The Write Stuff, Radio 4
The Archers, Radio 4
Photogenic literary types wanted for erudite quiz
Sunday 13 April 2008
It's a tall order to fill the Monday evening comedy slot on Radio 4 when your competition is I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue and Just a Minute. It is quite the vote of confidence to give it to a literary quiz. And not Quote ... Unquote, about which this column has said quite enough in the past, but one which is actually quite hard.
Contestants have to bone up on a featured author of the week, and try to stop John Walsh from answering everything first. This week's writer was Jonathan Swift, and I can best demonstrate the hopelessness of the other members of the teams by quoting verbatim the following exchange between James Walton, the quizmaster, and John Walsh: "Which English poet was a..." "Bringg!' "... cousin of Swift?" "John Dryden."
This isn't just a matter of always winning, as Paul Merton does in Just a Minute, but a deep unfairness to everyone else in the room and,by extension, everyone who's listening.
At this point, I feel I have to declare an interest: I was once shrewdly invited to be one of the contestants on the show, and have regarded my appearance as the high point of my media career, not that there's a great deal of competition.
Since then I have run into Walton and Walsh a couple of times and wondered whether they would ever have me back. No, they said, we don't have guests on in consecutive series. This is rot. The novelist and critic Jane Thynne, for example, is almost always on, although if you compare a photograph of her with my mugshot, left, you begin to understand why I'm not in as much demand.
Oh well, I suppose I'd better not bear a grudge. The show has, over the years, become a bit more streamlined, and if some of the questions are more or less impossible for people without a very active interest in literature, then think of University Challenge, where the whole point of the show, as far as the audience is concerned, is not to know the answers. There's only one problem: they're running out of writers. The week before last, they were reduced to going through the works of John Grisham, with undisguised contempt.
Meanwhile, the trial of Kathy's rapist in The Archers has provided some extremely gripping radio moments. We all love a good trial, and we love it even more when the dramatisation involves an issue that cries to heaven for justice – in this case, the horribly low rate of convictions for rape in the criminal justice system. This was, indeed, the burden of one of Pat Archer's replies to the nasty woman who is Owen (the rapist)'s lawyer. "Stick to the point," Pat was told; but she replied that this was very much to the point, considering that the question she was being asked was why she had not immediately encouraged Kathy to go to the police.
I love it when The Archers does this. It takes one of the show's most consistently unlikeable characters (for the rest of the time, Pat is a sour-voiced, self-righteous nag) and turns her, however temporarily, into a heroine – precisely because of the qualities which had made her so unattractive before. That's very clever.
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