Monday, 20 April 2015

Rapid Reviews : The Bird and The Beeb by Liz Kershaw

Although classed as an autobiography, the real purpose of veteran radio DJ Liz Kershaw's book The Bird and The Beeb is perhaps flagged up by its subtitle - The Facts of Life at the BBC. Kershaw presents us with a very candid memoir regarding her experience of working in the BBC for the last three decades and it is a very enlightening and interesting read which sees the Rochdale lass hold court with her opinions.

I must admit some of these opinions took me by surprise and were not opinions I shared;

(On her friend Billy Bragg) "He hit a rich seam with the miners strike. Oh well. We were all having a great time and doing rather well under the Thatcher government"

Um, that the Royal we Liz? Not the kind of comment I'd expected from someone whose mother was a Labour councillor and who counted Bragg among her friends. Nor did I expect her use and praise of the public school system for her eldest son or private health care (though in fairness her personal experiences with the NHS do sound horrific and sadly all too familiar in parts, even though there's more than a whiff of contempt for newly qualified doctors - they have to start somewhere Liz!)

(On being against abortion after 12 weeks) "If you don't know you're pregnant or can't get your act together in three months, tough" 

But despite these disagreements it remained refreshing to read someone's actual opinions on the page. All too often autobiographies are too nice and scared to offend or reveal too much. And I did agree with her more and more as her opinions rolled on

(On the lack of women in radio) "The last time I checked there was only one woman let loose on her own at peak times in the mornings on the BBC's 50 odd stations" 

Because in a way that's what people like or are interested in Liz Kershaw for; she's a rarity. Along with Janice Long and Annie Nightingale, Liz was for many years one of only three prominent female broadcasters on BBC radio. That's changing now, but it's not changing fast enough and there's still a huge stranglehold at Radio 2 where a female voice is only heard at dawn or dusk as the male 'talent' dominate the daytime line up. 

The book reveals how, for decades, BBC employees were silenced by a gagging clause in their contracts. Post Savile, this has been lifted meaning Liz can finally disclose her experiences in full, warts and all. She discusses how she was made a scapegoat for the endemic practice of prerecording broadcasts as 'live' and staging contests (did you know BBC radio presenters are freelance, that they do not get paid for holidays or sickness and if they're expected to cover for other stations they find themselves simply have to prerecord their existing shows that would go out roughly at the same time?) the duplicitous backstabbing nature of radio execs and BBC management is shockingly revealed too, as is how she was routinely groped by the old school Savile era Radio 1 DJ's in the 80s (though she doesn't name her assailant) and how the station was run like a rugby club. Speaking of Savile, it was Kershaw who first said on the day of his death that there had been "queer things" going on at the BBC in his day which would one day come out. Ironically, just 18 months after she helped blow the whistle regarding that long hidden predatory peadophile, her mother was interviewed in a documentary about her old colleague Cyril Smith MP to similar effect.

All in all, a very interesting read.


  1. Liz Kershaw is one of the few broadcasters who have me reaching for the off button as soon as I hear them. And as for the that title -*shakes head*.

    1. I should explain the title is ironic, specifically about the attitude the BBC hierarchy have towards their female talent.

      I can't say she's a huge favourite of mine, but she's never done anything wrong in my book, so I was willing to give her book a read and overall impressed by it.

  2. I'm afraid I'm with John when it comes to Liz Kershaw as a broadcaster, but I stand and salute her for her part in the fierce and successful campaign to save 6Music a few years back. I'll certainly check out the book on your recommendation.

    1. The stuff about 6Music, the campaign to save it, the pre-recorded scandals etc are very enlightening