Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 5 October

A new situation comedy made our radio columnist almost faint with laughter

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWI should have learned by now that listening to radio comedy on public transport is fraught with danger. Particularly if you have a raucous bellowing laugh like what I do. The looks I've received couldn't be much worse if I were sitting there naked and proud. So, I would like to apologise to anyone who had the misfortune to be using the East Suffolk line when I was listening to the first episode of Sue Limb's new situation comedy Gloomsbury.

The title would appear to be a pun for punning's sake, because there is nothing gloomy about this rollicking send-up of the Bloomsbury Set. The name of the lead character, Vera Sackcloth- Vest, played by the wonderful Miriam Margolyes, sets the stall out admirably. This is broad comedy. Vera – who insists on being addressed as 'Sir' – and her husband Henry (Jonathan Coy) send each other pained love letters as if several continents apart, when, in fact, he's on the sofa and she's in the garden.

Among Vera's lesbian lovers are Ginny Fox, a thinly-veiled Virginia Woolf, played by Alison Steadman. Fox is given to writing lovelorn missives, pining for Sackcloth-Vest and seeing her in everything, including a crack in the ceiling. Another of Vera's squeezes is Venus (Morwenna Banks). Vera's haughty verdict on Venus is damning: 'She's not as bohemian as I am... Underneath those amusing birch-twig tiaras, she's a terribly bourgeois little kitten, you know.' In Venus's case, the reason for Vera's attraction to her is unlikely to be intellectual.

The series has its basis in historical reality, but the listener doesn't need a working knowledge of 1920s bohemians to get something from such a gloriously silly show. When Vera is informed that a beggar with no arms and no legs is at the door, she replies distractedly 'Give him a buttered crumpet and tell him to think about joining a circus.' Margolyes, Steadman, Banks and the rest of the cast (including, joy of joys, Nigel Planer and John Sessions) deliver it all with welldeserved gusto.

Gloomsbury brings together a writer I admire hugely with a cast containing some of my favourite actors, while producer Jamie Rix spent years working on the sublime Radio Active. No wonder I love it. I'll try and avoid listening to the remaining five episodes on trains, though.

Gloomsbury, Radio 4, Fridays at 11.30am.


Loss-making digital radio station Planet Rock is up for sale. Since taking the station over in 2008 from GCap Media, owner Malcolm Bluemel has invested £3m of his own money, but Planet Rock continues to lose £200,000 a year.

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