22 February 2010
According to his Twitter account, the great Simon Mayo is reviving the Confessions format for his Radio 2 show this week. It's to do with a literacy campaign at the network, and, well, I assume as the confessions he read out in his Radio 1 heyday were well written, it makes sense to bring the best ones back.
Confessions was brilliant and a rarity for radio in that it was a genuinely original idea. I still have the spin-off book somewhere in the house (as well as the On This Day In History one, which I won on the show after identifying Alf Ramsey's predecessor as England manager). I assume, without great confidence, that Simon's own religious connections took him to the Confessions format, complete with the sombre church organ backing music.
Whatever the inspiration, it did allow for some cracking storytelling at 8.35 each morning. Some seem to have passed into apocrypha - everybody knows about someone eating their uncle's ashes in a casserole when they thought they were just "herbs" - but there were plenty that simply were so original that you knew the sinner was telling the truth.
My favourite remains the chap who used trains all the time and rushed for a late-night service after a long session in the pub, caught it just in time but found himself desperate for the khazi ("having consumed a substantial quantity of liquid refreshment during the course of the evening, I now not unnaturally required the use of a lavatory") on a train that didn't have one ("good old British Rail had deemed a toilet an unnecessary luxury").
At every stop, he'd nip on to a platform to see if there was a nearby pan he could fill during the five-minute interval. Each time he was luckless, and had to keep leaping back on to the train, still retaining a full bladder. Eventually the pain got so much that he went into the quietest compartment he could find ("just two City gents, reading non-tabloid newspapers") and cheerily declared to them that he was going to relieve himself out of the window.
It was a beautifully told tale, a written masterpiece. The confession related to the accidental spraying of innocent standers on a platform as his couple of minutes of relief ("the most blissful and pleasurable attainable by man") was interrupted by the train pulling into its next stop. We can be but grateful, perhaps, that his need for nature to take its course did not involve anything more than a jimmy riddle. Had it done so, Simon probably wouldn't have read it out, no matter how well it was dressed up in writing.
Confessions later transferred to television, of course, and the bloke who played Andy McDonald in Coronation Street was in it a lot, for reasons I can't remember. It didn't work for telly but was one of radio's last great innovations and I hope that when Simon starts this week of Confessions off with some of the old favourites, the chap who was desperate to take a slash is one he picks out.