Between 1988 and 1995, BBC Radio 1 made a concerted - and highly successful - attempt at introducing a regular speech comedy slot into its schedule. Designed from the outset to help emphasise the station's distinctive identity, this initiative would give valuable exposure to performers and comic styles that would have struggled to get much airtime elsewhere, and amongst its most significant achievements were Loose Talk, Alan Parker's 29 Minutes Of Truth, Lee And Herring's Fist Of Fun, Collins And Maconie's Hit Parade, Armando Iannucci, Victor Lewis-Smith, Radio Tip Top and The Chris Morris Music Show. What is surprising in retrospect is that they never really staged a speech comedy show to tie in with the then-new Comic Relief event. They nearly did, though.
Reasoning that it made more sense to raise awareness in the weeks running up to Comic Relief night than actually doing anything that would compete with the television coverage itself, Radio 1 had marked the first event in March 1988 with a fortnight of guest appearances by comedians on their regular music shows. The following year, they began even earlier and in even bigger style, with a special hour-long edition of their first ever regular speech comedy show, Hey Rrradio!!!.
Fronted by up-and-coming standup Patrick Marber and comic poet John Hegley with his band The Popticians, Hey Rrradio!!! was recorded in front of a live audience at the Hackney Empire (and later the Woolwich Tramshed), as a sixty minute show which was edited down to thirty for broadcast. Developed by producers David Tyler and Bill Dare, it was a vibrant, raucous effort with the emphasis on edgy rather than topical humour, and in a sense was radio's closest equivalent to Channel 4's groundbreaking standup show Saturday Live. Beginning on 7th October 1988, the show's fast and tightly-edited nature was ideally suited to Radio 1 and to Station Controller Johnny Beerling's vision for its comedy output, and amongst the performers who appeared during its substantial run were Arthur Smith, Arnold Brown, Mark Steel, Paul Merton, Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis, Craig Ferguson, Donna McPhail, Jo Brand (then performing as 'The Sea Monster'), Norman Lovett, Sean Hughes, Phil Cornwell, Jim Tavare and Simon Munnery, with their performances interspersed with contributions from mostly 'alternative' musical acts.
Hey Rrradio!!! found a vocal supporter in Radio Times, which - unusually for a Radio 1 show - regularly carried photographs of Marber and Hegley to accompany its listings. However, not everyone was quite so taken with the show; one senior BBC executive was so disgusted by one of Jo Brand’s routines that he was moved to voice the opinion in a review board meeting that she should never appear on radio or television again. In itself Hey Rrradio!!! did not mark any revolutionary leap forward in comedy programming – as Bill Dare remarked, “in a sense it was simply a cabaret show” – but it did show what was possible within the confines of Radio 1’s output. Keen to build on this, Johnny Beerling commissioned Dare to come up with a new team-based show that would be identifiably Radio 1's 'own' in both tone and format.
In assembling said team, Dare selected two promising double acts that had already been making a name for themselves on the fringes of radio comedy. David Baddiel and Rob Newman had been at Cambridge University at the same time as each other, but had not actually worked together until they found themselves on the writing team of Radio 4’s Week Ending in 1986. Through the reputation that they had gained on the show – not something that was particularly easy to achieve on Week Ending, notorious for its long credits lists and high turnover of contributors – they had been approached to co-write some of Patrick Marber’s material for Hey Rrradio!!!. As such, they were both familiar with, and perfectly suited to, the style of comedy Radio 1 was aiming towards. Meanwhile, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis had followed a roughly similar career path. They had both been at Cambridge around the same time - in fact, Punt and Baddiel had both served as President of Footlights - and again found work on Week Ending. However, they had also enjoyed a significantly higher public profile, featuring regularly in Jasper Carrott’s Saturday night BBC1 show Carrott Confidential and on a number of radio comedy shows. To complete the lineup, Dare also brought in several performers from the more ideologically charged edge of the live standup circuit; Mark Thomas, Jo Brand and the musical duo Skint Video, otherwise known as Steve Gribbin and Brian Mulligan.
