Kate Chisholm

From Brexit to Beethoven: John Humphrys returns to radio

Plus: a critically important reminder on Radio 4 of China’s spreading power

Some listeners will have had quite a shock first thing on Monday. Turning on at six to Classic FM they would have heard a familiar voice but not quite the one they expected. In yet another surprising turn of events, John Humphrys, the fox terrier of news broadcasting, has just completed a stint on Classic FM’s breakfast show, swapping Brexit for Beethoven and smooth radio for the ebullient hectoring of the Today programme.

‘No need to readjust your radio,’ laughed Humphrys just after seven, before introducing the next track, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite. Humphrys actually sounded as if he was beginning to enjoy himself, reading out readers’ emails, introducing the School Run dedication slot (‘For Noah, off to primary school in Leicester’) and Noah’s Dad’s choice, Leroy Anderson’s ‘Plink, Plank, Plunk!’, before quoting from fulminating articles in the Daily Mail.

‘I’m struggling to think of a greater contrast with my old job,’ he said in the press release that announced his appointment as stand-in presenter for Tim Lihoreau on More Music Breakfast. There were a few fumbles and extra-long pauses, especially at first, as if Humphrys was getting used to an unfamiliar studio. (Was he operating the mixing desk, I wondered?) But as he revealed his special connection with Elgar’s Cello Concerto because his son, a cellist, played it at his solo debut (‘I’ve still got the bruises on my upper arms,’ he joked, having squeezed himself so tight in nervous tension), you could hear his voice expanding, his mood mellowing, the years of politics slipping away. Even the naff adverts for home boilers, life insurance and funeral directors didn’t seem to irritate him as they might once have done.

Back on 4, the journalist and China expert Isabel Hilton began a three-part series reviewing China’s rapid development since Deng Xiaoping began opening it up for business in 1976.

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