Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Kermode and Mayo: ‘The BBC don’t make plush – and they shouldn’t’

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Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo have relaunched their film review program as a podcast. They talk about why they left the BBC and what’s behind their on-air chemistry

This teasing relationship between film critic Kermode and veteran broadcaster Mayo was at the heart of one of the country’s top radio shows for nearly two decades.

Mark Kermode is slightly late and Simon Mayo can’t help but intervene a little. “I’m more reliable than him,” he states dryly.

After launching in 2001 Kermode and Mayo’s film review quickly became an institution on Radio Five Live. Along with the requisite insightful film criticism and A-list interviews, it had its own dialect, jokes no one could remember originating from, a devoted audience and a very special way of talking about films. It’s hard to imagine another reviewer would rant about it Sex and the city 2 declaring his characters “imperialist American bastards” and singing “The Internationale” as Kermode did.

Now they have replaced a two-hour Friday film review show in which they give interviews and read correspondence from listeners Kermode and Mayos Takea two-hour film criticism podcast on Friday in which they conduct interviews and read correspondence from listeners.

They admit it’s not reinventing the wheel. “To me, it feels like what Simon and I are doing, but just in a slightly different format and setting,” says Kermode.

There are new bits. Supervised by Sony rather than the BBC, there are now TV reviews and an additional episode only for subscribers on Tuesdays. Their fans followed them: the new show landed directly at the top of the podcast charts.

“Also, it’s probably the first time we’ve been advertised,” Mayo adds, laughing, “which is why it’s #1. So basically it’s the same thing but with two episodes a week and it looks fabulous. Mark, what are you saying?

“Oh, I totally agree with everything you say, of course,” says Kermode.

Everything looks pretty plush at her neon-lit Sony digs. “I don’t think the BBC makes stuffed animals,” Mayo says. “Neither should they, because they have other things to spend their money on.”

A longstanding criticism of Kermode has also been addressed: he now shares the same mic as Mayo. It might just be a placebo effect, but it sounds good. Mayo sighs. “Nothing will make him happier this week than you telling him his mids are rich.”

The decision to leave came out of nowhere for the audience, but it was brewing. Mayo’s stacked schedule was one reason for this. “I was live on Greatest Hits’ driving time from four to seven. There’s an obvious problem when you’re supposed to be live on Five Live between three and five.” Juggling the two proved impractical. “It all got very complex and a bit stressful.”

“I saw two movies about multiverse in the last week,” adds Kermode. “For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to Simon that it can practically only happen in one movie, but it’s actually very difficult to be live on two radio stations at the same time [make] happening in the monoverse we all currently inhabit.”

Kermode and Mayo started podcasting back in 2005 and were doing it roughly the same way up until March. After slowly morphing from a brief segment of Mayo’s Friday Five Live show, the format itself had become inappropriate. “We believed the show could be better than it was, which is no disregard for what came before,” Mayo says, choosing his words carefully.

Listen to the first episode of Kermode and Mayos Take is slightly disconcerting: It sounds instantly familiar, but there’s no rush to squeeze a recap into 90 seconds before the news bulletin, or cut things off early for the race from Newmarket.

“Actually, at some point we should do a version of the podcast that’s constantly interrupted by breaking news and horses,” says Kermode.

Mayo agrees. “Just for old times sake.”

The idea that they are leaving the BBC to escape “birdsong” – the practice of show producer Simon Poole of editing their less-Beeb-friendly, politically unbalanced babble with snippets of trills and chirps – is “erroneous,” says Kermode.

“The birdsong comes from producer Simon, who obviously has us completely under his boots and is completely inflexible and tyrannical to work with. But the point is, we never felt like we wanted to say a whole lot of things we’re not allowed to say.”

Like Mayo’s longstanding refusal to watch Kermode’s favorite film of all time, The Exorcist (“He thinks it’s funnier when he doesn’t”), the birdsong is less of a real nuisance and more a welcome note of authority to rub against. Either way, Poole is still her producer. “What he is doing will continue and we will continue to complain about it.”

The duo are used to being referred to as an old married couple. Deep affection underpins their nagging and bickering. Kermode compares himself and Mayo to it The ExorcistDirector William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty. (There aren’t many things Kermode couldn’t compare to The Exorcist.)

“Both describe what they’ve had over the years as sort of a marriage, because they’re like, ‘Look, we made this movie, and for whatever reason, it had a life. And that meant we were bound at the waist for better or for worse.’” He pauses. “And I think it’s a nice analogy just because Simon and I have this program together and neither of us understand why it works.”

Mayo picks up smoothly. “Mark is the critic, I am the host. And Mark doesn’t want to be the host, and I certainly don’t want to be the critic.”

But there is something else. There are plenty of examples of broadcasters reaching middle age and either reacting with asbestos gloves to changing attitudes or making it their ruse to fight back. Kermode and Mayo have done the opposite, criticizing films from a progressive vantage point, championing the perspectives of listeners who feel marginalized, and approaching the issues they raise with empathy and sincerity.

“It was never conscious, you know, ‘Oh, we have to do this,'” says Kermode. “It’s just something that seemed completely natural. ”

Mayo recalls an email from a listener who was disturbed by the romantic relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a woman in her twenties at Paul Thomas Anderson’s Liquorice Pizzaand who recalled the trauma of his own grooming as a teenager.

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