The projected series was named The Mary Whitehouse Experience, in a deliberately disrespectful reference to the veteran moral crusader of the same name. It was intended that this was exactly the sort of programme that Whitehouse herself would not have wished her name to be associated with, and indeed – although the details are somewhat confused and accounts differ – she is said to have threatened legal action against the BBC. The pilot for The Mary Whitehouse Experience was recorded on 20th February 1989, and played to Johnny Beerling on 8th March. Beerling was sufficiently impressed by it to clear a space in the schedules for transmission two days later, coincidentally on Comic Relief night, in what would subsequently prove an atypically early timeslot of 7:30pm. This, of course, coincided with the start of A Night Of Comic Relief 2 itself on BBC1, and it is unclear how many people actually heard the pilot; indeed, some of the cast were under the impression that it had never actually been broadcast.
Nonetheless, this was a fine way in which to end a month's worth of fund and awareness-raising efforts by Radio 1, which had also included a memorable appearance by Lanananeeneenoonoo - in other words, the guise adopted by Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke for that year's Comic Relief tie-in single - on Liz Kershaw's Breakfast Show on 11th February. It is only a shame that, perhaps feeling that their efforts were best concentrated in other directions, Radio 1 never attempted a full scale Comic Relief tie-in show again. That said, The Mary Whitehouse Experience's final appearance on Radio 1, and indeed on radio anywhere, Punt And Dennis Sample Mary Whitehouse, was broadcast on Comic Relief night in 1991. Typically, they didn't quite get around to scheduling it while the news was on.
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If you've read my book Not On Your Telly, then you'll probably have seen a piece about when a copy of Air Lock, the long-lost third episode of the 1965 Doctor Who story Galaxy Four, turned up a while back. More specifically, it was a piece about how excited I was by the discovery, yet how different the whole experience was from the time that I got to see a much-copied VHS dub of the similarly recovered second episode of The Evil Of The Daleks back in 1987.
Now, purely on the basis of having thought of a David Bowie-related pun that was too good not to use but which I'm almost certainly not the first person to have thought of and which is of absolutely no other practical relevance whatsoever, I'm going to take a look at what else was on offer on television and radio on 25th September 1965. Despite the excitement that it caused for Doctor Who fans, who could finally see the hot blonde Drahvins in full man-subjugating action, not to mention The Rill finally appearing in something other than a Rare Photo, Air Lock was hardly the most high-profile archive television find of recent times; indeed, even when its discovery was announced, it was overshadowed by the simultaneous turning up of David Bowie's Top Of The Pops performance of The Jean Genie. There's probably a theme developing here somewhere, actually, but let's not go overboard with the attempts at logic and cohesion. Anyway, even so, it's still probably the most celebrated and widely recognised programme transmitted that day, but was there anything else similarly long-lost that would make for an equally astonishing find? Never mind that, what about the possibility that there was the odd programme we all know and love but not in the sort of manner that makes us remotely interested in the transmission date? What about all the complete and utter waffle that sat somewhere inbetween? Well, there's only one way to find out. And it involves making some tea first, apparently.
