The sound of relationships unravelling

Zoë Ball’s new breakfast show on Radio 2 has a rather dark undertone

Two minutes into Zoë Ball’s new breakfast show (Radio 2, Saturdays, 6am-8am) and it was “Hello to Doug in Indiana . . . Phil in Portsmouth . . . Katie in the florist in Tadcaster . . . Jeff and Charlotte in Pembrokeshire . . .”

Momentarily lifting her head from the list, she spoke to her dad on the phone, who set listeners a conundrum about socks on a washing line (“Red dash dash red, gap between the two reds, then one gap . . .” I used to buy that whole cosy Johnny Ball thing, until I saw him driving down the Marylebone Road in a convertible BMW, like Puff Daddy. Think of a number? Two million! After tax).

Then it was Take That. Have you heard their new song? It’s about nothing being left to break that’s not already broken and talking for three days straight but still swallowing your best lines. In short, it’s a song about sitting at the kitchen table, trade union-style, thrashing out the things that have been agitating you for years – her fondness for Asian tat, his devotion to beautiful equipment for murdering fish. It’s unbelievably boring. But, y’know, generally, I dig Zoë’s music choices. Aztec Camera, Squeeze, the Benny Andersson Band – stuff I last heard when I was having a hip op at the Nuffield Orthopaedic and read Marathon Man on Voltarol. Happy days.

Zoë says that Rupert likes her music choices, too (who’s Rupert?). And also that yesterday she went for lunch with Mark, Ricky and Kenny, and it was great. I hope Fat Boy Slim wasn’t listening.

There is to Ball’s show an underlying air of relationships unravelling nationwide. All those couples defensively calling in to confirm they’re on their way to mini-breaks in Biarritz or to Lancashire to buy a Morris Traveller on a whim. There was even a Thought for the Day about a Labrador puppy teaching us that “everyone needs to make relationships but we need to face up to the difficulties”. And I’m lying there thinking, “Look Zoë, I haven’t a clue what men are talking about either.” My friend Jonathan told me the other day that I clearly need to be in the 1940s, doing housework at a gentle pace. Naturally, I nodded approvingly. Only later he admitted he really fears I will end up living in Glastonbury selling holy water
out of petrol cans.

But back to Zoë’s problems for a mo. The main thing is that she appears to have turned into Sandi Toksvig. Her phrasing follows that same utterly rigid, sub-comic curve (Libby Purves does it, too, when she needs a holiday). Everything that comes out of her mouth sounds part of a pre-built cadence, and to such a degree she does not seem to be interacting with the world in any genuine way.

She scared the show’s film reviewer, Ambrose, quite to death (“Looking for Eric is about two Erics,” he stuttered. “It’s about a postman. Called Eric. Erm”), after which she slapped us around with “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” (in which, as you all know, Morrissey stomps over Johnny Marr like a diplodocus) and an email came through from Justin saying his fiancée was his soulmate and he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of his life with her.

“Ah, I love that bit at the beginning when you feel all that hope . . .” laughed Zoë. A pause. “Only kidding.”

Pick of the week

Composer of the Week: Stravinsky
22-26 June, 12 noon, Radio 3
Exploring the latter part of the composer’s life.

Wimbledon 2009: Michael Stich at Wimbledon
22-26 June, 7pm, Radio 5 Live
The sorcerer Rafa returns to south London!

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 22 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Iran