Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 16 January

Radio 4 explores the uniquely British art of complaining

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-portrait-176However haughty Margo from The Good Life could be, her heart was firmly in the right place. She could insult her friends Tom and Barbara, but woe betide anybody else who attempted it. Moreover, when she complained, she made sure her grievances were taken on board, telling one petty official she represented ‘the silent majority’.

This scene was what prompted writer and broadcaster Bidisha to explore the history of complaints for this week’s Archive On 4. Classicist and comedian Natalie Haynes points to complaints in the plays of Aristophanes, while Professor Philip Davis recalls Woody Allen’s joke about two old Jewish dames griping about hotel food. ‘It’s inedible,’ says one. ‘Yes, and the portions are too small,’ says the other.

‘We moan a lot but aren’t complaining in an effective way,’ says ‘expert complainer’ Jasper Griegson. We seem to prefer the indirect approach. One Englishlanguage student from overseas who works as a hotel receptionist notes that the English say everything’s fine on checking out, but then a week later the snarky online reviews start to appear.

I could have done with far more archive material, especially the letters from old editions of Points Of View. I laughed when I heard that a show about the twist dance craze prompted a 1960s viewer to declare, ‘In all my born days, I’ve never seen such appalling rubbish, dross, tripe and ullage.’

However, there are lots of good moments, such as Bidisha’s own overhearing of a passenger at an airport, trying not to lose his top over excess baggage charges. ‘I’m not complaining,’ he told airline staff, firmly, ‘I’m just trying to understand.’ We’ve all been there.

Archive On 4, Radio 4, Saturdays, 8pm
Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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