THIS is surely the perfect all-purpose gift book. Everyone will enjoy it, although for different reasons: the gossipy stories, the conflict between reality and fake news, or the book’s basic argument: “the People” or the Experts?
Jeremy Vine is a popular broadcaster on both television and radio, but this book draws largely on the 25,000 people who have phoned in to his lunchtime show on Radio 2. This, he feels, is the “real” vox pop. Had we listened to them rather than the pollsters, we would not have been surprised at the result of the EU referendum. At heart, “the People” are fed up with experts. As Phyllis of Sheffield put it, “The experts built the Titanic.”
On the other hand, Vine offers copious evidence of the contradictory and uninformed views that his 25,000 listeners sometimes bring to the airwaves. A man who killed a pet parrot while drunk should, a listener seriously argued, suffer the death penalty.
A “well-intentioned mum” argued that “steps were needed to counter paedophiles who were abducting and killing so many children.” Asked by Vine how many children she thought had been murdered in the past year, she suggested “sixty thousand”. As he pointed out, the actual figure is more like five or six.
This, for him, is the tyranny of the anecdote, although his book is almost entirely, and most entertainingly, made up of them.
Each reader will have his or her favourites. For me, it is the two instances when Vine chaired an awards ceremony at which Boris Johnson was advertised as speaker. On the first occasion, Mr Johnson turned up late, claimed not to know what the occasion was or to have prepared a speech, but then, with many “crikeys” and much harrumphing, gave a hilarious and apparently spontaneous speech, ending with a joke about George Brown, for which he could not remember the third point.
Vine’s admiration for this feat was dented when, at the second event, 18 months later, he witnessed precisely the same performance, the same “spontaneous” speech, and even the same cod ending to the joke about George Brown. It probably wouldn’t work at the UN.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.
What I Learnt: What my listeners say and why we should take notice
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10