A Football365 Love Letter To… Danny Baker

Date published: Sunday 30th July 2017 8:50

This week Johnny is waving his huge love wand again, this time while wearing a hardboard bow tie, fastened around his neck with a leather belt. That’ll be Danny Baker, then…

 

Why the Love?
Danny’s had a long career on radio and telly, but this Love Letter is for his work in football broadcasting, rather than for Pets Win Prizes or the BBC4 shows.

Let’s say this right from the get-go. He’s loved because he is utterly unique and has pursued his own path through radio and TV, both uncompromising and consistent. He’s a trickster, a joker, and a subversive. And, oh, how he has made so many of us laugh and laugh and laugh down the years.

In 1991 he presented 6-0-6 for the first time and would go on to present many shows, all of which were based around prompting callers to phone in stories and recollections. He hooked up in 1993 with Danny Kelly and in doing so they formed one of the finest and most fondly remembered partnerships in any area of broadcasting. They went sailing on the seas of absurdity, surrealism and downright silliness, most especially in Baker & Kelly Up Front from 1996. Even now after all these years, he’s still coming up with a ceaseless churn of ideas to try and inspire people to ring in. Callers or listeners wanting to talk about the day’s games have always been disappointed. That wasn’t and still isn’t what the shows are all about.

Along the way there have been rants, a mysterious dressing room “tape,” referee hounding and at least one magnificent on-air resignation (“We dwell amid pin-headed weasels who know only timid, the generic and the abacus.”) along with fallings out, sackings and resurrections and that’s absolutely how it should be for one of the very few genuine anti-establishment broadcasting mavericks. Fans love his unabashed forthright attitude and his romantic, charming, almost boyish passion for football and his underlying philosophy that only by not taking it seriously can you really take it seriously.

The stream of invective he unleashed on Twitter after England’s exit from last year’s Euros was a form of sweary poetry. Even if you think it was over the top, it was typically uncompromising and unflinching, and will have reflected many a fan’s feelings at the time: “You f*cking awful craven humiliating disgrace. Go on you f*ckers pick up your PL wages you cheap sh*ts. You worms. F*ck you.”

Sadly, the very things we love him for seems to have burned too many bridges to get him a lot of football work on the BBC. But his brief appearance at the 2010 World Cup shows us what we could’ve won, if the corporation had been a little more ambitious.

He’d be fantastic as an unscripted football TV regular, even if he’s there with the cap and bells on. People take football too seriously, Danny doesn’t, but that doesn’t negate his enjoyment of the game, quite the opposite. His complete indifference to the statistics of football, to the discussions about formations etc, is more needed than ever in an era which risks atrophying the lust for the game with financial greed, over-analysis and spreadsheet philosophies.

He also presented much loved Own Goals and Gaffs VHS videos without which many a Xmas would not have been complete.

Latterly on BT Sport he and Danny K hooked up again for their Vaguely Sporting Phone-Out show which ran for two seasons before being cancelled. Rambling and held together with gaffer tape, it was everything their fans have always loved, up to and including predicting the results of games using just two toasters. Of course they did.

 

Superhero Skills
He’s an incredibly articulate, fierce working class intellectual. This was recorded in 1977 and is still as relevant now as it was 40 years ago. The sheer f**k you attitude is magnificent.

Yes he will always be divisive. And that’s good. The endless search of even-handed balance within a milky no-offence culture, creates very dull broadcasting. Yes he might go too far sometimes, but that doesn’t matter. In pursuit of excellent broadcasting, you need to be prepared for the consequences, but not worry about them and not be inhibited by them.

Has been exemplary at letting the people he works with shine. I’m thinking especially of his 5live Saturday morning show with Lynsey Hipgrave, which remains a weekly joy, even though the never not splendid LH has moved on.

I’ve always thought the key to his shows was his genuine interest in the public’s contributions. It obviously amuses and entertains him, and so by extension, us too. You can’t fake that for as long as he’s been doing it. He lives for the moments when a caller delivers, out-of-the-blue, something hilarious and remarkable.

