Friday, 27 April 2012

Radio Reviews: 27 April

Written by Louis Barfe

Laugh till it hurts

Radio 4 has discovered its funny bone, but be warned... it can be painful

Louis-Barfe-newBWThere is a time and a place for radio comedy. I discovered this when I made the mistake of listening to a National Theatre of Brent production while under observation in the cardiac ward of my local hospital. Nurses came running, having seen various spikes on my monitor, concerned I was having an episode. In fact, I was merely roaring with laughter at Patrick Barlow and John Ramm telling the story of the Mona Lisa.

For the same reason, I can't listen to Ed Reardon's Week, Radio 4's superb sitcom about a grumpy hack writer, pipe-smoker and fare-dodger on public transport. As a freelance scribbler, I fi nd many aspects of Reardon's life all too recognisable, provoking yelps of delight and recognition, which, on trains and buses tends to be frowned upon, even if you've paid your way.

Now in its eighth series, the show's creators Christopher Douglas – who plays Reardon – and Andrew Nickolds, have taken admirable risks with the character. Previously, Ed was as unsuccessful a lover as he was an author. Now, however, he has a girlfriend called Fiona (be still my beating heart, Jenny Agutter).

Any danger of the series becoming soupily romantic is kicked into the long grass by making Fiona a curmudgeon and a skinflint after Reardon's own heart, with the pair of them gleefully living off competition prizes and sachets purloined from magazine covers.

There are also occasional signs that Reardon's career is on the up but happily, these tend to be dashed in short order, usually by 'the 12-year-olds' in a position to commission his work. In episode two, the peak of the run so far, a letter complaining about BBC4's biopics of 'promiscuous dead comedians' leads to Reardon being commissioned to write a piece of 'factutainment' about Peter Glaze from Crackerjack. The blameless Glaze, he claims, was an MI6 agent with a sideline of 'gunrunning in Panama'. Unsurprisingly, the programme is canned, but not because of Reardon making it up. Instead, the project founders for fear of 'Double Or Drop' being interpreted by the tabloids as 'child abuse and humiliation'.

Douglas's portrayal of Reardon is a triumph, making him sympathetic, even when he's being cowardly or bigoted. Long may Ed Reardon be a miserable, hilarious failure.

Radio 4, Tuesdays, 6.30pm; Radio 4 Extra, Tuesdays, 10pm.


This Saturday from midnight, in the final show of the current Jazz Library series on BBC Radio 3, Alyn Shipton will be presenting archive interviews with musicians Kenny Baker, Vic Lewis, Coleridge Goode and Annie Ross, in which they choose their favourite jazz records.

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