It’s a weekly ritual for many readers. Leafing through the new copy of the Radio Times and highlighting the shows they want to watch. But, if you had a collection of all their past issues, what could you tell about a person’s life from what they have put a ring around?
Writer John Osborne (who I imagine lives with the weary refrain, “No, not that one”) answers that question in this evocative and nostalgic one-man show that not only delights in the ability of TV to bring us closer together but also stands as a gentle exploration of grief and loss.
The story begins with John receiving a phone call from a woman called Daniella, who lives in the town where his late grandfather lived all his life. She has some of his granddad’s possessions, would John like to come and collect them?
Soon John is in the shed at the bottom of Daniella’s garden, mesmerised by a collection of Radio Times, which stretched back to the early 80s, each issue with shows highlighted in the cheap biros his granddad took from the bookie’s.
As John’s fond memories of childhood days perched on his granddad’s armchair watching TV mix with his exploration of the RT collection, we learn more of his granddad’s life — why Inspector Morse was always marked with a heart, why the crossword is filled in a mix of capital and lower case letters, and why for a few weeks game shows and entertainment programmes are circled in angry red pen.
There’s a depth of emotion that wells up through the slightly shambolic show, but that is undercut by wry observations on Radio Times and television in general. Just how many times have we put the Queen Mother on the cover? Who on earth watched Talking Telephone Numbers with Phillip Schofield and Emma Forbes?
And it’s reassuring to hear a reader’s letter from 1985 railing against The Archers scriptwriters trying to introduce “modern” storylines. Plus ca change.
If you can mark your life through the TV shows you’ve watched, then this charming, heartfelt show will resonate strongly with you.
But one mystery remains, what possessed John’s granddad to buy TV Quick one week in the 90s? That’s the one question John feels unable to answer.
Circled in the Radio Times is at Brighton Fringe until 29 May