Overnight sensation

So, Episode 2 of Mr Blue Sky – starring these people [above] – aired on Radio 4 this morning at the convenient time of 11.30am; I listened to it on headphones via my laptop in the British Library, which felt a bit weird. Secretly listening to my own work. Luckily it raises smiles rather than guffaws! (Or in my case, winces, and hopeful faces.)

As with the first episode last week, I have already received a handful of very positive comments on Twitter. This is gratifying, and I appreciate every one of them. How else am I to gauge how well it’s going? I certainly can’t trust my own opinion (and anyway, I know what’s coming next, and the necessary pauses are like daggers in my heart when I listen live – I can only hope they aid easy listening for everybody else). Unlike TV, with a radio show there are no overnight ratings. I used to refresh Media Guardian’s ratings page all morning after an episode of Not Going Out went out. Indeed, radio is simply not about ratings unless you’re playing RAJAR wars as a station, or else you are a breakfast show. Numbers are largely irrelevant. It’s more important that the general reaction is positive, and for that, you have to ask around. (Have they closed the Radio 4 message boards, by the way? These used to be a bearpit. If they have gone, I’m glad.)

A lot of Radio 4’s most loyal listeners just leave the station on all day. This is the mark of their loyalty. I guess one or two will have heard Mr Blue Sky in the course of their day, by accident. This is the way speech radio works – I understand that. But it does also mean that unless you sit down to listen to it, or put it on headphones, most of the subtle drama and “bittersweet” tone are going to drift off into the ether, or be drowned out by the noise of a lawnmower or the postman. (A comedy with a studio audience at least has guide laughter attached.)

I’m feeling it’s going down OK. I get that impression. But radio listings in newspapers are, in general, tiny and tokenistic, so unless you’re “Pick of the Day”, which you only ever will be in week one, you’re on your own. We were picked out in, I think, four newspapers, although one, the Mail, said it was “unfunny and unconvincing” so that didn’t really increase traffic. (It should be noted that my colleague Jane Anderson, radio editor at Radio Times, kindly made Ep2 a pick in this week’s magazine. Every little helps.)

As far as I’m aware, I’ve only had one printed review, by the lovely Elisabeth Mahoney in the Guardian. (You can read it here.) But there’s no sense of Mr Blue Sky taking off or catching the public’s imagination. Even those enthusiastic folk at the British Comedy Guide aren’t discussing it (four comments, one by me!), despite this generous interview with me by the site’s Si Hawkins. Hey, deal with it! This is just the way it is in a crowded multimedia market full of stuff.

In many ways, Twitter presents a false impression – if people didn’t like it, I would expect them to have the decency to keep quiet about it (and if hey don’t have that decency, I’ll probably have already blocked them anyway). I merely point out that being on the radio has to be an end in itself, and not a means to another end, such as being carried shoulder high around the streets and bringing traffic to a standstill. It is an end. I am one of the lucky ones: four half hours of radio with my name on them. I must admit, I felt as nervous when Ep2 went out, in my ears, this morning, as I did when Ep1 went out, in my Mum and Dad’s living room, last week. At any stage, I assume the whole edifice of legitimacy will come tumbling down, and I’ll have my BBC pass revoked.

If, like most people, you are not glued to a radio at 11.3oam, Ep2 will be available for seven days here. (And no, for those that keep asking, it will not be available as a podcast, as Radio 4 do not tend to put narrative comedy or drama out as podcasts.)

And an opportunity to publish a nice new photo [above], which I have belatedly extracted from my phone, even though my phone does not allow you to upload photos to a Mac. I love the people in this photo.


9 thoughts on “Overnight sensation

  1. I listened to episode 1 on a sun lounger in my back garden on saturday afternoon with noise cancelling headphones with clear blue skies above me and a cold drink by my side.

    Could there possibly be a better setting in which to listen in?

    As it was I thought it was great. Im not a normal radio 4 spoken word drama fan but I did enjoy Mr Blue Sky. Its not laugh out loud funny but its certainly chucklesome.

    You are right that you do lost a lot of the nuances if its just on in the background and while its not always possible to listen to it in a perfect environment it does help.

  2. I enjoyed episode 1 and I’m looking forward to catching up with episode 2 very shortly. Despite advanced notice, the Pat Jennings’ gag was still LOL stuff, disarmingly guffaw-inducing.

  3. I’ve just got up to date with it. My favourite moment and line so far – “They’re proven to help improve a child’s motor skills” (13.30ish on iplayer) as well as making me laugh surprised me as I could hear my dad saying it and I’d not connected them for a moment before then. My dad is also extremely reluctant to criticise and even if you sense he doesn’t like someone/something, he’ll say, “But he is what he is.” I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not (it is what it is?), and it remains a mystery to me, which leads me to think that trait alone is a compelling one for drama as well as comedy (which is probably something you’ve already noticed). Also, it resonating like that counters the use of ‘unconvincing’ in the Mail. “Your foxes” was another favourite line. I could go on fascinatingly like this – recounting random moments is all my own critiques ever really amount to. Anyway I seem to be enjoying the show so far.

  4. You say you don’t get ratings for radio programmes – but presumably the BBC collects figures for iPlayer downloads? Could they provide those figures to you?

  5. Is it that important that you need some kind of confirmation Andrew? Funny that you are listening to the broadcasts, I think you need to take a leaf out of RH’s book.

    You don’t half seem to beat yourself up a bit (or worry about if something is going to be received well or not). Get it done and move on 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that you have the show on Radio 4 and I am enjoying it, but is it the be-all and end-all to get the adulation or recognition you seem to be craving? Do the figures really matter?

    Can’t you take all that energy and time worrying about (in the end pointless) ‘stuff’ like this and focus it in creating more output?

    Keep up the good work Andrew (and it is) and forget about the ratings. Look how bitter RH became

    • I was just trying to present an honest view of what it’s like to finally get something made that’s your own, Adam. I think if I didn’t worry about how it would be received I would be made of stone! I have spent most of my writing career either not getting things made, or working with other people, so Mr Blue Sky is rather important to me. Let me off! (By the way, though I spent a whole half an hour listening to Ep2 on my laptop, I wrote constantly either side of that half hour. I don’t actually waste time worrying.

  6. I’m really enjoying the series so far and the characters and storyline are shaping up nicely. The tone is nicely balanced between drama and comedy and the pace of the show is spot on. It’s certainly made me have to stifle a few giggles while listening at work here in upstate NY (in order to mantain my professional demeanor of course!). Looking forward to hearing the rest of the series.

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