Show Hide image

Armatrading for Mayor

Antonia Quirke salutes whoever persuaded Joan to do radio

On Radio 4, the 681st Lord Mayor of the City of London, Ian Luder, invited Joan Armatrading to "come through the magic curtain" and spend a week hanging out. "Come and meet the Worshipful Company of Gardeners," he said, at some florid, sit-down event in the City. "Look," sighed Ian, "I wish I could produce such cauliflowers." Joan was completely made up. "The meal's a trio of salmon, haunch of lamb and a raspberry cheesecake," she pointed out, tapping the menu card with a satisfied ­finger, before working the tables, totally getting into the role of mayor's consort.

I'd like to salute whoever it was who persuaded Joan into an occasional second career as a radio presenter. She is the definition of cool, her voice rich with a great reserve of patience, and she's never remotely weird, unlike some of her colleagues, who, one feels certain, hoard old sachets of Lipton and pick-and-mix Su­chard among their underwear.

A little later, Joan was imagining the Lord Mayor's kitchenette at the Mansion House, laid with silver for breakfast, and the family cat, Big Ben - like Dick Whit­ting­ton's cat, a favourite companion, a detail that Joan found utterly charming. "D'you know, you've got handlebar eyebrows, has anyone ever told you that?" she said suddenly - not flirting, I might add, just telling it like it is. "Don't ever cut them, I say."

Ian laughed a little nervously. Maybe sadly, even. His year as mayor was almost up and real life beckoned: Marks & Spencer suppers and the Northern Line; a brief glimpse of Helen Mirren stepping into a car in the Evening Standard; "Drop the Pilot" only ever listened to on a CD.

Meanwhile, on Book of the Week, Keith Floyd tried to divine why he'd turned out such a mess. No excuse, really, he said, being a breastfed baby from the kind of family that go blackberrying and make substantial things with their hands. "I could wind copper wire around a reel to make a generator. I could solder things. Now I feel as if I know nothing . . ."

Keith said the first meals he conjured were runner beans with cheese, Shredded Wheat with a scraping of margarine, pigs trotters boiled in vinegar, and watercress ripped fresh from a stream. At his first restaurant in Bristol, he served potted shrimp, chocolate mousse, and exploited the "intrinsic beauty of a piece of haddock on a plate". Before long, he had three bistros in the city. "In a small way, I was huge." The snag was his tiny head for business. "A man I shall call Trevor" stitched him up and he was left with only a "portable radio, a knife and some Marmite".

The whole series was peppered with those particularly promising phrases "my own relationship was deteriorating" and "meanwhile the marriage was in trouble" and, to be fair, Keith did attempt to open his heart about his many tribulations ("I was utterly stuffed": Floyd's critical epistemology in a nutshell). But the main problem here was the reader, an actor whose overly fruity delivery smudged and spoiled the narrative, reducing it to a wall daubed with aerosol slogans. Burlesquing wildly, he failed to project the real Floyd. Just occasionally one spotted him, very faintly, and sweetly - a troubled figure, seen through milkscum on a highball.


Sign up to the New Statesman newsletter and receive weekly updates from the team

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 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains