BBC Radio 4, 25 December 2011
Best remembered for its comic village cricket match, England, Their England is a comic yet nostalgic depiction of the English character in the 1920s and 1930s, written from the point of view of Donald Cameron (Tony Curran) a Scotsman commissioned to write a book on the subject by Welsh publisher Evan Davies (Ioan Gruffudd).
Martin Jarvis's all-star cast thoroughly enjoyed themselves playing a variety of roles. Ian Hislop was Hodge, the newspaper editor turned cricket captain, offering pieces of banal advice to his team-mates as they went out to bat. Jill Gascoine was his secretary Gwennie, a brassy-voiced woman who never stopped typing as she told Donald to go into Hodge's office. Ian Oglivy was Sir George, an aristocrat fond of throwing his weight about yet unable to express himself without harrumphing. Michael York was the Labour-supporting Mr. Bloomer, with a passionate dislike of the so-called ruling classes. Rufus Sewell was the young bounder Rupert Harcourt, whose ability to extricate himself from a tight situation was matched by his capacity to drink vast quantities of beer. Each actor had the opportunity to give their comic turn, and took full advantage of it.
At the same time Scottney and Jarvis made some incisive satiric points about the English. The characters Cameron encountered bore strong resemblances to the Jonsonian humours; they thought he was a movie producer, a politician, or a professional footballer, rather than an insignificant journalist writing about the English. They could not see beyond their own obsessions. On the other hand they did not actually do any harm: we were invited to look indulgently on their peculiar rituals, such as pausing for lunch in the middle of diplomatic negotiations, or drinking tea at any and every opportunity. Scottney and Jarvis were obviously fond of their satiric targets.
The production contained some memorable moments, in which different sounds were combined for comic effect. At one point in the cricket match, the ball was hit high into the air, and several fielders converged on it before crashing into one another and catching it. Jarvis's rendition of this sequence began with the thwack of bat on ball; with the sound of Elgar's "The Lark Ascending" trilling away in the background, we heard the players shouting to each other to get out of the way. Cameron's dulcet Scottish tones continued the narration; followed by a short pause. He subsequently told us that the match had been tied and everyone shook hands, even though some of the players were quite obviously in pain. The pause was particularly clever; it told us that something had happened, but no one quite knew what it was - not even Donald himself.
The production ended with the sound of wickets clattering, and some male voices shouting "England! England!" It was a thoroughly enjoyable romp - just the kind of thing one might expect on Christmas Day.