Ken Bruce said goodbye to BBC Radio 2 today, slipping from his moorings as smoothly as a teak schooner setting sail across a millpond.
Some insiders were expecting a difficult and emotional time on his last show, after 31 years of faultless service presenting the mid-morning programme. However, Bruce was professional to the last, steering his ship across the river of no return with a firm hand on the tiller and a manly lack of tears or recriminations.
He brushed off compliments, avoided emotional goodbyes, kept it real to the lunchtime pips; moving neatly from the Popmaster quiz to ‘some lovely sounds from The Alan Parsons Project’ and then to his last link and final farewell. ‘A lot of people would say, write down a big speech and deliver it, but that’s not the sort of thing I do,’ he told his listeners, before thanking colleagues and signing off for good.
Early in the show, he urged everyone not to read too much into his song choices of the day. There were no ‘hidden agendas,’ he insisted. ‘They’re just good songs. Enjoy!’ Was that entirely true? Certainly, Slade’s How Does It Feel? does contain spiky verses about being ‘thrown apart…with new frustrations’, but it has long been one of Bruce’s favourite tracks, so no shade there. More poignant was the inclusion of Charlie Dore’s 1979 classic, Pilot of the Airwaves. ‘I’ve been listening to your show on the radio,’ she sings, ‘and you seem like a friend to me.’
‘Ken Bruce said goodbye to BBC Radio 2 today, slipping from his moorings as smoothly as a teak schooner setting sail across a millpond’
That is certainly how it must seem to Bruce’s loyal nine million listeners, devoted until the end to a man who makes a difficult and pressurised broadcasting job sound effortless. Perhaps part of his success is that the world always seemed a safer place if Ken was on the radio, his smooth dad-voice a quiet and reassuring presence in the tumult of the day.
‘Aw, thank you,’ he would say briskly this morning, accepting good wishes from phone-in guests. ‘That is very, very kind Paul, thank you,’ he would say, after another listener professed his or her gratitude. He read out a message from a woman in Kent, who said that Ken was her radio husband because ‘I am always just half-listening and when I come back you are still talking’.
There was ‘the traditional thirty seconds of shut-out’ after the final Popmaster, along with more fulsome thanks from participants and colleagues.
There was much rustling when he opened a farewell present from Richie from travel news – what else but a framed photograph along with a bag of Radio 2 goodies.
‘And a lovely card, thank you very much indeed! I am going to miss you all,’ said Ken.
There were plaudits from Rob Brydon and Radio 2 colleague Jeremy Vine, who kept trying to tell Bruce that he was simply the best.
‘We Scots, Glaswegians particularly, don’t take praise,’ he said, brushing them aside before moving on to a nice song from Petula Clark.
The 72-year-old has been with the BBC since 1977, when he started out as a presenter on Radio Scotland. Somehow they have let him slip from their grasp and on April 3, Bruce enters the world of commercial broadcasting with a new mid-morning show on Greatest Hits Radio.
It is no secret that he had hoped to work out his notice until the end of March, but the BBC booted him off the airwaves two weeks early. Why? Perhaps they were just embarrassed by his continuing, solid, entertaining and much-loved presence at the heart of their broadcasting schedule. For just by being there every morning, Bruce was a painful reminder of how much they were about to carelessly lose. Yet after such loyal service, having his final month truncated must have hurt.
‘It seems a shame,’ Bruce mildly told the Today programme this morning. Heaven knows what he must really feel, or what emotion churns away under those carefully clement words. He added that he had wanted to work out his notice dutifully and that in 46 years of BBC service, ‘I have not had much time off, ever.’
I think we get the gist. You’d think after all this time they might be grateful – but it’s too late for that now. Goodbye Ken. See you on the other side.