Radio: Chris Morris: the spoof is out there

Radio is the medium of insanity: voices in the head, not visual hallucinations, are what make us think of madness. You start thinking this when you listen to Blue Jam (R1). This programme goes out at midnight so as not to frighten the horses. Everyone says it is great, and they are right, but "great" here is a cautiously mutable term, used to cover our feelings of bafflement. Chris Morris, the man behind the spoof radio news show On the Hour and the spoof TV current-affairs programme Brass Eye, has now gone beyond spoofing, and has conceived a radio programme which is unlike anything that has ever been. Sample line: "And slowly, without knowing why, I began to feel as sad as it is possible to feel while staring at a wall in a room full of women."

Is that funny? Well, yes and no. Not that this is the same kind of funny- yet-now-I-think-of- it-not-really-funny-at-all quality of most radio comedy (the kind that Radio 4 puts out at 6.30pm on Tuesdays, say). It is exactly poised between ha-ha and peculiar. It also makes you feel as if someone is messing with your head, and in a disturbingly considered way, not as a by-product of lazy surrealism: "Otherwise, life continued in the usual blur of frowns, doctors, lying down, and people saying 'Get the f--- out of my garden'. And then suddenly we were all in a church surrounded by fields."

I wondered if the reason the mind seems to skid across Blue Jam, the strange sense you have of not being able to tell whether you are even listening to it, might have something to do with the time it's broadcast; so I taped it and listened to it at 10.30 in the morning, and it still sounded mad. And then the madness is interrupted by what would sound like an ordinary radio sketch, if it were not being played over quiet ambient music (affectless music that gives no clues as to emotional tone), and if it were not about a GP who takes phone-sex calls while treating his patients. It is a testament to Morris's audacity and finesse that he pulls such things off, so to speak, so well.

The Cry of the Bittern (R4) is much more normal, although I am not sure whether to call it "Radio 4's new soap opera" or not. It has been called that, but it is also called a "drama series". I recall a previous attempt to start a radio soap that wasn't The Archers: Citizens, I think it was called, and it lasted for about a week. This, in the spirit of historical revisionist Birtism, is now referred to as a "drama series", but it damn well wasn't at the time. Anyway, "Bittern" episodes last for 15 minutes, are broadcast twice each day, and are produced by Vanessa Whitburn, who also produces The Archers. One of the cast members sounds extraordinarily like the A's Roy Tucker, except he seems to have lost the country twang. But it isn't a soap opera; they're not making that mistake twice. Once bittern, twice shy, I suppose. Anyway, they have a point: how can you have a soap opera called The Cry of the Bittern? (Then again, it's such a crazily inappropriate name for a soap opera you can't help but like it.)

It's nice enough. There's a story in there, though one too focused, perhaps, for a soap: the heroine works for an environmental agency, her ex-boyfriend for big-league developers. It's very heavy on the atmospherics, as you might expect. It's all going to be in Norfolk but the first week hasn't taken us there yet. Norfolk is an excellent place to set a radio series. All you need is a recording of drizzle and the odd bittern. The flatness is given. I wonder, though, if I will be able to stick with a series that offers such lines as: "The whole of my life has suddenly become as bleak and empty as the February rain, which starts to fall again, somewhere north of Islington Green." (February rain, I find, is rarely "empty". In my experience it's full of water).

Meanwhile, in the real world, i.e. Borsetshire, Shula's child Daniel has taken to pestering her and her new hubby, Alastair, while they have their dinner, when he (Daniel) should be in bed. You can begin to see the cogs turning in Alastair's feeble brain. Clearly, he is going to have to dispose of the child, but how? A shooting accident, perhaps. Or he could get run over by William Grundy's dirt bike, but such things are never easy to arrange. I suggest that Alastair, in the course of his duties, has this revolting child run over by a bunch of cows. Or a herd of cattle, whatever. It happens, you know. And Ambridge is due a bit of good news.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?