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Saturday
May112019

The downfall of Danny Baker

I’m a fan of Danny Baker - or I was.

As presenter of the Radio Five breakfast programme (pre-Five Live) almost 30 years ago, Baker was responsible for the most enjoyable daily radio show I have ever listened to - a joyful mix of obscure facts and humorous anecdotes plus music that was chosen not from a playlist but by Baker himself.

Even now I can picture myself driving across Battersea Bridge (I was living in London at the time), listening to the radio and genuinely laughing.

The only problem were the regular interruptions for news bulletins, weather forecasts and traffic updates.

(In view of recent events it’s worth noting that Baker seemed to care little for these staples of breakfast radio. I certainly can’t imagine he was listening to or took any interest in such mundane matters as the news but none of this excuses the tweet for which he has just been sacked, more of which later.)

Baker was also the first and best presenter of 6-0-6, the Five Live football phone-in, which is virtually unlistenable to these days.

He would never allow clueless callers to ramble on indefinitely. If they had nothing of interest to say or were talking baloney he would happily cut them off and move on to the next caller.

Meanwhile he would tease out of listeners all sorts of football related trivia, little of which had anything to do with what had happened on the pitch that afternoon.

Today the programme is a tedious whinge-athon populated by long-winded callers demanding that such and such a manager be sacked or whatever (yawn).

Curiously we are told it’s the nation’s favourite football phone-in but thanks to people being allowed to burble on and on it features very few callers.

Anyway a lot of water has passed under the bridge since Baker was at the helm including a switch to Radio 1 that was never going to work, two sackings (from Five Live and BBC Radio London), a hugely successful three-volume autobiography that was adapted for a TV sitcom starring Peter Kay and, most recently, a one-man show that toured the nation’s theatres in 2017 and is currently touring again.

His autobiography was beautifully written with many laugh out loud moments. The third volume combined laughs with a warts ‘n’ all description of his cancer treatment that was actually quite harrowing.

I saw his one-man show in Milton Keynes in April 2017 and recognised most if not all of the stories from the books. Baker was clearly enjoying himself - and so, to be fair, was the audience - but the show went on and on and didn’t finish until well past eleven.

It felt a bit self-indulgent, if I'm honest.

Baker’s visceral support for Labour during the 2017 general election was the moment I began to lose patience. (The party he supports is irrelevant. It’s the fact that he was so brazen about it that really irked.)

I don’t know his contractual situation but if he was employed as a freelance broadcaster by an external production company he may not have been bound by the same guidelines as regular BBC staff.

Nevertheless it takes a remarkable degree of arrogance for any high profile BBC presenter (freelance or otherwise) to openly support a major political party at any time let alone during a general election.

And that’s the problem. Danny Baker is a brilliant radio presenter but he should have been reminded then of his responsibilities when working for a publicly-funded broadcaster. (Perhaps he was and chose to ignore the advice.)

Which brings us to that tweet and that picture. In isolation it’s a funny picture. But it wasn’t posted in isolation. Baker directly associated a picture of a chimp with Harry, Meghan and their baby.

He protested, and I believe him, that he was poking fun at the royal family and the circus that surrounds new born members of the family.

He argued too that the tweet was targeting posh people. I accept that too, just as I believe him when he says that race was not on his mind when he posted it.

But the naivety is staggering. Where was that little voice in his head telling him how unwise it was to post a picture of a chimp in relation to a mixed race baby, posh or otherwise?

He compounded the problem by suggesting that only people with ‘diseased minds’ would think that way.

He then kept on digging, suggesting he had no idea which member of the royal family had had a baby. Seriously?

I like Danny Baker, I really do. I genuinely think this was an innocent mistake, one he quickly acknowledged. As soon as he was made aware of the offensive connotations of the tweet he apologised and deleted it.

As others have said, what more could he do (other than not post it in the first place)? Unfortunately it was too late and I fear his BBC career may finally be over.

On air and especially in print Baker had a filter - a producer and an editor. Alone on social media he had neither.

A couple of years ago, before the success of his one-man show, Baker talked of giving up broadcasting and moving to America where he spends many of his holidays.

The 2017 tour was due to be his swan song. Two years later he’s still entertaining audiences (on stage at least), but for how long? I guess the public will decide.

Update: Danny Baker: Standing ovation at first show since Twitter storm (BBC News)

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Reader Comments (3)

I agree with your analysis: posh people, race not his mind, astonishing naivety, impossible to believe he didn't know who was having a baby. I've only ever heard him on Saturday morning R5Live. He is part irritating - talking over people, for example; but also interesting and a very well informed interviewer. I must add he steadfastly refuses to refer to anything remotely political. He has never mentioned Brexit, which he probably is against, I guess - part of the reason I listen to the show; and, in 10 years, has never given any indication he is a fervent Labour supporter. I honestly had no idea until just now.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at 15:06 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

I very much hope you recognize the rather hilarious irony of describing 'tedious whinge-athon' and 'self-indulgent' broadcasts while peddling this meager excuse for content.

Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 14:05 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

So, it's ok to hate or abuse some people tagged with identities, such as "posh" (or smoker) but not ok when directed at those privileged enough to be protected by law.

As a working class, sort of white, Brit, I no more approve of hatred directed at posh people, who often can't help who they are born to anymore than a poor black woman done good.

I do, however, support Danny Baker's right to be a complete arse and for all the world to witness it.

Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 14:12 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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