The week in audio: Greg James’s Summer Breakout; Manatomy

·4 min read

Greg James’s Summer Breakout Radio 1 | BBC Sounds

Manatomy podcast

Greg James has been kidnapped. This happens fairly regularly to the genial host of the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. In February 2020, after the Brit awards, he was blindfolded and bundled into a car; a year before that, he was asked politely if he wouldn’t mind putting on the blindfold. Each time, he has found himself in a small room where the door is locked. It’s an escape room: a code will open the door, the listeners have to help him crack it.

This time round he was locked in a campervan – a little less padded cell than previous occasions, but very sweaty, as James confirmed. It also meant that he could be driven to various places – wherever the clues seemed to lead: Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Chester zoo, Burnley FC’s Turf Moor ground. (Like a 1970s summer holiday planned by your dad.) All the places formed part of the puzzle, along with various pieces of music, past breakfast shows and the personal taste of fellow Radio 1 presenter Jordan North. To say the clues were confusing would be to undersell the convolution. There were so many of them! And at least seven seemed to give the same answer: BLAKE. (No, it didn’t open the door – it led to another clue.)

James was due, he thought, to present his show from various UK tourist resorts as part of a week-long Radio 1 “Summer Break” event. He went on The One Show on Monday evening to launch this, but was, instead, locked into the campervan, live on air. Summer Break became Summer Breakout. “I can’t swear because it’s The One Show,” he said, looking round the low-roofed camper. He is a tall man, but also good-humoured.

James was accompanied on his strange trip by North and Vick Hope, both of whom will be taking over from Nick Grimshaw in Radio 1’s drivetime slot in September. North knew what the clues meant and how to work them out; Hope did not. All three popped up on Radio 1 throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, in different daytime shows. Sometimes celebrities gave clues: rapper Aitch turned up, Ed Sheeran became significant. Vernon Kay arrived on Grimshaw’s show with some vital clues. Grimshaw held a jolly honesty game about I’m a Celebrity, where Kaye and North both appeared. “You have to decide, Ant or Dec?” asked Grimshaw. North struggled to choose, because he’s too nice. James, who is nice but sharp, answered for him: “Just say Dec, he’s the best one!” he said. Later: “I’ve been distracted by little games … I’m back in reality, and my reality is this campervan.”

God, this was a huge endeavour. Clues were painted on promenades, hidden under specific seats in Turf Moor, were even printed on packets of bread in Aldi, Asda and Sainsbury’s. The planning and production involved must have taken weeks. But the listeners were quicker detectives than you might imagine: one, Ali, worked out that 8:20:28 was actually a specific time on a previous breakfast show (that, too, led to BLAKE); another, Fliss, cracked that a huge list of random words (hidden in a special episode of the Tailenders podcast) were all what3words location codes. Twitter exploded when everyone knew an answer: GIRAFFE BREAD! (I didn’t even know this food existed). Listeners in supermarkets called in and worked out the correct code was BAMBOOZLE, found on three separate packets of, yes, Giraffe bread. Greg got out at 8.53am on Thursday morning.

It was all huge fun, and helped to establish North and Hope as Radio 1 personalities; it also kept me listening, glad of the daft distraction from all the awful real-life news on other stations. Radio 1 has long prioritised its we’re-all-one-family DJ camaraderie, right from its terrible 70s road shows, which also toured seaside towns. But its longer stunts can sometimes feel narcissistic. Who can broadcast for the longest without any sleep; who can do the most jokes for Comic Relief? All just lead to “Go you!” pats on the back for self-regarding presenters. These locked-room escapades with James are more involving for listeners, and James himself is open and relaxed, able to share or host as needed. He was locked in the van for 61 hours, twice as long as the previous times, in a heatwave. I hope he got to enjoy the rest of his week.

More straight white men able to manage their egos: Manatomy, a new podcast from the comedian Danny Wallace and magazine veteran Phil Hilton, launched recently. It’s about men and their bodies, and is part of their new online club, Assembly, in which the pair attempt to get closed-off men to open up. The first two episodes, featuring Jameela Jamil and Tom Allen, are interesting and funny, but really fly when the laughs are fewer. Hilton’s honesty about how being a shorter man (he’s 5ft 6in) has affected him led to by far the most interesting conversations. Wallace, a lovely chap, has a teensy bit of Partridge about his delivery, which makes me laugh: if he, too, can genuinely open up about his insecurities, this show could be a life-saver.

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