Head to head with the Axeman
Mark Damazer is bafflingly resistant to my sound advice
At last, I've met him! The Axeman. Mark Damazer. I was invited to a smart dinner, and there he was at the next table. At pudding, everyone switched places and, suddenly, he was in the chair opposite me ("Look," I whispered to my neighbour at his approach. "The Axeman cometh").
Obviously, it would be wrong of me to reveal anything the poor man said while he was trying to eat his crème brûée, but I can tell you that the controller of Radio 4 is very polite, and that he does read every word that is written about his station: the BBC cuttings service sees to that. More amazingly, he appears not to have taken offence at any of the mean things I have written about him. At the time, I felt relieved. But now, I'm worried. Should I try harder?
I had hoped to give his new sitcom a good kicking. But that won't be possible because the wretched thing turned out to be quite funny. Living with the Enemy (Tuesday, 6.30pm) is written by Gyles Brandreth, the former Tory MP, and Nick Revell, the lefty stand-up comedian. People have occasionally told me how charming and clever Brandreth is. I'm not convinced. Those few weeks when he presented Sound Advice, a show dropped into the old Home Truths slot, were among the worst Saturdays of my life. Still, the conceit of this show is: Brandreth plays Gyles Brandon, a former Conservative minister turned minor TV celeb, while Revell plays Nick Reynolds, a former Eighties comedian turned alternative therapist. A flood in Gyles's flat, caused by Nick's overflowing bath, results in them shacking up together. As they say in the movies: hilarity ensues!
And it does, sort of. I will give Brandreth this: at least he knows how to take the piss out of himself. Plus, like all the best sitcoms, Living with the Enemy has a simple formula - basically, it's The Odd Couple - with all the action occurring in a confined space. At first, Brandreth mistakes Reynolds for a social worker. So when he first catches sight of this do-gooding slacker's flat, bigger and swankier than his own, he is rather shocked: "How can someone like you afford a place like this? Did we so liberate the housing market that even anarchist bohemian wastrels can mount it?" Revell, del ighted to find a former member of John Major's government living in a bedsit, surveys the flood damage and titters: "But how will your jumpers survive?" (Brandreth is famous for his awful novelty knitwear.)
It will be interesting to see how this show develops now they've got establishing the set-up out of the way, but I do think that it might have legs. Which is more than can be said of Saturday Live. A few days after I met Damazer, he appeared on Feedback (Friday, 1.30pm) to defend Saturday Live, his replacement for Home Truths, which is driving many listeners half demented with its awfulness: one said that the controller should "have it put down". But the Axeman is keeping his weapon firmly sheathed.
He is not, he told Roger Bolton, undergoing an "existential crisis" about whether it should be recommissioned; it will be around for a few years at least. Oh dear. Over coffee, I reminded him of my brilliant suggestion that he should dispatch Saturday Live to the great commissioning heap in the sky, and stick The Food Programme there instead. I was obviously wasting my breath. Honestly. I don't know why I bother.
Pick of the week
Decca: the letters of Jessica Mitford
20 November, 9.45am, Radio 4
Letters to, among others, Betty Friedan and Hillary Clinton.
6 Music Plays it Again
20-23 November, 9.45am, BBC6 Music
Documentaries about the British music press by Stuart Maconie.
Don't miss . . .
Seu Jorge in concert
Seu Jorge has come far from his childhood on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Already an established actor, he has starred in the acclaimed Brazilian film City of God, and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But Jorge's heart is really in his music: his 2005 album Cru established him at the forefront of a new wave of Brazilian pop, carrying forward the legacy of the 1960s "Tropicalia" movement. "Urban sambas" are a speciality, with Jorge's voice and guitar backed by a team of percussionists.
Plays in Basingstoke, Coventry, Gateshead and Leicester from 17 December. More details: www.seujorge.com