The Week In Radio: No place like Rome as the emperor strikes back

When you're freezing cold, financially anxious, and face weeks of trudging through aisles of iPod socks and novelty candles, what you really need is comfort. Downton Abbey was superlative comfort telly, a great plum pudding of heart-warming clichés and stereotypes done to perfection. But radio has its comfort-listening too.

Radio 4 usually rustles up a spot of Dickens, and indeed there is a spoof A Christmas Carol lined up for Christmas Eve, but until then, what could be more welcome than I Claudius, Robert Graves's 1934 saga of the Roman emperors?

The first comforting thing for people of a certain age is that it reminds them of their youth, specifically the 1976 television version with Derek Jacobi doing a masterclass in stammering. Robin Brook's excellent version re-introduces Jacobi in the role of Augustus, Claudius's step-grandfather while Tom Goodman-Hill plays Claudius with slightly less of a stammer, which is probably just as well given it's radio. Harriet Walter's Livia is magnificently scheming and nothing like your traditional granny. The first episode, in which Claudius grows up alternately scorned or ignored, was proof that radio drama can be just as appealing as event TV, leaving you determined to make a date with Classic Serial for the next five weeks and possibly force your children to listen too.

This week's enjoyable Woman's Hour drama, Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, is also archetypal comfort fodder, stretched out over two weeks and promisingly set in Hollingford, "a small town where everyone knew everyone's business". The opening gives a clue to what we're in for. "In that town there was a house, in that house there was a room and in that room there was a bonnet." And in that bonnet, of course, there was a costume drama. This being radio, the costumes are all in the acting, but the story of Molly Gibson, motherless doctor's daughter taken up by the folk from the big house, follows a narrative arc so familiar we could probably recite in our sleep. Will Molly get to marry Roger? Gaskell died before finishing this, so Theresa Heskins got to make up her own ending, but my hunch is that it will end happily.

Should we feel guilty about this yearning for the rose-tinted? Is the historical soap opera just easy escapism? And does it matter if it is? I don't think so, especially given how much there is, in terms of drama alone, to offset it. There was a remarkably good From Fact to Fiction about last week's student march. Janice Okoh's Carnival performed a neat reversal in having single mother Lorraine, played by Clare Perkins, trying to persuade her daughter Nicole (Deeivya Meir) to join the march rather than stay in with her feckless boyfriend. Both the dialogue and the acting were so sharp, it felt like eavesdropping. More to Okoh's credit was the fact that it was plainly completed in 24 hours flat, presumably with an awful lot of black coffee.

And if you really want to throw a dampener on things, there's always Philip Larkin, patron saint of unhappy endings, who was the subject of a sensitive tribute by David Walliams and Andrew Motion. It's not that you don't expect a comedian to be erudite, but Walliams's engaging enthusiasm was a revelation. Like many of us, he lies in bed awake thinking of "Aubade" – surely the least comforting poem about death in the English language – and he had Larkin's "First Sight" read at his wedding. Being a comedian however, meant he saw the funny side of Larkin too. And Larkin does demand a bit of levity. Larkin's father, said Motion, was an admirer of Hitler, who kept a model of the Führer on the mantelpiece which performed a Nazi salute when you pressed a button. "Well, we've all got one of those," Walliams quipped.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us