Thursday, 07 June 2012

Radio Reviews: 8 June

The creator of Reggie Perrin has a funny name… and an even funnier show

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWNobbs is an unfortunate surname. As someone with a similar affliction, David Nobbs has my deepest sympathy. In the first part of his three-part autobiographical Radio 4 series With Nobbs On, the creator of Reggie Perrin explained how, in his National Service days, a sergeant put him on a charge simply for answering honestly the question, 'What's your name?' After all, how can 'Nobbs, sir' sound like anything other than insubordination?

In this delightful show Nobbs offers a vaguely chronological selection of anecdotes from his life and career. Sometimes an extract is re-enacted by Martin Trenaman and Mia Soteriou. Welcome though these interventions are, Nobbs is the main attraction, being an engaging performer as well as a fine writer.

We heard him explain that his aptitude for writing was apparent from an early age, although later on, like so many comic-minded chaps of his generation, Nobbs was influenced by the absurdist playwright NF Simpson, who died last year, and to whom tribute was paid with some warm words and a brief extract from Simpson's play, A Resounding Tinkle.

Simpson's work tended to be absurdity for its own sake: one of his plays has a man who tries to teach a 'choir' of speak-yourweight machines to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Nobbs tends to deal in applied, pointed absurdity. Think back to The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, where the surrealism was used to highlight the idiocy of big business and a decent man's descent into madness. For example, a computer crunching some market-research data declares the three most popular fl avours of ice cream to be book-ends, pumice stone and West Germany.

Nobbs is also an observer of the rich surrealism of reality, remembering misprints from his days as a journalist, like: 'The Hippodrome cinema, opened in 1832 as a threat.' His old friend Peter Tinniswood was of a similar bent, and it was a joy to hear him crop up in one of Nobbs's tales. It concerned a visit they paid to Liège. On hearing babies crying, Tinniswood commented: 'They've just realised they're Belgian.' Nobbs mused on why this was funny, and concluded that the word 'Belgium' is inherently funny. Just like the name Nobbs.

With Nobbs On, BBC Radio 4, on Mondays at, 11.30am.




The BBC's online Desert Island Discs archive has now been expanded further to include editions from the Roy Plomley years. The earliest available for download is Margaret Lockwood's selection, originally broadcast on 25 April 1951.

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