Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Funny Old Thing

Magazine article The Spectator

It's a Funny Old Thing

Article excerpt


It's a funny old thing...

Michael Vestey

In recent years the standard of radio comedy has been abysmal to the point where I stopped listening or switched off soon after the latest offering came on. I put it down to the lower fees in radio, the chaos of constant Birtist restructuring and the greater attractions of television. But then I realised television comedy was not much better either. I can only assume that comedy reached a saturation point - too much derivative mediocrity for more sophisticated audiences and fewer shows capable of the desired quality and originality.

Then, as I mentioned in an earlier column, I saw the Dead Ringers team, Jon Culshaw, Jan Ravens and Mark Perry, performing at St James's Palace for the 50th anniversary of The Archers, an occasion hosted by Prince Charles, and realised how good they were; Kevin Connelly is the fourth performer. I had in the past switched off their Radio Four show thinking it would be like any other quite weak satirical programme but I couldn't have been more wrong. So I've stayed with the current, rather short four-week season of Dead Ringers (Fridays, repeated Saturdays) and realise the team comprises not only excellent impressionists but inventive writers of comedy as well.

I missed last week's programme because I was in Italy but the first two of the season demonstrated their range of voices, from President George W. Bush to Brian Perkins, the Radio Four announcer and newsreader. Both examples by Culshaw are superb. With Bush they've seized on his alleged tortured syntax and malapropisms. It is true that Bush is not exactly a walking Fowler's but it doesn't matter that they're satirising a myth; something similar happened to Ronald Reagan - bumbling old Ronnie - who turned out, with Margaret Thatcher, to conclude the Cold War, thus becoming the most successful president of the United States in its history.

Although we know that Bush isn't thick the opportunity for laughter is there, as with this exchange: an aide tells the President that the Chinese are releasing the US aircrew. Bush, 'I am aware of the currentness of the situation at this point in the current press. I'm not a complete witnit. Of course they're releaserating the capturerated crew. Expedating their lack of imprisonment wasn't complicaterised.' `How, sir?' `The problem with the Japanese is ... they do not clarificate themselves in complicatory stylisation in the manner of a citizen of this great country of ours which is the United States of Armenia which is this one. …

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