Sunday, 5 August 2012

Great Comedy on Radio 4 at 6.30 weekdays

Those of you of a certain age will smile and recognise the catchphrase “It's Friday, it's five to five and it's Crackerjack” - words that were a part of BFTF’s childhood and in a somewhat tenuous link, these days BFTF often thinks “It’s a weekday, it’s 6.30, so its time for comedy on Radio 4” - perhaps UK broadcasting’s best kept secret.

Fags, Mags and Bags
To get a feel for the quality of what is on offer, check out this snippet of dialogue from an episode of “Fags, Mags and Bags”, a shows based on the characters who visit the Glasgow corner shop owned by RameshMahju. Here the characters are discussing snooker in episode 2 from series 4 of the show:

Mrs Begg (customer) : … there used to be a lot of personalities in snooker, didn’t there? All named after extreme weather formations ,weren’t they?

Dave(Ramesh’s friend) : That’s right. There was, what’s his name, Jimmy the Whirlwind White..

Mrs Begg: Alex The Hurricane Higgins

Alok (Ramesh’s son) : Was that it?

Mrs Begg : Er. . . I think so, yes.

Alok : That’s pants!

Ramesh : In my imagination there were more weather centric purveyors of snooker. Was the tornado never invoked?

Mrs Begg : Actually, d’you know what, I don’t think it was

Ramesh : They missed a trick there, one of the top 16 should have deployed that epithet in his nomenclature. Ray Reardon, for example, Ray “The Tornado” Reardon.

Dave : Two things Ramesh. One - Tornado Reardon’s not alliterative, it needs to be alliterative. And Two - He resembled Dracula, that was his thing. Well, that and being good at snooker, and being avuncular. He was on Jim’ll Fix It once, he came over very well. The point is, he was well catered for gimmick-wise. He didn’t need to jump on the coat tails of a weather formation.

Genius, utter genius.

But what is perhaps most appealing about comedy at 6.30 is not the conventional “sitcom” type shows, of which “Fags, Mags and Bags” is an example, but rather the more off beat shows where the listener has the chance to “get under the skin” of comedians.

Jimmy "Whirlwind" White wearing white socks. What can you say, it was the 80s.

I’ve never seen Star Wars
One example of this is “I’ve never seen Star Wars” in which, often comedic, guests are asked to partake of five experiences that they have never had before - it was fascinating to hear what Paul Daniels thought about swimming (which he gave 7/10) and the movie The Great Escape (9.5/10), particularly as the listener felt they were hearing the “real” Paul Daniels, not the artificial act that he puts on when he is in magician mode.

And sometimes the comments can be really informative, Ardal O'Hanlon’s comments on using Twitter were the first time that BFTF really understood what Twitter was all about, although Ardal’s rating of 2/10 shows that he was not really convinced.

Chain Reaction
This show, in which the guests become the interviewers for the next week, can sometimes be a bit of a damp squib, but when it works it really works. One particularly fascinating episode involved Steven Merchant interviewing Jarvis Cocker. In it , Jarvis commented on how his vision was very blurred without his glasses and that “ “Don’t you think it’s nice when you wake up in the morning and it’s a gentle way to wake up because everything is still nice and fuzzy and deciding when to put your glasses on is really like deciding “right, I’ve decided when the day is going to start and suddenly everything is in focus”.

Jarvis also recounted a tale from his past in which he had tried to impress a girl by climbing out of a window and then re-entering the building from the next window along - a feat that he had seen someone perform at a party previously. Unfortunately, the trick relied on the windows being of a “sash” variety - in contrast to the hinged windows at the girls flat. So Jarvis decided that he could still impress the girl but hanging off the window sill and then swinging over to the next window before entering.

Once he was out and dangling from the window, Jarvis quickly realised that he did not have enough strength to swing across, nor did he have enough strength to haul himself back in. As the girl was (unsurprisingly) unable to pull him I, he ended up letting go (apparently he felt this was a better option than losing his grip) and falling three stories to the ground.

The resulting injuries put him in hospital for six weeks and in a wheel chair for two months. On the plus side (such as there was) he commented that “I suddenly realised that all this stuff around me, in Sheffield, normal day to day things that I thought “ooh, that’s too normal to write about”, was actually the stuff that I was more interested in. And so I started to get a lot more specific and use place names and stuff like that in my writing.“

Sometimes artistic insight comes at the bottom of a three story fall.

My Teenage Diaries
This programme involves celebrities looking back on, and reading from, their teenage diaries. Whilst there are plenty of laughs, there are also some quite touching moments. Victoria Coren, for example, subsequently commented that “I remembered myself as a rather classy teenager, above all that trivial nonsense, thinking only about reading and writing and having a job. Apparently not. Those things held no interest at all. I thought of nothing but boys. I was as trivial as they come. I made the cast of Beverley Hills 90210 look like Nietzsche.”

Bleak Expectations
Written with a wonderful sense of the surreal, this show describes, in a Dickensian style, the exploits of Pip as he struggles to save himself and family from the evil Mr Gently Benevolent. BFTF’s favourite quote relates to an incident where someone was attacked with “a sharpened cushion”. Quality writing, pretty much all the way through.

Mark Steel’s in Town
This multi-award winning show takes Mark Steel, one of the most likeably comedians of recent times, to several small towns around the UK, At each location, Mark performs a stand-up routine that focuses on the people, history and character of that particular town.

In a testament to the ability of the British to laugh at themselves, the audience invariably laughs as Mark outlines the foibles of the area. Check out these clips to see what he is like in action, it really is a great mix of education and entertainment.

Lincolnshire, it's like a British version of Kansas

The News Quiz
A long time stalwart of the comedy slot, the News Quiz features comedians and other showbiz people commenting on recent news stories. Not least of these was the late great Linda Smith who, in response to Clive Anderson saying that they should not give (recently released) Geoffrey Archer the oxygen of publicity said "I'm not that happy with him having the oxygen of oxygen, actually,".

And a recent show included this gem of an anecdote from Roisin Conaty "When I was nine I had a very big argument with my Mum in Camden Town because she was reneging on a trip to Margate and I ran off and was picked up by the Police - who I then told my name was Lucy and I lived in Margate. And I got driven to Margate, my friends!"

Image Sources : Jimmy White, Jarvis Cocker, Lincolnshire