Johnny’s letter this week is to a former boss of F365 who has presented some of the best loved niche shows on TV & radio. That’ll be Danny Kelly, then.
Why the love?
When I think of Danny’s shows over the years, this picture captures them perfectly.
Danny has been in our lives via one media or another for almost 35 years, starting as a writer on the NME in 1983, eventually becoming editor at the end of that decade. Then came a stint as editor of long-running music magazine, Q. Throw in launching Total Sport, working on 5 Live with Danny Baker, hosting the brilliantly anarchic Under The Moon TV show at an ungodly hour, setting up 365 Corporation of which F365 was the lynchpin, and in the last decade working on talkSPORT, he’s always been on every football and music fans’ radar and has always been worth our attention.
In many ways, he is a unique bridge from the old school analogue football media and the modern interactive user-generated world we now live in. From the days of the inky rag and vinyl record, to the electron cold world of social media-driven vacuity and digital downloads, Danny has ridden the wave and emerged as the big kahuna of left-field, non-mainstream, but still accessible media. It was largely his vision that was responsible for what F365 became and for that we should all be grateful.
Throughout much of this time, football on TV and radio has had its fair share of phoneys and weasels but it is Danny’s authenticity, passion and intelligence that has always found and delighted an audience. There is joy to his work and there always has been going back to the glory days – and they really were glory days – of his work with Danny B on 5 Live. Baker and Kelly Upfront gave us so many joyous, hilarious moments. Hard to imagine that if you’re under 25 you will never have heard it.
Which must inevitably bring us to the Wooden Bow Tie. This clip is widely regarded as the peak of the genre. And even if heard a hundred times, is still hilarious. To be part of this was to be part of some legendary radio and for fans is probably the first thing we think of when talking about Danny K and Danny B.
The anarchy of Under The Moon on Channel 4 would have terrified some broadcasters. But not Danny. He sat atop his giant catcher’s mitt, a grinning Sports Buddha overseeing his kingdom of chaos, all while the guests looked on nervously wondering what hellish madness this all was.
His mantra to the public is always simple: “Be any good.”
He’s also loved for how he innately recognises that football, or whatever he is covering, does not live in an isolated bubble, but is merely one flavour on the smorgasbord of life. So he brings in other cultural references as part of the gig. On the brilliant Trans Euro Express, for example, which he presents every Sunday evening on talkSPORT, he asks listeners to suggest music on a different theme and will then play a clip of it after an ad break. This isn’t just good fun, it’s also a clever way to keep people listening to see if their request has made it onto the show. Imagine my joy when one week the theme was ‘snow’ and I suggested Frank Zappa’s ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’.
Did he play it? Of course he did, sir, of course he did.
In his own way, Danny is a maverick blessed with vision and creativity to burn. Utterly distinctive in what he does and how he does it, his whole approach has always seemed to be to enjoy himself, in the knowledge that this will invest proceedings with good vibes, humour and passion and thus make it great entertainment. The Trans Euro Express show, hosted alongside Euro experts such as Gab Marcotti, Andy Brassell, Rob Daley or Mark Langdon, is stuffed to the gills with insight, information, history, learning and entertainment, but wears all of that like it is a mere feather, so it always feels light and breezy. Tremendous. And that’s classic Danny K. That’s what he does so well.
Has a quite light, airy tone to his radio voice that often rises to a squeaky giggle when amused by an interviewee’s comments. But then can dip into a more gravelly stentorian tone when necessary. I also credit him with his own unique ‘sir’ comma. In the same way Andy Townsend had his (not for me), Clive, comma, Danny has ‘(bizarre, incredible statement), sir.’
For example: ‘He was wearing a badger as a hat, sir. A badger as a hat!’
Very good at euphemism to get around having to more graphically state something about the more seamy side of life.
Seems to fundamentally understand that to take something seriously you have to be able to laugh at and look for the fun in it. That’s a tricky gig to pull off on live radio because you have to balance the humour against more serious stories.
Obviously, the other basic skill any live broadcaster needs is the ability to think on your feet and draw on your own knowledge. This is where having a substantial cultural hinterland comes in use. If you can make a reference to a U-Roy album whilst talking about footballers who are called Roy, because you have a knowledge of Jamaican toasting, then your listeners are going to get a show painted with a lot of different colours. This is what he does so well.
Also, for people of a certain age, his frequent references to TV and movies of the ’60s and ’70s, along with an ability to make references to the deepest cuts of any music from Krautrock to heavy metal to Dub, is always a delight.
When you hear he’s standing in for someone on talkSPORT, it always lifts the heart because he’s better than whoever he’s replacing. That’s a good measure of his quality.
Spent an enjoyable couple of seasons united with Danny Baker and BT Sport’s V.S.P.O (Vaguely Sporting Phone-Out) which was eccentric, daft and always thoroughly entertaining. And, as ever, one had the feeling that they were doing this primarily for their own amusement and if you wanted to drop in and enjoy the fun, then that was fine, but not necessary.
