Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Joy of the Fourth Form

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Joy of the Fourth Form

Article excerpt




THE death last week of Harmonica Rascal Max Geldray finally leaves the field clear for my revolutionary method of playing the mouth organ. You see, I've recently developed a unique way of playing the instrument by driving my car at high speed, while holding the harmonica out of the window into the slipstream to perform a diatonic scale, then throwing the gearbox into reverse to obtain those notoriously difficult "suck" chords.

The upside is that I currently have minus 10,000 miles on my milometer (and rising), the downside that I've been involved in more than my fair share of hit-and-run accidents during those sudden violent backward manoeuvres.

But I've never been caught because the police cameras only ever photograph the back of my head, making this the perfect crime, committed in perfect pitch. And even if my crash course in harmonica playing ultimately ends in disaster, my musical legacy will surely live on, because at least I'll be able to become the world's first-ever mouth-organ donor.

The delightful strains of the harmonica sounded each time one contestant's "buzzer" was pushed during Friday night's QI, and I'm sure that Stephen Fry could have unerringly identified this unjustly-neglected instrument from its timbre alone. Because even though he often claims in interviews that he's "weak on music", in truth there are no apparent chinks in his formidable intellectual armour, which makes him the ideal host of a show that unashamedly exults in being "Quite Interesting" about all manner of obscure and arcane information.

Unlike the first series, which often resembled the leisurely post-prandial discourse of an inspired SCR at an Oxbridge college, this new series smacks of the schoolroom, and is even pacier and funnier as a result.

Because Fry is now not so much a don conversing with equals as a benign prep-school master who, due to an administrative oversight, has been put in charge of a particularly recalcitrant form of the Bash Street Kids.

Colour was the nominal theme of this first show, as the programme skitted about freely between earnest intellectual enquiry and absurdist humour. So while Fry was informing us that the ancient Greeks (who reputedly had a word for everything) didn't have a word for blue, and had declared the sky to be bronze, his mischievous class preferred to mock "sir" by brandishing prop prep-school pipes, and speculating whether the author of the Iliad used to watch "bronze movies" at home (Homer-erotic videos, presumably).

Alan Davies, Sean Lock and Bill Bailey all played up to the role well enough, behaving as though they'd never left the fourth form, but a bored and boring Jo Brand (a woman who'd look just right in something long and flowing ... what about the Thames? …

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