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To bloop or not to bloop?

A new CD of radio cock-ups isn't as funny as it might be.
HOWLERS, TYPOS and malapropisms have always been a source of entertainment; but the last couple of decades have seen a dramatic rise in our consumption of them, particularly on television. No doubt this is partly a matter of economics - out-takes are pretty cheap, and I can't imagine it costs that much to hire Denis Norden for the evening. Perhaps, too, it says something about the decline of deference, our eagerness to see even minor authority figures, such as newsreaders and weathermen, caught with their pants down. More optimistically, it may say something about an increased public tolerance for fallibility, because, as often as not, it is shared embarrassment rather than pure schadenfreude which prompts us to laugh at mistakes and accidents.

All of these factors play a part in Bloopers Gold, a CD compilation of "classic" radio moments being sold in aid of the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Unfortunately, Jonathan Hewat, who has compiled, produced and presents the entire thing, has not given much thought to what it is that makes a "blooper" funny. This has two results: one is that his commentary, with its relentlessly facetious "Dear, oh dear" tone of voice, too often undermines the rather sad humour of the piece. There is nothing intrinsically amusing about hearing a newsreader suffering a fit of the giggles over the Rev Canaan Banana (not unless you are under 10); it is the crack in the facade, the unintended admission of frailty, which makes it rather sweet.

The other, more damaging result is that he has chosen a lot of bloopers which just aren't funny. Too many of these revolve round double (or near double) entendres: a woman called Regina, a rowing cox, and more quips about balls than you could shake a stick at. (You would think that sports commentators would work through the humorous possibilities of balls at a very early stage in their careers. You would be sadly mistaken.) In some cases, the simple inability to pronounce a word is supposed to be the cue for humour, but this doesn't always work - for instance, "invalidity benefit" is such an inherently unfunny concept that no amount of stammering and gibbering can change it.

Some of the other extracts here do not involve things going wrong at all. One of these is the hysterically triumphant Norwegian football commentator ("Maggie Thatcher! Can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took a hell of a beating!") - not that anybody will be unhappy to own a copy of this extraordinary moment. Apart from anything else, you can take the time to replay it, and wonder exactly why he invoked Anthony Eden and Clement Attlee as champions of Albion.

The one unquestioned classic here is the great Hastings Banda interview, in which the future dictator of Malawi answers each question with a confident "I won't tell you that". "Are you going to tell me anything?" "Nothing." "Are you going to tell me why you've been to Portugal?" "That's my business." It is a masterpiece of patient inquiry to compare with Paxman's grilling of Michael Howard. Elsewhere, there is one perfectly-timed belch, a reference to Eric Cantona's fracas with a Crystal Phallus pan, Brian Johnston giggling, and a quiz competitor asked who wrote Mein Kampf: heavy hinting helps him to work out that the first name is Adolf and the first syllable of the surname is Hit, but he still can't quite put his finger on it.

Of course, the real difficulty with marketing this CD is that these days you can get all the bloopers you want for free just by listening to the BBC radio news. Ah well, it is for charity.

To order `Bloopers Gold' or `Bloopers Silver', send a cheque for pounds 8.99, payable to `46 Design', to Bloopers Gold CD, BWFB, Gabriel House, 34 New Road, Chatham, Kent ME4 4QR