Phill Jupitus: ‘My memoir killed my radio career’
Ahead of an appearance at Archway With Words, the entertainer tells Alex Bellotti about his time as a 6 Music DJ and his early career as Porky the Poet.
Stand up comedians, explains Phill Jupitus, are the “Swiss Army knives of entertainment”. They can present, they can judge talent shows, the most astute can even make a career as newspaper columnists, but in a series of appearances this weekend, the television personality will be channelling his experience as an author and performance poet.
“My career has pretty much been decided by knowing what I don’t want to do, so everything else is fair game really,” says Jupitus, and his CV doesn’t lie. While mostly known for his comedy, the 53-year-old has recently been treading the boards in the West End, and he began his career in 1984 as a ‘ranting poet’, supporting bands such as the Housemartins, Madness and even The Who.
The Archway With Words festival will see him return under his alias, Porky the Poet, but also to talk about his 2011 book, Good Morning Nantwich: Adventures with Breakfast Radio. The memoir details his time working as a DJ at BBC 6 Music radio, where he presented the breakfast show from the station’s launch in 2002 until 2007.
While this period proved the “happiest five years” of his career, Jupitus also describes the memoir as catching the “BBC on the last upswing before the rot set in”. Its chapters recount his battles with upper management – whether it involves disputes over listener ratings or staffing issues – and since leaving the station to try his hand in the West End, Jupitus has found it harder to make a radio return.
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“I’ve not been asked to do a music radio show since I wrote the book, so make of that what you will,” he says. “I offered myself ostensibly free – I said I’d do it for petrol money – to do a free show for BBC Essex or BBC Kent on a Sunday night; I just miss playing music on the radio. And they wouldn’t even take me for nothing.”
The problem the DJ found during his tenure at 6 Music was that BBC management weren’t receptive to new ideas. “It’s like f***ing Jim Jones, it’s like they’re in the jungle in Guyana and they’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid,” he laughs. “You can’t go like a bull in a china shop with new ideas.”
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Earlier this year, the long-running BBC pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks – on which Jupitus was a team captain – was also cancelled after 18 years. “Every single time I’ve lost a job it’s been a regime change where someone’s come along and made their mark.
“It’s like Buzzcocks being cancelled – that was just someone who’d come from a science broadcasting background, someone who likes Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Well a longstanding pop quiz is not going to convince someone who thinks that Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is good telly, is it?”
Despite all this, however, the entertainer remains a staunch defender of the BBC.
As it faces increasing pressure from the media and the government to downsize, he believes it still has an important role to play as a national corporation in holding public figures to account.
“Everyone who says that the BBC shouldn’t be around and that the licence fee should be banned – when you read that, look to the top left hand corner of the page what you’re reading and see who’s saying that. It’s all people who stand to gain financially from the BBC’s demise – be it Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, whoever. They want the frequencies, they want the time, they want the audience and that’s why the BBC’s being dismantled before our very eyes, and it’s just sickening.”
During his early years as Porky the Poet, Jupitus became involved with Anti-Fascist Action and joined Billy Bragg on the Labour Party-backed Red Wedge tour in 1985.
While not involved directly with the party now – “I like Corbyn, but I won’t do anything for them any more” – he believes the country is in need of change as radical, if not more, than what he was campaigning for in the 1980s.
“I find it really… when you look back with a rosy eye at Thatcherism, you realise how bad things are now. It’s odd when you’re working in that world of anti-establishment, very naïve agitprop poetry – all of us were working to change and working to change minds, and things have got worse.
“You question why you ever did it, but it’s not that you failed – without that counter-voice things would be even
worse than they are now.”
Changing tone, he is looking forward to the upcoming Archway festival, and picks out talks with Viv Albertine and Penny Arcade as “two of the best events you’ll see this year in London”.
“The world’s bigger than the f***ing internet and let’s not forget that,” he adds. “I love that people are still empassioned enough to put events like this together and long may they continue to do so.”
Phill Jupitus presents Good Morning Nantwich: Adventures with Breakfast Radio and will perform as Porky The Poet alongside Tim Wells, Kayo Chingonyi and Laurie Bolger this Sunday at Archway With Words.