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Reaction Media Review Column 33: Mrs Browns Boys, Radio Today Podcast & George VI

This column appeared first in the response.

Mrs Browns Boys, BBC1

This week we learned that BBC1’s Mrs. Brown’s Boys have been renewed for another five years. Maybe it’s the circles I move in, but I haven’t found a single person who sees it, let alone finds it funny. BBC One has some shows that can rival the funniest show on TV, and that’s before we even hear the most dreaded introductory phrase on TV – “And now we welcome BBC Three to BBC One …”. These are words we never have to hear again. I’ll admit that I might not be the target audience on BBC Three, but then again, the station seems to have a very laid back feel for who it is 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, of course, he was funny. He created a number of sketch-based characters that were inherently funny. Though there was some predictability (“Oh, you’re awful, but I like you”), his characters were personable and relatable. Ms. Brown has only one act and it is to use the word “feckin” repeatedly while projecting a sense of semi-permanent irritation. Your unhappy relatives are even less funny. I tried to understand what some people see in it, but failed miserably. Maybe someday someone can explain it to me. I am not holding my breath.

The Radio Today Podcast

From a TV show that I can’t stand to a podcast I can’t live without; The Radio Today podcast is an important part of my weekly listening. Radio Today is a website for those of us who make a living in the radio industry. The weekly podcast is presented by freelance radio host and 5 live newsreader, Stuart Clarkson. The company changed a bit in 2020 and lost three of its regular functions. Trevor Dann, James Cridland and David Lloyd have decided to leave the company. Then there was a monthly one-hour roundtable discussion, Cridland a roundup of the week’s radio innovations, and Lloyd a weekly search of the radio archives playing clips from what had happened in the world of radio over the past few years.

While in some ways her departures ripped the heart off the podcast, it gave Clarkson a chance to shine. He’s a funky freak and isn’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops. He’s also just started his own local radio station in North Yorkshire and it’s fascinating to see his progress. He’s also a great interviewer, mostly because he’s knowledgeable. Radio Today editor Roy Martin joins him for the first 15 minutes of the podcast to round up the week’s radio news and give a little clap. For the radio aficionados, this podcast is a must, and while it’s been a difficult year for him, I hope Stuart and Roy hold out. Radio is such an important medium and is aimed at everyone in the industry, whether on the technical, technical and productive side or in the so-called talent. We’d all miss it terribly if it went to podcast heaven.

George VI – The Reluctant King, BBC2

A few weeks ago I lamented the fact that the BBC seemed happy to turn it over to Channel 5 to make insightful and informative royal documentaries. Gone are the days when the BBC seemed to believe it was part of its public mandate to broadcast Michael Cockerell’s excellent political and biographical films about politicians past and present. You may occasionally get offers from Nick Robinson or Laura Kuenssberg, but they are too rare and far apart. However, I was delighted to discover that BBC2 was showing an hour-long documentary on Wednesday night about the life of King George VI, the Queen’s father. What a shame they showed it at 11.35pm. Surely this is the kind of thing that draws audiences in the afternoon rather than after Newsnight?

It wasn’t a groundbreaking documentary, it told us a lot about what we already knew, but the archive footage used was fresh and not just the usual bits of film we’ve gotten used to over the years. It captured his personality very well and emphasized the point that he became king at a time when the monarchy was in great danger. The documentary’s real hero, however, was not George VI; it was his wife, whom we all now know as the Queen Mother. Since her death, it has become clear that, far from the caricature we have become accustomed to, historians consider her to be one of the most important pivots of the royal family in the 20th century. She deserves further study.

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