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

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?