How local can you go?

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The Independent Online
All heroes are local, more or less, but some are more local than others. In Local Heroes (Radio 2, Saturday), Tony Capstick set out to survey the dismal turnip-field of local entertainment, to discover why it is that some performers can be huge on their home patch and unknown everywhere else.

Dennis of Grunty Fen, for instance, is enormous in East Anglia. He has his own radio programme, and has even, so we were told, entertained the Royal family at Sandringham (though the unkind thought occurred that it might have been more accurate to say that he had appeared before them, and leave it at that). Dennis has a mysterious warm bucket - it never gets cold! - and believes that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the laxative properties of giant rhubarb (hilarious!). We also met Scotland the What?, a trio of middle-aged men from Aberdeen who make old-fashioned jokes in the Doric dialect, and remark with some asperity that the north-east of Scotland shouldn't be confused with the north-east of Britain, which of course lies between Newcastle and Sunderland; and, ironically, Paul Wheater, who is billed as "the North-east's answer to Jim Reeves".

The programme didn't, as promised, analyse why these entertainers don't travel. Up to a point, that didn't matter - five minutes with Dennis and you had a pretty shrewd idea where the problem lay. But we could have done with some idea of why he appealed to anybody in the first place: was it a matter of solidarity - a refusal to admit that a local boy isn't funny? Or is it that there are localised forms of entertainment which genuinely can't be translated on to the wider scene?

This last seems unlikely. What was dispiriting about the programme was the realisation that, aside from a smattering of dialect and a couple of references, there wasn't anything truly local about most of these acts. What's to differentiate the North-east's answer to Jim Reeves from the South-west's answer to Jim Reeves, except the label? With the other acts, most of the jokes were old ones with a bit of regional colour spattered on top - they all shared a generalised sense of localness which you could get anywhere.

You can certainly get it in North-East of Eden (Radio 4, Wednesday), a comedy series about a GP from London who comes to live on the improbably named island of Paradise, just off the north-east coast (that's the north- east coast of Britain, you understand). Peter Kerry's script contains some OK jokes - last week's depressive Norwegian fisherman ("All we have in Norway is Grieg, Ibsen and a pathological hatred of large aquatic mammals") - and more cheap ones (the days when John Selwyn Gummer was automatically funny are, thank God, behind us). But Paradise is just a stereotypical eccentric remote community, and for all the local colour, this might as well be about a doctor from New York ending up in Alaska. Come to think of it, that's not a bad premise for a programme...

True local feeling does exist, though: Another String (Thursday, Radio 4) featured the Cornish playwright and part-time lobster fisherman Nick Darke, whose strength of feeling for Cornwall was obvious and moving. But with it came a certain smugness; at one point, railing against benches on clifftops, he proclaimed that the people who perpetrated them might think they loved the place, but they didn't really. There was something ugly about that moment - pride shading into jealousy, love into possessiveness - that made me think more kindly of Dennis.