Why I love a bit of death on a Sunday night

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

There’s nothing like a nice bit of death on a Sunday evening. Radio 4 originally transmit their obituary programme Last Word on Friday afternoons, but I love listening to the repeat. Sunday at 8.30 p.m. is the perfect time — the ending of people’s lives at the ending of the week. The stresses of Monday morning are beginning to appear on your mental horizon, so Last Word is a handy reminder that none of it matters. Triumphs and tragedies come and go, but in the end we all check out.

This week provided the usual smorgasbord of mortality. Everyone from Irene Shubik, the TV producer behind Rumpole of the Bailey, to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Presenter Matthew Bannister ignored Donald Trump’s curious ‘he died like a dog’ (delivered at the same time as praising the dog that chased the IS leader to his death — are dogs heroes or not?). Instead we got some fascinating details, though sadly no explanation of Baghdadi’s bizarre beard-colouring, grey near the face, orange at the end. (Perhaps he gave up smoking a few months ago?) I was astonished to learn that Baghdadi was only 48. Encouraged, too: this is exactly my own age. I might not be Brad Pitt, but even on a bad day I don’t look 20 years older than I am.

Shubik sounded an interesting cove. Bannister slipped in the obit-euphemism that she had ‘a reputation for being a challenging character’. A friend recalled addressing a letter to ‘Irene Shubik, Institute of Advanced Paranoid Studies…’ I bet she was good value down the pub.

The Rugby World Cup final provided yet more proof of the old adage about watching sport at home: turn down the sound on the telly, listen to the commentary on the radio. TV pundits are slaves to the picture, but their radio counterparts can roam far and wide. Often they spot things that aren’t directly related to the play. As South Africa’s Lood de Jager left the pitch with a dislocated left shoulder, his left arm hanging like that of a rag doll down to its last stitch, 5 Live’s Matt Dawson spotted that no fewer than three of the player’s teammates gave him consoling pats — on the shoulder in question. As Dawson pointed out, de Jager’s response was probably along the lines of: ‘I don’t need that right now.’

These days the commentary double act is harder to line up. In the old days you had two analogue signals, both absolutely live, but now it’s all satellite TV and digital radio, each with different delays. (Though lately we’ve reached the stage where you can pause TV, so synching it with the radio again.) The one occasion my trusty portable Roberts still works perfectly, of course, is when I’m sitting at Lord’s watching the cricket in person. Aggers is bang on time in my ear as the bowler reaches the crease. A friend of my ten-year-old son recently saw me carrying the radio. ‘What’s that?’ he asked. ‘Is it a really old phone?’

While we’re on sport, the Danny Baker/Gary Lineker podcast Behind Closed Doors continues to reach new heights. As with de Jager’s arm, the real gold dust lies not in the play itself but at the game’s peripheries. Lineker once revealed that during England warm-ups at the old Wembley, Paul Gascoigne could never resist trying to hit the marching band with shots from distance. He bagged the bass drum a couple of times, but never achieved the ‘real dream’ of getting it into the tuba. This week a listener emailed to say that when Liverpool played at Sheffield United in September they travelled to the match by plane. Can this really be true? For some reason Google won’t tell me. Meanwhile another listener responded to Baker’s story about meeting a woman called Debbie County. Apparently this chap knows someone called Aston Miller. The woman’s surname might have been the result of marriage, but Mr Miller is evidence that some parents simply shouldn’t be allowed to name their own children.

Finally, if you need a respite from the election campaign over the next few weeks, head to Radio 2 at midday. It’s not that Jeremy Vine doesn’t cover the big issues, it’s just that he does so in such a manner — unhinged, maniacal, slightly off-kilter from the universe as we know it — that you can’t help but enjoy it. Vine talks in a way that no other human being has ever talked, occasionally reaching notes so high he’s audible only to dogs. Like pub bores, he has a need (in his case professional) to express views on every topic under the sun, frequently arguing against himself within the space of a sentence. Then there are the people who phone in. Next to your typical Jeremy Vine caller, the shithouse rat is a model of sanity. This week someone opined that ‘the parties are throwing their toys out of their prams in what could be a Mexican stand-off’. Vintage stuff. And there’s still a month to polling day.

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