As you're probably already imagining, BBC1 was more or less goal to goal sporting excitement until Juke Box Jury showed up at 5.15, with Petula Clark, Buddy Greco, Virginia Lewis and, erm, Jonathan King giving their verdict on whether Today, Tonight And Tomorrow by The Chosen Few, Poor Old Johnny by Twinkle, Everybody Loves A Clown by Gary Lewis And The Playboys and the splendidly-titled Gyp The Cat by Bobby Darin would be 'Hits' or 'Misses' (clue - they weren't hits). Following an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show featuring a guest appearance by Chad And Jeremy - who, despite being just about the most serious and proto-progressive of any of the 'British Invasion' acts, bafflingly seemed to show up clowning around on just about every American TV show in existence - there's a second BBC outing for top Canadian comics Wayne And Shuster. As some of you reading this will no doubt be aware, their inaugural appearance a couple of weeks earlier had featured a sketch in which they traded zingers on the set of as-yet untransmitted Doctor Who story Mission To The Unknown complete with Daleks. Amazingly, this sketch does actually still exist, but it's also quite some considerable distance from being anything resembling 'funny' so perhaps we can be grateful that rights complications prevented it from showing up as a DVD extra. Anyway, while there were definitely no Delegates in the second episode, it did coincidentally feature Johnny Clayton, who had played one of them (let's not even get into that here) in Mission To The Unknown, as a supporting actor. Also hovering around in the background were Petula Clark, Una Stubbs and The Dudley Moore Trio, who on the basis of the available evidence were quite possibly the most entertaining factors in the entire show.
Aside from the time-honoured Saturday Night Western - on this occasion Marlene Dietrich vehicle Rancho Notorious - the rest of the evening on BBC1 was taken up by imported entertainment from comic folk singer of 'Camp Granada' impenetrableness Allan Sherman, and crooning Bear-asking-for-'cookies'-botherer Andy Williams, followed by - more intriguingly - mother and daughter Margaret and Julia Lockwood in The Flying Swan, a comedy drama about a hotel owner and her air hostess daughter. Reportedly somewhat on the surreal side, it sounds very much like a series well worth dusting down and revisiting, and as this week's instalment The Contract - in which Carol finally gets to achieve her longstanding ambition of actually flying a plane - is one of only two known to survive, maybe we might get the chance to do that soon. Oh, was that a hint I dropped just there? Well it pays to be subtle. The evening finishes off with Robin Day, Ian Trethowan and Kenneth Harris reporting from the Liberal Party Assembly, and with everything the way it is right at the moment you're probably thinking that political television coverage of any sort can fuck the fuck off and that you're glad that we won't be dwelling on this. Woah ha ho, just you wait.
BBC2 at this point only had a handful of hours to play with, so why they chose to waste the vast majority of them on - you guessed it - the Liberal Party Assembly is beyond explanation, though at least it would have countered any accusations of MSM BAIS!!!!8. More suitable second channel fare comes later in the form of head-hurting woman-turns-tables Polish subtitled psychosexual proto-Blow Up pop art drama Innocent Sorcerers, an Australian Television Service presentation of The Barber Of Seville from that year's Bregenz Festival, and of course Late Night Line-Up, in which Denis Tuohy, Michael Dean, Nicholas Tresilian and Joan Bakewell were almost certainly talking about Innocent Sorcerers, probably talking about Wayne And Shuster, possibly talking about The Drahvins, and more than likely throwing heavy objects in the general direction of the Liberal Party Assembly.
Over on the Home Service, there's an alarming battery of short individual news shows - amongst them Outlook, Today's Papers, From Our Own Correspondent, a confusing repeat of Friday's Ten To Eight as Ten To Seven, Farming Today and On Your Farm, Sounds Topical, The Weekly World and In Your Garden, presented by one 'Roy Hay' - where you would now just get a single over-arching magazine show. There are a fair few religious shows - indeed, several of the news shorts were disconcertingly billed as having a 'Christian slant', as if one was needed on gas being struck in the North Sea - and some educational broadcasts which must have had the poor unfortunates forced to listen to them on a Saturday morning wishing that the wireless had never been invented. Matters pick up sharply with a repeat of the 30th May 1965 edition of Round The Horne - featuring Kenneth Horne: Special Agent in 'The Eiffel Tower Is Stolen', a visit to Julian And Sandy at Bona Pets, and Rambling Sid Rumpo treating us to The Cornish Lummock Woggling Song - and the previous Monday's Desert Island Discs with castaway Rita Tushingham. Her wide-ranging choices included Sibelius, Peggy Lee, The Modern Jazz Quartet and as was apparently law in the mid-sixties The Beatles, while her luxury was apparently the Albert Memorial. As there is no known surviving recording of this edition, we can only guess at Roy Plomley's mock-bemused witticisms about the sheer impracticality of this suggestion.
