The Week In Radio: Festive cheer as Cryer unwraps comedy classics


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Take down the tinsel, unplug the lights, remove that life-size glowing reindeer from the roof: Christmas has been called off. I know this because there's no sign of it on Radio 4, and I think we can all agree that if it's not on Radio 4 – the voice of authority, the land of all that is decent and true – then it probably isn't happening at all.

Over the past week, as shoppers have been panic-buying plastic pooing dogs and trailing enough Christmas wrapping to wallpaper their entire homes, on Radio 4You and Yours was fretting about the small-print in travel insurance policies, Bringing Up Britain was chastising us for our feckless parenting skills and Something Understood was mournfully pontificating over what one's dying words should be (if I had expired this week mine would have been: "Where the bloody hell is Christmas?").

So conspicuous was the absence of festive cheer that I began to wonder it was all an ingenious ploy to remind us of our failures, to underline the error of our materialist ways and stop us from collectively digging ourselves further into debt. Auntie knows best, and all that.

But then, just after listening to Book of the Week, in which Hugh Dennis shared the etymology of avocado (it comes from an Aztec word meaning "testicle", a reference to its shape. How we laughed!), I finally consulted the schedules. There, I discovered that Christmas hadn't been cancelled at all. It had been demoted. It had been put on the naughty step. It had been sent to Radio 4 Extra.

Of course, Christmas telly is meant to be about family viewing – even if we all know that PS3 is where the real fun is at. Clearly, the same doesn't apply to radio. People don't arrange their furniture around a wireless, and no one has huddled around one, in that sepia-tinted, pre-Cameron, we're-all-in-this-together sense, since the end of the war.

Even so, with mainstream Radio 4 in seasonal denial, just hearing the sound of pealing bells and laughter on Radio 4 Extra was enough to make you crack open the eggnog, and I only mention eggnog because, along with "stuffing", it was somewhere in the punchline of every gag dating back to 1954 on Barry Cryer's Christmas Selection Box, a glorious three-hour rummage though the BBC's "seasonal jewels". There were excerpts from Hinge & Bracket, Round the Horne and Lines from My Grandfather Christmas's Forehead, the latter an early-Seventies sketch show written by and starring Ronnie Barker that opened with the Queen's Christmas Message re-written by a milkman complete with Her Majesty's awkward pauses. There was also a terrific 1983 skit from Radio Active, featuring a fictional radio station dreamt up by Angus Deayton and Geoffrey Perkins where guests and presenters are all called Mike.

And yet there was still something missing. Yes there was laughter and gags about stuffing. But there was no music. And if you want proper, no-holds-barred, yuletide music, the type that would make even Radio 2 come over all queasy, you have to go off-piste. You have to go niche. Basically, you have to go to Smooth Radio Christmas. For there lies a nirvana of crackling fires, glistening baubles and snowflake-smothered Motown groups in buttock-skimming Santa outfits. Only there can you hear "Fairytale of New York" followed by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters singing "Mele Kalikimaka". It's the aural equivalent of necking all the eggnog on Christmas morning just as the turkey goes in the oven. Did I peak too early? Oh well.