The week in radio – the Robert Peston Interview Show (with Eddie Mair); Weekly Economics Podcast; Apple’s Beats 1

Miranda Sawyer’s Guardian review of the New Economics Foundation’s Weekly Economics Podcast, which I present each week on an economics issue of the day. First published here.

Mair and Peston made a good double act probing Julian Barnes on widowerhood, while Kirsty Styles’s economics podcast was refreshingly accessible

peston and mair

The Robert Peston Interview Show (with Eddie Mair) (Radio 4) | iPlayer

Weekly Economics Podcast (New Economics Foundation) | Podcast

Beats 1 | Apple.com

Eddie Mair and Robert Peston are two of the BBC’s greatest audio assets, and they have been exploiting their unlikely friendship on air for a while now: usually onPM, where Mair digs out Peston, and Peston complains back. Their old-couple bickering gets so spiky, it’s even been reported as a feud. It’s not, of course. Mair and Peston are journalists. Taking the mick out of each other is how they talk; it shows affection, not dislike.

To prove this, they’ve joined forces to present a new interview show for Radio 4. The idea is a bit of a gimmick: one of them chooses a celebrity and prepares for the interview, and the other doesn’t know who they’ll be talking to until the celebrity turns up. This week, Peston chose author Julian Barnes, very specifically because Barnes wrote Levels of Life, about how he coped after the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh, in 2008. Peston’s wife, Siân Busby, died in 2012, and, he said at the beginning of the programme that he’d spoken to a lot of widows but no widowers.

The interview was excellent, Peston’s personal probing given grit by Mair’s sharp interjections. When Barnes mentioned that he’d considered suicide, Mair asked, “Did you think about a method?” and “What stopped you?” He also stepped in during an exchange between Peston and Barnes about how people – especially older English men – are rubbish at talking to their friends when they are grieving. “What did you want in these circumstances?” asked Mair.

Barnes was interesting: polite, precise and calm, a cool counterpart to Peston, whose distinctive speech mannerisms – a paaaaauuuse theeen wordscomerattattat – are rooted in a slight insecurity. Mair’s desire to go for the jugular and the joke worked well as a foil to both. I’m looking forward to next week, when Mair gets to choose and host the interviewee, and Peston must pipe up with his secondary questions.

Peston, of course, is the BBC’s money man, their economics editor, and, as he’s BBC, he is bound by law to be fair. Not so Weekly Economics Podcast, the relatively new audio offering from the New Economics Foundation, a thinktank that promotes social, economic and ecological justice. Each show is short, no longer than 20 minutes, and accessibly presented by the lively and engaging Kirsty Styles. Usually, she talks to James Meadway, senior economist at the NEF, but sometimes others, and each week they unpick some aspect of the UK economic news. As George Osborne appears to have been let off the leash since the election, coming up with madder and madder monetary policies, there is a lot to talk about. This week’s discussion about his proposal to sell off RBS at a loss of £13bn to the taxpayer was revealing and shocking. Was it biased? Well, you’d say yes if you were Osborne. To me, it sounded like they were talking a lot of sense.

Finally, a quick note about Apple’s new radio station, Beats 1, which will launch 30 June. It’s going to broadcast across the world, every day, all day, everyone! As though umpteen radio stations don’t do that already… Still, with its poaching of Zane Lowe from Radio 1 and Rinse’s Julie Adenuga, as well as Ebro Darden, who represents the New York hip-hop side of things, Beats 1 is clearly aiming at… well, me. Me and anyone else who hops between Radio 1 and 6Music, Rinse and Mixcloud. These are music experts, not “presenters”, so hopes are set high. We’ll see.

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