The Week In Radio: Addison needs the genius of Armando
Thursday 14 January 2010
Just like the butterfly in chaos theory that flaps its wings and triggers an earthquake the other side of the world, so Terry Wogan's flit from Radio 2 caused seismic changes to shudder through the BBC schedule. Chris Evans has bounced into breakfast, noticeably improving as the week went on. He is accompanied by Moira Stuart, rehabilitated after she was shelved for being old, though why the sight of a 60-year-old woman was deemed unacceptable on television remains a mystery. I can think of plenty of male presenters who aren't exactly an oil painting – unless it's by Brueghel. Anyway, Chris Evans's move has the great advantage of bringing Simon Mayo into his old slot on Radio 2's Drivetime.
Nothing about Simon Mayo's Drivetime will ever make you crash your car. He is a mercifully calming personality compared to his predecessor, indeed some elements of his show could be called downright worthy. For instance, he has a new feature called "Homework Sucks" in which parents struggling with homework call in and get some answers. Given that children now routinely outsource their work to parents, this seemed a brilliant idea and the first day was how to explain fractions. Unfortunately, there was a mind-numbingly long answer from Carol Vorderman, which was something to do with a group of pizzas, but it's the thought that counts and Mayo's intelligent style will certainly be a pleasure to listen to.
But what of Mayo's old home, Radio Five Live? It's a challenging time for the network, due next year to relocate to Salford, and this week saw the first ever programme from Salford in the form of Tony Livesey's late-night show. Simon Mayo has been replaced by Richard Bacon, who scored a coup on his first day by fielding David Cameron very competently for an hour. Gabby Logan has joined at lunchtime and Chris Addison, the comedian who plays the weedy Ollie Reeder in The Thick of It, has been given his own topical news show 7 Day Sunday.
As usual, there is a certain amount of "category error" in this choice. As Ollie in The Thick of It, Addison is hilariously funny, but this is because his lines are written by the comic genius Armando Iannucci. On 7 Day Sunday, however, Addison is writing his own lines, assisted by a studio gang who would laugh at a pig's bladder on a stick. On The Thick of It there is snappy dialogue at a thousand miles an hour, but if you talk like that on radio without enough jokes or substance then the listener's mind skitters all over the place trying to concentrate, before giving up. The show's brief was to "pull apart the week's big news stories", but in the event the only news covered was snow. Weirdly for someone who made his name in a political satire there wasn't any. Why not? The Gordon Brown coup should have provided acres of material, but it took ages to get round to, and then got a paltry two minutes.
As with all the other new shows, I feel strongly that one should not judge on the basis of a debut. Addison is witty and will certainly improve when he starts to take things a little slower. But unless he cracks down on the nervous giggling, his team will still sound like they're stuck in a small lift, supplied with nitrous oxide instead of oxygen.
After all this hilarity it was a relief to find Radio 3 choosing for its Composer of the Week the famously bleak Russian Alfred Schnittke (music billed as "thrilling, grotesque, occasionally nightmarish"), and on Radio 4 the return of the equally bleak Ed Reardon, patron saint of jobbing writers.
In this sixth series Ed has fallen so far as to be living in sheltered housing, courtesy of a charity for the financially distressed, having forsaken what he describes as "the life of unmitigated misery, disappointment, abuse and sheer grinding poverty" that is hack writing. Meanwhile, his arch rival Jas Milvain is having the last ever South Bank Show devoted to him, for which resentful Ed will be interviewed as the "grit in the oyster". It's hard to enthuse about this series without sounding like one of those people who bang on about Gavin and Stacey until you are absolutely determined never to watch it, but suffice to say the writing is at the highest end of radio comedy. Christopher Douglas is perfectly incarnated as his creation and Barunka O'Shaughnessy brilliant as Ping, the sloaney assistant. The allusions to George Gissing's 1891 novel New Grub Street, with its tragic writer hero Edwin Reardon, and ambitious cynic, Jasper Milvain, reassures hack writers everywhere that things never really change. And at a time of relentless change, a bit of permanence has to be a good thing.
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