In the realm of grand oddities, there is a small hamlet nestling in the green nowhereland inhabited by Lewis Carroll, Douglas Adams, the Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band and Vic ‘n’ Bob, and it doesn’t take the form of a book, a play, a film or a TV series, but a radio phone-in show. It is a humble work of unalloyed joy which has been broadcasting from three ’til 5pm every weekday on BBC Radio London. It has its rules – because every tea party, no matter how giddy, must have rules. Proceedings always begin to the tune of The Candyman, and the host, avoiding the “self-regarding nonsense” of standard radio practice, never tells listeners they’re tuned in to Danny Baker (the pre-recorded faux-serious voice of Chris Morris, as quoted above, sometimes pops up in the middle of records to do the job for him). There are also central tenets of the Baker canon: the Jerry Herman show tune Mame contains the most awkwardly rushed line in recording history (“The whole plantation’s hummin’ since youbroughtDixiebacktoDixieland”), the instrument plinking out the theme to I Dream Of Genie shall forever remain a mystery, and the only hit song where everything starts all at once is, of course, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) by Squeeze. You might get to hear Chicago’s 25 Or 6 To 4 or even Party In The USA by Miley Cyrus, or more typically Fountains Of Wayne, Erin Bode, Todd Rundgren, Dylan, The Beatles, or some obscure prog rock oddity. But the true genius of the show is the contributions Danny elicits from listeners, such as the exasperated doctor who commanded a Spanish patient to remove his trousers with the immortal words “Adios, pantaloons!”, the fella who turned on his desktop printer to prove its whirrs and beeps sound exactly like the intro to Are “Friends” Electric?, and the terrified young man who heard Fire and thought The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown was speaking to him directly with the line: “YOU’RE GONNA BURN!” (His name? Conor Byrne.)
Yeah, it’s just a radio show, but Danny Baker makes radio shows a bit like Woody Allen used to make films, pitching just above the audience’s heads, so the enjoyment comes from reaching towards his encyclopaedic level of pop cultural knowledge or witnessing others matching his inventive sense of whimsy. I love the way he can make me laugh out loud with a simple yet unusual turn of phrase, and I love the obvious warmth he has for his co-presenters Amy and Baylen. But he hasn’t been around for a few months, and it looks like he’ll be gone a while longer, so I hope he makes a full recovery. Broadcasting is a poorer place for his absence.