Crisp and Even Brightly

by Stephen Tall on December 22, 2015

Christmas telly tends to grab the media attention — how many repeats, who’ll win the ratings war? — but for me radio matters more this time of year. It’s partly I spend longer in the kitchen, partly that there are tasks which require some simultaneous distraction to be bearable (signing Christmas cards, wrapping presents).

So while others will define the quality of telly by how good this year’s Dr Who / Downton / Sherlock special was, the first thing I do is check if BBC Radio 4 Extra is going to be repeating Crisp and Even Brightly.

Last year, it didn’t which rather spoiled things. This year, happily, it has. Starring Timothy West, it’s a sly, funny re-telling of a very familiar carol:

Was the poor man gathering fuel really poor, and was he really a man – or was she a Slavnik spy in disguise? Was Wenceslas’s tramp into the forest with his ten-year-old page carrying flesh and wine and logs just a public relations exercise? What is the true story behind the story of Good King Wenceslas?

Though it’s 28 years since it was first broadcast, the comedy holds up well, though inevitably some of the topical references have dated (the Royal Family was less popular and much more the butt of jokes then than now).

Which is more than can be said for the reputation of its writer, Alick Rowe. He was found guilty in 1999 of child indecency, imprisoned, and later died in Thailand. (Alex Foster has some background on all this here.)

I guess it’s not long, therefore, until Crisp and Even Brightly is subjected to a cultural fatwah and banned, for fear its repeats risk being regarded as a celebration of its author’s crimes.