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A brilliant broadcaster, a stupid tweet, and the usual BBC double standards: did Danny Baker really deserve to be fired?

Danny Baker speaking at his London home after being fired by the BBC 
Danny Baker speaking at his London home after being fired by the BBC  Credit: PA

Farewell, then, Danny Baker’s Sausage Sandwich Game. Every Saturday morning on his BBC Radio 5 Live phone-in show, Baker presides over a knowingly lightweight quiz in which listeners must predict a celebrity guests’s answers to three questions about the minutiae of their lives - the last always being what they would add to their sausage sandwich. Will they opt for red sauce, brown sauce or no sauce at all? 

It’s fiendishly addictive and I always play along at home, occasionally while enjoying a sausage sandwich myself. My partner and children have recently begun to join in too. It has become a weekend ritual for The Danny Baker Show to be burbling away in the background, making us laugh out loud and have hearty disagreements about famous people’s condiment preferences. 

Now, though, we will have to find a new routine because Baker has been unceremoniously sacked for a Twitter joke that misfired in quite spectacular style. 

Last night from his @prodnose account (named after an interrupting irritant character created by his writing idol, humorist JB Morton), Baker uploaded a vintage photograph of a well-to-do couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in a suit and bowler hat, accompanied by the caption: “Royal baby leaves hospital.”

After it was reasonably pointed out that depicting the Royal Family’s first mixed race baby as a monkey might come across as a racial slur, Baker immediately deleted the tweet. However, the screengrabs were taken and the damage was done. After a vicious backlash, the BBC fired him for what it called “a serious error of judgement”. 

Danny Baker and the tweet that got him fired

It certainly was. Baker swiftly insisted it was a “stupid, unthinking gag” about “class and privilege, not race” and he hadn’t considered the racial connotations. Fairground monkeys dressed up in finery has long been a recurring trope on Baker’s radio shows but casual punters weren’t to know that. It merely looked like a grossly outdated and offensive insult to newborn Prince Archie.  The fact that he was a few drinks deep - Baker has a habit of posting selfies raising a glass to camera each evening - probably didn’t help his decision-making.

Do I believe Danny Baker is racist? No. But subconsciously or not, this tweet was. Besides, as a white man, it’s not for me to police other people’s feelings. It was clumsy, preposterously ill-timed and very public (Baker has half a million Twitter followers). He should have realised how it would be construed. He’s a smart man but it was a dumb thing to do and the usual Twitter pile-on ensued. 

Had he immediately held up his hands and issued a sincere apology, then kept his head down, the social media storm could conceivably have blown over. Yet typically for this combative, combustible figure, he didn’t. The 61-year-old (by now swearily tweeting about the unfolding Ajax vs Spurs drama with his other hand) became defensive, even cross, digging himself in deeper. His half-hearted mea culpa didn’t help by referring to racists having “diseased minds”, which sparked more outrage about mental health terminology. 

Danny Baker with his friends Chris Evans and Paul Gascoigne Credit: PA

The snowball was gathering unstoppable momentum, so today the BBC appeased the mob by giving Baker his marching orders. As a public service broadcaster, it had little choice, but execs still handled it poorly. They did the deed via phonecall, rather than calling Baker in for a meeting - a courtesy that doubtless would have been extended to more clubbable broadcasters. Baker described the conversation as “a masterclass of pompous faux-gravity”, “throwing me under a bus” and said he “could hear the suits' knees knocking”. 

The Corporation can also justifiably be accused of double standards. There was a similar backlash a year ago to an Alan Sugar tweet comparing the Senegal football team to “beach sellers in Marbella” but the business baron remains in well-remunerated employment. Don’t even get me started on how long Jeremy Clarkson got away with his brand of "banter". A cynic might suggest that hosts of big money-making franchises like The Apprentice and Top Gear get a pass, whereas a cult radio DJ is dispensable. I also wonder if Baker had ruffled too many feathers in the past and the Beeb was looking for an excuse.

If that’s the case, it’s a great shame - even an error of judgement on the BBC’s part - because Baker is a naturally brilliant broadcaster who has won Sony Awards, entertained million of listeners and influenced a generation.

Baker is blessed with rapier wit and an encyclopaedic fund of funny stories. His spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants style means he can spin pure gold from thin gruel. In these days of over-formatted radio programmes and carefully programmed playlists, his shows usually consist of little but getting listeners to ring in with their anecdotes and riffing off them. Not many people can do it. Even fewer can make hours of airtime fly by in a haze of mirth, useless trivia and heartwarming human interest.

Along with this talent, though, comes his provocative side and proven history of not giving a damn. Indeed, this is the third time Baker has been booted by the BBC. He was fired from football phone-in The Baker Line in 1997 when bosses said he had incited threatening behaviour in a righteous outburst over a referee. 

In 2012, he called his BBC bosses “pinheaded weasels” in an on-air rant after his BBC London show was axed, just days before he was due to be inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. Baker also complained about his team’s low wages, saying he hoped the BBC’s decision-makers and bean-counters “choked on their abacus beads”. It was amusing, if none too clever career-wise.

Because of his South-East London accent and love of Millwall FC, cultural snobs often dismiss Baker as loutish - indeed, many have been doing so today - but he’s formidably bright and ferociously well-read. This prodigiously gifted polymath can turn his hand equally to writing or radio hosting, to stage comedy or TV presenting. Witness his crazily chequered career. 

He made his name as a music journalist on punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue before going on to work at NME in its hard-living heyday. He later launched a TV career which took in such diverse gigs as being a roving reporter for LWT, compering cheesy gameshows like Pets Win Prizes, being the face of the Daz Doorstep Challenge and hosting a David Letterman-style chatshow. 

This multimedia magpie has presented on Radio 1, Radio 2 and FiveLive. He truly found his métier on projects where he could combine his over-opinionated passion for football with his freewheeling humour - see late-night TV gem The Game (where he commentated on Sunday league matches), his “Match Of The Eighties” and “Own Goals & Gaffes” compilations, and ranty fan phone-in 606. 

Baker wrote material for TV wags including Angus Deayton and Jonathan Ross. In the Britpoppy Nineties, he was the trusted right-hand man of Chris Evans - the pair become friends when Evans produced Baker’s Greater London Radio show - and the creative driving force behind Evans’ landmark series TFI Friday. The pair became tabloid fixtures for their boozy nights out with footballer Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne, which usually ended in a kebab, a prank and a brush with the law. 

Danny Baker in I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here Credit: rex

Baker wrote a bestselling three-volume autobiography about his Bermondsey upbringing with wheeler-dealing docker dad “Spud”. Along with his close friend, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jeff Pope, he adapted the first book into BBC Two sitcom Cradle To Grave, starring Peter Kay. The memoirs also spawned a lucrative line in live theatre tours, during which Baker frequently spins yarns for five hours at a stretch. 

In 2010, Baker was diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck, taking a period off-air while he underwent agonising treatment. When he was finally given the all-clear, he celebrated by signing up for jungle reality contest I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! - and was the first to be voted out. ”My winning personality once again descends upon the nation,” he quipped.

The ebullient, irrepressible Baker is a survivor who will hopefully return to radio at some point soon. After all, he has bounced back more times than Alan Partridge. He’s probably batting away offers from TalkSport, LBC and Virgin as I type this.  

In a bittersweet reference to the Sausage Sandwich Game, Baker today tweeted: “For the record - it was red sauce. Always.” Without his show, Saturday mornings will be lacking a certain tang. You might almost say they’ll be served with no sauce at all.