BBC Radio 4, 28 September 2009
Gerard Hoffnung died in 1959 at the age of only 34. Although a legend
in his lifetime for his drawings and his idiosyncratic concerts involving famous musicians doing silly things (such as
playing the vacuum cleaner), his work remains largely forgotten today. Alan Stafford's affectionate biodrama characterized
him as a loveable eccentric, a fearsomely talented man whose owlish face and courtly manners suggested someone far beyond
his actual age. A talented draughtsperson who became a radio personality (appearing on an early version of Just a Minute),
Hoffnung had a unique talent to persuade star names from the worlds of music and the stage (the horn-player Dennis Brain and
the actress Yvonne Arnaud were two examples) to appear in his 'entertainments.' The play ended with Hoffnung's widow Annetta
reminiscing about life with this polymath, as well as drawing our attention to his talents as a social critic. In a speech
given shortly before his death at the Oxford Union, Hoffnung had fiercely berated the government for permitting the colour-bar
to survive, and looked forward to a time when people of different races could be treated equally.
Nonetheless, I did get that the feeling that the play had also been planned as a
vehicle for Matt Lucas, the Little Britain star who might still be too young to be classified as a national
treasure, but is well on the way to becoming one. As Hoffnung, he reprised his turn as the quirky card-shop owner from Little
Britain. If this was director Lisa Evans' intention, then it was amply fulfilled; I thoroughly enjoyed this Afternoon
Play, and hope that it will soon be given a deserved repeat.