Monday 26 September 2016

Radio: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Election Overload

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Essence: Arthur Conan Doyle
Essence: Arthur Conan Doyle

Is it just me who's all "electioned out" by now? I actually listened to about a million hours of the count coverage from Saturday to Monday, but that was mainly because I was as sick as a pike and hadn't the energy to switch off the radio.

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The thought of thinking about it anew, for the purposes of this column, threatened my recovery so much that doctors warned against it "on pain of death". (Besides, we'll be doing it all again in a few months anyway, and I didn't want to use up my finite supply of gags, zingers and bon mots…)

So I've decided, this week, to cover radio shows and subjects that are as far removed from the general election as is humanly possible. And you can't get further from the lofty seriousness of politics than… Chug Stenson on Dermot & Dave (Today FM, Mon-Fri 12 noon).

This regular slot on the afternoon show is a spoof American sportscaster: big on enthusiasm, not so big on intelligence, knowledge or basic comprehension of the English language. It's very daft, even childish; the sort of thing that would have my parents' generation shaking their heads in bafflement. And it's also pretty damn funny.

I can take or leave Dermot & Dave in general, but Chug is good crack. It works, on one level, within that "so stupid it's clever" tradition of comedy wherein you also find, say, Beavis & Butthead.

But it also works as a proper satirical mickey-take of American sports - which are generally rather silly - and sportscasters; and more to the point, of Irish broadcasters who pretend to have an interest in them. You know, the kind of silly eejits who refer to American football as "NFL" and jabber on about the Bulls and Kobe and what-have-you.

Meanwhile, I always find that you can't beat a bit of Victoriana to take your mind off the dull, depressing realities of modern life, and BBC Radio 4 Extra provided a double dose. First up, Sherlock Holmes (Tue 9.15pm), a series of new radio adaptations of Holmes stories.

I'm ashamed to say I don't love Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction, for various reasons too boring to get into here - but I do love adaptations of it, be that film, TV, radio or anywhere else. Radio is especially enjoyable, as you can fill in that wonderful Victorian, Holmesian atmosphere for yourself: you can imagine every pea-souper fog, every Hansom carriage rattling down cobbled streets, every villain lurking in a dark London alleyway.

This week we had The Red-Headed League, second in the series of 12. Not one of Doyle's better efforts, really - even by the standards of mystery fiction, the storyline is fairly ridiculous - but this was good fun nonetheless.

Vincent McInerney's script kept the essence of Holmes while streamlining the story to the medium. And Clive Merrison made a pleasingly urbane, ironic, even slightly sarcastic, Holmes.

Tales of the Supernatural: Chips Bargains with the Devil (Tue 11am) was another adaptation of a Victorian classic, this one a short story by Charles Dickens. Our hero, Chips, makes a pact with the Quare Fella, then tries to weasel out of it. We've all been there, in fairness.

Like Doyle, Dickens is another of my literary blind spots; I never got it/him. Good yarns but overwritten, too sentimental and much, much too long. But Chips Bargains with the Devil had the advantage of being based on a short story, and whipped along at a nice pace, all acted out by Adrian Scarborough.

And unlike most of Dickens' work - or, to be fair, what I understand of Dickens' work - Chips Bargains with the Devil was surprisingly funny, almost with a modern, tongue-in-cheek, nod-and-wink-at-the-audience sensibility. Anyway, it definitely made me think twice about that ceremony I was planning for this weekend, in which I was going to raise the Dark Lord and command him to do my bidding and smite my enemies.

The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am) interviewed one Niamh O'Donoghue, a spirited and brave lass who calls herself "Dublin's Bionic Woman". Because of a case of very severe scoliosis, she's had several bouts of surgery since her early teens, and now has titanium rods placed in her back, from the base of her neck to the pelvis.

She can't bend her torso at all, and it sounds like the worst kind of body-horror trauma, but Niamh was cheerful and philosophical - a real credit to herself and her parents. And Pat was great too, guiding her through the telling with tact and sympathy, and managing to keep the mood light too.

Finally, Nova (Lyric FM, Sun 8pm) remains one of the strangest, most challenging and most brilliant music programmes around. Presented by Bernard Clarke, it sells itself as being "about new music, chronicling what's radical and what's conservative, who's established and who's in the avant-garde" - but it's much more than that.

I think I once described it as something like the soundtrack to the weirdest, most hypnotic sci-fi movie you've ever watched. Dreamlike, unsettling, beautiful and powerful.

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