Toast to the weird and the wonderfulBy Alan Bunce
November 17, 2010
You may be well aware of the better known facts about Reading but did you know Charles Dickens declined the chance to become a Reading MP?
You may know all about three Bs – beer, bulbs and biscuits – and the town’s association with Oscar Wilde, Kate Winslet and Ricky Gervais but did you know bar scenes in the 1975 film Bugsy Malone were filmed at Huntley & Palmers?
These lesser known ‘facts’ are among a host of gems about Reading – and many other towns – in a new book by BBC 6 Music DJ Shaun Keaveny.
Shaun, who hosts the breakfast show, has run a slot called Toast the Nation for the last three years which celebrates the more humble and obscure facts about UK towns.
Callers ring in eager to pass on what they know and now three years worth of stories about the UK towns have been compiled and published – and the first of the 300 towns listed in the book is Reading.
But are all the stories verified as true?
“Good Lord no,” said Shaun. “There is very little checking in this book. It is gleaned from all kinds of sources – from grandparents to Wikipedia. It’s more a record of local law and folklore than actual facts.”
Shaun, 38, who comes from Leigh in Lancashire has some (slightly hazy) memories of Reading himself.
His first job in radio was at 210FM as a copywriter in 1997. He remembers many beery nights at the Purple Turtle, the After Dark Club and Khukuri restaurant.
He moved to another job in Wolverhampton in 1999 and later to the BBC6 where Toast the Nation replaced an idea called Round Our Way in which he spoke to local journalists about, as he puts it, ‘the minutiae of Chipping Norton local news’.
That failed to take off but Toast the Nation proved more successful.
“It was massively simple. We just got listeners to ring in and extol the virtues of where they live and what’s cute about it. A lot of people have resigned themselves to where they live – like a harmonious but terrible marriage,” he said.
The Reading stories are largely taken from the tales from two locals – Emma Walsh and Duncan Atkinson – both of whom went on the show.
But Mr Atkinson, from West Reading, admitted: “I don’t think I exactly showed Reading in a brilliant light. I talked about pubs, breweries and the beer festival.”
However, he admits to having found a gem in Reading’s crown which has missed the book – The Curry Hut in Oxford Road. He said: “It’s a late night place for drunks but the curry is absolutely brilliant.”
Now a website has been set up for more unsubstantiated ‘facts’ and Shaun says a possible second book could be published later.
He said: “It depends entirely whether this one is met with approbation or total indifference.”
R2D2 Lives in Preston – Toast the Nation by Shaun Keaveny is published by Macmillan paperback on Friday priced £9.99.