Believe It! Radio 4, Tuesday Word of Mouth, Radio 4, Tuesday

One foot in the real world – the other on my funny bone

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The Independent Culture

I never feel comfortable when fact is mixed with fiction. I spend the whole time trying to figure out what's real and what's made up and usually end up vaguely irritated if it's not clear which is which. And then, I usually say to myself, the truth is usually more interesting anyway, so why bother?

I had high hopes that Believe It!, the purported autobiography of the actor Richard Wilson, written by Jon Canter, might up-end my preconceptions. The programme felt a bit like an episode of The Unbelievable Truth, picking out factual nuggets from the welter of fiction: was he mates with George Best? Was his first acting role in Oh! What a Lovely War!, during the shooting of which he drove an apparently legless Lord Olivier back home to Brighton? And what about Mad Great-Uncle Hamish?

There were some good lines (I liked Hamish's advice – "never trust a man who doesn't drink, for he's walking around with truths inside him that he never lets oot"), and I laughed more than is usual with Radio 4 comedy. But I was troubled: the bit about him studying electrical engineering, for example, sounded true, though it seems his pre-thespian career was spent as a lab technician. But unless there's a killer joke in there somewhere, which there wasn't, why make it up?

As for Hamish (wonderfully played in the dramatised bits by John Sessions), I'm guessing he's not real, but I found myself wishing he'd existed. As he told the young Richard (played by David Tennant): "Do you want to have an exciting life and forget most of it or a blameless life and remember every second?"

Chuggers' lives should, in theory, be blameless, but I'm happy to blame them for lots of things. I've no idea what language they use – they never get a chance to open their mouths as I swerve past with a tight smile – but on Word of Mouth Michael Rosen spoke to a few about the lines they employ. One revealed what always works for him, in the rain at least: "Come and talk to me under my umbrella of love." Rosen, surely echoing all our thoughts, found that plain creepy. He also spoke to the word's inventor, Keith Barker-Main of Metro newspaper. Nowadays, he said, when he's fighting his way through them to get to the Tube, a word does come to mind, but it isn't "chuggers".