Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Twitter can be credited with so many great things since Jack Dorsey came up with his novel 'micro-blogging' concept five years ago, but one Tweet in particular brought a welcome smile to my face this weekend. 

Actually, it was these two Tweets: "So. I'm fine. If I could eat I'd be perfect. But I can't. Not for ages. There was a disaster with a jacket potato last night," shortly followed by "Should have said 'attempted jacket potato'. Who, coincidentally, I once saw supporting Ten Years After at the Marquee".

These were the inaugural statements to herald the arrival to Twitter of Danny Baker, one of the finest, most inventive, idiosyncratic and - damn! - funniest broadcasters of his generation. Life in the Baker treehouse got decidedly grim towards the end of last year when he announced via Facebook, on November 1, that he'd been diagnosed with cancer.

True to style, his statement chimed with defiant self-effacement: "Hello cats and kittens," it began. "As you know I am queasy about introducing vulgar real life onto the vaudeville stage so let's keep this crisp. After a pretty mouldy diagnosis about a month back I finally begin chemotherapy on Monday with further radiotherapy from January." Baker continued: "Once the quacks have soundly thrashed this thing I shall return like a rare gas and as if out of a trap. In the meantime I am watching Tommy Steele box sets (and has there ever been a more lying title to a film than TS's It's All Happening?) and urge you all to keep yakking up a storm and laugh extra loud at the incumbents," before stoically ending with: "So. Manly handshake. Walk right on. In the words of King George, 'What what and there it is...'". 

At the time this emerged I was embroiled in dramas of my own which, looking back, seem petty by comparison. In itself, Baker's announcement wasn't so shocking, either: after all, almost 11 million people around the world are diagnosed with cancer every year. Even more cheerily, one in three of us will develop some form of the disease in their lifetime.

Just about everyone will know or know of someone who has it, beaten it or, sadly, given in to it. My father has it (though thankfully, it's under control); my former next-door neighbour survived it; and I learned a short time ago that a very good friend of a very good friend succumbed to it at the age of 51. Boom. Gone. An effusive life cut short by something you would have thought, by now, medical science would have sorted out.

Cancer is, we're told, "not necessarily" a death sentence. Early detection is the key to surviving it, depending on which of the 200 varieties you've got. I can't begin to imagine what goes through anyone's mind when they've been told they have The Big C. For my dad, who is now 81, being confronted with prostate cancer must have been baffling, bewildering, distressing and any one of a number of emotions. All of a sudden, something was attacking him from within and, unlike most other things he'd been confronted with in life, there was very little he could do about it. Well he could: agree to the treatment and let medical prowess do its work. Except that the medical treatment to beat the cancer led to all sorts of side effects, physical defects and energy-sapping fatigue - entire days when you don't feel right but can't put your finger on why (which may also have been worsened or accentuated by the first signs of mental decline).

I know this post has just taken a somewhat downbeat mood, but I come back to my original thesis: Danny Baker's appearance on Twitter on Saturday, and the rat-a-tat-tat of his subsequent musings reflecting one of British broadcasting's sharpest wits, reassured me that life does go on.

Back in November, when Baker announced his affliction, I was bitching and moaning about painters' bills, about the apparent challenges of changing jobs, of selling houses and moving countries, and everything else that seemed to anchor an ever-present black cloud of grumpiness above my bonce. What I failed to do then, but seeing this minor event on Twitter reminds me to do now, is put it all into the correct perspective. Shit not only happens, but there are people in this world who are dealing with copious amounts of it. And coping with it relatively well.


  1. And let's not forget our dear friend, Catherine Downard, who died before she was 30 of Hodgkinson's Disease. Such vitality and fun snuffed out by this ruthless and indiscriminate affliction.

    I would venture to say she would have been big Danny Baker fan ....

  2. Nigel - that is so true, and it still saddens me that she passed so young. Man, she was all about life and having fun...