At 2.15 Afternoon Theatre presented the thrilling-sounding Encounter In Corsica by J.M. Fairley, in which a mysterious stranger with a secret joins the crew of a yacht who include TV's Cyber-Controller Michael Kilgarriff, while at 8.30 Saturday Night Theatre presented an adaptation of John Galsworthy's The Skin Game, starring Wilfred Pickles alongside that (Cyber)man Kilgarriff again. There's some lively exhortations to dance along at home with the Yearning Saunter and the Royal Highland Scottische in Those Were The Days at 6.45, John Bowen ruminating on Thomas Berger's hilarious Wild West parody Little Big Man in The World Of Books at 10.30, and The Reverend R.T. Brooks offering to Lighten Our Darkness at 10.45. The evening ends with some decidedly pastoral Music At Night courtesy of oboeist Sarah Francis and pianists Wilfrid Parry and Iris Loveridge, followed by the Forecast For Coastal Waters and the sound of Damon Albarn exploding circa 1994. Hang on, though, what's that lurking at 10pm there? Oh it's the Liberal Assembly. Yeah, where was that dial again?
Flipping over to the Third Programme, Hans Keller and company weren't going to be lowering themselves to waste their time on such uncouth cultural barbarians as politicians, so thankfully there's a brief respite from the Liberal Assembly here. Instead it's a non-stop Drivetime-esque diet of hardcore classical music, with brief diversions for a repeat of a 1963 presentation of John Mortimer's A Voyage Around My Father starring Andrew Sachs, Hugh David and Gabriel Woolf and his 'sibilant' voice, and for the truly amazing-sounding Violence In Poetry. This was, it appears, a spirited debate on the subject between outspoken critical types Donald Davie, Anthony Thwaite, Edward Lucie-Smith, Peter Porter, Vernon Scannell and Philip Hobsbaum, centered around extracts from the works of Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Thorn Gunn and Robert Lowell; not all of which, warned Radio Times, might actually be permissible for broadcast in the finished programme. As well as undoubtedly being a valuable snapshot of an era when attitudes to freedom in the arts were rapidly becoming polarised, it's also exactly the kind of discussion show that was wont to lead to frayed tempers, raised voices, and on occasion leather elbow-patched scuffling on the studio floor.
As you can imagine, matters were a great deal lighter over on the Light Programme, with upbeat and cheerful sounds pretty much the entire day through. We're up at 5.30 for Morning Music from The Swinging Strings with Jimmy Leach And His Organolians (currently appearing at the Promenade Bandstand, Aberystwyth), and that's really only the tip of the samba-tinged iceberg. Once the BBC's flagship pop show, Saturday Club is gamely holding its own against the onslaught of Top Of The Pops with the aid of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders, The Moody Blues and pop-folk latterday cult favourites New Faces, while Lance Percival promises 'some records, odd sounds, odd voices and half an hour of quiet pandemonium' in Lance A'GoGo, Mark Wynter 'sings a song or two and introduces' the dreadfully-titled Wynter In Swingtime, there's a Fanfare from The New Radio Orchestra conducted by Dalek Films soundtracker Malcolm Lockyer, Steel Men hitmaker 'Rog' Whittaker natters to The Alabama Hayriders, The Strawberry Hill Boys and Murray Head in the Folk Room, The Cambrian Male Voice Choir 'and their friends' belt out some songs from Wales in All Together, Moira Anderson Can't Help Singing, Sidney Bowman And His Orchestra with 'MC Stanley Wilson' announce it's Time For Old Time ('Old Skool', surely?), and the brilliantly named Yes, It's Great Yarmouth hurries Matt Monro, The Bachelors, Joe Brown And The Bruvvers, Peter Goodwright, Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies and whoever or whatever The BBC Summer Show Band might have been on and off a doubtless very cluttered stage. Now THAT's how you do Light Entertainment, Ian Nightly Show. In between, Katie Boyle oversees short-lived Eurovision Song Contest spin-off West German Broadcasting Service co-production Pop Over Europe, probably managing not to say 'suck it up loosers you lost so suck it up whatever the fuck that actually means' along the way, and there's also some up to the minute youth-orientated news, views, comments and up to the minute hit pop discs from Roundabout '65, sadly dating from before Michael Palin's brief stint as a co-host.
