softly. Davis, now married to a copper's daughter, declined to be interviewed - a guilt-ridden silence that spoke volumes.
And now, an apology. In this column recently, I complained that Radio 2 is becoming very weird (Barry Manilow rubbing up against Russell Brand, Elaine Paige against Chris Evans). But so far as Lesley Douglas, the station's controller, goes, all is forgiven, and I will be putting a special edible olive branch, commissioned from one of London's finest chocolatiers, in the post to her this morning. I had a hunch that she would do what she has done, because it was kind of obvious. Then again, who knew it would be possible?
What I am wittering on about, of course, is her signing of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, previously available only on the US subscription station XM Satellite Radio. A year-long run will kick off with six shows over Christmas, and at last we will be able to hear the Bobster playing his favourite records, picked according to a theme (subjects so far have included sleep, the Bible and Thanksgiving), on our own lovely radios. Truly Ms Douglas is a great woman, and, for this reason, I promise to leave off Elaine Paige for, ooh, weeks.
Pick of the week
11 to 15 December, 9.45am, Radio 4
Rock and (crab) roll. Gastronomic adventures with Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, who reads from his new book.
The 6 Music Selector – Oasis
12 December, 6 Music
Yikes! Noel and Liam take over the station for the whole day.
Don't miss . . .
Dexter Dalwood: recent history
As the title suggests, Dexter Dalwood's latest exhibition recreates scenes of events from the past century- the Yalta conference (right), Hurricane Katrina, even the poll-tax riots - but with a twist. "I'm interested in how things get passed over, like Bosnia: now Slobodan Milosevic is dead, the story's over," he says. "They all impacted on my life, so I've reconstructed them."
Past works by Dalwood have reconstructed famous interiors, including the LA lounge where Charles Manson's "family" murdered the actress Sharon Tate.
Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, London WC1, from 14 December. www.gagosian.com