The rise and rise of Duncan Barkes

I recently lamented the ‘disappearing’ of Duncan Barkes from LBC (here). There he was as the host of the 10pm to 1am slot Sunday to Thursday, and then there he was gone, replaced by the less interesting and slightly annoying Ian Collins.

Luckily, his Twitter put us right as to what was happening.  After teasing us for a bit, he was finally able to announce that he was now the voice of London on BBC London Sunday through Thursday 10pm to 2am.


See, Duncan and I go way back.  Duncan comes from a time when phone-in shows were a little more relaxed and allowed personalities to develop.  Probably one of my favourite times from yesteryear was around 2007 hearing Duncan on the very free format Play Radio UK (or whatever it was called) alongside the brilliant Tommy Boyd (another hero of mine), but he subsequently played an important part in my life after I was thrown out of London.

When I was banned from living in London, I moved to Liverpool.  Around the same time a Liverpool talking radio station opened up calling itself Citytalk.

Citytalk went through some interesting formats until it ended up being broken and left in the corner like the abandoned stuffed toy of a spoilt child.  The initial format was possibly too adventurous and too diverse, but this changed to a cheaper to produce, slightly more relaxed and easier to listen to format which I thought should have been given a longer time to develop properly.  The third format was the current abandonment one.

So, a voice that stood out to me on Citytalk was that of Duncan Barkes.  There I was alone and confused and exiled into this city of Liverpool that hated me for being from London, and there he was to keep me company.  I recall him being there mid-mornings and then for breakfasts.  His strong southern English accent articulating through topics and discussions helped bridge the gap between London and Liverpool, easing my transition.

Liverpool is a scary place until you get used to it. In many ways the indigenous population are similar to those who lived in London in the 1970s.  Living in Liverpool is like stepping back in time.

I love Liverpool in so many more ways than I loved London, or even the Brighton I spent most of my childhood in, but having lived for the majority of my life in and around North and East London, I initially felt a bit lost and confused.

However, there he was.  Duncan Barkes was a beacon of hope on my new local talking radio station.  He was also new to the area. As was the Liverpool talking radio station.  Heck, we were all new together.

For reasons that escape me, most of my listening to Duncan on Citytalk was in the bath. Maybe this was the mid-morning shows. There I would sit dunkin’ with Duncan.  Day after day this became my ritual.  As Duncan discovered more about Liverpool and Scousers, so too did I. In the bath. Listening.

I’m sure I probably wasn’t always in the bath, but most of my Duncan Barkes memories seem to be accompanied by being wet and soapy.

Oddly, and I’m not making this up, when the inevitable wheels came off Citytalk and it fired all its talking hosts, including Duncan, I felt a sense of loss. Bathtime was never the same again.

Had Citytalk given Duncan a freer reign or even control across the whole output, and the station been underwritten for a bit longer, well, maybe just maybe … who knows.  It’s gone now.

So, time passed and Duncan’s particularly distinctive tones arrived on LBC. Firstly overnight and then that late evening show.  Excellent.

LBC is these days, under owners Global, extremely restrictive in the phone-in format.  Each hour the presenter sets the talking agenda by labouring on a premise, usually related to the news, and then taking calls from those who agree or disagree.  Neither the presenter nor the callers are allowed to stray from this quite strict topic-only format.  It’s a little personality-destroying, but in keeping with modern day commercial radio. Nevertheless, Duncan was back and easily accessible to listen to. On the radio. Where he should be.

Then, he was ‘disappeared’ from LBC as mentioned in my previous article, and now reappeared on BBC London.

Here in Liverpool, my plethora of internet radios can easily let me listen to BBC London wherever I am, even in the bath.  A few weeks on and Duncan sounds like he’s at home.  Good for him.

He has four hours to fill and the first two seem to travel at a bit of pace not too unlike LBC, but the last two, after midnight, relax and become a bit more chatty and extremely witty.  It’s his show after midnight that I most identify with and warm to. I could listen in the bath, except out of choice I’m usually working and working in the bath just might not be a good idea considering the work I do.

I don’t know how long Duncan will be presenting evenings on BBC London. Radio is a strange and scary animal.  Well, radio isn’t, the people who run it are. It could all go pear-shaped tomorrow.  But, let’s hope not.  I’d like to see Duncan hold the crown of evening talking for many years. BBC London is probably the best place to be for that to happen.  And, oh what fun if RAJAR reported more listening to him than to LBC for that time of day.

So, good luck to Duncan Barkes, pilot of the late night airwaves.  Find out more here.