Good mourning with Peter and Wealands

A pair of sulky churchmen give John Humphrys a run for his money

On Sunday Worship (Sundays, 8.10am, Radio 4) guests were having a hard time understanding why Samuel Johnson never rated his home town of Lichfield. "Sadly for us," mourned Canon Peter Wilcox, "he was not always complimentary about his native Lichfield, often finding it cloying and dull compared with the bright lights of London."

But there was much to recommend the town, argued Peter. Take the cathedral itself. Eight hundred years old, three spires, the burial place of St Chav - what was the good doctor on? Wilcox's despair spurred his colleague Canon Wealands Bell into an astonishingly bitter reverie during the homily. "Wanna know what God's like?" Wealands challenged. "Well, watch this space!" He then directed his congregation to look very closely at a crucifix, and specifically the kind you find in a Mexican shrine, with eyes the blue of killer jellyfish, that ooze real blood when nobody is looking.

Such patent sulking is rarely heard this early on Sundays, whereas weekdays on Today, despite the arrival of the as yet très low-temperature Justin Webb, it's Plus ça change, plus c'est le même Humphrys. "I always get it wrong," complained Hmph recently, of having to inform listeners of the programme's web address.

“It's 'forwardslashtoday'. I think," as though it were the first time he'd been challenged to say it, when it's been years now. It's not really that hard, is it, John? Not exactly what a person could define as tricky, but it remains his favourite little whinge. As an affectation, it's almost as annoying as when he had to report on something to do with the rapper Dizzee Rascal, and said the name like he was reading a particularly incomprehensible printout at Bletchley Park, which struck me as a bit rich, coming from someone happy to say "Jock Stirrup" with a straight face on a regular basis.

(PS: Anyway, so I removed the septic tank. Or technically someone else removed it while I stood on the towpath thinking of the words of Haji Umar, who goes back and forth to the local mosque several times a day, occasionally stopping to says things like "What you need now is the Quran" and "All you need is the Quran" while holding a little radio to his ear and endlessly fiddling with the static, tuning and tuning to a station that forever seems to elude him. And I'm never sure if he means "Your life is clearly perfect, but the Quran will make it tip-top" or "For pity's sake, woman, turn to the Quran", but whatever, a couple of hours before they removed the tank Haji had not merely recommended the Quran but added: "Only Allah will know." Cut to the tank swinging on its hoist and sinking down on the pontoon: revolting, but crucially, dearest reader, unbroken. Way to go, Allah!)

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Citizen Ken