Once again, just as had been the case on Under The Moon all those years ago, there was Danny, wearing an expression of delight and amusement that he’s got on the telly to do this. The slightly rambling feel to both shows was very much their extended acid rock jam, compared to, say, MOTD’s AOR. Very much Quicksilver Messenger Service to the BBC’s Air Supply. Of course, this is what makes them chime with us. Yes, it may limit audiences, but the audiences it does get 100% loves it.
Must surely shop at High and Mighty, being both high and mighty. Loves a large, loose shirt and one imagines, like many of us older gentleman of thickened girth, enjoys the pleasures of elasticated waist-based leisurewear for off-duty larks. Seems very suited to donning a vividly floral cabana shirt when on holiday and in possession of a tequila sunrise the size of a buffalo’s head.
What the people say
For all his work on a national radio station, in so many ways, Danny is a niche, rather hip broadcaster with a distinctly non-mainstream attitude and approach. Thus I suspect his fans all feel like they belong in the same gang, safe in the knowledge that this sets them aside from the slack-jawed, slavering masses who will simply look at you with blank incomprehension when you intone, in a deep, rich, woody voice: “Any more pie?”
‘Danny is my favourite broadcaster by a long way. Mix of intelligence and humour makes him the best thing on talkSPORT by a country mile. Always a shame he is often used as a stand in.’
‘Even made Alan Brazil listenable…’
‘The best thing on talkSPORT by some distance. For someone with such a deep well of knowledge, somehow manages to never show up his dunderhead co-hosts. Delightfully appreciative of callers.’
‘No-one makes his listeners feel as much part of the show as Danny.’
‘The Peter Taylor to Baker’s Brian Clough.’
‘A beacon on a sea of wind-up merchants.’
‘I love his Trans Europe Express show. Two hours fly by. In terms of UK football coverage in 21C, the mountain has come to Muhammad but you never get the sense he’s annoyed to be left with talkSPORT shows while other people clean up using his templates.’
‘His interviews on the My Sporting Life podcast were superb. Managed to get more out of the subject than expected due to the healthy dollop of humour. A drop of sanity in an ocean of madcap opinion on radio tradesmen.’
‘Excellent mixture of football and music knowledge. Best thing left on talkSPORT by a mile. His Trans Euro Express is superb.’
‘When you’ve been listening to one of his talkSPORT shows in the evening and you turn on the radio next morning… well, the contrast says it all really.’
‘I always look forward to listen to Danny’s shows on talkSPORT. His knowledge of sport and music is second to none. When he stands in for a presenter he has the skill to make the show better. It is a shame that he is not on every day.’
‘Under The Moon is one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. The Word, but for sport…’
‘F365, Under The Moon, radio with or without Danny Baker, VSPO on BT Sport, Q magazine and NME. Any more pie?’
‘A football broadcasting behemoth.’
‘Love his style and personality. Very witty, very funny. He has a knack of being old school funny without any of the drawbacks. When he fills in on talkSPORT for the breakfast show or Drive, it’s always exceptional and my day is better for it every time.’
‘Used to text in answers to questions posed by Dan on BBC London show and always sign off as a member of the E Street Band. To hear him reading out, “I think Millwall are a long shot for the League Cup. That’s from Professor Roy Bittan”, deadpan whilst in on the joke was a real treat.’
‘Entertaining and knowledgeable: a rare combination.’
‘His ‘I love football Stan’ when Aaron Lennon equalised in the Spurs Arsenal 4-4 remains one of my favourite moments of ‘commentary’ ever.’
‘Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and his European show on a Sunday night is an understated delight.’
‘Under the Moon was TV gold.’
‘Under The Moon and the Wooden Bow Tie are passports to greatness. Still a pleasure to listen to.’
‘I’d sit up til 4am on a school night just to hear what he had to say on Under the Moon. Says it all.’
‘A true giant.’
‘Consistently excellent shows – only rivalled by his old partner Mr Baker. Can take a serious discussion and make you feel comfy enough to contribute, without patronising the listener. Knowledge of music a bonus!’
‘Speaks with a candid authority on the talkSPORT shows.’
‘The daddy. Simple as.’
Seems to have found a comfortably broad role at talkSPORT which covers straight one-on-one interviews, presenting live football, the Trans Euro Express magazine (which is essential listening) as well as more regular phone-ins, especially when filling in for others.
Must have at least one really big TV gig left in him, if he wants it, and it would be great to see him more on our screens because his is a unique, special talent. But I do wonder if the vanilla people whose job it is to commission a show which would play to his talents really understand his mindset and art form. One imagines, as he starts a piece on curling with frozen chickens while wearing a cossack hat, execs looking at each other with raised eyebrows, wondering what the hell is going on and being unable to discern if it’s any good or not.
Incredibly, has just turned 61 and yet seems to be forever young. There is not a hint of old mannishness to his work and the passion for the football, or whatever sport he’s covering, is undiminished. As a broadcaster, he is untarnished by cynicism and is never one to indulge in the culture of the lowest common denominator, which is a real achievement in this era.
We’ve been blessed with his wit and originality for many years now, and I hope it will continue to be for many years to come, but if he wants to hang up his mic at some point, he could always become a scout for Standard Liege.