Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Devil Drives An Easy Bargain

Review: ‘Old Harry’s Game’ (Radio 4)

Although I am something of a fan of the BBC’s radio output, I listen to very little radio. As an audience, I fall between many stools. Radio 1 is as attractive as an intestinal heaving in a Dorset caravan park. Its frenzy of adolescent banality, gastric pops, whistles and groans, makes it unlistenable to anybody who isn’t an office worker, dentist, or Polish decorator. In contrast, Radio 2 lacks edge and, except when I'm on it, steers a path down the middle of the road that I, as a hardened veteran of grunge, rock, and banjo solos, simply finds unacceptable. Radio 3, meanwhile, is obsessed with whatever it does, without any consideration for the outside world. It’s radio equivalent of Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rainman’. For that reason, I often find myself warming to it until I realise that don’t really enjoy classical music, jazz, or Harrison Birtwistle’s latest dustbin lid medley. By contrast, Radio 4 has everything I could want in a radio station, let down by many of things I dislike about the BBC. You know the score. Middle-class, middle-ages dramas that the announcer summarises: ‘Daphne is approaching her fiftieth birthday but nursing her aging mother struck down with Alzheimer’s, when Phillip, her new next door neighbour, invites her around to play chess, opening up a new world of temptation, passion and lightly oiled green salads.’

Then there’s Radio 5 Live, which I only tend to listen to when my testosterone levels are particularly high. Radio 6 I would have more time for if its eclectic mix of alternative music styles didn’t mean that I have to endure jazz, funk, and hip-hop, in order to hear indie, punk, or classic rock. Since Judy is a big fan of funk, I tend to avoid tuning in to Radio 6 in case I set her off. There’s nothing more distracting than driving a car when your passenger is shouting ‘Can I hear you count me off? A one, two three, four... Ha!’

As for BBC Radio 7, it no longer exists to me. After ‘Richard&Judy’ finished on Watch, I thought I’d spend some time working on new projects. To ‘get my eye in’, so to speak, I sent work to their open-call for writers. I sent countless of my top-drawer jokes, one-liners and sketches to ‘NewsJack’, the ‘topical sketch show’. It would have been profitable had I dug a hole in the garden, dumped all my work into it, and then planted a rose bush on top. They didn’t so much as reject my work as ignore it completely.

Given that I listen to very little live radio, I exist about five years behind the popular tastes. I discover my favourite shows somewhat late into their life cycle. My newest discovery is ‘Old Harry’s Game’, which recently ended its seventh season on Radio 4. It’s rare that I find something in life that gives me this amount of pleasure. For the past two months, Andy Hamilton’s voice has been rattling around my head on every train journey I’ve made. I have walked the great cities of this nation with a large inane grin on my face, chuckling in queues, laughing out loud at the most outrageously inopportune moments.

The plot has an arc so simple that it lays claim to genius. Andy Hamilton plays Satan, ruler of the vast underworld populated by the great and the not-so-good. Each episode takes some aspect of our humanity and exposes it to Satan’s ridicule, with Humanity’s position defended by the Professor, an upright man of liberal convictions, kept out of his rightful place in heaven by his atheism. Then there’s Thomas Quentin Crimp, played superbly by Jimmy Mulville. He’s the deceased chairman of a privatised water company and holds the distinction of being the most amoral human in the history of the world.

From this simple premise, the show explores what it is to be human, drawing on many great jokes about Jeffry Archer, Robert Maxwell (currently residing in hell), Rupert Murdock, Jane Austen (also in hell, along with her brass knuckles). Except for the odd barb aimed towards myself and Judy, ‘Old Harry’s Game’ is the most perfectly written radio comedy I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in all of my forty two years above ground. I can’t praise it more highly. If I were to have another child, it would demand that it be called Andy Peter Spike Armando Milligan Hamilton Sellers Iannucci Madeley. That’s how highly I rate the show and I think you will do that same.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 Uncle Dick Grins.


Lola said...

Just for once, we are in complete accord.

I rate Giles Wemmbley Hogg very highly as well, and Bleak Expectations was really good too.

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

I feel like I'd be cheating on the satanic dark lord if I tried others. However, this Giles Wemmbley Hogg sounds interesting. I will seek it out.

I've now moved on to listening to The Shuttleworths.

Josh said...

I imagine that, if you listen to some other Radio 4 comedies, ones that are actually good, you will be bowled over. I find this one a little bit dull and stale. They've squeezed all the juice out of it. But whatever.

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

The later series does repeat some of the earlier material -- Edith is just another version of the Professor -- but there's something to be said about a show that just makes me ridiculously happy whenever I listen to it.

If you can name me some alternatives, I'll give them a try.

James Higham said...

Radio 7 never existed for me - it was just something out in the ethosphere.

Now a promo, sorry:

Forgive this OT promotion but please support Man in a Shed’s “Silly Week” next week. Logos are available at his site.