In Defence of Samantha

It was reported last week (DM, Guardian) that Samantha, a stalwart of Radio 4’s I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue for almost thirty years, has attracted some complaints.

Apparently the BBC has received, wait for it, a whole four complaints about Samantha in the last eighteen months and asked the writers and panelists to “tone down” the smuttiness of the jokes. To put this in context, Clue has, on average, two and a half million listeners.

I’ve listened to Clue since I was little. Well, I probably didn’t actually listen to it properly until I was a teenager, but you know. We didn’t have a TV, we had a radio. And books. But anyway.

If you don’t know about Clue, the jokes are largely innuendo and double entendres. I didn’t find it funny until I could understand them – about when I started listening properly.

Samantha is the scorer – her job made easier by the fact that no points are awarded – and she is aided by two assistants: the lovely Monica and the Swede Sven.

I’ll give you that the comments about Samantha probably do sound somewhat dirtier now that the chairman is no longer the twinkly-eyed, genial grandfather-like jazz legend that was Humphrey Lyttleton (RIP; and that’s just my impression from his voice). Jack Dee is a good successor, when one bears in mind that, really, no one can replace Humph, but he doesn’t quite have that innocence of voice that Humph had, and which probably makes the difference.

But, Samantha’s fictional, and most of the “smutty” comments are when she is making her excuses to leave before the end of the show. Usually, she has a gentleman caller of some description and the comment requires dirty-minded listeners for them to be funny. For example, when she has a date with a Russian gentleman, who has suggested dinner in his hotel room, and then liquor out on the balcony. See? Perfectly innocent.

Is it the script-writer’s or chairman’s fault that you’ve misheard the comment and thus become offended?

The delightful Samantha is not offensive to women and those few who are offended ought not to be the ones dictating her job and early-leaving apologies. Are we not in an age when women have the independence to make their own decisions about their social lives? And can, as in the above example, dine with a man in a hotel room and then drink alcohol without people calling her offensive? That’s an insult to Samantha. I think the complainers should apologise to her, rather than the BBC kowtow to the complaints.

Samantha has done a fantastic job as the show’s scorer since 1985 – long may she continue in it!

The Duchess of Malfi

I’ve taken a little break from Shakespeare for the last couple of weeks for various reasons. The main reason, though, was the production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi that was televised on the BBC about ten days ago.

My previous experience of Webster’s tragedy is limited. My sister used a quotation on an art project, and Agatha Christie referred to it in Sleeping Murder. I haven’t yet finished reading the play – it feels denser than Shakespeare and I keep being distracted. But, obviously, I have seen it.

The Duchess of Malfi tells of a rich young widow and her secret marriage to her steward – her brothers, one a Cardinal and the other her twin Ferdinand, do not want her to remarry. Probably a money-thing and them wanting it. It is said to be based on the story of an Italian Duchess from about a century before Webster’s play was published in 1623. The play is about the brothers’ reaction when they discover the Duchess’ marriage.

The Globe’s production, which starred Gemma Arterton as the Duchess, was staged in a reproduction Jacobean indoor theatre, lit only by candles. I have no doubt that eventually the filming of this will make its way onto DVD. If you get the chance, buy it and help them recoup the cost of the beeswax candles.

Even though this is a tragedy – and it is tragic – there were moments which I found amusing. I don’t know if they were meant to be, but they were. Not big things. A look. The Cardinal especially had some wonderful expressions.

I tend to think of theatre work as the hardest kind of acting. Recreating the same emotion night after night, and remembering all those lines, can’t be easy. I was very impressed by the level of the emotions between the actors, and by Ferdinand’s descent into insanity.