This column first appeared on Reaction.
Mrs Brown’s Boys, BBC1
This week we learned that Mrs Brown’s Boys had been renewed by BBC1 for – wait for it – another five years. Perhaps it’s the circles I move in, but I have yet to find a single person who watches it, let alone finds it funny. BBC One has quite a few shows to rival it as the unfunniest programme on television, and that’s before we even get to hear the most dreaded introductory phrase on TV – “And now we welcome BBC Three onto BBC One…”. These are words we should never have to hear again. I admit I may not be BBC Three’s target audience but then again the channel seems to have a very loose sense of who it’s for.
Anyway, back to Mrs Brown. British comedy has a proud tradition of men playing women. The late lamented Dick Emery was perhaps the master of the genre. The thing is, though, he was naturally funny. He created a series of sketch-based characters which were naturally hilarious. Even though there was a certain predictability (“Ooh you are awful, but I like you”), his characters were likeable and relatable. Mrs Brown only has one act and it’s to use the word “feckin” repeatedly, while projecting a sense of semi-permanent irritation. Her hapless relatives are even less funny. I’ve tried to understand what some people see in it, but I have miserably failed. Perhaps one day someone will be able to explain it to me. I’m not holding my breath.
The Radio Today Podcast
From a TV show I can’t abide, to a podcast I can’t live without; The Radio Today Podcast is a staple part of my weekly listening. Radio Today is a website for those of us who make a living in the radio industry, its weekly podcast is presented by freelance radio presenter and 5 Live newsreader Stuart Clarkson. It has undergone a bit of transformation in 2020, losing three of its regular features, with radio industry stalwarts Trevor Dann, James Cridland and David Lloyd all deciding to depart. Dann hosted a monthly hour long round table panel, Cridland a roundup of the week’s radio innovations and Lloyd a weekly trawl through radio archives playing clips of what was happening in the world of radio in years gone by.
Though their departures have in some ways ripped the heart out of the podcast, it has given Clarkson the chance to shine. He’s a radio geek and isn’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops. He’s also just started his own local community radio station in north Yorkshire, and it’s fascinating to follow its progress. He’s also a superb interviewer, mainly because he knows his stuff. The editor of Radio Today, Roy Martin, joins him for the first 15 minutes of the podcast to round up the week’s radio news and for a bit of a gossip. For the radio aficionados, this podcast is a must-listen, and even though it’s been a difficult year for it, I hope Stuart and Roy persevere. Radio is such an important medium and they cater for everyone in the industry, whether they’re on the technical, engineering and production side or the so-called talent. We’d all miss it terribly if it disappeared into the podcast heavens.
George VI – The Reluctant King, BBC2
Some weeks ago I bemoaned the fact that the BBC seemed happy to leave it to Channel 5 to make insightful and informative royal documentaries. Gone are the days when the BBC seemed to think it was part of its public service remit to broadcast Michael Cockerell’s superb political biographical films about politicians past and present. Admittedly, you get the occasional offering from Nick Robinson or Laura Kuenssberg, but they are too few and far between. However, I was pleased to discover that on Wednesday night BBC2 showed an hour long documentary about the life of King George VI, the Queen’s father. What a shame, though, that they showed it at 11.35 pm. Surely this is the sort of thing which garners an audience mid-evening rather than after Newsnight?
It wasn’t a ground-breaking documentary, it told us a lot that we already knew, but the archive footage used was fresh, and wasn’t just the usual bits of film we’ve become used to over the years. It captured his personality very well and emphasised the point that he became King at a time when the monarchy was in huge jeopardy. The real hero of the documentary, though, wasn’t George VI; it was his wife, who we all know now as the Queen Mother. Since her death, it has become clear that far from the caricature of her that we’ve become used to, historians now view her as one of the key linchpins of the royal family in the 20th century. She deserves further study.