What with austerity, apocalypse and triple-A downgrades forecast (and that's just the beginning of the alphabet) it may be that everyone's going to need a bit of cheering up. And, unlikely as it seems, when the country is engulfed in financial crisis, the person you really want beside you is the sanguine Paul Lewis from Money Box Live. There are some who cite Money Box Live as a textbook example of oxymoron, but I feel its calming approach may be just what's needed in the months ahead. There is a feeling with Lewis that everything is going to be OK. Debating the debt crisis in the southern Eurozone, he might just as well have been discussing if it's worth changing your contents insurance. When an expert explained how credit ratings can nosedive from triple A to triple B he remarked, "sounds like my essay marks". Asking Vince Cable, "Do you think we might go the way of Greece in another 10 years time?" he might have been wondering which building society offers a half percentage higher interest rate. And this is adamantly not a criticism. There is a serious point to be made about the approach and tone of financial journalists. Back in the meltdown of 2008, the urgent thrill and the note of doom in Robert Peston's voice were said to move markets. Lewis, by contrast, has a polite tenacity and a genius for under-egging the pudding. Besides, how can you not admire a man who on his website proclaims, "My head capitalist; my heart socialist; my soul anarchist"? And it must work, because he's just won three journalism awards.
Given that it was election all round this week and elsewhere Radio 4 was reprising the Dunblane tragedy and the Bradford fire, a little light relief was certainly in order. Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent's delightful When the Dog Dies cast Ronnie Corbett as Sandy Hopper, a widower whose daughter and son-in-law are impatient for him to move out of his house – a move he has agreed to make "when the dog dies". The need, therefore, is to keep Henry – 116 in dog years – alive. This is a gentle, credit-crunch comedy for our times and Corbett is beautifully cast as the beleaguered oldie whose ungrateful offspring watch his every move like vultures. When he gets a sat-nav his daughter is horrified. "You shouldn't be spending money on that, there's already inheritance tax without you spending!" He is banned from burying the dog in the garden because, as his monstrous son-in-law tells him, "People won't buy the house with dead dogs everywhere". And when he graciously suggests, "we should all be singing from the same hymn sheet," the son-in-law ominously riposts, "We will soon Sandy."
Corbett was not the only comedian to emerge from showbiz twilight this week. Flipback to another age of austerity, 1952, when sweets were still rationed and two young comics were starting out. The discovery by Doreen Wise of a forgotten stash of early Morecambe and Wise performances in the eaves of her garage was hailed by the BBC as comedy gold. Well, up to a point, maybe. While no-one is saying The Garage Tapes should have stayed in the garage, these early performances on shows like Variety Bandbox and Variety Fanfare raise only the weakest of smiles. Heavily reliant on wordplay and delivered with a curious, mid-Atlantic twang, their sketches dwell on tales of yore like Robin Hood. "How did you fall in with outlaws? I fell out with in-laws." The most interesting thing the programme revealed was the strength of the two men's relationship. It was Ernie who had the ability to spot what was special about Eric. "I never heard Eric criticise Ernie or allow anyone else to say anything about Ernie," said Joan Morecambe. "All either of them wanted was a nice little home, a nice wife and a nice car." Rather touchingly, that's pretty much what they got.