On into the night, Francisco Cavez And His Latin Rhythm chip in from the Savoy Hotel, while Eric Winstone of ridiculous Doctor Who theme cover infamy has to make do with Butlin's in Bognor Regis, and DJ before there were DJs Pete Murray takes us off into the small hours with prototype 'music magazine' show Late Night Saturday, boasting an interview with Dusty Springfield about the making of Everything's Coming Up Dusty alongside Pete's pick of the highlights from the latest LP and EP releases. He probably didn't play Look On Yonder Wall by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, mind.
In short, if you'd opted for the Light Programme, then you would have more or less managed to avoid any and every mention of those old school tie bores droning on and on and on and on without letting anyone else get a word in edgeways until they start foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards. If you wanted to see as well as hear your all-singing all-dancing bright brash Light Entertainment fun, though, then you'd have been wanting ITV. Slotted around the inevitable daytime's barrage of sport and regionally-varying repeats of the likes of The Saint, The Four Just Men, Undermind, The Sullavan Brothers (yes that is spelt correctly) and the mysterious Broad And Narrow, about which little is known but hopefully it was a sitcom about Ian Broad and Ian Narrow who are forced to live together and occasionally do something that makes them realise they are more similar than they think and they both look at the camera sort of meaningfully, you could also find ITV's flagship pop show fallen on hard times and shorn of half its title Lucky Stars with appearances by The Tornados, Dusty Springfield, Alex Harvey, The Candy Dates and, apparently, 'Heather', not to mention the hapless hit-deficient Gary Lewis; Opportunity Knocks! saluting some of its recent winners including folky trio The Headliners and jazz trumpeter Bruce Adams; and some last-thing-at-night laughs with It's Bob Monkhouse!, offering "some zany advice on real estate", it says here. And what a fine thing that is to have as the absolute last programme on television anywhere that da... oh.
So, that's 25th September 1965, and while there were plenty of shows that probably sound more interesting as historically adrift titles and billings than they ever would in actuality (oh and Wayne And Shuster), there's also The Flying Swan and Violence In Poetry, both of which sound so potentially amazing that you'd almost want to see them even more than three more episodes of Hot Drahvin Action. Almost. And it turns out there wasn't any David Bowie anywhere on any channel on this day after all, which put paid to a planned joke halfway through. Still, however good that Saturday's television and radio may or may not have been, at least they wouldn't have to put up with the sonorous drivel of bastards not replying to a straight question for the rest of the week. No, definitely not.
Not On Your Telly, which has that Doctor Who feature we were talking about at the start in it, is available in paperback or from the Kindle Store.
Not On Your Telly, which has that Doctor Who feature we were talking about at the start in it, is available in paperback or from the Kindle Store.
Looks Unfamiliar 1 - Phil Catterall
Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim in this edition is podcaster Phil Catterall, who shares his troubling memories of Madballs Comic, Channel 4's youth-orientated consumer advice show Wise Up!, a computer game based on Platoon, ill-advised animated newspaper strip update Phantom 2040, a particularly irritating series of adverts for Birdseye Steakhouse Grills, and long-forgotten Star Wars cartoon spin-off Droids, Along the way they also find out whether R1D1 is 'canon', whether crisps are a vector for healthy living, and just which elements of The Untouchables were considered appropriate for a scrolling platform game aimed at children.
Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose. If you've enjoyed it, why not buy one of Tim's books? We can particularly recommend Well At Least It's Free.