ARCHIVE REVIEW: Saturday Night Jack
First published (in 'COMMENT') January 2001
Saturday Night Jack
Christmas and New Year isn't a good time for comedy, and it's an even worse time for finding stuff to read on the train. By mid-December, newspapers and magazines stop printing proper articles and just start publishing lists instead. You know the kind of thing - highlights, lowlights, man of the year, etc. And among said lists is usually a small round-up of what's been hot in the comedy world over the past twelve months. No discussion, no arguments, no pointing at the emperor's tiny shrivelled cock - just an inventory of recent money-spinners. So, in the comedy world, that's Jam, Black Books and Papa Lazarou in The League of Gentlemen. Satisfied? Good. No time for spoilsports to offer counter arguments - this is quick-buck reference time. Popular thing = No need for an opinion. Original thing = Far too much effort. Which means that, in all the lists published this year, absolutely nobody mentioned Saturday Night Jack. Which is a shame, because it happens to be the best comedy show in a long, long time.

Saturday Night Jack is a 90-minute show on Radio 2 hosted by Jack Docherty and 'evil musical genius' Pete Baikie, produced by Paul Rodgers. It started on 21 October last year and will finish its 13-week run on 20 January. It's fantastic, for the following very specific reasons (and, aspiring comedy whores, for God's sake pay attention):

1. It has the same 'playing records and arsing about' format / lack of format that made the Armando Iannucci, Lee & Herring and Chris Morris shows so lovely on Radio 1 a few years back. All of whom, of course, owed a huge debt to Kenny Everett. Who they'd heard of.

2. Docherty and Baikie make jokes about things they actually care about (which is mainly The Beatles), as opposed to things they feel they ought to talk about in order to 'reach' a pre-determined audience. Nev Fountain.

3. They sound like they're genuinely enjoying themselves, rather than biding their time until their careers take off.

4. It's a radio show presented by two old hands famous for their TV work who certainly don't need the money...but it pisses over ANYTHING cooked up by some spotty turk on a Talent 2000 commission. Noble & Silver.

5. They relish their own stupidity, but treat the listeners as equals.

6. They have a big say in choosing the playlist. Which is mainly The Beatles.

7. They understand comedy better than anybody else on the planet.

Everything about Saturday Night Jack is great. It's a personalised show, and that's what makes it work. Like Everett, Morris, et al, the duo recognise that the purest comedy is that which lies between the comedian's real life identity and the persona around which the show revolves. Absolutely fans will take delight in the frequent references to Jack's father, clearly the influence behind the 'Nice Family' patriarch - a man who set off to Scarborough at 4:30am in order to (cue tangible inverted commas) 'beat the traffic'. Fans of cultural references will also adore the tales of Jack's student days - dancing around in his pants to Kirsty MacColl's 'They Don't Know' and being informed of John Lennon's assassination by flatmate Nicky Campbell. It's exactly what radio comedy should be - apparent effortlessness wilfully disguising an obscene amount of talent. Take the routine about Pete Postlethwaite and the Seven Dwarves - a satirical comment on the formulaic nature of television, certainly, but it still sounds like an off-the-cuff bit of whimsy the pair dreamed up in their tea break. If they have tea breaks. And it's impossible to hear Pete Baikie giggling without feeling glad to be alive.

But it hasn't (and won't) be praised by the media. As such, its future on Radio 2 is uncertain. Read on...

Since about 1996-ish, most radio comedy has operated at the same level as the hum of a photocopier. It's there, you can identify it as comedy, you may even laugh once or twice...but when was the last time it REALLY made your mouth drop? It's not just Nev Fountain's fault either - once upon a time, the producers had spines too. They'd tell Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells to fuck off, rather than kowtow to the hysteria and apologise. Consequently, anything which doesn't now resemble the 'suitability' of, say, Jon Culshawe pretending to be Tom Baker or Dominic Holland talking about sell-by dates, gets rejected - anything vaguely 'offensive' is out (no matter how out-of-touch the parameters become), as is anything a bit weird and silly. The humour of Saturday Night Jack wouldn't last five minutes on the current Radio 4.

So thank fuck for Radio 2. This is a network, after all, that broadcasts Richard Pryor tributes of a Saturday lunchtime. Radio 2 listeners seem open to experimentation, or - at the very least - appear to understand that all programming has a context and a listenership that justifies its existence. The current schedule is partially similar to Radio 1 in the 1980s and early 90s - likeable DJs like Bob Harris and Steve Wright spin the discs, rather than po-faced, nipple-pierced career-climbers pretending to enjoy The Prodigy. Punt & Dennis' It's Been A Bad Week remains one of the few genuinely enjoyable, done-with-real-love comedy shows on the BBC - and twenty times better than its colder, worthier Radio 4 sister, The Now Show. Even Mark Lamarr sounds like an alright bloke underneath - his interview with the unashamedly trainspottery (ie, interesting and informative) Ranking Miss P about reggae edits was one of the best shows of last year. In fact, it's very difficult to watch those television trailers saying how fantastic Radio 2 is and not find yourself agreeing whole-heartedly.

