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.

Radio Memories – Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show!

Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! (BBC Radio 4, 2005-present)

I have already reviewed the TV version of this show, but now it’s time to take a look back at where it all started on the radio. Count Arthur Strong is someone who is a veteran of showbiz and considers himself to be something of a continuing success (although nobody else clearly thinks so). Episodes usually begin with a reference to some odd award that Arthur won in 1968-69.

Then we go into the main story, such as auditioning for a play, which usually leads to Arthur becoming mixed-up about something rather minor, leading to a chain of events where an increasing amount of people are caused a lot of trouble, with Arthur’s misunderstandings and unusual turn of phrase not helping. What was interesting about the radio series is that there is almost no overlap with the TV version, not only featuring different writers, but also different characters and locations. cas

These include Wilf at the butchers, and Gerry at the cafe, who unintentionally often get caught up in Arthur’s schemes. Another regular character is Malcolm, who takes acting lessons from Arthur, when he would be better off going nowhere near him. And Arthur is also rather fond of going round Doncaster, and he once had a bang on the head and started talking nonsense and nobody could tell the difference. Another thing that Arthur likes to do is get something for very little money, including always trying to do deals at the butchers and the cafe.

And Arthur is also rather fond of a drink, which often makes him to burst into song (“Auntie Mary had a canary!“), as if situations weren’t awkward enough already. Another highlight was that some episodes featured guest appearances from comedy veteran Barry Cryer, who has supposedly known Arthur for years, and often goes on the circuit doing after-dinner speeches and the like with his highly amusing anecdotes, what a great sport. Also featuring as various characters were Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.

Count Arthur Strong’s Radio Show! grew in popularity very quickly, with listeners being amused as the situations often got way out of hand. Along with the TV series, there have also been several tours, and a book where Arthur told some lovely stories about some of the famous people that he has known. And I hope he’ll be back for more adventures soon, as I do enjoy his show, oh yes I would definitely have to agree with myself there.

Radio Memories – Hut 33.

Hut 33 (BBC Radio 4, 2007-2009)

This is a sitcom that was set during the war, the Second World War that is, although it was rather different to the likes of Dad’s Army. Hut 33 concentrated on a group of rather inept and mismatched codebreakers at Bletchley Park in 1941, and had a rather impressive cast. In the hut, waiting for the coded messages are Charles (Robert Bathurst), a professor who is rather upper-class, and it is unclear where his sympathies lie. And there is also Archie (Tom Goodman-Hill), who is a Geordie.

Charles and Archie have nothing in common, and seem to argue about everything, when they are supposed to be helping with the war effort, but that’s where most of the comedy comes from of course. And there is also Gordon, who is only 17 and is a maths genius, but he is also very naïve for his age, he doesn’t seem to know when people are serious or not, and needs lots of things explained to him. hut

I think I’m right in saying that they were in the last of all the huts, so they seemed to be a little more distant and neglected than the others. They must remember not to tell anybody what they’re up to, because it’s all awfully hush-hush really. Can they keep their rather British stiff upper-lip attitude and carry on. Well they do have some trouble deciphering the messages that they receive, it’s like they’re all in code or something.

There were a few other cast members, who are Joshua, who is in charge of what’s happening in the hut. And there’s also Mrs Best, who runs a bar, and often surprises the others by claiming to have known just about every major figure around at the time, and rather well too, simply saying “I’ve had him”. And finally there’s Minka (Olivia Colman, long before winning many prestigious awards), who is Polish and has a rather aggressive attitude to everything. She also likes to creep up on the others without them realising, and they jump every single time.

Various episodes deal with the team’s antics, as they caused awkward situations, meeting people of various nationalities, and often wondered if this blasted war was ever going to end. There were three series of Hut 33 that developed well, and it seemed go down all with critics too. I’m not usually that interested in wartime shows, but I definitely enjoyed this one.

Radio Memories – Knowing Me Knowing You.

Knowing Me Knowing You (BBC Radio 4, 1992-1993)

After dazzling listeners with his in-depth sport coverage and analysis in the series On The Hour (and I’ll review that one soon too), Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) confirmed his place as the pride of Norwich when he was given his own spin-off chat show by BBC Radio 4, an opportunity that he simply grasped with great relish, or something. Knowing Me Knowing You was a reference to the Abba song of course, but the opening theme was a cover version, presumably they were holding out for too much money.

