Although Radio 4 has an honourable record as a comedy testbed, there seem to have been at least as many misses as hits over the years. On admittedly limited listening I'd always counted Ed Reardon's Week as only a qualified success: there were some good lines but it also had some of that clunkiness that trips up too many of the station's stabs at humour.
I was persuaded to give it another go by the paroxysms of Reardon-based delight into which rival reviewers are periodically plunged – and I have to say I'm converted. He's a misanthropic, alcoholic hack writer whose literary prowess is usually lavished on such magnum opuses as the Location, Location, Location book tie-in. Reardon found himself last Monday (series six, episode three) working on his new novel – about a Yorkshire spin-bowler who happens to be a teenage Asian girl – while playing in the dance band led by his eternal nemesis, the considerably more successful Jaz Milvane, on a cruise of the Scots islands. It crackled with great lines, without any of that telegraphing you get too often in Radio 4 comedy – punchlines laboriously set up, like a centenarian rising from a very deep sofa.
The stars of the show, for me, are the ageing trio from Ed's night-school writing class, Pearl, Olive and Stan – Rita May, Stephanie Cole and Geoffrey Whitehead – who ruthlessly cut him down to size, a sharp-tongued Greek chorus with lines rewritten by Alan Bennett. They fetch up on the cruise, their tour of North Wales having fallen through. "We were due to do a tour of natural springs where the supermarkets get their mineral water," they tell Reardon. "I expect my ex-wife and children will turn up too and start discussing my shortcomings," he says. "Oh, a failure at that too, were you?" asks Stan.
In similar vein to Reardon is Charles Paris, the world-weary actor-sleuth with a drink problem who's been around in Simon Brett's novels for 35 years and is back for a new series, adapted by Jeremy Front, with the wonderful Bill Nighy in the lead role. His lovely, laid-back style sets the tone and pace, and there are great performances all round, including that of Martine McCutcheon as the actress and swimwear model Jodie Rix, appearing with him in a pan-European co-produced vampire movie. It's not a gag-a-second stuff, which is fine, and there are some nice lines. Jodie's agent has big plans for her: "If Will Young can do Question Time, Jodie Rix can do Newsnight Review."
Which barely leaves room for another comedy worth catching: Mordrin McDonald: 21st Century Wizard. Said Scot is the UK's 19th most powerful necromancer, living in a wee Scots village and failing to avoid being sent on any quests (such as "Can you chaperone this fairy to the ceilidh? Can you return these DVDs to Blockbuster?"). He ends up in the first episode saving Aviemore from a dragon by serenading it with "Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon. Co-writer and star David Kay evokes fond memories of Ivor Cutler, and there is no higher praise.