A compilation of Russell Brand's radio shows reveals there's life after 'Sachsgate'

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The Independent Culture

I've no doubt that some critics of Russell Brand might suggest that a portion of the monies received for his new four-disc compilation, The Best of What's Legal, charting his former Radio 2 show, should be diverted to pay the BBC's £150,000 fine that arose from "Sachsgate". Indeed, the compilation is introduced by Brand almost as if it were the case for the defence, reminding us how the show spent most of the time teetering on the brink of anarchy and mischief before being engulfed by it.

The seeds of the show's downfall were part of its charm; it was an arena where presenters and guests felt at ease to join in a chorus of schoolyard banter, one upmanship and giddy flights of fancy. A testimony to the elasticity of radio in terms of expression, Brand is at his most exuberant, most playful in his Radio 2 shows. His trademark verbal flourishes are perhaps less in evidence here and what replaces them is a tapestry of voices, so that listening to Brand is like spending time in a room with Steven Berkoff, Terry Jones and the cast of the Carry On movies. Occasionally, the cacophony can be disorientating and nauseating but even the misfiring material has a freshness and zest about it.

Brand's writing partner Matt Morgan is the comic foil who can give as good as he gets and almost keep Brand's superstar ego in check. Morgan swipes at Brand's acting ability suggesting that he transforms into Aldous Snow (Brand's character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and to be revived in Get Him To The Greek, another Judd Apatow film, out next year) by simply "wetting his hair down". He dubs the infamous celebrity's home "fusspot farm" indicating the level of female attention for his every whim.

Noel Gallagher plays a regular third hand to the circus, a kind of honorary Karl Pilkington, responsible for a further reality check beyond Morgan's custodial duties. "Don't have a normal chat, this is radio" reprimands Brand of Gallagher and Morgan in one show, but all bets were off and anything went, as the programme found to its cost.

Jonathan Ross was another regular guest, of course, and his repartee with Brand was similarly playful until it spilled over to something altogether more harmful. Contextualising this, in one if the brief moments of narration between episode clips, Brand says of Ross's comic sparring that it lacked "finesse", in the same way that Mike Tyson did as a boxer but that both had power in their blows. "It was a relationship that had potential to be explosive" says Brand after the event. Before that fateful day it simmered gently with exchanges on each other's career progressions thus: Ross: "You'd better smarten up otherwise you'll become the next Dermot O'Leary."

Brand: "Oh he's got the soft vowels; we'll give him another 10 years."

As for the one-off guests featured in this three-and-a-half hour compilation, there are few show-stealers. Most significant and enjoyable is James Corden recounting what Alan Bennett had once told him, presumably on the set of The History Boys, about meeting Morrissey. Apparently, after their first meeting, the singer arranged to go to Bennett's house but rather than the expected cerebral discourse the singer pumped Bennett for information on the war poets before taking his leave.

As a case for the defence of The Russell Brand Radio Show the compilation is enough to remind us that this was a good show that died because a giddy wrong was done on it, a wrong that went unchecked.

"One day the media might be ready for a band of buccaneer halfwits" implores Brand concludes a 'sermon' for the show's passing. Since 'Sachsgate' has not seen the tides turn against Brand's career, another adventure on the high seas can't be ruled out.

'The Russell Brand Radio Show – The Best of What's Legal' is released on Monday