Percy Edwards just couldn't happen now. You can imagine him in the Britain's Got Talent green room, consoled by a smirking Ant and Dec after being savaged by Piers Morgan. But in his time he was, in Peter Sellers' words, "a true star", his talent for bird impersonations carrying a hefty cachet in the world of variety. He even worked with Kate Bush, for chough's sake.
He would have been 100 in the summer, and the BBC loves its anniversaries. They've been tripping over each other: Darwin and On the Origin of Species, Motown, the Beatles' rooftop gig, and now the really big one, The Percy Edwards Showdown. A quiz-documentary hybrid was the preferred method of celebration, and it promised to be a surreal occasion. "If you're just tuning in and you're nonplussed, you are listening to Radio 4," chuckled quizmaster David Attenborough.
I was expecting something a bit wackier – an ornithologically themed Gang Show, perhaps, co-hosted by Vic and Bob and the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band – so I felt slightly cheated by its sanity: it was amiable and down to earth rather than taking comic flight. Perhaps it was the panel, and a personal allergy to Bill Oddie, who was joined by the broadcaster Philippa Forrester, the nature writer Mark Cocker and the comedian Alex Horne, who's just brought out a book called Birdwatchingwatching.
What was odd was their inability to pin down the impersonations. Was Edwards not that great, for all his 400 film credits? "It sounded like a not very good willow warbler," Oddie ventured. "He thought he was doing a hedge sparrow," said Attenborough. "A hedge sparrow?!?" Oddie spluttered.
So Percy wouldn't get on telly these days, and the Showdown is unlikely to be transferred – unlike I've Never Seen Star Wars, which will be on a small screen near you next week, in TV's latest radio-based smash-and-grab. The idea is that Marcus Brigstocke gets the well known to do a few things they've never done before: this week, Suggs changed the oil in a car, read A Brief History of Time, listened to a Take That album ("technically a boy band but now more of a paunchy man band," Brigstocke observed), watched Titanic and took a tap-dance lesson.
Suggs revealed that he listened to Take That while reading A Brief History of Time. "Did you get the sense that Stephen Hawking was listening to Take That while writing it?" Brigstocke wondered.Reuse content