Sadly, the rest of the media aren't so clued up. Roland White, the Radio Times' labour-saving device, gave the first episode of Saturday Night Jack a stinking review. Unfortunately for him, it revealed his ignorance not only of Docherty's humour, but of comedy in general. Complaining about the brilliant running gag about Jack's mobile phone (which played a tune by whichever pop star was purportedly ringing him), White observed that the duo were evidently 'very bored indeed' (reader, can you imagine Pete Baikie being bored by anything?), and this, he was keen to inform us, was the problem behind the show. He went on to say that Docherty was 'best known for his Channel 5 chat show' (not in the world we're proud to inhabit, Roley boy), before passing off a piece of received, I've-got-a-press-release-in-my-pocket wisdom about Docherty 'writing Radio Active' as if it was a great big secret that nobody else knew about. The Guardian, meanwhile, argued that 'Docherty is funny, but not as funny as he thinks he is'. Since Docherty, like the rest of the Absolutely team, exhibits a modesty about his work that makes you want to punch him, this was a particularly meaningless viewpoint; a classic case of an ill-informed, coffee-break opinion dressed up to vaguely resemble sense.

Docherty, you see, is best known to journalists for his Channel 5 chat show. Not to comedy fans. For journalists, said chat show was a 'failed' project, and can be dismissed as such for an easy reference - despite the fact that it was consistently entertaining throughout its two-year run, and Docherty was never less than great . More to the point, loads of people enjoyed Absolutely - not to mention the two Bodgers series on Radio 4 - and recognise his real talents (see the Absolutely article in 'Archive Review' for further details). But as far as journalists are concerned, a show like Saturday Night Jack cannot simply be enjoyed as part of the ongoing Docherty experience - it has to fit in with a pre-conceived lazy opinion on who Docherty is (and was) in the everybody's-talking-about-Posh-and-Becks twatworld they've created.

Baikie, meanwhile, gets ignored completely. As a composer for comedy, he's as prolific as the Popes, Brints and Goodalls of this world...but, hey, who wants to know about some keyboard-tinkler in the background? And besides, all comedy songs are awful, right?

Balls, balls and thrice balls. Saturday Night Jack needs to be heard. And, with the comedy-review climate the way it is, we can only pray that it is re-commissioned later in the year. We can also pray that Docherty and Baikie realise there are enough people out there who adore the show and want to ride their wavelength.

Before we go, here's ten particularly amusing moments from the series. In truth, the only end-of year list worth compiling...

1. Pete's Beatles anecdotes. Pete excitedly recites a well-known story about the Fab Four, to which Jack periodically bellows 'I know!' as Pete obliviously rabbits away. Of particular note was Pete's claim that McCartney can be heard fluffing the drums on 'The Ballad of John & Yoko'; we listen expectedly for this subtle observation to be confirmed, only to hear the terrific din of a drumkit crashing to the floor. A momentary pause, and the jaunty song fades back in again as if nothing had happened.

2. Jack's new mobile phone. The ringing tone told him who was phoning him, and thus whether he should answer. It plays a Morrissey song and he answers nonchalantly: 'Hi, Morrissey - listen, about this light that never goes out...' (Later on, the phone plays a Blondie song. Jack declines to answer it - 'You see, it could be Debbie Harry, but then it might just be one of the blokes, so...')

3. A sequel to the BBC series The Sins, in which, on a weekly basis, Pete Postlethwaite adapts the mannerisms of the Seven Dwarves - including one episode which just features him sneezing.

4. Mr Bobby Crussssshhhhhhh.

5. The Very Hard Quiz, including such questions as 'In the 1966 Cup Final, who was the crowd member standing to the left of the German goal during the second half holding a glass of red wine?' (Forget the man in the first half - we all know who he was.) In one show, the contestant was Jack's sister, who answered questions on 'our dad' and still lost.

5. Their suggestions for fantastic new TV programmes, prompted by Moray Hunter's father's suggestion of 'Polite Camera Action'. Highlights included 'Wristwatch UK' ('What's that about?'/'It's...just about wristwatches, really...') and 'Animal Hospice' ('Half an hour of animals dying and Rolf Harris crying...').

6. The mock cut & paste interviews with famous pop stars. E.g.: JACK: I like your haircut - what is it? DAVID BYRNE: It's kind of an African crossover...

7. The jingle - 'On BBC Radio Twwoooooo...'

8. Pete explaining how digital radio works. We think he should be hired to explain everything , frankly.

9. Running jokes about Toots and the Maytals. '54-46, That's My Number' was announced as 'the second best song ever recorded'. The first, Jack revealed, was, of course, '54-46, That's My Number (Live)'.

10. The events listings, including 'World's Shortest Long Thing' and 'World's Stupidest Genius'.

If you want to see Saturday Night Jack recommissioned, write (don't e-mail - it carries less clout) to the controller of Radio 2 at this address:

The Controller, BBC Radio 2, Broadcasting House, London, W1A 1AA

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