Jeremy Vine: From flare days to airwaves with the Epsomian

Captions in title

Captions in title - Credit: What I Learnt by Jeremy Vine (W&N) out now.

Before elections, Eggheads, Radio 2 and Strictly, Jeremy Vine was a wannabe punk rocker trying to make it in the not-so-revolutionary surroundings of Cheam village. As he releases his latest memoir, the broadcaster looks back on those halcyon days of fun, family and an innovative method of measuring flares

The phrase ‘all in a day’s work’ has perhaps no greater relevance than when ascribed to Jeremy Vine. After all, he is one of the top talents on the BBC broadcasting roster, a formidable presence on flagship shows such as Newsnight, Crimewatch, UK Election night specials and Eggheads. He even cha-cha-cha’d with the best of them on Strictly Come Dancing, where Craig Revel Horwood compared the 6’ 3” journalist to “a stork that had been hit by lightning”.

But the most compelling of Vine’s broadcasting commitments is surely his eponymous Radio 2 show. Situated between Ken Bruce and Steve Wright each weekday afternoon, The Jeremy Vine Show has gone from strength-to-strength since its first airing 13 years ago. It now boasts an audience of over 7.5 million – and the breadth of current affairs dissected daily by the presenter and his opinionated audience covers every topic imaginable. World politics? Animal encounters? The pros and cons of the 5p carrier bag charge? All in a day’s work.

So when it came to documenting the 25,000-plus calls he’d taken in his studio, Vine had a wealth of poignant tales and hilarious anecdotes to compile into his newest memoir: What I Learnt: What My Listeners Say – And Why We Should Take Notice.

“I was looking for a way to describe what I think has happened in the world through looking at my show and reflecting on 25,000 calls,” the 52-year-old says. “I thought the key word was ‘i-Power’, which was the idea that the listener’s own experience matters more.

“One of the first things that happened in this internet revolution was that the people at the BBC said we wouldn’t need presenters anymore, because we’re just going to end up throwing out content. It actually turns out that we’re going to need more presenters than ever because people want the content hand-delivered, so they trust it.”

It’s hard not to trust Vine. With decades of journalistic experience at the highest level with the BBC, he appears today as one of the corporation’s most experienced hands. It’s a position he’s worked up to via stints as a special correspondent in Africa and Westminster, and Vine’s early days in Surrey alongside brother Tim – who would go on to be an award-winning, gag-spewing comedian – certainly contributed to his confident persona today.

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“I was very, very lucky – because I went to Epsom College,” he explains. “A teacher stood up once and he said: ‘I want you boys to understand how lucky you are, because I don’t think you know.’ Only six per cent of people go to private school and I never realised that and I was only about 14 or 15 at the time.”


Almost famous

With his schooling in the “stunning” surroundings of Epsom College, and the later career he would enjoy, it’s almost unbelievable to consider the fact that Vine was once a teenage tearaway roaming the streets of Cheam village. It’s a situation almost as implausible as the multi-media maestro later donning sequins and furiously sashaying his way through nine episodes of Strictly.

“I had this failed punk band called The Flared Generation,” he laughs. “I think we couldn’t have been the coolest even if we tried, so we ended up wearing huge flared trousers and we decided on a way of measuring flares – other than the actual circumference or diameter – by how long they took to stop moving after you stopped walking. So I wore a three-second flare.

“And when we emerged as Cheam’s punk band, it was so clearly adrift from the drainpipe trousers of The Pretenders and all that. It gave us enough publicity that we thought, ‘Oh, we’re on our way,’ and as soon as we got any publicity it stopped. It did show me something about news, which is that news focuses on the unusual, and had we been a normal punk band we’d have been of no interest whatsoever. But only appearing as a punk band wearing flared trousers and kipper ties and wide collars, suddenly we were in The Sun, on Newsbeat… we were everywhere! Danny Baker even came down to Cheam to interview us – it was amazing. And in those days, with only four channels, it was kind of astonishing. So we thought: ‘This is it, we have made it!’ And then a year later we couldn’t even remember any of the songs!”

Although The Flared Generation is sadly no more – and the Vine brothers have moved on to far greater successes – there’s still a lasting spark of that youthful musical mischief in the apparently strait-laced BBC broadcaster. And even as his radio show expands across the airwaves and into book form in a deluge of popular opinion and occasionally-charged conversation, it’s the records being spun between callers that really get Vine going.

“Music was the thing for me,” he nods enthusiastically. “The funny thing about liking Joy Division as a teenager in Cheam is that you didn’t really meet anyone else who liked them. But there’s a lot of Cheam village in my memories – like the shop called ‘Ear Friend’ which used to sell records, joyfully.

“And while I don’t think Cheam will ever be ‘cool’, I’ve got a great soft spot for it. It’s funny because when you’re young you sort of rebel against the quietness, and then when you’re older that’s exactly what you look for!”

WHAT I LEARNT: What My Listeners Say – And Why We Should Take Notice by JEREMY VINE, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is out now in hardback, eBook and audio.