I had intended to write this review last night but decided instead to watch The Inbetweeners movie on Channel Four. Someone suggested on Twitter that I should write this review using words from the Inbetweeners. In theory this would be clungingly possible. [See what I did there]. Indeed, it would also be appropriate, as there is more than a hint of the naughty teenager in this book as Bacon goes on a journey from one disaster to the next embarrassing moment.
The title of the book means that it does what it says on the tin. It’s not an autobiography as such, but it does cover most of the main events in Bacon’s life, starting off with a full, and often very funny, account of how he came to get the sack from Blue Peter. It was a long time ago, but just as I am always likely to remembered (if at all) for the incident on Brighton seafront, Bacon will always be associated with Cocaine and Blue Peter. Such is our lot in life. For many that incident (the cocaine one, not Brighton) would have been career ending, but Bacon is made of sterner stuff. He’s crammed a lot into his 35 years, most lately being the afternoon presenter on 5 Live. He’s been on the Big Breakfast, had shows on Capital and XFM, presented on Top of the Pops and much more besides. And in each incarnation he has some hilarious, and usually very self deprecating stories to tell. In fact, sometimes you wonder if he has been too honest. Writing a whole chapter on how he spent years as a film reviewer for The Sunday People, revealing how he used to get someone else to write the column with neither of them having seen the film, may strike the reader as a rather damaging thing to reveal. But it’s characteristic of the rest of the book. No embarrassing incident from Bacon’s life is spared. Lightning seems to strike more than twice.
We discover rather more about Richard’s sexual predilctions than we might have wanted or expected, although he’s surprisingly vanilla – with the exception of the threesome that never happened because of a swimming pool accident (you’ll have to read the book). By the end of the book, I did wonder if Mrs Bacon had read it before it went off to the publisher.
The great thing about this book is that it is totally genuine. Totally Richard Bacon. No hint of a ghost writer here, unlike so many celebrity books. It’s extremely well written, and there are quite a few ‘laugh out loud’ moments – quite a trick to pull off on the written page. It echoes the spirit of his late lamented 10pm-1am show on 5 Live, a show in which Bacon really came into his own. For me that slot is one of the best on radio and one where you can really build a loyal audience if you play it right, and that’s what Bacon did. He had two very hard acts to follow in Anita Anand and Fi Glover, but for me he became one of the best listens in that slot in 5 Live’s history, and I was sorry when they moved him to the afternoons when Simon Mayo departed for the gentle shores of Radio 2. Listening to his show, you felt you were a member of a club. I used to appear on it quite regularly as a panellist or pundit and each time went away wishing I could present a show like that. His style and modus operandi taught me a lot about building and retaining and audience, and I like to think I managed to deploy a few of those lessons when I started my show on LBC.
The one disappointment in this book is that he doesn’t actually talk that much about his radio career. Perhaps he’ll do that in his next book. it’s a shame because Richard has become a really polished presenter and interviewer in a way that some of critics never thought he could. He’s actually a very strong interviewer and has a knack of getting people to open up. He can also be a tough political interviewer, with a knowledge of politics that often catches out the more unguarded politician. But he has also managed to retain a slight innocence about the political world, which makes him relate to his audience much better than some of the more seasoned political interviewers. He has also retained his slightly childlike tiggerish approach to broadcasting, and although some people don’t like it, for me it means you never quite know what to expect from him. Again, that’s why he’s a good listen. He’s like Stephen Nolan in that respect. They both wear their hearts on their sleeves. They empathise in a way some radio presenters either can’t or sound false when they do. Like Nolan, he also uses silence and pauses very well. Sometimes, it’s best for the presenter to say nothing.
One of the standout chapters in this book deals with the time Bacon’s producer Louise Birt (who also worked with me at LBC and has one of the most innovative brains in current affairs broadcasting) suggested he should do a standup gig at the Edinburgh festival. If she had suggested that to me I too would have been at it like a rat at a trap, and that was Richard’s reaction also. In both our cases I suspect it would have been ego that won. Bacon admits he was a disaster and takes us through the experience blow by blow. It’s a painful read, but also a very funny one. Anyone who can admit they were shit at something they imagined that would be good at is OK in my book.
But what did Richard Bacon want to achieve by writing this book? I’m still not sure. Yes, it entertained, yes it was almost painfully honest, yes it was well written. But what did he want the end result to be? I still don’t really know.
What I do know is that anyone who buys this book can’t fail to enjoy it. And if they don’t, they don’t know a good book when they have read one!
PS. Dreadful cover, though.
* A Series of Unrelated Events by Richard Bacon is published by Century in paperback, price £12.99