Happy Birthday Robert Elms Show

Each weekday – at just gone midday – a jazz tune will be playing in the background as a voice comes in and says, ‘Good afternoon London, I’m Robert Elms.’
Today was no different. It was just like any other day in London. Except it wasn’t. Because today the Robert Elms radio show on BBC Radio London was twenty years-old and to celebrate this occasion the show came live from Ronnie Scott’s. And rather good it was too.
It is very apt in that if a radio show is to have a home then Ronnie’s really is the home for Robert Elms’ long-running and rather excellent show.
Like Ronnie’s – Elms’ show is a London institution and like Ronnie’s Elms is still on top of his game.
To celebrate its birthday famous names like Sir Paul Smith and Rod Stewart popped in (okay Rod was stuck in traffic and phoned in but was his usual ebullient self) while Nick Lowe played and sung a beautiful version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Alison’. Gary Kemp talked about Soho and Spandau while Norman Jay funked up the old place. It was a proper decent shindig – a bit like ‘Upstairs at Ronnies’ all those years ago – and all concerned deserved to let their hair down.
Twenty years is some going for any radio show and it has only lasted that long due to the fact that it is a quality product. In fact I’d go as far to say it is the best show on the radio. By a distance. Then again I would say that as I love London and despite the fact that it is now available to all via the internet (and that’s how I hear it most days) it is still London’s show. The city flows like the Thames through the programme. It’s a daily love letter if you like.
Then again I am its archetypal listener. Middle-aged and interested as much in the arts and music as I am the football. The programme’s not really for teenagers and let’s face it you’re highly unlikely to hear any dubstep played on the show but you never know… And anyhow they’ve enough places to hear the latest pap music (sic).
London provides the material. Elms just tells us about it; and he does that beautifully.
The formula is simple and many of the features have been going since day one. Basically Elms plays a few tunes – tunes he calls grown-up music. Guests and regular contributors come in for a chat and artists come in and play a live song or two. Others phone in and contribute in their own way. It’s that simple.
The regular features include ‘Listed Londoner’ that appeared on the very first show. Here a London resident – most are known to the listeners but some are just interesting regular Joes/Jos. They are asked 15 questions about ‘their’ London. They are all asked the same questions but the answers are never the same. That’s London.
‘Listed Londoner’ is on (on) Monday, films are discussed on Tuesday.
Wednesday is ‘notes and queries’; as people ask questions about odd and interesting things they’ve seen in London while on Thursday the listeners nominate a ‘fourfer’ from one artist as Elms plays four songs from one musician/band/singer.
The weekend starts on Friday as the final half-hour gets all funky.
People come in to talk about architecture and art, music, film, food, pubs, books and sport.
Meanwhile at various times the brilliant – and incredibly posh – Maxwell Hutchinson pops in to talk about architecture and Alice Rawsthorne chats art.
Laura Wright talks linguistics. Russell Clarke comes in to talk about the musical history of London while Johnny Homer does something similar with the more ‘leftfield’ events that have happened in London’s history.
It’s all dead simple but the reason it works is that it effortlessly mixes low and high culture and Elms must take immense credit for this as he is as at ease talking to art curators as he is with black cab drivers.
Of course London provides a huge blank canvas and there is always something to talk about but to keep it going for 20 years is some achievement.
He, his producers, staff and BBC Radio London deserve immense, immense credit.
Happy birthday Robert Elms Show. Here’s to the next twenty years.
Robert Elms show is on air Monday-Friday 12-3pm. Saturday 10am-1pm



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