Radio Memories – Children’s Hour.

Children’s Hour (BBC Radio 4, 1998)

This is a comedy show featuring the double-act of Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller. Around this time their profile was rising thanks to their late-night Channel 4 sketch show, and they also did something rather similar on BBC Radio 4 around the same time, but this is the one that I heard in a repeat run a while ago, and I thought that it had a rather interesting idea.

Children’s Hour featured Craig Children of The Independent On Sunday (Miller), and Martin Bain-Jones of The Daily Telegraph (Armstrong), presumably the joke being that they were at opposite ends of the newspaper political scale, but they both considered themselves to be important cultural writers. It should also be noted that despite the title, the show wasn’t aimed at children, and it didn’t last for an hour.

Our presenter duo saw themselves as trendy media people, who have been invited to host a show aimed at younger people who liked to get on down, and they would take the opportunity to play songs in various genres that were big at the time and discuss their value. So one week they might debate the merits of boy bands in-depth, and another week they’ll be looking back at the impact that Britpop made. It’s also a reminder of where pop music was in the late-90s. They only had a small number of fans who listened, but despite that they always seemed to be bumping into them. vlcsnap-00585

As well as playing records in the studio, we found out what Craig and Martin got up to behind the scenes, which included being unkind about Andy Thomas, a host on rival station Radio 1, and we also hear them as they do things like attend music festivals and award ceremonies, which often leads to some awkward moments. Martin’s whiny voice also irritates people. Also among the cast were Charlie “Stuart” Condou and Tony Gardner, and there were guest appearances from that bloke who used to be in Bros and Jamie Theakston.

Also notable is that Mitchell and Webb were among the writers, another double-act who about a year or two later would start to have some success on the TV themselves in various comedies. Rather surprisingly, there were only four editions of Children’s Hour, but this wasn’t the last time that we came across Craig and Martin, as they also appeared in the Channel 4 TV series, still going on about how much they know about pop culture.

The Comedy Vault – Armstrong And Miller.

Armstrong And Miller (Paramount Comedy, 1997, Channel 4, 1997-2001)

A while ago I looked back at The Armstrong And Miller Show, the BBC1 sketch comedy that featured double-act Alexander Armstrong (before he went off to host Pointless) and Ben Miller. Before this, they had a similar show on Channel 4, but I’m fairly sure that none of the characters in this transferred to the BBC1 version, so it’s a enough of a variation to be worthy of its own review.

The show actually started out on the Paramount Comedy channel, before moving to Channel 4 in 1997 in a late-night slot. Between the first and second series, Armstrong and Miller also had two shows on BBC Radio 4, a comedy sketch show, and Children’s Hour, featuring their pop music critic characters Craig Children and Martin Bain-Jones (these were later repeated on BBC7/Radio 4 Extra). vlcsnap-00585

When watching the show, it becomes rather clear than Armstrong and Miller seemed to have no problem with taking their clothes off. The best example of this was Nude Practice, a parody of drama series Peak Practice, where everyone happened to be naked. Other highlights included costume drama Brunswicke House, the detectives Parsons and Lampkin, a rude teacher, references to “blatant tomatoes”, and of course, the Norwegian rock music sensations Strijka (who appeared on various other comedy shows throughout the 90s). vlcsnap-00592

Every edition in the final series concluded with a visit to Bog Hose House (introduced with a Channel 4 ident and everything), which was a parody of Big Brother. Now there were about a million and one of these around at this time, but this has got to be one of the oddest, as the housemates were constantly sprayed with water inbetween talking about their experience (they began to crack up around Day 63 though). vlcsnap-00587

They were also assisted by a decent support cast, including Charlie Condou, Tony Gardner, Sarah Alexander, and Jessica Hynes. Armstrong and Miller wrote most of the sketches, along with Mitchell and Webb, an up-and-coming double-act at the time who went on to have plenty of comedy sketch show success of their own. Their quirky style quickly won them a lot of fans. vlcsnap-00595

Rather curiously, only the fourth and final series of the show has been released on DVD (which was actually the third series to be shown in full on Channel 4). This has an 18 rating, as it contains an edition that was considered to be “too hot for TV” (plenty of nudity again!). There were 27 editions that were filled with plenty of bizarre ideas that always made the show worth watching. And along with their later BBC1 series, Armstrong and Miller have also had success separately, including the sitcoms Beast and The Worst Week Of My Life.