Private Passions

Max Beesley is refreshingly free of pomp and circumstance.

Private Passions
Radio 3

A season-defining, uncontrived episode of Private Passions (29 May, 12pm) featured the 40-year-old, Burnage-born actor and musician Max Beesley, voice of Energizer lithium batteries. The son of a singer who featured in the in-house band at the Ritz in Manchester and a jazz drummer who did sketches and impressions during Ted Rogers's show 3-2-1, Beesley was a chorister at Manchester Cathedral ("Yeah, aged ten to 12 and a half . . . Fantastic experience"), who went on a scholarship to Chetham's School of Music ("Massive. Fond memories. The other choice was Burnage High School but my mother was like, No!").

Beesley had a freewheeling way of speaking about his musical choices that never tipped into fake wonder, as it often can on Private Passions, which sometimes feels like it might induce epilepsy through the "enraptured" profusion of fluent, cosmopolitan verbals from the guest. On Mozart's Requiem: "At the end of the verse, if you like, there's a kind of string breakdown, which is very choppy and sexy and exciting. I get that. I understand that. Incredible - he's Miles Davis, isn't he? All those chaps."

Beesley's riffs were free of posey guile and yet everything he said had the subtle symmetry of a well-plucked eyebrow. "Yeah. Stra­vinsky, very interesting. Very exciting. A bit of a challenge, those percussive nuances tied together by that snare drum - C major over F sharp major triad - fantastic. Bang on. Perfect."

As an actor, does Beesley have a soundtrack for every character he plays? "Definitely." What about the character in the TV series Mad Dogs: an ex-alcoholic drug addict whose girlfriend commits suicide? "Chopin, Opus 28 No 4, with Terry King on the cello. And a bit
of Radiohead."

The best moment was when Beesley remembered - in a voice full of love for her commanding snobbery - his now-dead mother getting him to play all the classical stuff he knew, loudly, to impress the neighbours. ("We were a working-class family from south Manchester and I was like, 'Mum, what?' And she would be like: 'Yeah, do it!'") So Beesley would sit down and bang out The Well-Tempered Clavier, sticking one prettily to the proletariat. "I used to play it slow," he said. "A lot." l

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 06 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Are we all doomed?