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the olden days

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Well, hasn't it all become terribly exciting?

I obviously owe Mr BENN an apology, as he in no way deliberately ripped off a TMBG song.

This blog does not have a large number of readers, as someone generously believed. It's round about 20, so not a huge audience to ruin the career of Radio 4's premier song spoof person.

My tone was, as is often the case, far too strong. I am but a fool. And of course, as we now know, too stupid to know better.

What happens, you see, is my London based friend Nick and I often listen to Radio 4 comedy programmes late at night (on Listen Again) before going to sleep, conversing via IM. Obviously I can see that such an action is replete with internet geekery, and labels us, possibly quite fairly, the same.

But it's a fun way to unwind at 1am, before falling asleep. We pick a show from the Radio 4 'comedy' line up, press play at the same time, and then commentate on why it's so bad. Or good. Mostly bad. For us, The Now Show is an absolute must. The dreadful state of that programme warrants a great deal of analysis as to why it's quite so poor.

(Ok, perhaps to most, it doesn't warrant any such thing. But for Nick and myself, we are fascinated by radio comedy and how it works, or doesn't work, and this process is an entertaining way of practising this. I have long followed the medium. Examples of exceptional programmes would be On The Hour, Saturday Night Fry, On The Town With The League of Gentlemen, and more recently, The Sunday Format. Then of course there was the majestic and hideous Blue Jam, or the brilliantly silly Fist of Fun and Armando Iannucci Show (all three on Radio 1). Then there is radio comedy from long before our listening lives, Round the Horne, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (which Nick *hates*), and the long running (and perhaps too long) I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and Just A Minute. The greatest of these being On The Hour. Radio comedy is very capable, and something that matters a great deal to me).

Anyhow, back to our listening. Because of the current terrible state of radio comedy, our only choice is the dross. The mediocre does not offer much of a conversation point for our chitchats, and there's nothing above that currently broadcast. Earlier I mentioned The Now Show. Written by a team led by Punt & Dennis (former Jaspar Carrott sidekicks, and the other pairing in The Mary Whitehouse Experience. It's only fair to mention that Mitch Benn is a member of this team), it purports to be satire. So much so that the Radio 4 continuity announcers appear obliged to embarrassingly say the word in the show's introduction... "And now on Radio 4, SATIRE, with The Now Show...", followed by the extraordinary nasal belching of the title by Hugh Dennis.

Unfortunately, this 'satire' follows the BBC's current misconception that topical comedy automatically equals satire. This isn't the case. Satire is crucially angry. It is vitriolic, passionate and dangerous. And it's been going for a long, long time. In the 16th century Jonathan Swift wrote satire that caused social outrage, angry letters, public disgust. In the 20th/21st century, Chris Morris wrote satire that created more complaints to the ITC than any other programme, had newspapers blaring our headlines, caused MPs to make public fools of themselves in response, and he has been fired from just about every job he's had. Whether this is a good thing, or a terrible thing, is not the matter in hand. What is the matter is the importance that this is what satire does. Merely mentioning something that happened in the news, and then (in the case of the Now Show) saying, "but what if George Bush was on the Weakest Link!", or whichever "what if X were Y" formula they may choose, isn't doing this. Governments are not feeling threatened. And most importantly, people are not being challenged by their thoughts. (I don't think Marcus Brigstock's few phonecalls to Feedback about his relatively well delivered MMR routine quite counts).

And Nick and I aren't gloating. We aren't smugly dancing with glee at how bad it is. We're upset. Really upset at how poor radio comedy is these last few years. We know what it's capable of, and we are recognising by how much it's failing. We lament these programmes, we find what is wrong in order to better understand how to make it right. And yes, with that last thought in mind, we are of course intending to put our money where our mouth is (although to not do so is not hypocrisy, as if often illogically argued - I can recognise that a wall is badly built when it falls down, without having to build walls myself. Recognition requires observation, not response. Although response is ideal).

So I didn't want to listen to Mitch Benn's programme that night. Nick moaned at me until I agreed. I have already heard a couple of episodes from the series on its recent late night broadcast, and didn't enjoy them at all. But anyway, we listened, and I was again annoyed by its poverty. Not nearly as annoyed as I am by Boothby Graffoe's recent series, which was astonishingly bad - achingly so, but just frustrated by the wasted opportunities. And then I heard the song, that I mistakenly thought to be a deliberate lift of a TMBG track, and in the moment emailed. I shouldn't have, but did.

So apologies to Mitch Benn for my incorrect accusations. 8:00 pm [+]

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