I used to say I didn’t have parents I was brought up by a radio set. In our house the radio was on all day long. It taught me to sing and helped me develop a ‘radio’ voice.
I was lucky enough to break into broadcasting at the start of the commercial era when far-sighted but completely skint programme controllers at LBC Radio in London were seeking free talent. These bosses couldn’t pay because during their first few months the station failed. The pricey presenter pros (like Jon Snow and Janet Street Porter) were moved on and I – really off the street – was given the Saturday night 4-hour phone-in for four whole weeks. They were curious to see whether I could sink or swim. Since I took to it like a duck to water, more engagements ensued.
Later, when I branched out into my counselling programmes, the controllers insisted I had to choose between being a presenter across all subjects or stick to the personal problem shows – ‘Because you’re confusing the audience’. Versatility is often unfairly penalised – but I think they had a point. One week when I was still doing the two different sorts of programmes I got contrasting fan letters. The first listener claimed I had saved her from suicide. The second said I was ‘even ruder’ than Brian Hayes (a notoriously short-fused Australian whose programme I briefly presented).
The LBC audiences for my counselling hours grew and grew until I was eventually asked to work seven days a week (I agreed to four and a half) and it was claimed by others that we really pioneered radio counselling in this country – not the shrill advice-giving of the agony aunt nor the diagnostic patronage of a Frasier Crane – but a genuine exploration of people’s elusive underlying conflicts.
Later, in 1996 I moved to National Talk Radio for a couple of years. I also worked regularly as the agony uncle on the Jimmy Young Programme on Radio 2 and have in fact worked for all the main BBC channels.
To listen to a selection of radio clips from various years, please visit my Radio Archive