My book review of 'The Gift of a Radio' by Justin Webb

by Justin Webb
The Gift of a Radio
by Justin Webb

This is a very honest and revealing memoir from the journalist and BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, Justin Webb.

He was invited by a website, UnHerd, to recall his school days for a feature piece and was then approached by an agent who wanted to read more. This book is the result.

Justin grew up in Britain in the 1970s – a time of strikes, inflation and IRA bombings – and family life was similarly stark and grim.

He was an only child with a mother who had undiagnosed psychological problems and a stepfather who was untreated for schizophrenia.

At a Quaker boarding school, Justin experienced gun-wielding school masters and substandard living conditions. And, watching the television news one day, Justin was told, by his mother, out of the blue: ‘That’s your father'.

It was Peter Woods, the BBC newsreader, who had had an affair with Justin’s mother when they were both working at the Daily Mirror. 

Nothing more was said and Justin never met his father. But he did pursue a career in journalism and broadcasting, and he writes of those early days of realising his interest.

It's a brilliantly written book, compiled very much as a stream of consciousness, the author says. He sat down during lockdown and wrote whatever memories came into his mind. As a result, it's not just family incidents and observations but recollections of the books, films and music that mattered to him at the time too.

I spoke to Justin for an article which will appear in Suffolk magazine in the coming months and he told me that he hopes the book will appeal to people who have been searching, like him, for an understanding of themselves. He hopes it shows "the immense goodness of people, the willingness of people to be subtle in a world where it seems everyone wants everything to be black and white. Most people are so much more than the interaction on social media or even the letters page of the newspaper."

This is a fascinating book. I've read it twice already!

Review date: January 2022
Publication date: 10th February 2022