I’ve been meaning for ages to write about the BBC Radio 4 comedy series Fags, Mags and Bags, but was reminded about it by the fact that I have managed — much to my annoyance — to miss the first two episodes of the new series. Fags, Mags and Bags (FMB) is one of my all-time favourite radio comedies. I’m not quite sure why I love it so much, but it’s a quirky and essentially very gentle show, with great characters.
The programme revolves around Ramesh Majhu (played by Sanjeev Kohli) and his assistant Dave (Donald McLeary), who run a corner shop in a Glasgow suburb called Lenzie, aided and abetted (but mostly abetted) by Ramesh’s sons Alok and Sanjay. Ramesh is immersed in the World of Shop — you can actually hear the capitalisation when he talks about it, and is proud of his Wall of Crisps and his carefully segregated chocolate stanchion, with the hallowed Ritter Sports to the West and more run-of-the-mill confectionary like Twix and Boost to the East.
Ramesh always has an eye on the profits, but he is a very good-natured, amiable person (as is Dave), and together they bring a bit of sunshine into the lives of Lenzie residents as they dispense newspapers, milk and ancient ping-pong sets, along with friendly banter. So far, it doesn’t sound all that remarkable, but there are quirky aspects that always make me laugh out loud.
For example, Ramesh had a hook mounted on a long pole (to help him to retrieve items from the high shelves), which was called Margaret, and to which he was rather devoted. In one tragic episode, Margaret got broken during a fight with a leisure centre manager, and everyone was heartbroken. Luckily they still have a stepladder called Robert Pershing Wardlow, so it works out OK. I think it was the same episode in which Ramesh and the leisure centre manager have a furious but deeply geeky debate about whether Lucozade should be classified as a recuperation aid for the sick room (suggesting that it should rightfully be stocked in the corner shop, next to the tissues), or whether it is a sports drink that belongs in a leisure centre shop.
The writers (Sanjeev Kohli and Donald McLeary) make gentle fun of the world of the corner shop, with lots of references to chocolate spanners, cut-price toilet rolls and poorly made greetings cards emblazoned with the legend, “To a Beloved Auntie”. In one episode, one of the customers actually reached the end of a partwork about the Titanic. I don’t know if other countries endure the pointlessness that is the partwork, in so case it is a uniquely British phenomenon, here’s how it works. The partwork is a collectable magazine in x weekly installments (where x is some absurdly high number), which often includes some piece of plastic that you build into a model something-or-other after x weeks. The catch, of course, is that even if you were interested in the topic of the partwork at the start1, you get thoroughly bored by it after a few weeks and end up with some dull magazines and a selection of random small parts which should — after 199 weekly installments — have allowed you to build a scale model of a Model T Ford. Anyway, in this episode, Mrs Muirhead has somehow contrived to reach the end of her epic Titanic partwork, and has become rather overwhelmed and afraid of the momentousness of her acheivement, given that no-one has ever finished a partwork before, ever. To make matters worse, the publishers of this partwork have not bothered to print the last copy, knowing how unlikely it is that anyone will actually get that far.
I think that it probably helps that Sanjeev Kohli’s parents ran a corner shop in Scotland when he was growing up, so there’s an air of authenticity, and they avoid any obvious clichés. I probably haven’t done a great job of convincing you of FMB’s charms, because it’s very hard to explain. If you are curious, take a look at a few of these videos to get a flavour of the banter.
1 In the programme, a fictional example of "Sarah Lancashire's World of Owls" was used, which was so perfect that I nearly spat my tea all over the carpet. ↑