Thursday, 12 July 2012

Radio Reviews: 13 July

Kenny’s rise to glory, midnight in Red Square and all that jazz, says Louis Barfe

Written by Louis Barfe
First things first, we must mark the sad passing of Eric Sykes. Although best known for his gloriously whimsical and surreal TV work with Hattie Jacques, he was, in the golden age of radio comedy, just about the best scriptwriter in the business.

He wrote note-perfect scripts for Frankie Howerd with all the oohs, ahhs and Missuses in place. One day, he'd be writing Educating Archie, the next he'd be collaborating with Spike Milligan on Goon Shows so seamlessly that neither Spike nor himself could see the join.

Mercifully, trumpeter Kenny Ball is still with us, as are his Jazzmen, and their long career was celebrated in an hour-long interview with singer Clare Teal on BBC Radio 2. Ball has a way with an anecdote and a tone of voice that suggests he takes very little seriously, while Teal also has a mischievous sense of humour.

We heard that Ball took up his instrument after hearing that star band-leader and trumpeter Harry James was to marry Betty Grable.

Unfortunately, it didn't prove to be a passage to glory. Ball told touring horror stories of guest houses where the pillows stank of feet, the proprietors having merely turned the beds round between guests. But once Lonnie Donegan secured him a record contract, the bookings and digs improved massively. Perhaps the crowning achievement came in 1980 – Ball and his band took their hit Midnight In Moscow to Red Square, to the delight of jazzstarved Russians.

It was a very easy listen, but I had a slight problem with Teal's tendency towards overenthusiasm, and the word 'wow'. A bit more deadpan wouldn't have gone amiss. Teal's glee (and her extensive knowledge of the music) serves her better on Sunday nights at 10pm, when she continues Alan Dell and Malcolm Laycock's tradition of presenting big-band music.

In my London days, I used to record the much-missed Laycock, to make the Monday commute bearable. Back then, the show was half 1930s dance-band music, half big bands. The 1930s stuff went a few years back, but it's still a good programme. Now I listen at home on iPlayer and always hear something I've not heard before. However, if I were still battling with the Central Line, I'd be using Teal's show as a buffer between me and the outside world.

Clare Teal, BBC Radio 2, Sundays at 10pm.




Anne Reid, the rather wonderful actress and Victoria Wood associate, joins Michael Berkeley at noon on Radio 3 on Saturday 22 July to discuss her Private Passions.

Follow Louis on Twitter: @LadyWireless or email him at:

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