The History of the World Backwards (2 stars)

The History of the World Backwards

BBC4, Tue 30 Oct, 10pm


Of all the survivors of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Robert Newman has arguably been the one to escape with the largest amount of public goodwill behind him. Punt and Dennis have eased themselves into genteel satirical fodder while Baddiel has been unable to convince us whether he is better suited on a lads’ beer-soaked sofa or as a panellist judging heavyweight novels. Newman, though, has bucked most trends thrown his way to do his own thing in stand-up and in book form, which has been consistently credible and rarely dipped below some measure of quality.

So it’s deeply disappointing that his first major solo TV work should be as lame as The History of the World Backwards as he analyses the universe as though we are starting now and going back the way. Nelson Mandela enters prison as an avuncular Spice Girls fan and comes out a rabid revolutionary and scientists Watson and Crick have less of a clue about DNA as the day of its discovery regresses. And so on. But not especially amusingly. Such a chronology-tampering formula has been wielded successfully by Armando Iannucci in Time Trumpet, but on his side was his own peerless writing and a galaxy of contemporary comics available to keep the momentum going. Here, we are relying largely on Newman alone and he ends up being bogged down into too many sketches that fail to go anywhere and stretch far too long. A crying shame.

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