RADIO / Light on God, heavy on the Mayo: Robert Hanks on The Big Holy One and The Masterson Inheritance

There's something faintly hypocritical about the whole concept of The Big Holy One (Radio 1, Monday). Isn't getting Simon Mayo to host a religious programme just putting temptation in the reviewer's way? That's surely the last thing a religious programme should want to do.

As it turns out, very little of The Big Holy One is derisory and ridiculous that isn't meant to be; on the other hand, an awful lot of it is meant to be, which gets a bit wearing from time to time. You get the impression that Mayo and his producer, Hilary Mayo (presumably some relation), have approached Radio 1's first regular God-slot with some trepidation: wary of being laughed at, they've gone all-out for pre-emptive humour (lots of jokes about how boring church is and, oddly, the Conservative Party). Determined not to look square, they've devoted themselves to acquiring hepness (funky jingles and interviews with credible rock stars).

So it is that all the regular slots have painstakingly joky titles: there's a 'Heretic of the Week', 'The Joy of Sects' - a series of spoofy one-minute guides to the Moonies and Scientology - and 'The Bishop and the Actress', in which Caroline Quentin ('a National Theatre player') asks the Right Reverend Roy Williamson, Bishop of Southwark, questions like: if God is both all-powerful and loving, why does he allow suffering ('I know, it's a ghastly question to ask you, isn't it my darling?').

The main problem is that the programme tries so hard to be different from other religious broadcasting that it hasn't actually stopped to work out the theology. You gather that the two Mayos are broadly in favour of God, and morality, and Christianity in particular; but that leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre, and they seem unsure what to do with it. This week's edition (the third) included a sketch satirising people who don't believe in God, but who do believe in a supreme all-powerful omnipresent being who created the world. Well, fine, it's a position that deserves to be laughed at: but who holds it? Well, apart from David Icke, last night's 'Heretic of the Week'?

The peg for this was the grim business at Waco: Mayo pointed out that both Icke and David Koresh had called themselves the Son of God, and wondered what Icke felt about this. The Turquoise One took the line that he didn't believe in God so much as an 'infinite mind'; and in any case, he had never claimed to be the Son of God, just a Son of God. He was also worried that people might use the Second Coming as an excuse for shedding responsibility: 'If we're going to hang around and wait for some Messiah guy to come down on a cloud and solve all our problems, we're going to wait for the end of the world.' Er . . . wasn't that the point?

This was illuminating, if silly. It's hard to see what light is shed on anything by other elements, such as the 'Holy News' flashes - items from the press about Buddhist monks having intercourse with corpses - and the spoof charts presented by Alan Freeman, 'The Big Holy Fluff' ('Greetings, Godpickers'). Still, lack of direction never seems so important when you're moving fast enough, and whatever the faults of The Big Holy One, its combination of belief and credibility is done with miraculous speed and slickness.

These are not qualities you would associate with The Masterson Inheritance (Radio 4, Thursday), 'the improvised historical saga of a family at war with itself'. This six-week extended impro is narrated by Lee Simpson and stars, among others, Josie Lawrence and Paul Merton (who, incidentally, is married to Caroline Quentin).

In theory, it's based entirely on audience suggestions; in practice, the variables are limited. The starting date is set at 1760, and the audience is asked to supply a hobby or pastime that an 18th-century gentleman might have, a piece of village gossip about the Masterson family, and a title for the first episode - 'The Something of the Mastersons,' Simpson proposes, and gets a chorus of people filling in the blank with 'Curse'.

All the same, the air of suppressed panic makes it clear that nobody's working from a script. The worry is that after six weeks the missed cues for sound-effects won't seem quite so hilarious, and God only knows what they'll do for laughs then. Or Simon Mayo does. One or the other.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us