Alistair McGowan joins hilarious romp through 50 years of broadcasting

Radio Live promises a hilarious romp through 50 years of broadcasting at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on November 21.

Alistair McGowan
Alistair McGowan

Bringing together a unique group of seasoned radio pros for a celebration of 50 years of broadcasting, it will offer an unforgettable evening of comedy, music and nostalgia.

Hosted by The Today Programme’s Garry Richardson (‘and here’s Garry with the sport’), the night showcases Alistair McGowan, The Rev Richard Coles, Charlotte Green and special guest Joe Stilgoe as they reminisce. Together they have been broadcasting on our airwaves for more than two centuries.

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Alistair said: “We first did it about three years ago, and then obviously there has been a big hiatus. We’ve done it about six times or maybe eight to ten.

“It was Garry’s idea. He is a very funny man with a lot of great stories to tell, and he wanted to do something that was a bit bigger than ourselves. He involved Charlotte Green. She has a great stock of stories to tell from her years as a newsreader, and obviously Garry himself has 40 years’ experience in sport.

“I’m not sure where I come in! But I think they wanted to cover every aspect of radio. Garry did the sport and we had someone to do the music. At the moment it is Joe Stilgoe. It was his father originally, Richard Stilgoe. Charlotte covers the news and I bring in a bit of comedy. And the Rev Coles brings in a bit of irreverence! We cover all bases!”

Alistair has enjoyed huge success on TV, but, as he says, the TV is just a small part of his career. He has done a significant amount of radio; he has written radio dramas; and it has been the perfect domain for his move into classical music: “As a child I learned the piano for a couple of years when I was eight or nine and then gave up, and I went back to it at the age of 49. The piano is everything to me. My mother played when I was younger and so it is a way of connecting with my mum.

“I never really got involved with popular music. It never called to me. Whenever people are talking about The Stones or whatever great bands, it doesn’t mean a great deal to me. I never learned the lyrics to songs but I have always loved classical music and Radio 3 has been great for me.”

He loves working away at a piece of music: “The piano is like nothing else but maybe it is a bit like a crossword or better a bit like a jigsaw. Most of the pieces that I play are three and a half minutes and you go through agony and frustration and repetition to learn them but you feel you are making progress every day and then perhaps when you have learned them that is when you lose yourself in them.”

Inevitably, though, impressionism is still a big part of his career: “And when I’m doing a show, whether it is a private show or something like this, I try to do the impressions that are appropriate to it. For a show like this I am able to do people like Matthew Parris and Tony Hawkes and Mark Steel, people that the audience would know. I get to do a lot of the radio voices.

“But my favourite impression that I do at the moment is Monty Don. From having moved out of London, I have suddenly become interested in all things to do with country life including gardening and not just flowers but actually getting my fingers in the soil, and Monty has become a real god to me in that respect.”

Obviously the impressions Alistair will do in the show will be live before your eyes, but he is a big fan of impressions on the radio: “Television was a wonderful advert for what I did but it limited the number of people that you could do because obviously a lot of people you do you not look like. That does not matter on the radio, but on TV people would say ‘Oh he doesn’t look like so and so’ but on the radio there is no real limit.”