Alan would meet a variety of guests (who were all played by regular cast members including Rebecca Front and Patrick Marber), and he wasn’t afraid to ask them the awkward questions. He would also make all of them do the greeting that ended with “ah-ha” (and indeed every guest was introduced by an Abba song too). Whether they were novelists, impressionists, politicians, or even ex-hostages, Alan will often say the wrong thing, leading to the show ending on a rather remarkable bombshell. ap

There was one thing that clearly come through in this show, which was that Alan would rather be doing this on the TV, there was no doubt about that. There was even an edition that came live from Las Vegas, that’s in America. The critics were very keen to heap praise on Alan’s style, and the studio audience definitely enjoyed him too, he soon realised that he was clearly on the up.

And if Alan can still broadcast efficiently even after a guest has gone and keeled over and has to have his dignity retained thanks to a hastily improvised Pringle shroud, then it was clear that he could definitely face the challenges of being on TV. There were only six editions of Knowing Me Knowing You, and after this, there was the one-off special Knowing Knowing Me Knowing You, which took a look behind the scenes and revealed plenty of secrets about how to put a high-profile show together.

In 1994, there was some good news for Alan though when they finally let him on the TV, firstly providing some more sport coverage in The Day Today, and then his chat show did make the big transfer. That didn’t stop Alan from irritating his guests (or even shooting them). Oh well, at least he did have his brief moment of fame on the TV, although he soon realised that it wasn’t all it’s shown to be and went back off to star on the radio in various late-night slots.

Radio Memories – Dial M For Pizza.

Dial M For Pizza (BBC Radio 4, 1987-1988)

I always like to listen to comedy sketch shows, whether they be topical or not, and although this one might not be the most famous or award-winning compared to others in this genre, I enjoyed this enough when I heard a repeat run to feel that it deserves to be featured here. Dial M For Pizza featured an impressive cast, including Robert Bathurst (long before Cold Feet), Brenda Blethyn, Mike Grady, and Jonathan Kydd.

And also helping out in some sketches in later editions were Jim Broadbent, Enn Reitel, Morwenna Banks, and Felicity Montagu. As Dial M For Pizza was made in the late-80s there were a few contemporary topics covered such as politics and music, but there were surprisingly few regular characters or catchphrases. Although we did meet The Perriers, a couple who were yuppies and very smug, and didn’t mind telling everyone about it (Jonathan Ross also featured in one of their sketches). dmfp

And there was also Mr Makesalotofmistakes, a very silly character who would end up in some bizarre but amusing situations because he did everything wrong. There were also some sketches that parodied various films, and they all seemed to feature actor Denholm Elliott (“hello there!”). There were also plenty of one-off quickie sketches, including Britain’s Stupidest Postman, and The Man At Parties No-One Wants To Talk To.

I also remember a sketch where BBC Radio 3 had a new controller who wanted to take that highbrow station in a rather unexpected direction with various noisy new shows and jingles. The theme music was also rather distinctive, featuring lots of bleeping telephone noises, and the ending of one edition stuck with me because it was very bizarre, as the credits claimed that among the list of writers was “a smell”, and the producer was dressed as Batman.

As always with these type of shows, the quality of the sketches did vary, but there were some good and rather unusual ideas, the material was always performed well by the cast, and plenty of them went on to bigger things. There were two series of Dial M For Pizza, although they don’t seem to have been repeated lately. If it’s not a show you’re familiar with, I definitely recommend finding out more.

Radio Memories – Parsons And Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections.

Parsons And Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections (BBC Radio 2, 2001-2007)

Although I have enjoyed lots of radio comedy shows over the years, most of them have been sitcoms, rather than anything more satirical. Among the most famous radio satire shows are The News Quiz (which is rather similar to Have I Got News For You), and the work of double-act Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, which includes It’s Been A Bad Week, and the long-running The Now Show, which reflects on the latest news.

I have decided to review a show with a similar idea, but featuring a different double-act. Andy Parsons at this point was known for contributing to a few comedy shows, and Henry Naylor was familiar for appearing in the series of Barclaycard adverts as the sidekick to Rowan Atkinson’s character. Together they had also written for several comedy shows, practically keeping Spitting Image running by themselves for a few years. In this show, various events were analysed, but all in different sections, just like the ones that fall out of newspapers at the weekend.

The other main contributor to the show was Richie Webb, who was the “musical maestro”. He would introduce each section with a rather rousing piece of music, before simply saying what it was, such as “sport”, “culture”, “fashion”, and so on. Parsons and Naylor would then make some witty observations, they would condense the story into its main parts and explain everything “in a nutshell”, and then act out the various roles. Honestly, these politicians. pan

Every week there would be a special guest, who was always a female comedian, who would take part in the sketches, and also deliver a monologue on the news. There would also be a song from Richie, usually parodying the style of a band who were around at the time (he did seem to enjoy doing Radiohead, suggesting that they were rather grumpy, incredibly. Webb also contributed to At Home With The Snails that I reviewed recently). One edition came from the Edinburgh Festival.

