Afternoon Play: Pythonesque, Radio 4, Wednesday, Listen again, Radio 4, Tuesday

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy, writes Chris Maume

Sunday 19 September 2010 00:00
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You're on a hiding to nothing dramatising the Monty Python story: try as you might, you're never going to be as funny as your subject. Undeterred, Roy Smiles undertook the challenge in Pythonesque, which centred on Graham Chapman's battle with booze and his early death from cancer, told in the style of those overarching comedy gods.

Written for last year's Edinburgh Festival, it probably worked better on stage, and the tone of over-egged jocularity grated somewhat. Devices such as having Eric Idle, in full "Wink-wink nudge-nudge" mode, audition Chapman and John Cleese for the Footlights were simply irritating.

For all the pastiches, even the ones that worked, it was Chapman's sombre closing speech that was truly memorable: "I was proud to be gay, proud to conquer my alcoholism, proud to be a Python, proud to write with John Cleese, and proud to play the lead in two of the funniest movies of all time. I enjoyed a full life and I was loved by many. What more can a man ask?"

Were the Python team starting out today, they might conceivably come up with something like the utterly fabulous Listen Against, supposedly a news round-up with Alice Arnold in the studio and Jon Holmes reporting. It's a glorious mixture of cannibalised cut-ups from the BBC's current affairs output and segments featuring Beeb figures playing themselves (Ed Stourton and Gaby Roslin, for example, on a Children in Need expedition to the centre of the Earth).

Much of it is directed at the BBC itself, and the triumphant stand-out last week was a rolling report from the scene of what Arnold called a "broadcastastrophe". "The pipe that pumps bad TV into the nation's digiboxes" had burst, and "gallons of terrible programmes" were spilling out, contaminating all the decent stuff with BBC3 output. "Awful programmes are threatening wildlife," said Holmes. "I saw a man trying to clean James Corden off a guillemot."

The emergency services were throwing episodes of Dad's Army down the shaft to try to stem the flow. And how much was escaping, Arnold inquired? "It's estimated at up to 3,000 scraped barrels a day," said Holmes.

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