THE BIRD AND THE BEEB BY LIZ KERSHAW
The Bird and The Beeb is the story of Liz Kershaw’s thrilling career as a Radio DJ. I expected it to be full of name drops and celebrity anecdotes but happily it is much more than that. Kershaw is someone who has fought for her slice of the airwaves from her Rochdale youth dancing round her Dansette to saving the UK’s greatest music station, she has stood up and been counted. She’s been called “controversial,” “outspoken” and a feminist but none of these are bad things in my book – or this one!
As a reward for passing her O-levels early, her Dad allowed her to start buying pop records with her pocket money. As Liz says his timing couldn’t have been better as 1972 was “a belting year for music.” Only a matter of years later she was forming her own girl group Dawn Chorus & The BlueTits with Countdown smart-ass Carol Vorderman. Whilst they didn’t reach the dizzy heights of Bananarama, she did get to record a Peel session.
Her career at the BBC took off at Radio Leeds – a case of literally in the right place at the right time. From there she went on to huge success on Radio One’s Weekend Breakfast show with Bruno Brookes rubbing shoulders with pop megastars on the Radio One Roadshows and introducing the latest hits on Top Of The Pops. Kershaw describes the mass hysteria surrounding acts like Bros and Spandau Ballet when they visited the BBC all of which evoked huge memories for me. Growing up in the 80s I was obsessed with pop music, radio DJs and Top of The Pops and more than anything I can remember I wanted to be onstage as a presenter at a Roadshow. Liz Kershaw was doing all of that – lucky thing!
But of course where there are highs, there are often lows. Kershaw has been vilified for her northern accent, labelled as thick, rough and common in the snobby world of broadcasting. She has battled cervical cancer, lost friends to drink, drugs and depression and seen her own brother broadcaster Andy (“our Andrew”) jailed for violating a restraining order.
Liz delightfully describes quite a few incidents in this book as “a bit of a rum do” but none more so than when she was made a painful scapegoat in the BBC’s fake competitions controversy. Here we get her side of the full story behind those headlines and the Operation Yewtree sex scandals – the depths of all these cover-ups are still shocking to read despite the flood of media coverage in recent times. As she comments later, on of the “gagging clauses” in all BBC contracts “we’ve been made to keep quiet for too long with dreadful consequences.”
In 2002 the Beeb launched a brand new digital music station, 6 Music. Kershaw joined the ranks alongside comedians, musicians and writers to play the best in new music and cult classics. The station was a welcome addition to music radio and popular with just about everyone I know but in 2010 its existence hung in the balance as ratings fell and the corporation looked to cut costs.
Needless to say Liz Kershaw was instrumental in fighting for its life, rallying the listeners and campaigning on behalf of the tax-payer and thankfully 6 Music is now alive and kicking, pulling an audience of upwards of 2 million.
Liz Kershaw isn’t for everyone. She doesn’t tow the party line or kowtow to “the suits.” She has stuck her neck out when her career would’ve profited from her not doing so. She is a big mouth, a whistle-blower and a campaigner for women on the radio and the mistreated elderly. Sadly, unwelcome traits these days.
This is an easy, chatty book although I must admit that at times I got bored with the constant abrasive tone. A warmer side would’ve provided much-needed light and shade to her story and I would’ve loved more on the good times – the roadshows, the popstars. More tales like John Cooper Clarke’s teeth falling out of his mouth at Liz’s kitchen table.
For fans and students of British broadcasting.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 6/10