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Rainer Hersch’s All Classical Music Explained

Radio 4
1998 (eight programmes)

A series in which comedian Rainer Hersch purported to give a comprehensive run-down on the thorny subject of classical music, including "why organ music is so boring, and how to clap in the wrong places at concerts and look like you did it on purpose".  Incredibly, the comic potential of the classics had been explored by two other series in recent memory: The Classic Buskers on Radio 2, and Radio 4’s Miles and Millner Show, which was last heard in 1992.  Hersch’s comic approach was a little bit similar to Miles and Millner’s, the main difference being his use of the spoof-lecture format: each week’s show was devoted to a particular topic (opera, the Bach family, the orchestra, etc) on which he would pontificate throughout the show.  His observations were illustrated with snippets of ‘music’, each of which terminated abruptly, with the trademark noise of the needle being ripped off the disc, once the point had been made.

Hersch was joined on each show by a few guests, usually serious musicians or musical scholars who had some connection with the topic under discussion and who put up heroically with the show’s knockabout execrations.  There were also occasional performances and bits of chat, however, and some of the guests appear to have been selected for straightforward interest value rather than suitability as comic stooges.  It might, perhaps, be whispered softly that ACME really did contain the ghost of the germ of a genuine intention to teach people something about classical music.  Helping to dispel this alarming impression was Hersch’s only regular guest, keyboard wizard Richard Thomas, who wrote and presented a segment of his own, entitled "Mad Modern Music".  This contained somewhat stronger meat than the rest of the show and provoked a few listener complaints about Thomas’s use of swearing, which led to a hilarious Feedback interview in which ACME producer Richard Edis discussed his innocence of the precise connotations of the word ‘twat’.

The series was developed from material Hersch had previously performed in a stage show and as short segments on Radio 4’s Loose Ends, most of which was repeated in extended form.  The full-blown half-hour shows had an distinct ‘padded’ feel to them, but shortage of material was probably not the real culprit here: the main problem was a lack of personnel.  Aside from Thomas, there were no regular co-performers, so when (as sometimes happened) Hersch chose to illustrate his discourse with a sketch, he was forced to call on the services of his special guests.  This led to a lot of faffing around, and, as comic performers, most of the guests made very fine musicians.

External links: mad modern musician Richard Thomas apparently maintains a webpage of his own, but at the time of writing it was out of commission.

© JB Sumner 1999. Uploaded 10/1/99