So yesterday I couldn’t believe my ears when the usually-reliable PM on BBC Radio 4 punctuated a menu line about food – with this gem.

So, what are the ‘rules’ on illustrative music in packages and when zhooshing up live radio?



  • If it’s your first idea, it’s probably a shit choice.
  • If it’s an oblique thematic lyric-reference on a 1983 B-side by Kajagoogoo, the connection to your subject even Chris Hamill would find difficult to fathom, it’s probably an equally shit choice.
  • If you’ve heard it used illustratively on the radio or television in the last month, it’s probably an especially shit choice.

Telly, of course, as usual, are the serial offenders here. A recent edition of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ actually featured a slab of this 1997 beauty over pictures of the park opposite a former Hanley crack den they were trying to flog.

"Just slap some of this underneath it."

“Just slap some of this underneath it.”

My undying love and obsession with this album has only just survived the countless lazy loops of its luscious synths that I’ve heard arbitrarily slapped over time-filling sequences in low-budget docs.

So. What are the absolute no-nos?

1. Food Glorious Food. See above.

2. Up, up and away. Especially Radios Northampton and Bristol.

3. This is one of my favourite songs. Not least of all because of all the memories of those TV holiday show travelogues cut to it, with the likes of Judith Chalmers mincing around Tokyo. When many interpret it as a song about masturbation. And even if it wasn’t, you’re a wanker for using it. Too obvious.

4. It appears to be the law for any story involving bicycles to use this. Or this. Extra FAIL points for using both in the same piece.

5. And one for people writing about radio. If you (or your sub) paraphrase this 3’36” of sheer brilliance like you’re the first person to ever think of it, you’re kind of not.

So what CAN you use? My two get-out-of-jail-free-cards are Production Music. And film soundtracks. There’s nothing emotional that can’t be enhanced by some Thomas Newman.  

(And just in the spirit of full disclosure, I should refer you to this deeply-wounding review of a music choice, for which I was responsible. I still defend the choice. Perhaps not my finest creative hour, but way short of “jaw-droopingly obvious”, Elizabeth Day. Maybe I should let it go.

There comes a stage in most adults’ lives when they tip past critical thinking into unalloyed curmudgeonliness. The sheer number of things that annoyed me on the radio last week leave me wondering if I’ve reached this point. Men’s Hour on 5 Live had an enlightening and important discussion on men’s mental health, sensitively handled by Tim Samuels. But for some bizarre reason, one of the first-person testimonies charting the course of a serious nervous breakdown was set to a late-70s pop song. In this case, it was the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry, a choice so jaw-droppingly obvious it was the aural equivalent of being slapped around the face with an anti-subtlety fish. So while Lee from Merseyside was talking about not being able to look anyone in the eye, or sitting in his office with the lights turned off, refusing to talk to his boss, Robert Smith was blithely singing away in the background. It was the one duff note in an otherwise excellent and moving programme.

Here’s one for you, Elizabeth.)

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