Darwin’s unwritten theory ot laughter: old jokes are the best, because they’ve survived the longest. In a new radio series by BBC Scotland beginning this fortnight, producer David Batchelor aims to put this to the test. ‘We want to pay tribute to Scotland’s enormously rich tradition oi music hall and variety,’ he says. ‘We’ve got piles oi wonderiul old jokes, and a bunch oi pros who really know how to work the material.’
Foremost among said pros is series presenter Johnnie Beattie, a man who can boast 43 years in the business. ‘Music hall is a very entertaining type oi show,’ he says. ‘A lot oi laughs, a lot oi good music and singing, a sort ot ieel-good quality, and hopeiully an audience involvement quality. I think it’s Ken Dodd who says you’re not just at a music hall show, you’re part oi it. In Scotland especially, people like to get involved - they let you know it you’re doing it right or not!’
Beattie is joined ior his trawl through the best oi music hall repartee by such stalwarts as Jimmy Logan, Walter Carr and Una Maclean. Alongside the tried and tested comedy routines comes what Batchelor calls ‘a reassertion oi the right oi a trained voice to sing popular songs’. Kenneth
Johnnie Seattle: the old ones are the best ones
McKellar is the leading light here - and the music hall pertormer’s versatility is also tested: Beattie attempts a patter song, ‘The Weddin’ o’ Jock Mackay’, while McKellar counters with a sterling Dr Cameron to Beattie’s Janet in a Dr Finlay skit.
The six 30-minute shows have been recorded in iront oi an appreciative Edinburgh audience. ‘They’ve grown up with us,’ says Beattie oi his audience. ‘They ieel comiortable with us, and when you tell them these jokes, you’re jogging their memory oi something that happened to them personally years ago.’ (Andrew Burnet) Scottish Music "all begins on Radio 2 on Mon 11 Sept at 10.03pm.
I BBC Proms 95 (Radio 3) Thurs 7 Sept. 7pm. Getting away from its plummy- gobbed stuffiness. this live concert by Ensemble Modern presents two works by minimalist pioneer Steve Reich. City Life features extensive samples of sirens. car horns and alarms and the full mechanical monty to evoke the hurly burly of the Big Apple. Proverbs is a more formal BBC commission and the whole thing is preceded by an interview with Reich.
I Miller’s Tales (Radio 4) Fri 8 Sept. 9.30pm. Playwright Arthur Miller. 80 next month. takes a trawl through the 20th century in four interviews recorded at his Connecticut home for Krtleitlm‘t‘upe. Using his own star spangled life as a starting point. Miller paints a portrait of America in all its hues. starting here with the Depression that ruined his family and inﬂuenced his early attempts at writing while at the radical University of Michigan.
I Autumn Almanac: The Ray Davies Story (Radio 2) Sat 9 Sept. 6.03pm. Quintessentially English Kinkperson unwinds the last three decades of rock ‘n‘ roll excess in anecdotal fashion in between playing some of his toppest tunes. Anyone who saw his Fringe performances will know what to expect. I Stanza (Radio 4) Sat 9 Sept. l(). 15pm. With the nation’s live literary scene ﬂourishing. this is a timely look at poetry as performance. from the pioneering beatniks through to John Cooper Clarke. Linton Kwesi Johnson and beyond. Simon Armitage presents.
I The Wink 0i An Eye - The Last Days 0i Jiml Hendrix (Radio l) Sun 10 Sept. 7pm. A tribute to mark the 25th anniversary of the rock maestro’s death. we hear from Monica Danneman his girlfriend who was around at the time. as well as Eric Clapton. Chas Chandler. Mike Nesrnith and Slash. who probably wasn‘t.
I Gloria llunniiord interviews . . . Cliii ltlchard (Radio 2) Sun 10 Sept. 9.05am.
In what is a classic week for pop legends. the rather leathery looking Peter Part of pop holds court at home. where he chunters on about his brilliant career. with a particular emphasis on his starring role in the forthcoming musical. Hear/nli/ji'. I Wit - From A to 2 (Radio 2) Sun 10 Sept. 10.03pm. A look at the meaning of wit from Dorothy Parker's Algonquin Round Table to Wilde. Shaw and Joan Rivers. presented by the decidedly unwitty Gyles Brandreth.
I Desert Island Discs (Radio 4) Sun 1() Sept. 12.15pm. Novelist John Updike is the first castaway in a new series of this perennial favourite. with Stre Lawley on hand to spin the discs.
I For King And Country (Radio Scotland) Mon l l—Thurs l4 Sept. ().4()pm. New four-parter on that most lionised of Scots heroes. William Wallace. Rather than go for the blood. guts and martyrdom angle. presenter Matt Spicer explores the humble Renfrewshire background that shaped him into the charismatic figure we know and mythologise.
I I Can’t Begin To Tell You: The Betty Crable Story (Radio 2) Tue 12 Sept. 9.03pm. Supermodel Jerry Hall makes her radio drama debut in this musical biography of the star with the million dollar legs.
