At the start of his new series Kevin Eldon Will See You Now, Eldon promises “hilarious lukewarm political satire using mostly puns” and then brilliantly fails to deliver this, though there are brief appearances from a Trumpish golf cart operator and a Brexit allusion that is pleasingly preposterous. It is both barbed and absurd. Instead, Eldon presents a half hour of nonsense, with mild jeopardy over the possible failure of the end credits to arrive due to them being deposited around the back of some bins.
Eldon has been one of the UK’s must entertaining comedy actors for nearly three decades, from Simon Quinlank, the psychotically obsessive hobbyist in Lee and Herring’s Fist of Fun to filling the shoes of Clive Dunn in the recent TV revival of Dad’s Army. (His own TV sketch show, It’s Kevin, much like Peter Serafinowicz’s show, was foolishly only given one series, but he continues to thrive in a world of his own making on BBC Radio 4.)
The format allows Eldon to stray wherever he wants
The radio series is set in Kevin’s palatial stately home which creates a Noel’s House Party if the script editor was Edgar Allan Poe and Mervyn Peake was in charge of set design. The series is rich in absurd images way beyond the budgetary restrictions of television, but within the grasp of the far more penurious finances of radio. The show is dense with astute and inventive sound effects reminiscent of the fabulously preposterous aural tableaus of Kenny Everett.
We meet Kevin’s seven-year-old sons and their cat, William, Rees and Mog. Unlike their namesake, these precocious offspring really are intellectuals and have spent their hour before bedtime translating Joyce’s Finnegans Wake into classical Greek. When their mother, a febrile continental artist, attempts to show them affection she is rebuffed with, “Please Mother, we barely know you.”
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The show is detached and knowing of the medium it is in, but never cold and ironic. There are pleasing reminders of the radio classic Round the Horne, a show that frequently played with the awareness it was all just a radio show, but when it came to character pieces the cast would immerse themselves in the madness to the hilt.
There is a format that has the framework of an almost sitcom, but such looseness that allows Eldon to stray wherever he wants, some silly jokes, some slavering monsters, and a spooky tale that is a warning about the haunting horrors of ill thought-out interior design.
This is a show that is made by people who love the medium of radio. This is unsurprising when the producer is David Tyler, whose 35 years in radio include Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, Cabin Pressure and Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive.
Tyler also makes an appearance as the producer, delivering the nearest thing there is to plot, the fact that the end credits cannot be found. His lack of actorly qualities is disguised by portentous classical music to swamp his underplaying.
When the end credits are delivered by the BBC messenger service, the punchline is entirely satisfying. I want to hear a BBC Radio play that really does feature the part of The Ghost of Hope.
Kevin Eldon Will See You Now is on Radio 4 on Thursdays at 11pm and BBC iPlayer