An interview with James Whale, BBC Essex radio breakfast DJ
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:29 10 March 2016
James Whale, radio presenter, long bow shooter and no-holds-barred talk show personality speaks to Essex Life about his exciting career in celebration of BBC Essex’s 30th anniversary
With a no-frills approach to radio presenting and a reputation for clashing on air, James Whale is a favourite for the ears of Essex. He is the host of BBC Essex’s breakfast show and with a career spanning over four decades; his distinct personality has brought him great on-air success. We spoke to James about Piers Morgan, BBC Radio Essex’s 30 year anniversary, long bows and more...
You’ve been in radio for a long time now but what got you interested in radio in the first place?
I wanted to be a male model… that didn’t really work for me [laughs]. At the time I was about 16 and discothèques were becoming the rage and I didn’t really have much of an academic education, I couldn’t play a musical instrument so I thought the next best thing would be to become a DJ.
So what was your first job?
Well my first ever job was doing a report for a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘Kaleidoscope’ and that was back in about 1969. I went to interview a soul singer called Timmy Thomas and his big hit was “Why Can’t We Live Together”. Then after that, I decided I’d start my own radio station up which was Radio Top Shop in Oxford Circus in London until I got offered my first ever job on a radio station which was called Metro Radio in Newcastle.
It’s the 30th anniversary of BBC Essex this year, how are you celebrating?
We’re having a whole year of celebrations. We’re going to do some outside broadcasts and I could even end up in somebody’s front room or kitchen having breakfast with them, who knows?
How do you find the BBC Essex breakfast show?
I enjoy this programme a lot and over the last 6 months it’s changed dramatically so that it’s now the sort of show that I’ve always wanted it to be. At first it was like a lot of BBC shows but now it’s like BBC Essex’s breakfast show - presented by me.
The catchphrase we have now is “BBC Essex, where Essex comes to talk” because unlike a lot of other radio stations, we’re gradually veering towards more speech. There is a huge gap in the market for the local BBC radio stations who can do speech programming far better than a lot of national stations. We can do it better and are. Put that down and we’ll upset loads of people.
You also have the weekly radio podcast The James Whale Radio Show
I’ve been doing that for years. I think there are about 200 hours of me talking nonsense online somewhere. The intro is done by a group called Freeway Mad, really good heavy metal band. All under the age of 20 by the way – they’re great!
What do you like about having different mediums through which to express yourself?
I like doing all sorts of things. I just finished doing a bit of acting in Shades of Bad, an online soap opera. I regularly appear on Sky News doing their newspaper reviews. My podcast radio show which is syndicated to radio stations around the world is kind of like that wonderful BBC programme called Letters from America. I just much prefer to be on the air, than off the air.
What do you say to people who might describe you as slightly confrontational or a bit scary on the radio?
I suggest they listen to me. I’m just a big old pussy cat. I only ever get a reputation because if somebody wants to fall out with me on the air, then I’m quite prepared to tackle them head on, but I won’t go out of my way to start an argument.
I used to have a television show in the 90s where people used to phone in and see how long they could stay on air before I’d cut them off; it was a bit of a game really. Or I might be talking to a politician or a counsellor and I might say to them “that’s all well and good but actually I didn’t really ask you that question, this is what I asked you” then we’ll get some person writing a letter of complaint about how I was far too hard with somebody but I’m only going to be hard with people who are there to be held to account.
I think back in the 90s, Piers Morgan, when he was the entertainment editor for The Sun, described me as a “television terrorist”, which I’ve always told him was most unfair and he said “oh it was only a laugh”. Taglines stick, don’t they? But the reality is different.
Do you live in Essex?
I live on the border; I live just across the river from the Dartford crossing [laughs] so I’m contemplating moving the other side of the river. I’ve been very keen on all the problems of the Dartford Crossing where I was stuck for four hours on Friday evening. If we were just a land locked area, life would be a lot easier.
But I was brought up in East London and spent a lot of my childhood holidays between Burnham-on-Crouch and Southend. I’m quite involved in what goes on in Essex as well: I’ve been hosting a number of awards ceremonies here. I was doing the Thurrock Civic Awards on Friday night at High House Production Park. It’s an excellent place; it’ll be like the next big movie studios.
You seem to be a very busy man
I am quite a busy man, yes. I’m going to the gym after this. I never used to but you know when you get older you’ll have to. I also belong to a couple of archery clubs in Essex. I have one little place where I shoot quite regularly called Perris Archery in Rettendon. They have an indoor range, so often after I finish the radio show I pop down there and shoot a few arrows, just to keep my eye trained.
What are your thoughts on social media?
I was going to be glib and say social media will put us all out of work but I won’t. Radio, newspapers and magazines will come together on social media.
I think it’s very exciting that BBC3 is going online because eventually that’s where we’ll all be broadcasting and that’s why I do my podcast online so that I can say I was in there from the beginning.
You’re going to be 65 this year.
Will I? Well you might say that, I only admit to being 45 at the most.
But you have a young soul.
That’s the nicest thing anybody’s said to me in a long time but you’re absolutely right and my producer’s just walked in and he’s in fits of hysterics.
James set up the James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer after winning the battle against cancer himself. To donate or find out more, visit www.kcuk.org.uk
Listen to James on BBC Essex every weekday morning from 6-9am or catch the James Whale Radio Show online at www.jameswhaleradio.co.uk