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Cricket fan Greg James might be radio’s best all-rounder

Broadcaster Greg James
Broadcaster Greg James Credit: BBC

Cricket on the radio is golden because you get to enjoy it with your friends. And it’s also the sound of summers of my youth: not the smack of leather on willow so much as the general bliss of Test Match Special with Johnners, Aggers and Blowers. 

But so far in this Cricket World Cup, the radio I’ve enjoyed most is actually the alluring cocktail of Tailenders (Radio 5 Live, Saturdays). It is already a popular podcast, but it is being broadcast live throughout the tournament by its hosts, an oddball triumvirate of Radio 1 Breakfast show host Greg James, England fast-bowling titan Jimmy Anderson and guitarist Felix White from the band The Maccabees. 

The resulting show is relaxed and well-informed, funny and joyous. It’s welcoming to cricket newbies, too.

Anderson is the star, but the secret of Tailenders’ success is James, who is always game and deftly in control. If anyone is worried about the future of radio, 33-year-old James is an extremely good omen. He’s a good all-rounder: as well as Tailenders and the Radio 1 Breakfast show, James is currently also presenting Rewinder, a Radio 4 programme digging up juicy clips from the BBC archives, and co-writing a children’s book series. He can do zany – at Radio 1 he once launched a challenge for a Cornish pasty to be “hitchhiked” from Cornwall to Aberdeenshire – but he’s also been frank about feeling anxious and lost at times. He loves radio so much that he has often said he would do it for free (in fact he’s doing the breakfast show for around half of what his predecessor, Nick Grimshaw, was paid). 

Traditionally, Radio 1 DJs would spend their spare time going to parties. James, it seems, mostly just does more broadcasting, and loves his cricket. He’s young but he was born for radio, with a great voice flecked with a slightly self-conscious Hertfordshire accent. Youth is the major preoccupation in radio at the moment, though I think Greg James will still be broadcasting when he’s 100 if he has his way, and the BBC is lucky to have him. As they say on Tailenders, go well.

Bob Weighton, who is 111 years old Credit: PA

There have been several captivating centenarians on the radio lately, in fact, proving that you’re never too young or too old for good radio. This week, the spellbinding series Living Memory (Radio 4, Monday to Friday) is hearing from different people aged over 100 about their lives. It began on Monday with 111-year-old Bob Weighton, England’s oldest man

“The human mind has got to stretch itself to be more elastic and include everything,” said Weighton. When his daughter started a family in Germany, Weighton wanted to be able to speak German with his grandchildren. So, at the age of 70 and in a class of 17-year-olds, he took a German at A-level, and got an A.

He spoke powerfully about how dramatically things have changed over the past 111 years, but how humanity has essentially remained the same. “We’re still like a lot of children fighting over toys,” he said. “We haven’t learned to tolerate one another. And we need to.”

The cast and crew of The Archers wishing June Spencer a happy 100th birthday

The rest of the series sounds equally unmissable, culminating in Friday’s episode featuring the extraordinary June Spencer, who has been playing Peggy in The Archers for nearly 70 years and celebrates her 100th birthday this week.

Breath Is Life (Radio 4, Tuesday) was another remarkable programme in which Eileen Kramer, who is 104, recounted her life as a professional dancer. She is still dancing and teaching today. We heard her lead a workshop in breathing and movement to an audibly awestruck group of young dancers. “With the music, of course, you take your first breath of the dance,” she said, as violins soared.

Choreographer Eileen Kramer, who is still dancing at the age of 104 Credit: AFP

Decades ago, she worked in Paris as an artist’s model, which she called “frozen dance”. There she used to eavesdrop on Jean-Paul Sartre and his friends in the café, and once heard Louis Armstrong and his band practising in a ballroom. She snuck in, whereupon Armstrong showed her how to dance the twist. After her husband died, Kramer joined a new dance group, at the age of 80, and fell in love again with somebody else.

Now she is interested in the science of space and time, and is excited to be alive while so many new things are being discovered. She uses that feeling in dance. Her voice was clear and full of wonder.