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13 October 2016

Hearing an actual answer on Any Answers? wasn’t as welcome as you’d think

Rad, who is now in the UK but is from a family of medics in Aleppo, had something that is rare for the show: insight.

By Antonia Quirke

“A cringing media that serves the interests of the arms industry in this country . . .” insisted James from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. He was mid-call and possibly rummaging through his cupboards for biscuits while confidently critiquing suggestions of regime change in Syria, when the presenter, Anita Anand, interrupted him and asked: “You say all this with certainty, James. How do you know?” It’s a question that Anand rarely, if ever, puts to callers of Any Answers? (Saturdays, 2pm), because if she did, the show would be pretty short. Bar the occasional caller who has worked on aid convoys or was once in the military, how does any of them know anything?

Anand had been emboldened by a caller called Rad, who is now in the UK but is from a family of medics in Aleppo (“I am from there, my in-laws are there, my family is there . . .”). Using phrases such as “I know from personal knowledge . . .” and “I don’t know about your other callers’ background knowledge of the region, but having been a citizen of that country . . .”, Rad offered a calm and terrible widening of the show’s aperture that included mentions of the 85,000-plus Syrian soldiers killed so far (“something not reported”) and the bombings in western Aleppo, too (“These things don’t make the headlines”).

I’m sure that the producers wanted to keep him on for the whole show, and Anand certainly tried to stack and deploy other callers to encourage a larger conversation through him, but Rad just knew so much more than anybody else that his being on there began to feel a trifle otiose. Ludicrously, having someone with actual answers on the line disturbed the balance of the show.

It was ever thus on the crabby and babyish Any Answers?, but the eternal problem of wringing a show out of callers that doesn’t make you want to throw up never felt quite so eternal. Reluctantly, Anand (she miraculously comes through this ordeal every week uncontorted) was forced to let Rad go in favour of James in Berwick-upon-Tweed, who was entirely unable to answer her question, “How do you know?”

At least he had the good grace to admit: “It’s very difficult to make a useful contribution after your first caller.” 

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This article appears in the 12 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge