The people's champion

Listeners have a passionate supporter in Eddie Mair

PM, Radio 4

On PM (Mondays to Saturdays, 5pm), the discussion was about buying art during a recession. "A recession is a great time to buy art," said the collector Frank Cohen, aka the Saatchi of the North, "because the prices are lower. For a few years the prices were ridiculously high." The presenter Nigel Wrench paused and then turned to the art expert Louisa Buck for confirmation. "Frank is right," nodded Louisa. "The prices are lower during a recession."

In conclusion, we heard from Grayson Perry, the sphinx from the front line of ceramics. "It is a great time to buy art. The prices are lower at the moment."

This kind of stonerishly repetitive debate happens a lot on PM - so much so, that one wonders if the new, stern, shipping-forecast-inspired weather report, purportedly free of "meandering waffle", has been implemented in direct response to the rest of PM's raison d'être, which is to faff around the listeners, settling them into the Jacuzzi and lighting scented candles.

Never exactly Scrooge McDuck in the first place, Eddie Mair's already overwhelming concern for our feelings of involvement and well-being has reached nutty levels, as demonstrated by a recent exchange at the Money Matters Roadshow, hosted by Nils Blythe. "I have to say, it's been a lot of fun," breathed Nils, live from the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre in Glasgow. "I've got an escalator coming up just where I'm sitting here!"

Cut to the sounds of metal hauling Scottish arse up towards TK Maxx. "Oooh!" exclaimed sweet Eddie, clearly transported by the thought of PM listeners having fun riding the escalators. "Quite a few listeners have dropped by to say hello!" exploded Nils, "and what's been really enjoyable, Eddie, has been meeting these listeners, and some of them had questions for me, and some of the questions have been really varied and interesting!" Cut to someone called Neil Young, a bank manager from Ayr, asking an interminable question about the inflation rate and how Stephen Stills was possibly going to cope.

“Now, Nils," said Eddie, grimly. His tone was not good. I'm talking far worse than someone interrupted during the Thursday-night card game. More like an eight-track cartridge being jammed home.

“I gather you missed a listener who came to see you. We had a rather plaintive email into the office this afternoon."

A listener. In effect being dissed. In the background the escalators keened, like Dylan singing "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands". "Yes," swallowed Nils. Condemned out of his own mouth! Mair was disgusted. So was I. Proles emailing to dob in a presenter? What fresh hell is this!

“I'm really really sorry about that, Bill Dale." Nils is anxious as fuck. He is PM's Richard begging for a horse. "Yes," murmured Eddie, the charges clearly nowhere near being dropped, "Bill says you weren't there." Mair sounds in actual pain - like Eleanor Roosevelt the first time she was shown a coal mine.

“Well I was!" countered Nils. "I-was-I-was-I-was, but there were just . . . lots of us here . . . and one way or another we didn't meet up . . ." At which point I switched off, naturally. The tension. PS: What is it with Lady Gaga and The Archers? "Poker Face" three times in one episode. It's just not cool.

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 26 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, New York / London