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Tim Key’s Late Night Poetry Programme review: ‘The atmosphere he creates is spellbinding’

The actor and performance poet’s perfect command of comic timing is masterful as his show returns for a third series

Tim Key’s Late Night Poetry Programme (Radio 4) is back for a third series and this week’s episode dealt with “the thorny issue of dating”, featuring short, bathetic stanzas on flirting, speed dating and other disappointments of the heart. He plays a version of himself: a disappointed, slightly pompous fool with some very odd ideas about courting. This week he brought female companion Ann White (a perfectly deadpan Ellie White) for a romantic tour of the studio, complete with champagne, to the growing annoyance of Tom Basden, his brilliantly dour musical accompanist. While he provided tender flamenco strings, the hapless bard attempted to set a quixotic tone, but it wasn’t long before their carping took centre stage and Ann White retreated to the control room with a Brian Cox podcast. “You’ve been a sourpuss for almost two minutes now,” Key hissed as the guitarist tried to push on with the show. It’s only 15 minutes long but every episode perfectly showcases Key’s supreme command of tone. His sentences never end where you expect them to and the oddly appealing atmosphere he creates is so spellbinding, it’s like emerging from a nice fog when he spits you out at the other end. Fifteen minutes is both perfect and far too short.

Another source of undiluted joy this week sprung from the always life-affirming Break-A-Legs which provide weekly punctuation to Elaine Paige on Sunday (Radio 2), a show dedicated to playing show tunes and film soundtracks. Paige’s presentation style is stilted and obviously read from a script, but the Break-A-Legs are truly glorious. Listeners phone in with self-penned adverts for their amateur dramatic productions and the best ones perform them in character with total commitment and often appalling accents. “Hush Mr Bumble. Oh! Hello Elaine …” began one woman in character as Mrs Corney, plugging Ware Operatic’s production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver. “Who will buy? Hopefully, you will,” she chirruped and Elaine responded with one of her trademark gurgle/giggles. Little slices of human endeavor, done for love and always with an enthusiasm so bracing, you can’t help but feel happy for the rest of the day.

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