I did enjoy listening to repeats of this series, even though they had long-since lost their topicality of course, and although the show maybe had slightly less of an edge to its satire than what could be offered on The Now Show, there were still plenty of enjoyable moments. There were nine series of Parsons And Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections, and after this Parsons has gone on to have further success, going on tour with his stand-up and releasing DVDs, and also being a regular contributor to BBC2’s Mock The Week. I’m not sure if they’re still working together, but they were very good.

Radio Memories – Fags, Mags And Bags.

Fags, Mags And Bags (BBC Radio 4, 2007-present)

This is a sitcom that I didn’t listen to much in its earliest series, but when I finally decided to catch up on some episodes, I realised that this was the type of show that I really enjoy, and I wish that I had been a listener since the start. Firstly, Fags, Mags And Bags was co-written by and starred Sanjeev Kohli, who has already had success in comedy shows including Still Game as Navid, and Look Around You 2 as Synthesizer Patel.

Kohli starred as Ramesh, who runs a small cornershop in Lenzie, not far from Glasgow. He is often helped by his  teenage sons Sanjay and Alok. Although this is a fairly small business, he has kept it running for about 30 years, and is very proud of this. Although it might seem a rather basic premise, it is actually a rather bizarre sitcom. Most of the episodes centre around the variety of people who come into the shop, including Father Henderson, Keenan’s Mum, Bra Jeff, Keith Futures, and Naughty Mr Hepworth, and they don’t mind passing on some of the more unusual details of their life.

Also featuring is Ramesh’s friend Dave who is always very eager to help out and they have become good friends. A lot of these characters seem to have vocal quirks, such as ending every sentence with “etc…”, or not finishing phrases “you look as smart as”. I noticed that this was another sitcom that liked to gain laughs from random celebrity references, and the cornershop situation meant there were plenty of opportunities for references to defunct chocolate bars, crisps, and magazines. Ramesh is always kind enough to offer a Five Alive or TV Quick to whoever wants one. fmb

Needing a new woman in his life, Ramesh also eventually befriends Malcolm (who is female, honest). There were also a few guest appearances from people who would be familiar to fans of the TV comedy shows Absolutely and Father Ted. I suppose the message in Fags, Mags And Bags, if there is to be one found in such a thing, is that whatever someone’s background might be, none of them can resist a Twix.

There have now been nine series, and some of the later episodes do seem to mostly feature the regular popular characters turning up, doing their catchphrase, and then going again, but the fanbase still enjoy them. Oh yes, you would hear the applause as they walked in, if there was any. Overall though, this was a very enjoyable show, with lots of memorable moments which as Ramesh himself would probably say was “the very humorous”, and any sitcom that tries to make “you Fisher-Price telescope” a catchphrase can’t be all bad.

Radio Memories – Kenny Everett’s Radio Days.

Kenny Everett’s Radio Days (BBC7, 2005)

Kenny Everett is someone whose work I have enjoyed over the years, and a while ago I reviewed some of his TV comedy shows. I only remember his TV work from his later years though, which was mostly contributions to some chat shows and comedy panel games, where he was always entertaining. Around this time, he was also a host on radio station Capital Gold, although I never listened to this, I wish I did, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it.

So I took any opportunity that I could afterwards to listen to some of the archive of his radio work. I remember that Capital Gold once aired a compilation of some of his highlights on what would’ve been his birthday that I enjoyed, and I just couldn’t resist the chance to listen to Kenny Everett’s Radio Days, featuring some of the best bits of Cuddly Ken’s show for Capital in the late-70s, the station that puts a sparkle in your ear (around the same time his series was on ITV). vlcsnap-00463

There was always tons of stuff featured! First of all, there were a lot of jingles, and Kenny was famous for taking a lot of time to sing and record these himself, meaning that even going into an advert break was an event. Although the songs were edited out from this compilation, it was clear that Kenny always tried to keep up with all the new bands on the scene, including The Buggles, Marshall Hain, and Paul “Macca” McCartney. And it was in stereo!

It also seems that Kenny was rather fond of pulling some rather unusual clips out of the archive, including advert outtakes, silly jingles, jokes from old American comedians, anything that would make people giggle really. There would also be competitions where a digital watch could be won if you had golden ear’oles and could guess the song, and a record that Kenny was particularly fond of was introduced as “a gramophone record of esteemed repute”. Also featuring was Captain Kremmen (who starred in the TV series, and was also turned into an animated short film), and The World’s Worst, where some truly awful out-of-tune records were played.

