Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, The Archers, and Saturday Live

THE great Reformation in British broadcasting continues. As of last Friday, the Church of Wittertainment (aka Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, Radio 5 Live) is no longer in communion with the BBC, and its prelates – the film critic Mark Kermode and the BBC radio legend Simon Mayo – are now employees of Sony Music Entertainment. They take with them an impressive congregation. The show was launched 21 years ago on Radio 1; and Mr Mayo himself has clocked up 40 years for the BBC. Last Friday, the Twittersphere was alight with indignation as Mr Mayo’s Broadcasting House security pass was rendered inactive before he had even finished his last show.

The success of the Church relies not on whether one believes all of Kermode’s critical judgments. Rather, it is the quasi-ritualistic in-jokes, the origins of which are barely remembered; the weekly features such as “DVD of the Week”, preceded by a kitsch, James Last theme tune like the familiar psalm-antiphon; and the interaction between the two presenters, which makes the show part liturgy and part odd-couple sitcom.

There will be many like me, who, being at a certain point in the domestic life-cycle, have little time to go to the cinema, still less to view films that they would freely choose to watch, but who have spent many hundreds of hours listening to Kermode and Mayo wittering about films that they are unlikely ever to see. Now they – we – are forced to set off in search of an unfamiliar broadcasting province; and our usual loyalty to the BBC, already receding, is weakened yet further.

At least the BBC still has The Archers (Radio 4 passim). . . for now. In the episode broadcast on Mothering Sunday, it looked as though the scriptwriters were embarking on another of the long story-arcs that have been one of the most impressive features of the show. After the morning service, a setback between Kate and Alan led to some intemperate language. There was talk of a formal complaint against the Vicar, and thus the promise of a long inquiry by the Church of England. By Wednesday, it looked like crisis averted, as Kate and Alan patched things up. Perhaps, in the end, the script editor baulked at the challenge of keeping a story hanging for the length of time a typical CDM procedure takes to run its course. Not even The Archers has the stamina for such a long haul.

On Saturday Live (Radio 4, Saturday), the Revd Dr Ellen Clark-King, Dean of King’s College, London, was invited to plug a new Sky Arts show in which people who cannot sing are given training at the English National Opera. Dr. Clark-King had been described by her music teacher at school as a crow, and she has been traumatized ever since. The presenter, Nikki Bedi, asked her: “What made you want to sing now, on television?” – which is a fine example of a question in which the answer is already embedded.

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