Last April Fools’ Day, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo wound up their award-winning film review show on BBC Radio 5 Live after 21 years on air. A little more than a month later they are back with Kermode and Mayo’s Take, a podcast so similar in flavour and format that you could call it an up-yours to their critics.
While Mayo stressed that it was their decision to go their own way – ‘we have decided, and to be clear: that’s no one else has decided’ – he was slightly more candid about his experience in an interview with the Radio Times a few weeks ago. People of my generation have grown up with Kermode and Mayo, and were as surprised as any by their departure. But we needn’t fret. The pair have taken their production team with them to their new studio at Sony, making the transition highly efficient.
All of which is to say that Kermode and Mayo’s Take is neither fresh nor new but boldly and brilliantly unoriginal. It is their old show in a fresh pair of knickers. There are a few gestures towards doing something different. They’ll be reviewing the odd bit of TV in addition to the usual film releases, for example. But the effort to preserve the status quo is obvious, with audience participation, bird song – and Jason Isaacs – still featuring heavily across the two hours.
This will come as a relief to what they call ‘LTLs’ (long-term listeners), rebranded ‘heritage listeners’ in homage to the ‘heritage artichoke’ or rather, as it turns out, the heritage tomato. To judge from those writing in, there was already a good deal of heritage knocking about in the first episode, which saw Kermode and Mayo swap notes on Nick Cave’s new film, This Much I Know to Be True, and Uncharted, a mediocre offering starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg.
Sandwiched in the middle of the programme was an interview with Tom Hiddleston ahead of his appearance in The Essex Serpent, the screenplay of Sarah Perry’s hit novel. That Hiddleston was unfamiliar with Essex prior to filming somehow didn’t come as too much of a surprise. We can expect Kermode and Mayo to retain the calibre of their guests across the series. That’s the difference between starting up a podcast after decades on the radio and starting up a podcast from scratch. I predict very few STLs (short-term listeners).
Another ageing man who knows the importance of a good formula is Adrian Edmondson. He’s written a biographical Essay for Radio 3 this month on his career as a comedian and author. It’s jolly good. One moment he’s playing Angel Gabriel in the school nativity for the third time. The next, he’s on stage at some dive with Rik Mayall performing the same sketch as the night before, and the night before that because, like Angel Gabriel, he’s mastered it, he’s honed it, and no matter how good his new material is, it’s new, and it will therefore fall flat.
Edmondson and Mayall met while at university in Manchester, which sounds like an art student’s mecca in the 1970s. There was a particular studio where they could just drop in to try out ideas. The pair once attempted to suspend themselves from the ceiling in pink duvets to play the part of God’s testicles. Oh, to have been there. The studio’s now gone (‘there was no metric for measuring how valuable the old Stevie Joe was, and, as is the way these days, if it can’t be measured, it’s deemed a waste of money’).
Edmondson makes comedy writing sound easy. It’s not the jokes that need to be funny, he says, but the people who tell them. His writing days with Mayall for Bottom consisted of filling what they called ‘the larder’ with possible situations for their characters (‘hyper-exaggerations of our own personas’). This, Edmondson likened to placing Angel Gabriel on a golf course, or in front of a tax return. It was all going well until he opened the larder one day and found its contents nibbled by mice. It was time to move on.
Edmondson’s clever, self-effacing and a lot more interesting than your average testicle. But then, anyone suspended from school for ‘attempted asphyxiation of a chemistry master’ was bound to go places.