Jeremy Vine’s distinguished career has ranged from working for regional newspapers, being the BBC’s Africa correspondent, presenting on Newsnight and, now, hosting his Radio 2 show; with a shooting in Bosnia, dressing up in disguise so as not to get lynched by Jimmy Young fans, and run-ins with various panjandrums scattered throughout. Given this, it is unsurprising that the broadcaster has recently had a book published to mark his 25 years at the BBC. He certainly has a lot to say, and judging by the rapid rise in Radio 2 listeners of recent months, there are a lot of people willing to listen. The tagline for his book ‘It’s all News to Me’ reads: ‘How I got locked in the BBC for 25 years’. This sets the tone for a humorous account focusing very much on his career (there is little regarding Vine, the person, much about Vine, the BBC employee). Vine recently graced the stage of the Gala theatre in an equally humorous discussion centred on this book, which was chaired by Graeme Thompson from Sunderland University.
The performance gene Vine spoke of, which, he assumes, runs in his family (his sister, Sonya, being an actress and his brother the comedian Tim Vine) was evident as he relayed anecdotes, both funny and serious, and engaged the audience with a variety of impressions. Indeed, one woman was so amazed by his abilities that she asked if he had ever considered being an impressionist or comedian (his answer: no, stating that he was much more comfortable behind his radio desk than doing his sibling’s job). Whilst being refreshingly honest, frequently hinting at the ironic but never traversing into spitefulness, Vine spoke of how he admired the journalists and broadcasters he has been influenced by but was not sycophantic on stage and neither is he in his book – as demonstrated by one chapter being titled ‘Can I be friends with Peter Mandelson?’ and the conclusion being ‘No’.
As he spoke about his fascinating career, Vine gave a very interesting and thought provoking account of what goes on ‘off the record’ and touched on the recently questioned integrity of the British media. He discussed, amongst many events, not broadcasting an ‘unofficial’ comment John Prescott casually made denouncing Tony Blair’s Labour and the famous moment in which he questioned Gordon Brown over calling Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman”. With regard to the latter, the radio host seemed rather sorry to have blindsided the then Prime Minister and doubted the appropriateness of his questioning in what became an iconic interview in the run up to the 2010 general election.
Vine also discussed the ‘rules’ he had acquired from working in the media which included the importance of embarrassment, impartiality, and humility – power lies with the audience and with those who aren’t in the spotlight, not the presenter – and never joining a current affairs show if someone named Jeremy already works there. These self-realised rules are a frequent feature of the book, as are various anecdotes regarding spin-doctors, lucky camera shots, and the witty gems of radio callers. Vine read out several of these gems on stage alongside retellings of the ironic disasters which have befallen him on his radio show; he has, for example, played ‘Ouch that Hurt’ by Dionne Bromfield immediately after broadcasting a piece on torture.
After the discussion, the audience asked Vine about many issues including how he stays impartial which is apparently rather easy as it’s simply not his job to pass judgement. This, however, becomes more difficult when people discuss cyclists, as Vine, who is a cyclist, takes it rather more personally when James from Basingstoke comments that any cyclist in the middle of the road will receive a ton of metal up their saddlebag. Another audience member asked him why he allows certain people to voice their obviously controversial opinions to which Vine responded that it is more interesting and engaging to listen to a contrary opinion than someone you agree with, and to engage and interest people is the crux of his job. A final questioner posed the most gripping question of the evening: what his favourite pub is in Durham, which Vine answered with a swift: “The Shakespeare, it has to be, doesn’t it?”
Whilst there was a definite tinge of disenchantment with the way in which some arms of the media work (he was particularly annoyed when retelling how a group of journalists arrived in Africa to find out how Cherie Blair felt about photographs displaying her cellulite rather than to discuss British-African relationships), Vine was sure to impress upon his audience that his tremendous passion for what he does has continued and is as evident in his book as it was on stage. His anecdotes were marvellous and his acceptance of embarrassment allowed for honesty and the relation of many funny moments. Vine has, in many ways, led a rather charmed life in terms of his trajectory from graduate to eminent media-all-rounder and now author. This trajectory is depicted in his book as frequently amusing (if only in hindsight), often surprising, and always engaging – as was his discussion with Thompson for the Durham Book Festival.