Robert Hanks: 'Repeated trailers are disfiguring my listening day'

The Week in Radio
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The Independent Culture

Sometimes, listening to the radio, I get the impression that trailers have multiplied to the point where they've driven out actual programmes – so many of them, so frequently iterated, that you're sick of programmes days before they arrive. The jokes that stick in my head are ones I've heard over and over again in trailers for Radio 4 comedies, and if they were funny to begin with – which at the moment isn't likely – they surely aren't after the 15th repetition. So many of the trailers that disfigure my listening day are misleading, too: I've lost count of the number of times I've half-heard the promise of a marvellous drama – intriguing precis, clever writer, distinguished cast – which turns out on inspection to be advertising a Woman's Hour Drama, the aural equivalent of putting your foot in a dog turd. Even news programmes, which used to tell us about things that have just happened, are more often than not about things that are about to happen, a speech in which a minister "is expected to say", an announcement due later this morning – news not as the first draft of history, but as a to-do list scribbled on the back of history's envelope. Then there are the news features that turn out not be news at all, but extended adverts for tonight's 'File on 4' or 'Panorama'.

Next to faux-news, an honest-to-goodness trailer seems harmless, though not always. On Jon Holmes' Saturday afternoon show on 6music, listeners were sending in their titles and synopses for poor television sitcoms. Most involved puns: 'Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones' – Eddie Sticks and Brian Stones work at an abattoir, operating the bone crushing machine; 'The Long and Short of IT' – Paul Long, a midget, and his friend James Short, a giant, work together in a tiny IT department, with hilarious results; 'Scent to Coventry' – Eddie Scent sets up a mail-order perfume business in the West Midlands. These were followed by a trailer for the BBC1 sitcom 'Life of Riley', about a woman called Maddy Riley. "I'm saying nothing," Holmes said, though he could have said something about the sheer idiocy of repeatedly trailing a self-consciously mumsy comedy on a station that prides itself on being cutting edge.

Let's look on the bright side, though. I take a sneaking pleasure in Melvyn Bragg's Thursday morning trails for 'In Our Time' during the 'Today' programme, which end in some faintly peculiar joke aimed at one of the 'Today' team - preferably John Humphrys, who always sounds as if he's not quite sure whether he's been insulted. (While we're on the subject of 'Today', my opinion on the whole Ed Stourton question is that I like Stourton but he's not a reason to tune in, in the way that Humphrys, James Naughtie and now Evan Davies are; Justin Webb can be very annoying, and for precisely that reason may well be a reason to tune in.) And once in a while, a trailer alerts you to a programme you might otherwise miss: if it hadn't been for the overlong, somewhat self-important trailers, I might not have spotted that John Irving's 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' was going to be occupying the Afternoon Play slot all this week on Radio 4. Nadia Molinari's production isn't always convincing – conjuring up the Vietnam War through a montage of gunfire and Jimi Hendrix isn't going to win any prizes for originality – but it does give us Toby Jones in the title role. Starring in a Classic Serial version of Ivan Goncharov's tragicomedy 'Oblomov', Jones earned a place in my list of all-time top 10 performances in radio drama. Here, you get the bonus of Jones doing a squeaky voice. If that isn't worth trailing, I don't know what is.