I TWO Faces of Crime (Radio Scotland) Tue 19 Sept. 6.40pm. Sparks should fly here as the tables are turned on a defence lawyer who is cross-examined by an alleged rape victim regarding their often insensitive and at times quite reprehensible treatment of victims in coun.
I Bear Junction (Radio 4) Mon 18 Sept. 4.45pm. Siobhan Redmond. currently at The Tron in Glasgow. reads this debut short story by journo Beatrice Colin. which concerns the intriguing Mr Podstovski. a Polish emigre’ who. on the road to teaching Miss Colleen to drive in a broken down Lada lets slip his mysterious past. This forms part of the First Bite festival of new writing by young writers new to radio. (Neil Cooper)
Bung l. n. stopper; thing which stops up a hole (in a cask). 2. v. to block/to stop up a hole: 5‘]. to throw. And that. until earlier this year. was your basic dictionary definition of the word bung. Now of course. bung has joined a whole tabloid-inspired lexicon of terms like bonk and toe-job which are employed to describe the private lives of public figures. The ()xford English compilers are probably slaving over a new working definition even as we speak. It might read something like this: Bung l. n. a productivity bonus or incentive award undeclared for tax purposes (esp in football). 2. v. to pass an envelope of used portraits of the Queen under a restaurant table. no questions asked. See also back-ltander.
So why the English lesson? Well that four-letter word inspired an entire 90 minutes of television drama in the shape of Eleven Men Against Eleven (Channel 4). This nippy little football yarn. which was conceived by Drop the Dead Donkey writer Andy Hamilton. was brought to the screen with the minimum of pretension. This was solid comedy which (lid plenty of sterling work around the midfield but lacked killer finishing. You could say it was more Arsenal than Man U.
its real charm was freshness. however. In TV—land it can take years to steer programmes from script to screen. but this was knocked out in the close period and was match-lit for transmission at the start of the new footie season. And the whole thing rested on that handy noun-or—ver'b -- bung.
For someone used to freshening tip scripts with breaking news stories the night before transmission of Dead Donkey. Hamilton had the luxury of weeks to scan the papers for every blessed reference to (alleged) financial impropriety from Bar'ings trader Nick Leeson to former Liverpool goalie Bruce Grobbelar. Other names had been changed to protect the not-yet- proven guilty. btrt we knew who they were.
Sir Bob Luckton. played by professional bluff nonhener Timothy West. was the chairman of City. a Premier cltrb live points adrift with three to play. After the manager was sacked before the EA. got to him first (for receipt of bungs. naturally) the junior coach (James Bolam) is promoted. Big Jack. Big Ron. Big Mal er a/ had somehow failed to return Sir Bob‘s call.
The strength of Eleven Men was its grasp of the footballing cliche; its weakness was an attempt to graft a daft storyline about a comic book gang of
soccer hooligans onto a perfectly acceptable series ofjokes. For my money. this has always been the problem with Dead Donkey too. To resort to another football metaphor. Hamilton spends too much time practising comedy set-pieces in front of goal without allowing the rtrn ofplay to generate incidental humour.
No stranger to run-of-play humour. or football laffs for that matter. is Frank Skinner who has just graduated to BBC] and his own show. Imaginativer titled The Frank Skinner Show (BBC I ). this looks rather like another try at cracking the old ‘British Letterman‘ routine. But if anyone can do it Frank can. The key to David Letterman‘s success is the ability to make tightly scripted routines appear natural. if not entirely spontaneous. He cuts his guests just about enough slack to let them get their own laughs. but never enough to allow them to take over.
This is more ofa comic vehicle with guests than straightforward chat show. and Skinner looks as if he‘s found a format which puts him in the driving seat. while generously allowing the guests to do a turn. The dumb jokes. like introducing flying magician David Copperfield while the Dickens Penguin Classic is lowered on a wire. are pure Letterman. as were the repeating alien jokes (Woody Alien, Muharnrned Alien etc). Skinner's experience of fantasy Football League. the amiable slice of post-pub telly he hosts with real-life ﬂatmate David Baddiel. has shown that low-concept comedy aimed directly at the viewer works best for him.
Another comedian with an easy-going charm is Alan Davies. but the first attempt to package his wit on television comes with an absurdly high-concept premise based on a video diary. Neat though One tor the lload (Channel 4) is — wide-boy timeshare salesman visits promising resort locations and sends back camcorder reports to boss — l suspect Steve Coogan‘s Paul(ine) Calf characters have already had the best of the video diary idea.
Over six half-hour episodes it's hard to see how the continual off-kilter angles. faces leering into lens and camera-falling-off-rock routines won't become tiresome. As an excuse to shoot in exotic locations it‘s perfect, and Davies' Simon Treat character is a brilliantly gauche Englishman abroad. (This is a guy who can visit Jerusalem and remark. deadpan. that there's a lot of Spurs fans about.) But while the idea of comedy with a twist may have sold the series to Channel 4. it looks like becoming a strait-jacket for Davies’ freewheeling humour. (Eddie Gibb)
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