JUST as the Boy is father to the Man, so is the Young Turk to
the Old Fart. It is a truth forgotten by even the most self-aware,
be they politicians, artists and even comedians - whose job, you
might have thought, would be to register more keenly that
inevitable slide into complacency.
And so, much as we all like Graeme Garden and John Lloyd -
responsible for some of the classic radio and television comedy of
the past 40 years - it is hard not to baulk at their complaints,
aired on The Frequency of Laughter (R4, Saturday), about the axing
of shows they loved, and the paucity of laughs on the radio these
days, while, in almost the same breath, recollecting how stuffy BBC
Light Entertainment was when they entered the fray.
While the thought of Quote, Unquote makes John Lloyd
proud to be a member of the species, there are others who wonder
how on earth such dreary pretension is still commissioned after all
The Frequency of Laughter is a six-part history of
radio comedy, from 1975 to the present, and the first episode took
us to the end of the 1970s: a time when Ian McIntyre, controller of
Radio 4, wielded the new broom.
The amount of material produced in his three years is
phenomenal, particularly in comparison with today's moribund
turnover; but there was nothing so intrinsically meritorious about
The News Huddlines or Week Ending which required
their unquestioning reappearance in the schedules. With The
News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue limping on,
sacred cows on which nobody dare place the electrodes, BBC Radio
continues to demonstrate a cagey attitude to change.
One thing we can all agree on - Garden and Lloyd described him
here as a genius - is the quality of John Finnemore's Souvenir
Programme (R4, Wednesday). In its fourth series, and
unfatigued by success or an indulgent studio audience, the
programme contains a strategic balance of satire and absurdist
In the first category, witness the sketch last week about the
antiques collector who has everything - except the swivel chair
designed by the most famous carpenter of all, Jesus. In the second,
a terrific sketch featured the sun-gods Rah, Helios, and Sol trying
to get along at an interfaith conference. Radio comedy will always
be a hit-and-miss affair. (If you want an example of a miss, then
you need listen to only five minutes of Welcome to our
Village, an offering earlier on a Wednesday on Radio 4.) But
John Finnemore remains a consistent hit.
Unwitting humour, though, is often the most memorable. And there
were laughs a-plenty in Across the Board(R4, Thursday)
during which the footballer Sol Campbell simultaneously played
chess with and was interviewed by Dominic Lawson.
Campbell is, by his own regular admissions, a modest, humble
man. To ignore the taunts of the fans showed, in his own words,
"class, maturity, and humility". He is a great learner, we are
told, and, were he not a footballer, he would surely have
demonstrated a talent in another field.
As he spouted all this, Lawson methodically took his game apart,
making Campbell look like a player full of panache but to no real
effect. An Arsenal footballer, in fact.