The Week In Radio: A good sense of humour desperately required
Thursday 13 January 2011
For an organisation devoted to popular entertainment, the BBC's public pronouncements always carry a drearily leaden ring. Just look at the statement of policy, vision and challenges for Radio 2 this year. The plan, apparently, is to "refresh and refocus its comedy output to gain greater impact from existing levels of investment in this genre, ensuring differentiation from comedy on Radio 4". Different from Radio 4? Please God, they don't mean less funny.
Only going by Roy Hudd's new show, that is a possibility. While we're grateful for anyone trying to make us laugh right now, Hudd and Quantick's Global Village never quite hit the spot. Sketches ranged from the surreal – a complaint from one of Nigella Lawson's breasts that "we never even get a mention, it's always her bloody food!" – to what the show referred to as "deliciously daft" vignettes inspired by everyday life. Someone of these had potential, like the man complaining that the drawing from his adopted African child is substandard. "I pay £14 a month and what do I get? A crap lion." But the radio sudoku sketch – a running gag about how fantastically dull such an idea would be – was just fantastically dull.
Now, I know there's no greater irritant than people whining that comedy is "just not funny". A GSOH is overwhelmingly a subjective thing and Roy Hudd has had 50 distinguished years on radio. But the same policy statement did suggest Radio 2 take more creative risks and with a series of comedy masterclasses starting next week, let's hope that's where it starts.
Over at Radio 4 comedy is a perennial lightning rod. It trumps even bad language in its ability to raise the hackles and enrage the listeners. They seize on anything weak or struggling like sharks to the kill and cover the message-board with blood. So I feared for Twilightbaby.com, this week's Woman's Hour drama.
Cass Mason is an older mother at 47, with a blog, a baby, and a full set of Radio 4 comedy relations – ineffectual husband, selfish grown-up children, thoughtless sister etc. But I needn't have worried. Jenny Éclair and Julie Balloo's script was light and witty and the characters struggled through their stereotypes to emerge wry and gently amusing.
Now starting his seventh series, Ed Reardon is attaining the kind of popularity that makes those of us who discovered him early feel possessive. Andrew Nickolds and Christopher Douglas's creation gets endless trails, repeated by presenters with a chuckle in their voices. The first episode of Ed Reardon's Week was a classic, pitting the freelance hack yet again against the forces of useless youth. Starving and forced to forage for blackberries, Ed gets a break when he is commissioned to help out Ben Herbert, young author of the "Dude, Where My Career?" column in The Observer. How did he get that? Ed inquires. "I was spending the weekend with my uncle and he was like, 'I've got this Sunday newspaper that needs filling every week'." "Ah!" says Ed bitterly, "The plot thins." Drafted in to help write "How to Survive with Like No Cash", Ed suggests hiding in the luggage space on National Express, stealing flowers from cemeteries and recycling Christmas cards. Fortunately, the lucrative venture falls through when Ben is talent spotted by Downing Street and promoted to Graduate Employment Tsar, leaving Ed just as starving and bitter as before.
The success of Ed Reardon the series is in inverse proportion to Ed Reardon the character. He is now critic-proof, which is great but a fresh danger awaits. Just like all those Archers photographs, which totally ruined everyone's love of the characters, so visualising Ed Reardon in any way would be disastrous. While I can hear him cursing me even now, can I just say please BBC, don't ever commission Ed Reardon the TV series.
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