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Sunday
Apr162017

Danny Baker: Cradle To The Stage

Happy Easter to those of you who are not otherwise engaged.

On Friday night I went to Milton Keynes to see Danny Baker's one-man show Cradle To The Stage.

I've been a fan of Baker's since the early Nineties when I listened to his breakfast show on Radio Five, the precursor to Five Live.

The show combined the presenter's bubbling, effervescent personality and remarkable memory for trivia and pop culture with some great music selected by Baker himself.

The show was so successful that he was snapped up by Radio One, in hindsight a bizarre decision given that station's much younger target audience.

Baker was also the original presenter on 606, the long-running football phone-in that never recovered from his departure.

In his hands it was a conduit for eccentric tales from the terraces. In the hands of his successors it became what it is today – a platform for inane whinges and pompous commentary (and that's just the presenters!).

If Baker thought a caller was being stupid or, worse, boring, he frequently cut them off and moved on. Today we have to listen for what seems like an eternity to someone droning on and on about the fate of Arsene Wenger or whatever match we've just listened to on the radio.

Some years ago Baker was brought back to 606 – albeit sidelined to a graveyard slot in midweek – but it wasn't the same and he didn't stick around.

Instead he spent the best part of a decade hosting a daily afternoon show on BBC Radio London before that job was also taken away from him, much to his disgust.

Today this award winning (yet Marmite) broadcaster is restricted to just two hours on Five Live on Saturday morning.

Aside from his TV and radio career Baker is a gifted comedy writer who worked for the NME in its Seventies heyday before moving into scriptwriting.

He has written for just about every comedian you can think of (or so he tells us!), not to mention the likes of Jonathan Ross, Chris Evans and many, many more.

In recent years he wrote two bestselling volumes of his life story, with a third to follow this summer. They were great fun and I enjoyed them enormously.

I also enjoyed Crade to Grave, the 'sitcom' based on the first of the two books. If it wasn't quite as good as Baker would have us believe (like his career it can be described as "uneven"), it was nevertheless amusing and full of Seventies period detail.

And so to Friday's show in Milton Keynes.

The first thing to note is that Baker came on stage at 7.35, talked non-stop for almost two hours, broke off for a 20-minute interval, then returned for an 80-minute 'second act'.

Cradle To The Stage finished at 11.10 but I missed the final 30 minutes because, ironically, I had to slip out to do an interview for Five Live.

It didn't feel like a three-hour show but like his Saturday morning programme on Five Live it felt just a little self-indulgent.

It didn't help perhaps that I'd read the books and watched the TV show based on the first of the books so few of the anecdotes and stories came as a surprise.

I laughed along with everyone else but I'd heard and read most of it before and I could happily live to be a hundred without hearing yet another story about his old man Spud.

Hence my disappointment with the second part. We were promised a Q&A that would elicit gossip and stories about the many stars and celebrities he has worked with or encountered.

Instead we got a good story about Marc Bolan that drew an 'Aaahhhh' from the audience and another about Kenneth Williams (though if you've read the books you'll know them already) allied to yet more stuff about good ole Spud.

Indeed the very first 'question' – allegedly sent via text or Twitter from a member of the MK audience – was to ask what his father thought about his son's 'fame'. Cue a story (also in one of the books) about Harry Enfield and Spud's belligerent reaction to a perceived insult.

Baker is a natural raconteur but a show like this has to be better paced. Despite his rapid fire delivery (which was a bit exhausting to listen to over three hours) most of his career was left untouched and the promised Q&A was minimal with Baker taking just three questions in the 80-minute second 'act'.

And despite his many disagreements with producers and management over the years there was nothing to upset former or current colleagues. The closest he got was his description of The One Show - which he appeared on a few weeks ago - as "moribund", which is neither controversial nor the worst thing anyone has said about that programme.

In short this was safe entertainment for all the family (well, those over 40), an enjoyable but ultimately rambling diversion into the life of a man who, despite his protestations, evidently feels he hasn't received the credit he deserves for his scriptwriting in particular.

Apparently this tour was supposed to be a final hurrah before a move to Florida where he intends to devote himself to writing. According to Baker however Cradle To The Stage is already taking bookings for next year so he could be around for a while yet.

And why not? With the third volume of his memoirs out soon this could run and run. Florida may have to wait.

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