Radio 4 is home to some truly original shows right now

From Sophie Willan's Guide to Normality to Bridget Christie's Utopia and Sarah Kendall's Australian Trilogy, Robin Ince picks a quartet of Radio 4 favourites

Sophie Willan

Guide to Normality, on BBC Radio Four now


Sophie Willan’s Guide to Normality is sharp, eccentric, provocative, but most of all, it is perpetually funny. After listening to it, I immediately listened to it again, to see what I had missed and savour what I had heard a second time. Her images are wonderfully evocative. A baby is “a large human blob that looks very much like a sad cabbage”.

Her grandmother looks like Morticia Addams, meaning “you’re not quite sure if she’s a beauty or a crow”.

In the first far-too-brief episode, Sophie explained her upbringing and attitude to parents and parenting. She was predominantly brought up by her grandmother as her mother was a drug addict. She describes this as a relief rather than a curse as her mother was not someone intended to be a parent.

With deft jokes and anecdotes, Sophie bats away the prescribed notions of how to be a family and bring up children. I am in danger of giving too much away as the excitement of listening to this energy and imagination makes me want to tell you everything in that ham-fisted way that happens when you want to share your delight. Her grandmother’s refusal to eat crème brûlée comes from having no desire “to eat the unborn child of a depressed hen”. Sophie is one of an increasing number of sharp and intriguing voices on R4.

Bridget Christie

Utopia, available on BBC iPlayer until April 6

“My son said to me the other day, ‘Your pursuit of happiness is a futile and worthless quest’. We are just meat and hair like Iggy Pop,” says Bridget Christie in her new apoplectic series of Utopia. I should have written about this three weeks ago, time to find this on iPlayer is limited. Bridget both bolsters and strips apart conceptions of the middle-class liberal elite, a group she has become a member of due to her comedic success and North London domestic situation.

Bridget is filled with righteous ire, but also elevates it to such absurdity that she maintains a position of being both correct and preposterous. Her dissection of this ridiculousness means that you can both nod in agreement while also realising that you are absurd, too. It’s the ones that don’t think they are absurd that worry me most.

Sarah Kendall

Australian Trilogy, selected shows available on BBC iPlayer


At Radio Awards time, two further radio stars have been picking up perspex obelisks and sprayed metal plaques for their justly lauded work.

Sarah Kendall’s Australian Trilogy is an act of enchantment. Each one a perfectly structured story of humour, humanity and sometimes revelatory sadness. I know of one man who saw her live performance of one of these stories on six occasions and burst into tears at the denouement every time.

Mark Steel

Mark Steel’s in Town, available on YouTube


Mark Steel’s in Town is a showcase for his relentless curiosity. Steel’s ability to come up with a new half-hour show on every town he visits, from Skipton to Ventnor, is an illustration of an engaged and highly curious mind.

I reckon the imagination and richness in the variety of Radio 4 comedy output at the moment shames the frequently lacklustre TV comedy output, though just as I say that, I see there is a new series of This Country, so all is not lost.