IN shows where the music was always supposed to be the star, Jools Holland has proved time and again that less is more. Utilising little more than his boyish smirk and laconic manner, Holland has taken the popular music show format from the groundbreaking Tube co-hosted with Paula Yates in the 1980s through to his 14th series of Later for the BBC. What's more, he's managed to hold on to his credibility with musicians and audiences while doing it, and disarmed some of the least stable people allowed to peddle their wares on the box.

He charmed the volatile Iggy Pop after the great man took offence at a technician pointing aggressively at him in the studio. Veins were popping and muscles a-bulging in true Pop style until Holland explained that the ''jerk'' was, in fact, the floor manager, frantically trying to cue our Ig in for his song.

Not bad going for the diminutive Londoner who, despite being seen as such a modern kind of a guy, is something of a nostalgic type who has admitted to having a touch of Richmal Crompton, even Ealing Studios, about himself. Unlike William, however, Holland has the readies to make most dreams come true.

His office/studio in Greenwich is a replica train station constructed to Holland's design from disused warehouses, complete with platform and ticket booth. Inside, a huge bookcase revolves at the flick of an 007 switch to reveal a recording studio complete with grand piano. Named Helicon Mountain, his studio is just around the corner but a million miles away from where Julian Holland was born into a home where electricity was a luxury. A home boy at heart, Holland often snacks at the local greasy spoon and drinks at the same pub he's frequented since he was a teenager.

When he was eight his uncle showed him the rhythmic rudiments of boogie-woogie piano, then music teacher Mr Pixley taught him the basics of musical theory. ''For that I am incredibly grateful to him.'' In fact, Holland had only taken music at school because he thought it would be a skive, but on arrival found no hiding place as he was the only member of the class.

An altercation with a teacher's car at 15 saw his headmaster suggest he part company with the school. Holland had no reason to look back, as he'd already teamed up with Glen Tilbrook to play pub gigs and the formation of Squeeze was around the corner. Cool for Cats, Up the Junction, Pulling Mussels from a Shell, and other hits flowed from the pens of Tilbrook and Chris Difford, taking Squeeze on a successful mission to crack the American market. But by the mid-1980s touring's appeal was wearing thin and Holland, ever the diplomat, left amicably.

Television presenting allowed him time to form his own Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with former Squeeze drummer Gilson Lavis, with which the accomplished pianist manages about 100 dates a year. It also allowed Holland to spark another partnership, this time with aristocratic sculptor Christabel McEwen, former wife of Lord Durham. They have a daughter, Mabel. Christabel's son by her first marriage, Fred, also lives with them, and Jools's two children from his relationship with hairdresser Mary Leahy are regular visitors.

l Jools Holland hosts Later With . . . (BBC2, 11.35pm), featuring REM.