Radio - Rachel Cooke

I'm with Matthew Norman on Libby Purves: the tone of Midweek doesn't half grate

A new sitcom has begun on Radio 4. It is called The Other Man, and stars Julian Rhind-Tutt, whose peculiarly narrow face and rosebud lips you may know from Channel 4's The Green Wing (though for me he will always be Nigel Plumb, the creepy art master in the BBC2 adaptation of Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club). Also among its cast are Julia Sawalha and Paul Reynolds, both of whom were in the ITV children's series Press Gang. I may have mentioned Press Gang before, and Reynolds in particular. I am mad about him. I'm convinced that were it not for his height (he is on the diminutive side) he would be an international movie star.

The first episode (15 March, 11.30pm) was rather so-so, but I have a hunch that it will be a grower. Travis Walker (Rhind-Tutt) is a charming but ramshackle man who just can't get it together. He lives with his brother, Charlie (Reynolds), whom he owes several months' rent, and is being pursued by a dopey female called Serena who collects china pigs, writes greeting-card verses - "A door slammed in anger can be opened with a kiss" - and won't take no for an answer. Then, at a computer class he teaches, Travis meets Grace Hartshorn (Sawalha). They flirt wildly and, after the last lesson in the course, race back to his flat and begin ripping each other's clothes off.

Later, Travis phones Grace. A man answers: her husband. And so it is that Travis finds himself sitting opposite Grace at a restaurant as she feeds him the lines married men use with such practised ease on the women with whom they hope to have affairs. She can't leave her husband; it "isn't the right time". She didn't "set out to seduce" him. Travis, meanwhile, takes on the role of indignant female. This was why I ended up liking it. The extramarital affair is not subverted so often as you might think, in drama or comedy. Men are still predatory and evasive; women their victims. I suspect Travis is about to be driven half mad by his new love - and the prospect is oddly satisfying.

Like a lot of radio comedy, The Other Man was very gentle, and it may well end up on Saturday-night TV. The wider world of radio, however, is far from gentle, as I'm slowly discovering. First, Libby Purves finally hit back at Matthew Norman who, in the Independent, had more than once complained that he could not think of any words more spirit-lowering than "And now, Midweek, with Libby Purves". She called him a creep, and worse. Then Lesley Douglas, controller of Radio 2, replaced Johnnie Walker, the presenter of Drivetime, with Chris Evans. The message boards went wild. Evans, insist Radio 2's more traditional listeners, is "just a gob, a loud one at that". As I write, some of them are calling for demonstrations to be held.

Both rows may have died down by the time you read this, but I doubt it. Norman is bound to bait Purves again, while Radio 2 listeners have enough time on their hands to go on baiting Douglas and her gingery protege. So I may as well get stuck in myself. On Midweek, I'm with Norman: Purves is a good interviewer, but her programme's tone, all annoying British eccentricity ("Today we meet a woman who crossed Ben Nevis naked, by yak"), doesn't half grate. As for Evans, his Saturday show is excellent, but lately I've noticed something menacing at the edges of his voice: those old top notes of self-regard. Douglas should tread carefully, and watch her back.

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