His phone-ins with or without Danny K have always been a celebration of a by-the-people-for-the-people humanity. Warm without being cloying, sincere without any smarm. He has patience while the punters speak, always listening for hidden gems of funny that even the caller hasn’t thought of. And this is how you end up with moments of utterly hilarious brilliance such as this from Gordon, about his bowtie. It unfolds in four minutes with such perfect pace and timing, that it couldn’t have been scripted better.

And this is just one of many many calls that bring joy and lift the spirits. The Baker and Kelly partnership is simply one of the finest ever to have graced the airwaves. It’s worth revisiting the treehouse from time to time, just to revisit the timeless comedy they conjured out of thin air.

Pronounces “after” as “ar’er” as though we’re living in a performance of Oliver and which somehow sounds like it has come from an entirely different era. It is a welcome throw-back to time before people began starting sentences with “so..” and copying the rising inflective of Australia and the San Fernando Valley.

I’m not quite sure how or why, but he has a laugh which in itself is entertaining. Part of the reason to return to the old clips is to hear him and Danny K in paroxysms of mirth over a man who refereed a game using a harmonica, or whatever. Such infectious laughter is always a joy.

 

Style Guru?
Wears a Fez. Has a taily coat and top hat. Likes a rock t-shirt. Clothes usually fit where they touch. And rightly so.

 

Proper Football Man Rating
Confused.

I’ll have a pint of what he’s drinking. It’s like he knows everything, Jeff. Literally, everything. Everything, Jeff. Literally. It’s scary the way he can just say words y’know one after another and it makes sense. How is that possible if you’re not a professor?

But the boys are worried. Normally they can count on the working class to be one of their own. But Danny seems too clever, and knows far too much stuff about far too many things to be a PFM. But they like that he used to go on the drink with Gazza and they find any man who can get in someone’s face, a little erotic. Go on, my son, give it ‘im..

He’s been thrown off the BBC and has worked on TalkSport too – both of which are boxes you must tick for any PFM application to be successful. Likes a drink and would have no problem downing a few of Reidy’s toilet duck, nitroglycerin and Agent Orange shandies. Another positive tick, as is the long-standing, oft-vigorously expressed dislike of Glenn Hoddle, who the PFMs consider to be a weirdo hippie.

But then, he is a big fan of P.G. Wodehouse, whom most PFMs would assume was a cricketer in the 1920s or a woman who trained dogs on the telly. And what’s all this thing about prog rock and records? Every PFM thinks CDs are really modern. I bet he doesn’t even like Johnny Hates Jazz, Jeff.

And yer PFM doesn’t listen to the radio because it doesn’t have any pictures and if there are no pictures how can you see what’s going on, Jeff? It’s mad. Radio is just a talking box and they’re weird and Danny makes my head feel like it’s going to burst, Jeff. And I sometimes need my head.

 

What The People Say
– Someone with such a notable, powerful personality is bound to be divide opinion and it would be odd if it didn’t. But those of us who have loved his work for so long now, feel he is criminally underused, that management is a bit scared of him, and that someone with such a special kind of genius really should be celebrated.

– Me and mates were quoting Own Goals and Gaffs for years. Radio show on 5 also a must listen. He’s been underused over the years.

– Own Goals and Gaffs on video his commentary was funny and a decent education to how shit some football was

– The broadcaster I dream of being, if only I was only a hell of a lot smarter than I am!

– I remember travelling to football and listening to him getting a 5 Live listener too Hoover up nuts and bolts for a reason I can’t recall. It wasn’t particularly shocking or amazing but it stuck with me and summed up why he’s so good.

– He’s too politically incorrect for the establishment. He’s too outspoken and opinionated therefore a bit of a ‘wild cannon’.

– No qualms in considering him a hero in music and football.

– Genuinely funny, engaging and knowledgeable. His and Kelly’s strapline: “sometimes right; often wrong; always certain” is exactly the fan.

