Friday, 14 January 2011

Roger Phillips, Broadcaster not irascible, and an era past

I have known Roger for 21 years, for the first 18 of these purely by his voice. You do not need to know what he looks like to know who he is because of it. Though he has not a hint of a Liverpool accent, for me it is nevertheless “The Voice of Liverpool”, gravelly, with a throaty purr, and deep, and sometimes, all the same, he slurs a bit. His BBC Merseyside phone-in has a faithful following, including many old folk who tune in Monday to Friday at noon, as regular as the things that do not happen so regular in their lives anymore.

Though others may disagree with me, it is my opinion that he has the patience of a saint. I am constantly amused by the old men calling in ranting and raving about the ills and injustices of the day. Of course it is not always old men, but mostly it seems that it is. They call him by his first name and many of them call more than once, and their views are often politically incorrect. But Roger lets them have their say and only counters in the calmest of ways, never raising his voice, just stating emphatically the inaccuracies of their statements when needs must, and always sounding as if these men are sitting in the very same room as him. It is a fine line to negotiate and perhaps one that he would not be permitted to do in any other city.

If I were to cast him in a performance, it would be as the lion in The Wizard of Oz, without a doubt. In fact, this would be quite apt for after graduating from Cambridge Roger started his professional life off as an actor. He is immortalized forever along with the likes of the then unknown actors, Julie Walters, Peter Postlethwaite and Bill Nighy, pictured in the iconic photo above. It is still to be found in the entrance of the soon to be demolished Everyman Theatre and if you mosey on down there sharpish you can still catch a glimpse of the youthful Roger, cheeky, cheerful, the world at his feet. Hopefully, when The Everyman is re-built, the photo will be spared and find a new home but then that is a story for another day.

In 1974, when this picture was taken, the group shown here was young and feisty, and loved to drink in the bohemian bistro downstairs. The Everyman was more of an actors' studio then, a bit rough around the edges and refreshingly organic. Here this gang bounced ideas and creativity off each other in their camradity. It was where Willy Russell, and later Alan Bleasdale, took off, and a lot of relationships besides. Then, as things do, the cliques split and headed to pastures new; Julie and Peter to a long successful run of Funny Peculiar in the West End, and Willy to Shaftsbury Avenue with his play John, Paul, George, Ringo …and Bert.

Roger on the other hand, after a brief stint as a cabbie, decided to venture into radio broadcasting. The rest is history, as they say, for he has been on air now for 32 years and received sackloads of awards, including the Gold Sony Award for ‘News and Talk Broadcaster of The Year 2000’. No other local broadcaster can equal his following.

About 3 years ago Roger and I finally met face to face - at the Everyman aptly enough, though not in the bistro downstairs. I had just published a fine art calendar of a naked girl frolicking with Antony' Gormley's Ironmen at Crosby Beach and Roger asked me for an interview. Thanks to The Liverpool Culture Company, who in their narrow-minded wisdom had banned it in the 2008 Liverpool year of culture, I was inadvertently thrust into the local media spotlight.

After the interview we arranged to do a shoot for my, at that time, book-in-progress, People in Liverpool. On a Saturday we met at a pre-arranged spot in Sefton Park, both of us without half the photo props we had talked about. I forgot the newspapers, but not the butties. He remembered the newspapers, but not the fish and chips. For me this was a relief as I was already unaccountably nervous. We walked around to find a suitable spot and he talked with good humour. I kept on dropping my photographic accessories. Hearing his distinctive voice, passers-by greeted him with “Hello Roger”. A few times he was waylaid with problems unique to Liverpool, such as whether the Lamb Bananas were really Liverpudlians or not.

I had already decided to take Roger from behind, but now I was beginning to realize that I would have to do so in an isolated place. We found the required quiet spot, near a stream with a few ducks, and this is where we set up camp. The ducks were in for luck because suddenly a steady string of processed white bread began to rain upon the water around them. Clearly word got out because before long the feathered friends were queuing up for morsels. It was quite hilarious really for I could not get the image out of my head from that film “About a Boy” with Hugh Grant – the one where the said boy throws a whole loaf of his mother’s organic bread in the lake and it lands on a duck and kills it.

Along with the ducks, a trickle of local folk began to gather round. With a wink and a nod, we dumped Roger’s butties in the brook and headed towards the obscurity of Keith’s wine bar on Lark Lane. The shoot was in the bag, and so we spent the rest of that Saturday morning gabbling over a couple of coffee Americanos. And we have never stopped since.