The Museum of Curiosity, Radio 4

Try pitching this to the boss

By Nicholas Lezard
Sunday 24 February 2008 01:00

Doesn't a little bit of Brian Blessed go an awfully long way? I thought of this whenever he opened his mouth on Radio 4's new, well, I suppose strictly speaking it's comedy, because it goes out at 6.30, but "Radio 4's new comedy show" doesn't quite seem to fit. How does one describe The Museum of Curiosity? It's got guests; it has two hosts, Bill Bailey and John Lloyd, and occasionally, laughs.

I try to envisage the pitch. Imagine if you or I went up to the Head of What Goes Out at 6.30 on Radio 4 and said: "It's a show where we ask guests to bring along an item of interest for us to put in an imaginary museum. They get to tell us some anecdotes, and we make the odd quip." The Head of What Goes Out at 6.30 on Radio 4 puts the tips of his fingers together and says: "Is that it?" "Well, basically, yes." "And will your guests be famous?" "Well, we thought for the first show we'd have Brian Blessed, who is an enormous pain in the arse but undoubtedly very well known; a comedian not too many people have heard of like, say, Sean Lock, and then we'd have a completely off-beam choice, perhaps Richard Fortey, who is a world expert on trilobites and a member of the Royal Society."

This sounds a bit mad, no? As I said, if you or I pitched this idea we'd hardly have time to eat our free BBC biscuit before being shown the door. But as the hosts are Bill Bailey and John Lloyd (who had the idea for, among many other things, QI), then they get the green light. Good for them. And, apart from Brian Blessed, of whom I have now had a sufficiency that will last me the rest of my days, the show more or less worked – although half the time you would have kept asking yourself the question I posed at the beginning of this paragraph. Still, eccentricity is fine by me, as long as it's genuinely amusing. And hearing about Sean Lock's time as a goatherd – or Richard Fortey's experience of being stung by a giant Chinese hornet, or his story about the womanising museum curator who filed snippings of pubic hair from every woman he slept with – help pass the time pleasantly enough.

Whether this goes towards mollifying Jane Garvey, the Woman's Hour presenter who says that Radio 4 is too middle class, is another matter. I once said in this column that one would be unlikely to see the headline "Radio 4 controller vows to make station more middle class", but, amazingly, this has basically been the controller's reaction.

Mark Damazer has said, in effect, that yes, of course Radio 4 is middle class, that's because most people now are middle class. What's your problem? Mine is Brian Blessed.

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