Back in November 2014, when David Mellor was recorded in full rant, denouncing a taxi driver for being a ‘sweaty, stupid little shit’, he also took the opportunity to outline his own c.v., describing himself as ‘someone who’s been in the cabinet, who’s an award-winning broadcaster, who’s a Queen’s Counsel’.
Well, we all know about his glorious time in the cabinet as the ‘minister for fun’, and we know about his distinguished legal career (like so many other politicians, he became a QC after he was elected to Parliament), but that boast of being ‘an award-winning broadcaster’ is the one that keeps coming back to me.
Because I sometimes listen to the show that Mellor co-presents with Ken Livingstone on LBC Radio on a Saturday morning, and I’ve concluded that he’s quite possibly the worst radio presenter I’ve ever heard, and certainly the worst interviewer. His bumblings and stumblings, his repetitions and deviations, are bad enough, but the sheer length of his questions (which seldom culminate in an actual question) makes him almost intolerable – except as an object lesson in how not to do it.
Here he is, for example, interrupting Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy, who has taken objection to Mellor’s line of questioning:
We’re not putting the blame totally on him [Benjamin Netanyahu]. I just asked you a question. But you know, you mustn’t feel too personally that we’re biased because we’re actually quite reasonable people. But, you know, I think back to the late eighties, when as a foreign office minister I visited Israel and the Occupied Territories, and I had the opportunity of a meeting with Mr Shamir. And I said to him, ‘I’m a 40-year-old British man with two young kids. How does a 40-year-old Israeli man with two young kids – what, er, possibility, do your policies open up that my children will ever live in peace with their neighbours?’ Twenty-five years on, with the predominant political element, er, in Israel being the sons, if you like, of Shamir – I mean, you know, that, that, that’s, that’s where the policy’s been going – it’s still not a question that anybody can really answer with any positive spirit at all, and that’s sad, isn’t it, when you think how the rest of the world has moved on – Northern Ireland, stuff like that – it’s sad, isn’t it, it’s sad. If I was a young Israeli, I’d think it was sad that I’m going to have to spend so much of my life in the military, I’m going to have to listen to a whole lot of paranoia about, you know, we’re not going to survive as a state and all the awful stuff, that at some point you’d like to think people could get rid of. Hm?
So that’s 250 words and 75 seconds to get to the question ‘Hm?’ And, you know, that’s sad, isn’t it?
But of course it’s not just politics on which he shares his expertise. This is a man with a hinterland; he also presents shows on Classic FM. Here he is, interviewing the pianist Stephen Hough:
Now, the French Album, of course, what, what, what’s always good, and I’m sorry if I sound like a sycophant – really I’m not sycophantic with most of the people I interview. I am sycophantic with him [Hough] but, er, errr, on other stations, I am less than syco- sycophantic about some of my, um, parli, ex-parliamentary colleagues. But what we’ve got here is seventeen pieces, some of them well known, I mean, ‘Claire de lune’, aaahhhh, the, ah, ‘Alborada del gracioso’ – ‘The afternoon fool’ [sic] – always a strange title, but I mean brilliantly played, great test of pianism. But other stuff that I absolutely love. I mean, Massenet’s ‘Crépuscule’, which, um, I recognise from an, from the opera, but I’ve never heard it in its piano version.
There’s no question in there at all. Not even a vague stab at a question. It’s hard to disagree with his own assessment: ‘I’ve been a windbag of a sort all my life.’
And yet Mellor is a self-proclaimed ‘award-winning broadcaster’. Which makes it sound as though he has a shelf full of Sony Golds in his downstairs loo. And I don’t think that’s the case. As far as I can tell, he was named BBC Radio Personality of the Year by the Variety Club in 1995 for his (dreadful) football phone-in show. And, er, that’s it. ‘I don’t think I deserved this award,’ he said at the time, and he was perfectly correct.
But surely he wasn’t still referring to that long forgotten ceremony, nearly twenty years later, when he lost all his legendary cool and charm in a London cab? There must be more awards in his locker that have escaped my notice. Because otherwise it’d be sad, wouldn’t it? I mean, it’d be sad. Hm?