When Humphy met Tracey

What's happened to the Rottweiler on 4?

If you've ever wished for John Humphrys in a wholly blissed-out, alpha state, then don't just tune in to, but actually listen to Today. It's been going on for a while now. Take Monday (16 May), when he interviewed Stephen Hunt, an insolvency practitioner who bid for £36,000 worth of tickets at the Olympics. "You, I gather, are an insolvency specialist," giggles Hmph, in a weird, aren't-you-both-crazy-and-wonderful tone. "And are you going to become - hee, hee - going to become insolvent if your £36,000 worth of tickets come up?" "I am not," shrugs Hunt, "because I don't have £36,000 on my credit card to cover it anyway."

John snaps very close to the microphone. "Ahhhh [voice delighted, fascinated], so you don't actually have £36,000 to be removed?" "Nothing like it!" admits the nicely blithe Hunt, somehow ignoring the by-now constant low-level "Haerghaaa haaaa" from his interlocutor. "Thanks very much indeed!" yells John, pounding his chest euphorically, like a Viking in a Fifties movie.

Moments later, we move to a pre-recorded interview with Tracey Emin at the Hayward Gallery, during which Humphrys basically lets her get away with murder. Is all of her art, he
asks, really about her ego? "It isn't all about my ego, no," she reasons. "It's actually about how I look at things and how I think about things and how things always start off personally with me and to do with me and everything I've experienced." John pauses and then lets the whole issue of the definition of ego drop.

And why not? Tracey's clearly in a good mood, too. "The first time we had an interview there was a very different tone," John recalls conspiratorially. "It was fantastic radio!" giggles Tracey. "It was brilliant radio," John agrees. "It was magic," sighs Emin dreamily, Eminishly waving the cosmos away. "And that's what made us friends. Or know each other."

Back in the studio, John is now so wedged in a happy groove that you can scarcely see his head above the desk. "And you can watch a slide show of some of Tracey's work on our website today and you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook to get it all hot off the press!" ("Yeah, and enjoy this 'atmosphere' all day," pipes in James Naughtie, a bit freaked out.)

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 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Obama 2.0