Friday, 29 July 2016

Radio Review: 29th July

A duo of chortle meisters return to the airwaves

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176Looking back over the history of British comedy, I am forced to conclude that Peter Jones doesn’t get anywhere near the level of love and praise he’s due. If his only contributions to the genre were his years in Spike Milligan’s demented repertory company, providing the voice of The Book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or as the steadying influence against Kenneth Williams on Just A Minute, that would be enough, but there was far more to the man than that.

As well as being an accomplished comic performer, he was also a writer of distinction, creating ground-breaking radio comedy in the early 1950s with Peter Ustinov with a surreal, largely improvised series called In All Directions.

Searching for the elusive Copthorne Avenue in their car, Jones and Ustinov played every character they met along the way. The key here is that Jones was more than a match for the inventiveness of Ustinov. In All Directions gave birth to the spiv Dudley Grosvenor, revived by Jones in 1959 for the sitcom We’re In Business, currently being repeated on Radio 4 Extra.

The first of the repeats began with Grosvenor outlining his attitude to worst-case scenarios. ‘It might never happen,’ he explains to hapless sidekick Harry Worth, who replies, ‘It frequently does happen, though, doesn’t it?’ ‘All right, so it happens,’ Grosvenor admits. ‘Then I say to myself it might never happen again.’

This is a prelude to Grosvenor’s worst recurring nightmare, a visit from his thuggish grandmother, played by Irene Handl, always peerless but here on absolutely blistering form. The old girl always invites herself to stay when she’s ‘done all her lolly’, and Granny Grosvenor’s true measure emerges when she ‘borrows’ Dudley’s car to do a bank job.

‘She’s just about the most calculating, conniving, snidish old witch who ever drew breath,’ Dudley explains. There seems to be a measure of professional jealousy at work here. The main difference between the two generations is that Gran is better at getting away with criminal acts than Dud. Anyway, it’s all lovely stuff.

As was Dave Podmore’s Big Bake Off Bash (available on iPlayer). Having been very much one of Vivian Stanshall’s ‘odd boys’ at school when it came to sport, I know almost nothing about cricket. However, I always listen avidly and laugh raucously when Christopher Douglas brings his vain, idiotic, self-important bat-botherer to the airwaves. Podmore, with his catchphrase of ‘very much so’, is a glorious universal grotesque. Exact reference points are unnecessary, although I detect more than a touch of Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham.

The theme on this outing for Pod was reduced circumstances. His Boswell, journalist Andy Hamer (played by Andrew Nickolds who co-writes these despatches with Douglas and Nick Newman), finds Podmore at a food bank, claiming to be there to perform a celebrity opening, but giving the game away by asking for his fee to be paid in tins of beans with sausages. Meanwhile, Hamer is working for a radio station where the DJs have to sing because playing records would be too costly, and the BBC has been sold to a Romanian who put in the cheapest tender.

Hamer prompts Pod to take part in The Great British Bake Off to get his career back on track, even if it requires the disqualification of all other contestants and results in food poisoning for the entire Test Match Special commentary team. Is it good to have Pod back? Very much so.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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