– He realises that the actual games are fluff and soap opera and concentrates on absurdity & fan idiosyncrasies. Uniquely talented broadcaster

– His twitter rants when England play really badly are a thing of beauty.

– He’s a perfect antidote to the usual po faced coverage of football in the media. Fantastically quick witted , funny, and very knowledgeable.

– I love my radio. I love my football and for me, Danny is just The Best.

– He’s worked for big corporations, but never seems corporate, which means he has opinions which are outside the mainstream, but are often eccentric and almost always reflect interests much wider than the Premier League, which often don’t get airtime…

– Nothing excites our 12 week old daughter more than my t-shirt featuring the cover of Sniffin’ Glue (no.8) – timeless journalism, top man

– I could listen to him talk about football, life and music ad infinitum. He just sees and speaks bewildering joy.

– For the fans, by a fan, and it shows. Gets that fans would rather talk about trivia and eg coldest grounds than formations and tactics.

– His voiceover of Own goals and gaffs is still quoted by me and my mates.

– He’s a proper fan – not one of those “celebs” who support the fashionable clubs.

– Met Danny in M&S recently. Despite an armful of wine/sandwiches he stood and chatted about his tour. Decent sort.

– He’s a genius. Incredible broadcaster, hilarious, imaginative and surreal yet a normal fella who really loves and understands football.

– Slightly random, but I still do the toaster predictions from the Baker & Kelly Show on BT Sport during the 2014 World Cup

– Imagine an entertaining phone-in, loosely about football, then replacing it with David Mellor et al and “red hot soccer chat.” (and then by Richard Littlejohn!)

– A man who is more for the soul and less for the stats. Appreciates that football is as beautiful for its social value as for its spectacle.

– The Bielsa of football broadcasting. Outrageously talented visionary who scares the living daylights out of mainstream employers

– In a different league to any other football broadcaster and has been for 30 years.

– The loss of the two Dannys on BT Sport was a criminal waste of great talent.

– One of those guys who just gets it. Somehow manages to capture the experience of being a football fan by not talking about football

– The man is a broadcasting genius who invented a whole new genre only to see inferior imitations destroy the brand.

– He terrifies the producers on TV because he’s smarter and knows the way TV works. So we’re denied a genius

– Recognises the game is absurd and wonderful at the same time.

– Did you know the last ever caller on his football phone-in was a Boro fan who said “Up the Boro” in his closing line? UTB!

– Brilliantly natural broadcaster. He and Danny Kelly were, and remain, mood makers and trend setters.

– 25 years since he did 6-0-6 and Own Goals and Gaffs. Both formats have been copied so many times and nobody has come close to his quality.

– Innovative, surreal, clearly bonkers, imaginative and has a genuine interest in what fans are saying. Genuinely loves football, music & life

 

Future Days
When we heard he had throat cancer – perhaps the cruellest for a raconteur and broadcaster – we all feared the worst, but thank god and the NHS, he got through it. We need some more Danny in our football lives. Not something normal, obviously. Something improvised because he’s at his best without a script.

His legacy will be that he ploughed a furrow that no-one else had ploughed before largely because he invented the furrow himself. After Danny, football phone-ins have all been about fans calling for a manager to be sacked etc etc and not about playing football in dangerous places, not about pigs jumping off a diving board, not about people pretending to be a club’s scouts, and it is worse for that. The straight football phone-in, in the age of social media, seems dated. I’m not even sure anyone wants to hear what other fans think about anything anymore, or certainly not on the radio.

The fact he’s not been copied is a testament to the unique nature of the talent he brought to the concept. It is as though simply no-one has the joy of the off-the-beaten-tracks of life and perhaps just doesn’t have the sheer breadth of imagination and chutzpah to pull it off.

It is still on radio where his artform seems to find its best expression. We must all hope that one day some broadcaster will relaunch the good ship Baker & Kelly Upfront and once again we can utter the immortal words “Any more pie?”

 

John Nicholson

 

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