Interview: Presenter & comedian Jon Holmes
First published in eRADIO, we chat to Jon Holmes about winning Best Entertainment Producer.
Jon Holmes’ website says that he “haunts your radio like a tiny ghost” – he’s a busy man, writing and performing on BBC Radio 4 as one of The Now Show team, and his own series Listen Against. He appears on (and occasionally produces) BBC Radio 5Live’s Men’s Hour and also has his own show on the network, Jon Holmes’s Mob Rule. And he presents his own weekend show on BBC 6 Music. Last week, he won Best Entertainment Producer with his company Unusual Productions at the Radio Production Awards; and this week, he starts summer cover for Graham Norton on BBC Radio 2. Radio Today took him to the pub for a break…
Do you see yourself as a comedian doing radio or a radio person who writes comedy?
I’m very much a radio person; I loved listening to Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice – and one Christmas, got given a silver Binatone radio cassette recorder with a built-in mic… and realised you could record with it. From there, my Mum was a nurse and so we knew of hospital radio, which I joined when I was old enough. I was also discovering comedy – my Dad got me in to the Goodies and Python. And then I did student radio at C4 Radio in Canterbury. I fell into the trap set by Steve ‘Tetley’ Taylor, who was the then Station Manager. He offered me breakfast, and I jumped at it, without realising it was the worst job in student radio.
I liked writing stuff – I hadn’t really considered stand-up, but ended up on stage and was also directing revue shows. I started sending jokes in to the BBC and finally managed to get one on Week Ending… then it got axed. Coincidence?
The local theatre I was working at had some Revox recorders, and I made a 15 minute comedy show, put and that on the desk of BBC producers I wanted to work with, and that led to Grevious Bodily Radio on Radio 4. We got some publicity about this in the local paper – and John Ryan, who was launching CTFM at the time, saw this and invited us in to do a Saturday afternoon show.
Yes, absolutely – it’s integral to the success of the shows. If you have a feel for how it works behind the scenes, the talented people you’re working with will better understand what you want them to do. It seems superficial, but if you listen to something that doesn’t feel “radio-ey”, you’ll know something that’s wrong. That experience completely informs what I do on air.
I like the mechanics of radio – so the next logical step was to make programmes. I talk to lots of people who have great ideas. Rather than being bitter and jealous of them, I want to work with them to get those ideas on air.
The Radio 2 show is a long way from record fines at Virgin – have you made a conscious effort to clean up your act?
My mum only found out about ‘the incident’ through reading the papers… I hadn’t told her about them. When she found out, I was in more trouble with my Mum than I was with Ofcom! She said “Why can’t you just be nice”… so I’ve taken her advice. You should always listen to your Mum.
Re Virgin, it was partly the culture at the time. There wasn’t a producer – it was me, Mike the sidekick and the security guard in the building. But everything was run past the boss during the week… he’d cleared it word for word before it all kicked off.
I think it was partly down to the folly of youth… it was a moment of its time. That was 11 years ago and I was a different broadcaster. I love doing live radio the best, so I learned a good lesson early on – don’t get fired. I won’t be bringing a hangman grid into the studio.
Radio 2 hires a lot of people best known for TV – for example Richard Madeley, and you were first paired with Miranda Hart. Is that a good approach?
I love Miranda. I knew her before and we couldn’t be more opposite – so the yin and yang of that was good on air. She’s 6 foot and I’m not. She’s brilliantly posh and I’m not, and her sense of humour is very different from mine. We could surprise each other on air. It wasn’t forced banter, we made each other laugh and you can’t fake that.
There’s a tendency to try to get people from telly on the radio. I think they’re different skills, and not everyone will be able to do both. If anything it’s easier to go the other way – the joy of radio is having an intimate conversation with your listeners. If you’re used to talking to the broad television audience, it’s more difficult to then have to talk one to one. I think TV should be looking to recruit more radio people, rather than the other way round.
I wanted guests on the Radio 2 show, and with the me and Miranda shows in mind, I thought about my sitcom idols when I was growing up and drew up a wishlist, and we’ve got most of them. They’re not coming in to plug anything – they’re in to talk about themselves. We’re starting with Prunella Scales, and she’ll be talking about Fawlty Towers. It’s a genuine privilege. It’ll be interesting to also talk about women in comedy, and ageism… all great topics.
The more Radio 2-friendly features from my 6 Music show will transfer across. Playing live Mastodon tracks probably not, but I will be able to indulge my secret passion for Def Leppard.
Has Graham Norton given you any advice for covering his show?
I used to be one of the writers on V Graham Norton, and my job was to co-write the monologue – and then we’d sit around and work out week in week any number of innovative ways we could show Westlife a dildo. We talked about this on air last week – he handed on the baton (rather than dildo) to me, and begged me to fail. I loved working with Graham, and it’s interesting to now be sitting in for him. I’ve still got some shower gel he bought me, and I’ll be using it before the show on Saturday morning.