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Inspired by the 1891 novel about hack writers, "New Grub Street", "Ed Reardon's Week" is comedy for the comedians. It is not surprising that the likes of Paul Merton consider it to be the best thing on the radio. Merton, a devout fan of Tony Hancock, will no doubt see the connection with his East Cheam hero. Reardon is a pompous, egotistical and yet loveable loser in the same mould as the aforementioned Hancock and Ricky Gervais's David Brent. Like Hancock and Gervais's other creation, Andy Millman of "Extras", Reardon is not just your ordinary man on the street, but someone who has got his foot in the door of the artistic world he desires. The trouble is it hasn't turned out the way he had intended and this is down to his own personality flaws.
Series 3 sees Reardon still trying to keep his head above water as a writer and filled with the same bitter disdain for contemporary society, which is largely represented by the "12 year old" youth. Estranged from his family, treated like a pest by his agents who throw him the lowest of the low-paying work and continually heckled by the students of the creative writing class he runs, Reardon has plenty to bemoan about his life. Despite having 34 books to his name and filled with pompous contempt for lowbrow literature and the abuse of the English language, Reardon is still a hack writer who cannot stoop low enough to make ends meet. Episode one, for example, sees him using product placement on the radio to pay for his plumbing. He is also prepared about his upbringing in order to capitalize on the lucrative abused childhood subgenre. Later Reardon's desperation for cash leads him into archaeological digging with students and even becoming a secret shopper.
However, for all of Reardon's own compromised artistic integrity, cynicism and cowardice we cannot help but be on his side. His frustrations with the way nonsense is peddled and spoken; the lunacy behind current trends and his candid honesty about his profession all provide a sharp contemporary satire. However, amid the witty critiques of popular culture there is a certain pathos regarding the writing profession. Reardon's humiliatingly low payments for his work, often negotiated down by his sponging agent, Felix (John Fortune) and the huge one-sided compromises he is forced to accept by Milvane's nauseating assistant, Ping, is a cautionary tale for prospective writers. When he is criticized for writing a murder mystery weekend for corporate groups, Reardon wryly remarks that even the great Tom Stoppard ventured into this field.
The series is excellently produced. I had heard most of them when they were originally heard and it was a delight to have them collected together in a single volume. My only complaint is the tardiness of their arrival. Series 6 was aired in February 2010. As much as I enjoy archive comedy it would be nice to be as up-to-date with the series as possible. It seems a little weird hearing comedy from a recent pre-recession era, when spending was at an all-time high. However, this is the smallest of gripes and just reflective of my desire to get the next three series as soon as possible. Besides, it's always good to hear the witty criticisms of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code"!