Peter Rhodes on chatting with Gerry, the unanswered Covid questions and a masterclass from Mr Owen

“So, minister, last night you said you would not be wearing a raincoat. Yet today you were wearing a raincoat. Is this not yet another example of flip-flop government which is making Britain the laughing stock of the world?

Nick Owen
Nick Owen

“Well, you see . . . “

“What we see, minister, is a government incapable of making decisions and betraying the people who expect a clear policy on the wearing of raincoats. How can your approach to raincoats change so dramatically – indeed, some would say, so irresponsibly - in the space of 24 hours?”

“No. You see, last night it wasn't raining but today . . . “

“I'm sorry, minister, but that's all we've got time for. . . .”

You will have have seen or heard much of the same. Some journalists think the best way to report a global pandemic is not to explain the facts sensibly to the public but to score cheap points. Since before Christmas, the questions we all want answering are these: In what way is the new strain of Coronavirus more contagious than the old sort, how prevalent is it and how can we protect ourselves against it? We are still waiting for our glorious national media to dig out the answers.

Nick Owen on BBC Midlands Today, showed how it can be done, interviewing a professor and an NHS boss. There was no hectoring, no hidden agenda, no interruptions, no political point-scoring. Owen merely asked a few simple questions, allowed his interviewees to answer and extracted more useful information in five minutes than some hacks have done in the past 10 months.

So farewell, Gerry Marsden who has died aged 78. I interviewed him during his 1997 Ferry Cross the Mersey tour when he delivered what must be the most understated tribute to Elvis Presley of all time. “When I was 14,” Marsden told me, “I had a skiffle group. Then I heard about someone called Elvis Presley. I thought, what a daft name. But once I’d played Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog, I thought, that’s it – this is better than skiffle.” I'm not sure if Presley's promoters ever used the slogan “Elvis - Better Than Skiffle,” but I doubt it.

The poet Lemn Sissay's Winter Walk (BBC4) through the Cumbrian village of Dent, stopping for tea at the ancient Sun Inn, took me back. Some years ago we spent a jolly evening in the pub, sharing the table with a couple of farmers. It goes without saying that their tales were of unspeakable misery and hardship with the only certainly that this year would be worse than last year but better than next year. Yet as the beer flowed, their spirits lifted until, raising his fourth pint of stout, one of the farmers laughed as he announced: “I got my Single Farm Payment yesterday. Seventy thousand quid. Best bloody job in the world, this is.” In Guinness veritas.

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