He’s fat, he’s thick, but he’ll be missed

Blokey banter from DJ Chris Moyles wasn’t what everyone wanted for breakfast, but for millions it hit the spot.

David Bowden

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I’m not prone to hypochondria but there must be something wrong with me. There are no visible physical symptoms: my pulse is normal; my sleeping patterns are regular; my appetite is healthy; and I’m not running a temperature. Yet, recently, I’ve been gripped by the strangest sensation. One that makes me question my sanity to the extent that my mouth runs dry and I can barely catch a breath at the thought of it. The thing is, you see doctor, I think I actually miss Chris Moyles.

Moyles’ announcement, made live on air this week, that he would be stepping down as host of Radio 1’s breakfast show initially didn’t provoke much of a reaction. In his eight and a half years in the position, Moyles can boast an average regular listenership of 7.1million. That figure, while impressive, does not include this 26-year-old TV columnist. Perhaps that’s the problem: Radio 1 is supposed to be one of the BBC’s flagship youth-orientated offerings, yet currently boasts an average listener age of 32. Moyles was given the brief in 2004 of arresting the breakfast show’s flagging ratings and promptly did so, winning a host of awards in the process. Despite Moyles signing a new £1million contract last year, it seems the BBC has decided that, at the age of 38, he is best used elsewhere come September.

There shouldn’t really be much cause to shed a tear for Moyles. He will probably continue his broad shtick of blokey banter with long-term sidekick ‘Comedy Dave’ – combining pastiches of pop songs and taking pot-shots at the clichés of his fellow radio presenters – elsewhere on Radio 1. Alongside, of course, his growing presence on our TV screens through his long-running show, Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night, on Channel 4 and The Love Machine over on Sky. He’s also off to play Herod in a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The notoriously roly-poly presenter is even looking pretty trim these days and apparently will have to wear a fat suit for his stage role.

Yet the announcement of Moyles’ departure provided a reminder of the vital role he has played in public life for over the better part of a decade. Moyles, you see, was considered not just an entertainer, but a controversial and outspoken firebrand. A quick overview of the scandals he caused will demonstrate that the nation is not just losing a breakfast presenter. No, we’re also losing a lightning rod for every mirthless, finger-wagging authoritarian bureaucrat.

Never in the history of the free speech wars can one man saying so little of wit have generated so much controversy. In 2002, he was challenged by rival DJ Neil ‘Dr’ Fox to step into a boxing ring (for a charity match) and responded by saying he would ‘tear his head off and poo down his neck’. After a single listener objected, the BBC’s complaints unit reprimanded him for his ‘too forceful and prolonged’ response.

In 2006, cheerless gay-rights campaigners Stonewall branded him ‘bully of the year’ for describing a ringtone as ‘gay’. (Perhaps those 32-year-olds coming to terms with their sexuality should, in the words of Stonewall, ‘get over it’?) In the same year, he was accused of racism by actress Halle Berry for an impersonation of a ‘big, fat black guy from Brooklyn’ so offensive to people, it seems, that not a single listener dared complain. In 2008, he even got into trouble for admitting he likes to drink more alcohol than is good for him. Other controversies included a poorly worded (but not wholly unjustifiable) swipe at family-history series Who Do You Think You Are? for cherry-picking celebrities with Holocaust stories buried in their family history, an intemperate rant about not getting paid and jokily expressing a desire to have sex with Welsh singer Charlotte Church once she came of legal age.

Let’s face it, Chris Moyles is not Howard Stern. His stock-in-trade is a watered-down masculine-lite banter suitable for broadcast to the nation on the BBC at 6.30am and is not likely to be to everyone’s taste. Yet the fact that it is evidently to rather a lot of people’s taste is what really gets his critics riled. Bearded jazz enthusiast John Peel was the first to take an unsolicited pop when Moyles arrived at Radio 1 in 1997, clearly outraged at the thought that the masses did not warm to niche jazz-funk crossovers and whatever you’d class Hefner as. Stewart Lee, the curmudgeonly heir to Peel and patron saint of received liberal thinking, has developed running jokes about Moyles’s broader appeal. ‘He’s fat, he’s thick, he’s a Cath-o-lic’, says Moyles of himself.

Moyles, for all his faults, is a DJ who clearly loves his work, with regularly routines and self-conscious skits on the business of making radio and the challenging business of entertaining millions in a medium where saying ‘poo’ is declared too forceful. His replacement is the younger Nick Grimshaw, who is of that generation of T4 presenters who make an ironic virtue out of their amateurism and whose primary assets are having lots of famous friends and being certain not to upset the BBC’s compliance guidelines. So long then, Chris Moyles: I won’t be missing you, but plenty will be.

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

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