BBC Radio 4 puts punk poetry in comedy schedule with new shows from John Cooper Clarke and Alexei Sayle

Exclusive: The new shows part of diverse new schedule drawn up by network’s comedy chief Sioned Wiliam

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The Independent Culture

Radio 4 is to put punk poetry at the heart of its comedy schedule with new shows from John Cooper Clarke, Alexei Sayle and Henry Normal.

Cooper Clarke, the so-called bard of Salford, will host Dr John Cooper Clarke at The BBC, a four-part series in which he will perform a mix of new and old selections of his poesy to a live audience.

Normal, who earlier in his career toured as a performance poet supporting Pulp, went on to set up Baby Cow with Coogan and produced comedies including Gavin & Stacey and The Mighty Boosh. He will return to Radio 4 for the first time in more than 20 years with a live show A Normal Family, in which he describes life with his “mildly severely” autistic son, Johnny.

Radio 4 will also bring back the actor and poet Alexei Sayle, who will perform four monologues of his surreal humour under the title Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar.

The new shows are part of a diverse new schedule drawn up by the network’s comedy chief Sioned Wiliam, who has also commissioned new work from the poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. “Poetry is such a distillation of words and so scrutinised and forensically constructed that it actually matches the same kind of discipline I’m looking for in comedy, so it works incredibly well,” she told The Independent. “With the poetry on Radio 4 they tend to be fantastically charismatic personalities as well.”

Wiliam, a former controller of comedy at ITV, said that splintering television audiences were allowing Radio 4 to attract the best of broadcast comedy talent. “For our Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy there is over a 2m audience, a huge audience that a lot of telly programmes don’t get anymore,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more of an awareness, over 5.5 million listen to Radio 4 comedy over a week. I have done shows for telly that have had 300,000 watching them and it’s a sobering thought how the landscape is changing.”

Australian comedian Sam Simmons, winner of the prestigious Fosters award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, has been commissioned to host his show Sam Simons Is Not a People Person, based on his search for rare birds, an unorthodox take on a favourite topic of Radio 4’s.

The network has also plundered the Edinburgh event for Canadian comedian and guitarist Mae Martin, who is to make a four-episode show on the Millennial generation’s sexual revolution. Daphne, a Goons-style comedy troupe whose sketch show was another Edinburgh sensation, is also coming to Radio 4.

Blackburn comic Tez Ilyas, another of last year’s Edinburgh hits, will present four 15 minute programmes made in the style of TED talks and designed as a “topical guide to being a British Muslim”.

The network will combine David Jason with One Foot in the Grave writer David Renwick for a faux interview show called Desolation Jests.

Wiliam said that Simmons, who will do a late night show, “blew me away” with his performance at Edinburgh. “Radio 4 is a wonderful place to start someone like Sam, who is relatively new to Britain. I imagine that the allure of being able to work purely with voice and sound must have seemed an exciting prospect.”

Wiliam was a member of the Oxford Revue at university with Armando Iannucci and Rebecca Front. She has commissioned Front and her brother, Jeremy Front to make a comedy pilot, Jack & Millie, based on an old Jewish couple.