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5 September 2018updated 04 Apr 2023 5:05pm

In My Head: Radio 4 goes on the road with a notorious paparazzo

George’s dream is to snap David Cameron upon the sand in his shorts “with his belly out”.

By Antonia Quirke

A new series of short programmes (BBC Radio 4, 1.45pm, 3-7 September) is recorded in “binaural stereo, for a rich, lifelike sound”. Subjects wear a small microphone in each ear, picking up all ambient noise, so whatever they hear, we hear. The tinkering with bikes on distant streets (I think), a child hammering its fists in a pram (perhaps). Life’s things, dreary and uncomfortable, and occasionally exciting.

In the first episode we join paparazzi photographer George Bamby. He’s had “more front pages than any other photographer” and must change his car every few weeks because celebrities have a WhatsApp group warning each other of his whereabouts. Bamby trades in fat-shaming photos. Gallon-bucket Frappuccinos, fake tan disasters, B-listers looking provokingly uneven on beach cushions.

George’s dream is to snap David Cameron upon the sand in his shorts “with his belly out” under a headline observing the swell. To Padstow, on the hunt, under a high and roasting sun! Cut to the most accurate low engine whirr yet broadcast on British radio and Bamby’s post-fag, Gollum-ish rasp. You can see him chucking the butt to the ground with a single motion of a crooked elbow.

What’s startling is not the completeness of the sound (the acoustics subtly shift as we drop down to Padstow’s humid, curving waterfront) but quite how much of a scumbag George is. If this was a drama you’d snort. Of the writers you’d think, come on guys, at least try. Bamby gets halfway through defending his job (“they love it”) and then can’t be arsed to finish. He is full of casual hate. (“Fern Britton is trapped. She’s getting done today. End of.”)

He lazily lies to the pub and café owners on his payroll alerting him to who’s in town. In one memorable moment, stuck behind a couple of David Cameron’s security guys, he imagines himself giving chase, grinding and screeching backwards between narrow stone walls: “Gives me a bit of a rush.”

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But this is Padstow. One cashpoint and the Lifeboat brass band plagued by seagulls fat as basset hounds. Ice-creams clouded by flies. After a pause of vacant staring, the beastly George – his hour not quite come round at last – slouches back towards London.

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This article appears in the 05 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The hard man of the Left