Tune in for endless laughs in every 'Radio Times'

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The Independent Online
SINCE the death of Punch, there has been no current magazine quite so sharp and regularly satirical, in my opinion, as a little weekly called the Radio Times. If you do not know it, it is well worth picking up a copy and giving it a try.

You may be confused at first by the amount of TV and radio listings there seem to be - this is because it started life as a satirical weekly taking the mickey out of broadcasting, and even now most of the listings are patently absurd and probably made up by an irreverent staff. But where the Radio Times comes into its own is as a satire on the British way of life.

One of my favourite features is called 'My Kind Of Day'. It's a take-off of those endless features in which well-known personalities tell us about their favourite room or the view out of their window or their favourite disease. What's clever about the Radio Times's parody is that at the end of the interview with Prim Garforth, or whoever the luckless subject is, there's a note saying 'Prim Garforth is Dulcie in Glad To Meet You, BBC 1 Thursdays'. The point being, presumably, that if Prim Garforth really were well-known, they wouldn't need to explain who she was.

I would guess that it is ghost- written by Craig Brown, were it not that I detect Brown's genius for parody more strongly in the 'Clement Freud Interview'. This is a weekly feature in which Clement Freud purports to meet another (]) well-known person and, instead of interviewing them, talks to them endlessly about Clement Freud's interest in food. I think Brown (if indeed it is he who writes these superb pieces) goes a little over the top with Freud's obsession with cooking the meal that he (Freud) thinks the interviewee should like, but it's still a beguiling take-off.

There is a whole page in the Radio Times that underlines even more strongly the way we British approach the business of eating. Most of it is devoted to a serious recipe - a recent one was Sophie Grigson on how to make a pissaladiere. There is also a feature called 'My TV Dinner', in which celebrities (Real? Made up? We aren't told) tell us what they have on their laps while watching the box.

The point isn't hard to avoid. You British may think you're interested in food, is the message, but given the chance most of you would pig down in front of a TV programme with a Chinese take-away and not even look at what you're eating. And as sure as hell your TV dinner won't be a pissaladiere a la Grigson] Nice one, editor]

(It isn't quite clear who the editor actually is. There is a regular item called 'Letter From the Editor', featuring a photo of a bespectacled, grinning man. Now you know and I know that editors who insist on having their own pictures in the paper, accompanied by messages from themselves, are to be well avoided, and I suspect the real editor of the Radio Times knows this, too.)

The Radio Times also is a dab hand at parodying all these little ads that feature so heavily in traditional British publications - for holiday towns in Devon, garden sheds, leather handbag offers, etc. But when it comes to holiday parodies, it would be impossible to beat their recent merciless piss-take of Peter Mayle's Provence. Week after week they have had overkill with coverage of the wretched man's Provencal retreat, features on Provencal cookery, profiles of the poor actor who plays Mayle, special Provencal holiday offers and so on, till you think they can't think of any other angle to parody.

But they've kept their nerve. This week, long after most people have given up watching A Year in Provence, the Radio Times has started plugging a new 'guide' called the Radio Times Essential Provence. 'It has inspired artists, poets and, more recently, retired admen,' drools the cruel blurb. 'Provence has a lyrical beauty that makes it just as popular a destination for discerning holidaymakers as a rural retreat for the likes of the world-weary Mayles. . . .' The truth, of course, as the satirical Radio Times is clearly saying, is that the last place which a Mayle-weary world is likely to flock to this year is poor old Provence, but it's still worth making the point.