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Radio review: Michael Spicer: No room, Thinking Allowed, and We Have Ways of Making You Talk

31 May 2024

BBC

In Michael Spicer: No room (Radio 4, Saturdays), the comic, seen here with Deborah Meaden in 2022, plays an incompetent adviser to public figures

In Michael Spicer: No room (Radio 4, Saturdays), the comic, seen here with Deborah Meaden in 2022, plays an incompetent adviser to public figures

ONCE upon a time it might have been considered a singular honour to call a BBC radio programme one’s own. Nowadays, it will typically be just one tab in a portfolio of largely self-promoted entities ranging across multiple platforms. Other than the satisfaction of having somebody else pay for and market your content, there is limited kudos to be had from a scheduled late-night slot on Radio 4, even when — as in the case of Michael Spicer: No room (Saturdays) — you are granted above-the-title status.

To those of us who are not YouTube afficionados, the title requires some glossing. Spicer makes online videos featuring interviews with leading politicians, in which he plays the offstage adviser, desperately attempting to prompt the incompetent minister via a concealed earpiece. It’s a pretty good shtick, and the comic has a healthy following. But, unlike “Jonathan Pie”, another satirist who made the transition from online media to radio (Radio, 16 June 2023), Spicer does not appear to have the breadth or depth of material to maintain even a 15-minute show.

Jonathan Pie was sustained by a seemingly inexhaustible pile of satirical ordure, which he distributed evenly across the political landscape. Spicer appears more comfortable with an audience who laugh as a signal of agreement rather than of amusement.

This could be an appropriate subject, one might think, for the eminent sociologist Richard Sennett, who has recently produced a book about artistic and political performance. He was in conversation last week with Laurie Taylor on Thinking Allowed (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), and, among many nuggets, provided an anecdote that will reassure anybody who has attempted to read the work of Michel Foucault. Sennett was one student mesmerised by the French professor’s brilliant lectures, which were delivered in a darkened room. And yet, he admits, he could not then recount to another anything that was said. It all seemed to make sense at the time.

The 80th anniversary of D-Day is almost on us, and there is no shortage of material on the airwaves to mark the occasion. Setting aside the misleadingly flippant title, We Have Ways of Making You Talk (Goalhanger Productions, two to three new episodes released a week) must be one of the most comprehensive treatments of the Second World War in any medium. It has so far filled 750 episodes. I imagine that, before their adult careers as comedian and historian respectively, the presenters Al Murray and James Holland were those kind of Airfix-model devotees who insist on recreating the exact markings for the Messerschmitt Bf 110, and know their Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier from their Oberfähnrich (Unterarzt). To be in the presence of such geekiness is enthralling. What they don’t know on the subject is not worth knowing (and perhaps some of what they do know isn’t either).

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