The Daily Telegraph
Feltz has the power to tempt listeners away from the BBC
‘Lovely listener, a very warm welcome and good afternoon to the first ever Vanessa Feltz on Drive live from the Talkradio studio in London…”
Some people have all the luck. Having left the BBC just a week ago Feltz began her new stint hosting the daily drivetime show on Talkradio on Monday, one of the most momentous news days in months.
The Feltz charm factor was set to maximum, that familiar bubbling voice in the highest of spirits. “Would I be presumptuous,” she asked, straight off the bat, “if I were to say I have an inkling of how Liz Truss must be feeling this afternoon – a new girl, in a new job, not quite sure where the Ladies is, butterflies in the tummy and all that…”
Well, maybe, but excusable in the circumstances and especially because the following three hours passed in what seemed like a trice, packed full of guests, callers and the driving cheerful energy that is Feltz’s stock in trade. Everything got the upbeat treatment, no matter the subject (chiefly Truss) under discussion.
Even the endless-seeming adverts and occasional technical glitches – both new challenges after a long career at the BBC – got glossed over smoothly thanks to that uncrackable Feltz veneer. What we didn’t hear much evidence of, though, was Feltz’s much-vaunted desire to voice her own opinion.
When one early caller congratulated her on finally being unshackled from BBC impartiality, Feltz denied she had ventured any opinion yet – claiming she was keeping her “powder dry.” She got a little closer to it in a later segment, in which she took on Edwina Currie for laying into consumer champion Martin Lewis while being “patronising” with her own advice on money-saving. And she almost got close to stridency later in the show when the conversation moved on to the Duchess of Sussex’s recent arrival in the UK and she interrogated contributor Afua Hagan’s somewhat Meghan-supporting views pretty robustly.
The show’s oddest moment came when Feltz felt compelled – just after a caller pointed out that the Earth was not flat – to step in and say that this was the caller’s view and “not mine or the station’s opinion”. Though, to be fair, she might have been referring to the caller’s earlier caustic comments questioning the Duchess’s relationship with the truth.
Overall, this was a strong performance and a clear coup for Talk, which seems certain to have an uptick in listeners if the number of callers who said they followed Feltz over from the BBC was anything to judge by. Talk’s current weekly reach is 686,000 according to Rajar, roughly equivalent to Feltz’s BBC London audience, although a long way short of Radio 2’s 14.2million. She is certainly a brighter presence in the slot than her predecessor, Jeremy Kyle, and it doesn’t seem impossible that she could tempt listeners from Sara Cox’s Radio 2 drivetime show and, perhaps, still more from 5 Live Drive. The BBC’S loss is sure to be Talk’s gain.
Adrama with keen contemporary resonances, despite being set almost 170 years ago, was North and South (Radio 4, Sunday), an adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s popular 1854 novel about a young woman, Margaret Hale, forced to leave her pastoral-idyll home in Hampshire and move to a grimy northern boomtown at the height of the industrial revolution.
Olivier Award-winner Patsy Ferran made a lively, sympathetic Margaret. An Austen-esque mix of snobbery and a good heart, her naïve values clash with gruff, bulldoggish and inconveniently handsome local mill-owner John Thornton (James Cartright), a self-made man, served up a potent mix of burgeoning romance and passionate political debate regarding the rights and wrongs of early industrial action by millworkers.
It is no surprise that this remains one of Gaskell’s better known and read novels alongside Cranford and Wives and Daughters and makes a hugely involving listen today. Margaret and Thornton are exceptionally well-drawn characters – as are many of the minor players – and the political arguments they embody (about profit and loss, workers and employers’ rights, ideals and pragmatism) are laid out remarkably even-handedly by Gaskell. Her eye-witness accounts of the poverty, ill-health and conditions of the mid-19th-century industrial poor also remain powerful today.
It’s a story well served by adaptor Lin Coghlan, director Sally Avens and an excellent cast that includes Paul Chahidi as Margaret’s wimpish ex-pastor father and Pooky Quesnel as Thornton’s deliciously self-righteous mother. If you haven’t already, catching up with part one (of three) on BBC Sounds is worth the effort.