The Week In Radio: When a week in politics is beyond parody

Faced with the rich tapestry of life at Number 10, with the bullying hotlines and pens stabbed into car upholstery, most people's response is to say, "You couldn't make it up." Which is fair enough, only where does that leave those people whose job is precisely to make it up, the comedians and satirists of the BBC comedy department? Mocking politicians right now should be like shooting fish in a barrel, and in the run-up to the election, it's almost compulsory, yet how easy can it be at a time when real life effortlessly outclasses political satire?

The first hints came in the new slate of comedy shows unveiled last week, which revealed that Rory Bremner has been wooed over to Radio 4 for a series called Rory Bremner's International Satirists. Bremner always delivers, so this series, which takes a look at satire across the world, is a promising start. Our satire rations will be further increased with the transformation of The Now Show into The Vote Now Show, going out three times a week. Before then, however, the comedy season kicked off with something far less political: Sarah Millican's Support Group.

Sarah Millican, who won the Best Newcomer award in Edinburgh in 2008, is a quirky comedian with a sweet Geordie accent and a touch of Mrs Merton about her. Her tours are a sell-out and this show, in which she plays Sarah, a life counsellor and modern-day agony aunt, certainly featured gales of laughter from a lifelike audience. The format revolves around discussing ordinary people's problems, such as "dating outside of your class" or how to cope living alone. One woman explained how she defended herself at night. "I've got a bat, down the side of my bed. A policeman said I could keep it there if it didn't look like a weapon, so I've got a ball there too." To me, this show epitomised the curate's egg that is BBC radio comedy. Some of the observations are witty and acute, such as Millican's technique for assessing whether a man's belly shape means he's a nightmare or a catch. "Front-loaded bellies that look a bit pregnant mean it's the drink, more rounded bellies mean he can cook." But other parts, such as when fictional characters were asked to explain what "posh" people do, were crass, lame and just not intelligent enough for the Radio 4 audience, accustomed to rapier-swift comedy of the calibre of Ed Reardon and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

The comedy in Simon Brett's People in Cars, directed by Peter Kavanagh, was also gentle, but Brett is a veteran and knows his audience well. The trilogy started with a man who has just performed a raid on a building society hijacking a car driven by a mother and her teenage son. This implausible set-up worked because Samantha Bond played divorcée Gilly with exactly the right blend of withering sarcasm and simmering anger. "God, you make me furious!" she tells the hijacker. "You burst into my car, burst into my life, threaten my son and then you start ordering me around just like my husband did, just like every other man in my life did!" Very soon, Nigel, the hijacker, realises there is something far more menacing than a replica pistol, and that is a middle-aged mum.

It's a good job the election has not been called yet, because Radio 4 might have had to postpone the broadcast of David Hare's Murder in Samarkand, so searing are its allegations of this government's complicity with the use of torture by foreign regimes. And that would have been a shame because the story of Craig Murray, Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, has from the start been the stuff of Hollywood movies. In the meantime, however, Hare has crafted it into a compelling radio play, with David Tennant well cast in the role of the flawed hero, who arrives in Tashkent determined to make a difference. When he witnesses a local trial, in which a defendant claims to have been tortured, he vows to probe further though his deputy advises him not to bother, describing Uzbekistan as "a pathetic little 10th-grade tyranny". All too soon, however, Murray is summoned back to London where his superiors advise him to drop his investigations. The evidence that Uzbekistan is extracting is apparently vital for the war on terror. When Murray argues, "Because we don't ask, that means we're not complicit?" the QC summoned to advise utters a wonderful line. "That word complicit is opaque. There's some doubt about what complicit actually means... in my view, legally we are in the clear." Shades of the Chilcot inquiry were all around. This drama was adapted straight from Murray's memoir, and yet again, listeners were bound to reflect, you couldn't make it up.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot