Comedy CD review Let’s laugh at ourselves

Clare in the Community – Series Two
BBC Audio CD

Star rating: 4/5

Whether you’ve heard the radio series previously or not, if you’ve ever worked in a social services office there’s every chance you’ll find something strangely familiar about the sanctimonious social worker Clare Barker.

Harry Venning, with the help of writing partner Dave Ramsden, successfully transferred his cartoon strip to radio some years ago and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. This triple CD of the second series contains six half-hour episodes featuring Clare, played by Sally Phillips, getting caught up in a succession of farcical situations with clients, while never quite addressing her own issues. And, unlike when it’s on the radio, having it on CD means you can rewind to the bits you didn’t quite catch or would like to hear again.

I love the caricatures of petty office squabbles and self-interested workers and am even willing to forgive this show’s narcissistic propensity to mention other Radio Four programmes throughout one of the episodes.

In each episode, our anti-hero’s inadequacies are exposed. For instance, she is mocked by a client in one episode for her use of hackneyed phrases: “That was just one of a selection of asinine, all-purpose stock responses you’ve been programmed to react with,” Clare is told. “Honestly, if I had a pound for every time a social worker had asked me ‘And how does that make you feel?'” Clare struggles to respond, managing only: “And, er, what feelings does that evoke?”

There’s even fun to be had at Clare’s expense when she’s off work and wrestling with her social conscience over the ethics of going on a Flip Flops holiday because they don’t allow same-sex couples. Quick as a flash, her downtrodden partner, Brian, suggests: “Well that rules us out – we’ve been having the same sex for years!”

This series is suitable for anyone suffering social work withdrawal symptoms over the upcoming holiday season – or perhaps worth buying as a cheeky Secret Santa gift for any sanctimonious types you may have in your office. And surely, it’s time to see Clare develop into the star of her own television series?

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

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