One highlight for me was when Kenny along with fellow host Roger Scott were trying to record an advert for an album by The Beatles. Kenny recommended that Roger should say “they played all night, till their fingers were down to the bone”. Kenny then recommended ever more bizarre phrases, including “they played all night, till their fingers were hot throbbing lumps of gristle”. This then concludes with Roger endlessly laughing after Kenny had given him the image of “the gristle hanging out of their guitars”. That really did sound like great fun to do.

I’m fairly sure that there were only four editions of Kenny Everett’s Radio Days, and I think that there were also a few extended repeats with the songs left in. Either way, I was very pleased that this did turn out to be as funny as I hoped it would be, and I’m always on the lookout for more from Kenny’s career for the various stations that he worked for.

Radio Memories – Bleak Expectations.

Bleak Expectations (BBC Radio 4, 2007-2012)

This is a sitcom that deals with something that I must admit I don’t know a huge amount about, but once again as this was such a bizarre twist on a famous idea I couldn’t resist becoming a regular listener. Charles Dickens is one of those writers whose novels and characters have been very famous, and there is even a block near where I live named after him (it’s what he would’ve wanted I’m sure).

Bleak Expectations was a parody of some of Dickens’s stories, written by Mark Evans. The now rich and elderly Sir Philip Bin (Richard Johnson) has decided to take a look back at his rather remarkable life. His daughter Lily and her husband Jeremy Sourquill arrive to listen to and record his story, but they often turn up late because Jeremy has usually been working on another bizarre invention, which makes Philip rather frustrated.

When his story is told (accompanied by suitable music), we go back to the younger Pip (Tom Allen, before he was on every other show on TV). His Victorian childhood was most certainly not a happy one, and this is mostly because of his cruel guardian Mr Gently Benevolent (Anthony Head), who wants to take over the world, and he also had the most magnificent laugh. Now some people might know Head for his Gold Blend adverts, or even of course for his appearances in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but he deserves as much credit for playing this cackling and horrid character. be

We also meet lots of other Dickensian-style characters along the way, including Pip’s friend Harry Biscuit, who always gets caught up in the adventures. There were also a huge amount of characters played by Geoffrey Whitehead, including Mr Sternbeater and Mr Whackwallop, and they all met a rather horrible fate. I also liked the way that Pip would always yell “no!”, when he was about to witness yet another horror. The opportunity to use lots of bizarre 19th century-style turns of phrase was taken, and as the episodes go by Philip’s memories become increasingly outlandish, including an alien invasion.

There was also a guest appearance in a couple of episodes from David Mitchell, which definitely enhanced things. There were five series of Bleak Expectations, and this became popular enough with listeners for there to be a short-lived TV spin-off called The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff. There was also a book released, which mostly covered the events of what happened to Pip in the first series, which is an entertaining read.

Radio Memories – Cabin Pressure.

Cabin Pressure (BBC Radio 4, 2008-2014)

I have never had that much interest in aviation, and I must admit that I have never been in a plane, even going for a walk makes me go rather giddy. One TV sitcom that I enjoyed about an airline though was The High Life, and this one that had a similar idea did very well on the radio. Cabin Pressure centred around MJN Air, an airline that is very small. Indeed, it has only one plane, a small amount of staff, and it is constantly in financial trouble.

Carolyn (Stephanie Cole) is the bossy owner of the plane, that is known as “Gerti”, who is always hoping that someone will want to travel with them. The staff consist of Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam and his terrific voice again), who is one of the pilots, although he has become rather bitter. There is also Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is the younger of the two, and earns no money, meaning that he has to run a removal company on the side in his spare time.

And as for Arthur (John Finnemore, also the writer of the show), who is Carolyn’s son… well, you can’t help but love him. In every episode, their plane, which is based in the fictional Fitton, travels somewhere around the world, every location beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. They often have to deal with various troublesome passengers, and also hoping that a bird doesn’t fly into their engines. cp1

There were a small amount of other characters, including regular grumpy passenger Mr Birling (Geoffrey Whitehead doing his thing once again), and Carolyn soon falls for the rather suave captain Hercules Shipwright (Anthony Head). Throw in lots of antics with whiskey bottles and lemons, along with the cast randomly bursting into “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines”, and you end up with a very entertaining show.

Cabin Pressure gained in popularity very quickly, and by the end of the series, Cumberbatch was well on the way to major success with films, meaning that a record amount of people applied for tickets to watch the final episode being recorded, and it seems that he quickly realised what a large fanbase he now has. The series ended with a special episode which had a rather happy ending for everyone.

There were four series of Cabin Pressure, and along with this, Finnemore also wrote and starred in the sketch show John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, which also did very well, meaning that he has become somewhat revered as a comedy superstar by many listeners to Radio 4 comedy, although as far as I know he hasn’t done much TV work, so he is still rather unknown in that area. It was a show that always made you want to go to The Flap And Throttle for a quick one.