BBC radio will be a much less welcoming place without Kermode and Mayo

·6-min read
Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode
Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode

Such was my initial upset at the announcement that Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review was coming to an end, I actually pretended it wasn’t happening. Given that the final edition of the self-proclaimed “flagship film programme” will be broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live on April Fool’s Day, I told myself that the story was meant as a joke. This was surprisingly easy to do. As the hosts themselves are fond of saying, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it isn’t alright, it’s not the end”.

In a sense, of course, it isn’t the end. Since the news broke of the decision to call time on a show that has been part of the schedule (in one form or another) for 21 years, both Simon Mayo, the programme’s host, and Mark Kermode, its film critic, have been dropping comedically heavy hints that their wildly successful enterprise will continue beyond the confines of its weekly slot on publicly-funded airwaves. In other words, a new home beckons.

To which I say, thank God for that. Since expanding into its current two-hour format (often longer for the Podcast edition), Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review has attracted a large and committed international audience of which I am a member. Over the years it has become a significant and cherished part of my life. For “LTLs” like me, the show’s companionable rhythms are close to irreplaceable.

Certainly, the apparently innate chemistry that exists between the hosts is vanishingly rare. Thrown together by the BBC in what Simon Mayo once described as “a marriage of convenience”, today the two broadcasters share the finest conversational groove on radio. Voluble and even hyperbolic, Kermode’s knowledgeable excitability is counterbalanced by responses from Mayo that can at times seem comically disengaged. The critic’s favourite film is The Exorcist; on point of principle, the host refuses to watch it.

In moments of magic, shovelings are executed with bloodthirsty panache. In what by now has been defined as a “Kermodean rant”, the characters in Sex and the City 2 were described as “American imperialist pig-dogs of the highest order”. Anyone who paid money to see the any of the first three instalments of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise was “bringing down the collapse of Western civilisation”. Sometimes the venom is infectious. Recounting his experience of watching Entourage, Simon Mayo was moved to remark, “I thought, ‘If the apocalypse comes now, at least this film will end’”.

Best of all is the show’s unique ability to weave together the different strands of international cinema. At the brink of the weekend, orders of hierarchy simply don’t exist. Neither does critical self-consciousness. Whether the film under discussion is a multiplex-packing blockbuster or an independent curiosity made for little more than the price of a ticket to actually see it, every style and genre is afforded equal respect.

As well as (rightly) lavishing encomiums on the basement-budget British film Bait, Mark Kermode is surely the only film critic in the country willing to admit to shedding tears of joy at the final reel of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.

If you want the truth of it, I’d even go so far as to say that Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review helped pull me through the opening months of the pandemic. With London closed for business, each week I’d make notes of recommendations that could now be viewed only via streaming services. Emails from listeners nominating their favourite picture houses made me feel like part of a community. When the screens did at last reopen, in that first uncertain summer of cinematic slim pickings I’d go and see any new rubbish – take a bow, An American Pickle – in the hope that, yes indeed, everything would be alright in the end.

Doubtless I’m not the only one feeling a little bit lost at the moment. One minute before I wrote this sentence, the comedian and activist Dom Joly tweeted his memories of listening to the show “in North Korea, Congo, Syria, Darien Gap, Everest Base Camp - a little piece of comfort while travelling through madness… Thank you for the company”. I may not be able to compete with that, but in the days before I figured out what a Podcast was, once a week I’d turn my Friday upside down so as not to miss a single episode.

In apparent agreement with my assessment of the show as precious cargo, Heidi Dawson, station controller of Radio 5 Live, issued a statement in which she said that its broadcasters’ absence from the schedule will be felt “by our listeners and everyone else at the station”. This is as may be, but the decision to fill half of the soon to be vacated timeslot with an extra hour of the magazine news show Drive does not augur well for a continuation of cinema-based output.

Certainly it would be a shame if the end of Kermode and Mayo’s tenure marks a further erosion of the kind of review-based output for which the BBC was once renowned. As well as much else, the fact that audience members contribute to each broadcast means the show doesn’t come with an increasingly unfashionable air of didacticism prevalent in long-defunct discussion programmes such as Late Review and Roundtable.

Never mind opinions about movies, listeners have been known to write in with news of the death of parents, and even children. On more than one occasion, Simon Mayo has cried while reading out such messages. Once again, the sense of community is real.

And it could easily go on. With Kermode and Mayo absent for at least a dozen weeks a year, listeners are well used to the show being presented by capable surrogates such as Sanjeev Bhaskar, Edith Bowman, Ben Bailey Smith, Clarisse Loughrey and Anna Bogutskaya.

Regular stand-in (and Telegraph film critic) Robbie Collin’s description of The Emoji Movie as “the artistic equivalent of arson” might just be my favourite summation of any of the pictures I’ve heard discussed over the years. It could even be that Collins’ recent partnership with Radio 1 film critic Ali Plumb, in which the pair offered their own separate opinions of the movies under review, points to a way forward for the programme.

Either way, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s own short journey to pastures new will doubtless be accompanied by almost all of their constituents. LTLs and STLs alike will be going with them. This is what happens when you’re the best team in the business. Regardless of format, or choice of broadcaster, their show will last for as long as the pair want it to.

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