BBC Radio 4 is the most industrious comedy factory in the world
If love makes the world go round, then laughter makes it go round. Right now the most industrious laughter factory in the world is BBC Radio 4. We are fortunate to still have a BBC which, at least in radio, can invest and develop new talent.
Remember that two of the most formidable figures in the satirical comedy Armando (The thickness of it) Iannucci and John (People like us, W1A) Morton, both started on BBC radio.
Yes, there is some good comedy on TV too. Morton, for example, is currently working on a BBC TV version of the French hit comedy. Call my agent. But television has less variety and far fewer opportunities for new writers and performers.
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Union JACK of commercial radio makes jokes, but only Radio 4 (and the Brother 4 Extra network) offers them in all forms and types of performances, whether stand-up, skit or sitcom. Not all will appeal to all listeners, but radio’s massive role in finding, nurturing and developing new ways to make us laugh remains remarkable.
Examples? In history, The Goon Show, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’m sorry I don’t have a clue (born from I’m sorry, I’m going to read this again) Kindness gracious me (Meera Syal’s Groundbreaking Sketch Show) and John Finnemore’s Unequaled Cabin pressure.
Currently, Dead ringtones (now in its 21st series) Ed Reardon’s week (born in 2005) and Conversations from a long marriage, Jan Etherington’s debut show as a solo writer, a two-handed writing written for and starring Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam, has just been voted Best Radio Comedy 2020 in the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Awards.
You will have your own take on what’s funny and what happened years ago. I do not support The news quiz when it features comedians rather than journalists, even though it remains such a Radio 4 device that others clearly adore it. But I loved the character of Ed Reardon (failed writer, shameless villain, sharp observer of the absurdities of life), from his first appearance.
I was not alone. I had just written a rave review of the first show for the The telegraph of the day when then) Sunday Telegraph the editor called to say he had to stop his car because Ed made him laugh so much.
Ed is the creation of Christopher Douglas and Andrew Nickolds. Douglas plays it brilliantly too. He is a curmudgeon, a social commentator of considerable comedic depth. He would not be suitable for television because every listener cherishes a personal image of him.
Dead ringtones also had a later stint on BBC television but never quite hit its stride there. On the radio, he flies from character to character with the greatest ease. In vision, the eye went straight to the deficiencies in their makeup. It has dozens of writers. Some are brilliant parodists, others contribute to simple zingers. Bill Dare, its producer, is himself a good writer but also a great scout for new talent. May it last a long time.
I doubt that Hennikay, a unique new satirical Sunday night sitcom, is set to flourish. On the positive side, it stars Bill Bailey as a manager facing a big challenge. If he pointed out his neuroses too savagely, maybe the writer, David Spicer, forgot the first rule of radio: don’t keep yelling at the listener. We are in the room with your imaginary people. Give them a few lines of good dialogue and we’ll see them and get to know them.
Sarah Kendall: Talking Story was either a brilliant parody or a wreck. It aired three consecutive Thursdays in Radio 4’s 6:30 p.m. slot, repeated on Radio 4 Extra, so there is still time to catch it and judge for yourself. Kendall is a comedian. Here she spoke to storytelling writers, presumably to help anyone who wants to find their way into the business. If you stay awake long enough. As an interviewer, she could do with a few lessons. When it comes to trouble, she’s a champion.
Ashley Blaker: 6.5 children begins this Friday morning, the precious test slot of Radio 4 for a comedy a little off the beaten track. In real life, Blaker is a comedian with six children, being an Orthodox Jew for whom large families are a sacred obligation. He also has a very understanding wife.
Here, it has an ingenious producer, Steve Doherty, who helps weave the real life of Blaker and the real kids together into a comedic take on it all. Quite a package, not one that I would rush to pick up. Again. But there is something there. If this one grows, remember what network fed it.