City Link: Jon Moulton plays the Fighting Talk game of defending the indefensible

December 29, 2014


Fighting talk is a BBC radio comedy programme which includes a challenge to panellists to defend the indefensible. Entrepreneur Jon Moulton found himself playing a version of the game defending the closure of the delivery firm City Link over the Christmas period City Link Van

The breaking story is the closure of the parcels delivery firm City Link, with likely loss of over 2000 jobs. The firm was acquired by Entrepreneur Jon Moulton’s venture capital vehicle Better Capital from Rentokil, in a fire-sale offer eighteen months ago [April 2013]. The announcement of the firm’s foreclosure took place on Christmas Day. Employees, many unsuspecting the news, learned of this through the media.

It’s their fault

As every lawyer, politician, criminal and naughty school-child knows, defending the indefensible is a necessary survival skill. Success in the game often involves finding someone else to blame, or finding a less difficult position to defend.

In a press interview, Jon Boulton was reported as saying that the Unions were to blame for the company breaking the news on Christmas Day. His hand was forced, he insisted, by a Union message on Christmas Eve. Better Capital intended to make the official announcement on Boxing Day [the day after Christmas].

Now look what you’ve made me do

The BBC’s Today Programme is a more refined version of Fighting Talk. In a radio interview, Mr Bolton had a chance to reprise his defense of the indefensible. He continued to insist that he could not have behaved in any other way, without breaking the law.

The official announcement which was made public [on 29th Dec, 2014] outlines the matter in legal terms.

Learning from mistakes

Mr Moulton has a knack of learning for his mistakes. His company was named Better Capital, allegedly as an ironic statement of intent to better the financial performance of earlier ventures. Other people including employees of firms acquired by Better Capital are the more obvious losers.

Dec 31st 2014

Jon Moulton reported as having offered assurances to City Link of funding support for a year in September 2014

January 1st 2015

Redundant workers told to check Face Book for job opportunities

BBC Five Live Radio Review: Gabby Logan versus Fighting Talk

May 7, 2009
Gabby Logan

Gabby Logan

The BBC has a reputation for creativity and innovation. Leaders We Deserve examines two of its popular radio programmes

Two late-morning weekend chat shows on BBC’s radio five live make for interesting comparisons. Each coincides in time with a journey I take most weekend mornings. As evidence of their appeal, or maybe the difficulty of working the car radio while in transit, I have become quite knowledgeable about the shows.

Fighting Talk goes on air Saturdays, and The Gabby Logan show on Sundays.

My notes from Sunday May 3rd 2009 illustrate the stories discussed in the Gabby Lagan broadcast. I did not write them down while driving, honest.

Gordon Brown’s week (highlights the Gurkas story among several) compared with Ferguson downing Arsenal 1-0 in first leg of Euro cup.

Cornish pasties prize awarded to a Devon-based product versus Almunia (Spanish citizen) tipped as England’s next English goalkeeper

Air Force One buzzing New York in unannounced photo-shoot with a following fighter plane, versus English cricketers playing in ICL (badly, and in one case, Flintoff with injuries risking his role in forthcoming events this summer, especially the much-valued Ashes.

Ricky Hatton (sport) versus Tom Jones (singing GSTQ in advance. Two minutes of agony from each)

The force-fit principle

There is a principle in creative problem-solving known as force-fitting. It encourages efforts to put two ideas together than are not obviously connected. The ‘trick’ if it is a trick lies in the sudden realization in hindsight of the connections, which produces a little ‘aha’ moment.

So we might see the after-the-fact logic in the comparisons as creative insights.

Aha! Cornish pasties. Cultural icon in Cornwall. Pride. Cornwall and county neighbour Devon have usual relationships between neighbours (regional antipathies, infrequently stilled against common enemies such as in-comers, and Londoners in particular).

Aha! Football. Cultural icon in England. Antipathy to ‘incomers’ (managers; players claiming late naturalization). you begin to see how the stories being compared might have been dreamed up.

I like the idea of a format in which the competition is reserved for a playful evaluation of the news stories, not the celebrity displays of the partisipates. If there are winners and losers, they are arguably the ‘competing’ stories. This is unusual enough an idea to be called a strategic innovation behind the program’s basic format.

In the Gabby Logan show, the discussants have journalistic backgrounds, and discussion tends to be informed enough to keep me mildly diverted over the stories mulled over.

Fighting Talk adheres more closely to the traditional format of a competitive situation with a controller exhibiting mock displays of dominance rewarding and disciplining according to whim.

Fighting talk cherishes banter, a sort of laddish substitute for intelligent discussion. It has an attraction to many people which it shares with Kitsch art, and motorway debris after an accident. The moderator of the show has a device that makes funny noises to acknowledge great banter (bizarrely, a burst of classical music), or inadequate answers (a sound like a whoopee cushion). The BBC description is somewhat different

A razor-sharp breakdown of all that’s happening in the volatile world of sport. Colin Murray acts as ringmaster – or referee – over a panel of experts from around the world trying to stick their oar in and put their spin on events. Colin gives points for informed comments but penalises any witless outbursts.

The idea behind Fighting Talk is less innovative, but a popular one. There is a proven audience for its pseudo-quiz competition format, which has been reworked over the years, mainly towards more and more popularist versions. Fighting Talk delivers its facsimile of pub-chat, and with considerable panache. If I understand the way it works, a contestant would be penalised for using a word like panache …

In keeping with countless recent celebrity shows, its participants are mainly minor celebrities from the world of sport who are on the slippery celebrity slopes of a career in the media.

Fighting Talk tends to encourage diatribes on trivial topics in cheerfully clueless ways. The unashamed lack of irony of the performances adds to the branding as a kind of conversation you might be hearing down the pub.

We could apply the Gabby Logan or fighting talk format to frame further comparisons. I’ll stick here to the Gabby Logan approach, as I don’t want to invent a bantering conversation with myself over this.

Gabby Logan versus fighting talk?

You may have guessed it’s Gabby Logan for me, for its imaginative format, and the discussion which draws me in from time to time. Fighting Talk contributions are a bit too inauthentic and earthily polished. Its participants come across (with one or two exceptions) as people who would encourage me to find a quiet corner of the pub to avoid overhearing their banter.

On the other hand, despite its creative format, the force-fitting on The Gabby Logan show can sometimes make to topics appear a bit clunky. When that aha! is weak, it’s like a weak punch-line to a joke.

Like many innovations, it leaves open the possibility for futher creative spin-offs. That alone wins it my vote, and why my Sunday morning drives are a bit more pleasant that my Saturday morning ones.

Note on force-fitting

I came across a game which was devised by Helmut Schlicksupp, a long-time member of the European creativity practitioners’ network.

The game, Force Fit, describes quite well the format of the Gabby Logan show.