Radio Weekly #4
This week Ian Wolf looks at a woman he’s never heard of and the French Revolution.
Barbara Windsor’s Funny Girls
This three part series sees the Carry On actress look at three different female comedians. However, the first she has profiled is one that I had never heard of until now: Hylda Baker.
For those like me who were ignorant of her work, Lancashire-born comedian Baker was most famous for starring in the sitcom Nearest and Dearest alongside Jimmy Jewel (they played a bickering brother and sister), and for her stage act in which she played a Northern gossip, accompanied by stooge Cynthia, who was always played by a man in drag much bigger than her (one version of Cynthia was played by Matthew Kelly).
Amongst the things I learned about Baker was that she seemed to be quite egotistical. For example, she never allowed any of her Cynthias to do interview or talk to the public. When Baker appeared on This is Your Life, the Cynthia at the time revealed himself. Baker was furious at him and had him sacked. Also, like many sitcom stories, in Nearest and Dearest the main actors were arguing both on and off the camera. Baker and Jewel were constantly insulting each other. Jewel thought that Baker was unfunny and Baker thought she deserved top billing.
However, there was a fair bit of tragedy in her comic life as well. Her marriages failed, she had two entopic pregnancies after which it was discovered that she could not have children, so adopted two pet monkeys as pets (one of which ate all her tax info). Her memory began to fail so she had to use cue cards, and in her later life she suffered from Alzheimer’s, eventually dying of pneumonia at the age of 81. The biggest tragedy of course is that she is no longer remembered.
This documentary certain shone a light on someone I had never heard of before and made me more curious to find out more info, which for me is the ultimate sign of any good documentary.
The Penny Dreadfuls Present… Revolution
This is a special hour-long comedy drama about the French Revolution, written by and featuring the usually Victorian-based sketch troupe consisting of David Reed, Thom Tuck and Humphrey Ker.
However they were not the main stars of this special. These were Richard E. Grant playing the role of Robespierre, leader of the Terror; and Sally Hawkins as Marie-Therese, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The main story is an imagining of a conversation between the two that was never recorded.
The programme tells the story of the Revolution in a humorous way, although the history is very much a back drop to jokes and characters best described as daft. For example, Marie-Therese complains about the book she has been given to read while she has been in prison – an atlas so out of date that it does not include Spain. Also there are sketches featuring peasants having stone soup, because eating shoes is a luxury.
However, out of all the characters that appeared in the programme, my personal favourite was Marie-Therese’s brother Louis-Charles (aka Louis XVII) who was portrayed as being rather dim and naïve. For example, he gets too excited about helping France’s poor so he wants to donate all of his toys. In the end he gets a job making shoes, but gets beaten up by his master for making shoes which are too decedent.
There are other nice moments, like how the French revolutionary calendar would result in problems for Father Christmas; and also some nice quotes such as Robespierre’s remark that: “You can’t make a crème brûlée without burning some sugar.”
It was an entertaining hour, although I would recommend that if you’re looking for a comedy show which is more educational in its dealing of the French revolution, you may want to look at Mark Steel’s Viva la Revolution.