Radio Memories – Old Harry’s Game.

Old Harry’s Game (BBC Radio 4, 1995-2012)

As we have seen, there have been plenty of sitcoms over the years that have been set in unlikely locations, and this has definitely got to be one of them, as this really was in Hell. Old Harry’s Game was written by and starred Andy Hamilton, who has contributed to several other TV and radio comedy shows at the more satirical end, including Drop The Dead Donkey and The Million Pound Radio Show.

And in this one, I suppose that he is what you could call the big red guy, the one in charge. But it turns out that it isn’t very easy being the devil. He has been doing it forever, which is a rather long time, and he has begun to get frustrated. Probably not too surprisingly, he has long since developed a cynical and world weary outlook on life. Seriously, what is this guy’s problem.

There are all these people (including historical figures) who are constantly turning up and wandering around, and are insistent that they are in the wrong place. Among the other cast members were the devil’s companion Scumspawn, who often gets caught up in various plans. And there are also the humans, including the Professor, Edith, and Thomas, who was possibly the most corrupt person who ever lived.

Just about every dilemma that could happen was featured, this really was delightfully devilish. You certainly got your money’s worth with Old Harry’s Game. There were seven series, along with some specials, spread over more than a decade. It was clear that this was a situation where humour really could be produced. Plenty of awards were won, and the repeats on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra have been in the dozens, if not hundreds.

And once again, this was yet another one where my mum took the chance to attend to recording of a few episodes (I never attended any myself because as I have explained before, I am just too awestruck in the company of celebrities). Who was that old man in the cast who looked like Jimmy Mulville? Oh wait, it actually was Jimmy Mulville. For a short while, there were plans for a TV adaptation (as an animation, not live action, and not for the BBC), but this was never fully realised.

Radio Memories – On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen.

On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen (BBC Radio 4, 1997)

The comedy group The League Of Gentlemen first achieved success when their stage show won the Perrier Award in 1997. That must have been rather nice for them, they did all of these performances, and then they are given a big bottle of water afterwards. Later in the year, it was decided to transfer the idea to radio. Once again, this was a series that I heard for the first time in a repeat run on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra.

The radio version was set in a curious place somewhere in the north of England, which at this point was called Spent. A lot of the characters that would soon become rather familiar were already established. Some of the most memorable of these were Tubbs and Edward, and there were many more in a remarkable array of grotesques. You wouldn’t want to go there, and anyway if you did, you might never leave.

It is fair to say that plenty of their antics got audiences gasping as much as giggling. There were only six episodes in one series of On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen, which ended up winning a prestigious award too, and this was something that they were going to get rather used to. It was clear that this had enough potential to now make the transfer to TV.

After a repeat run in 1998, the TV version launched in 1999 (with a slightly different title), meaning that they had come a huge way in only two years. When they put the TV version together, they could start to imagine what their characters actually looked like, and they were very creative, making them appear as hideous as they actually sounded. I’m also fairly sure that some scenes were recycled for the first TV series.

There were three series of the TV version, and they also went on to further stage shows, and even a film, but it mustn’t be forgotten that the radio series plays a big part in their story and was as impressive as anything else that they’ve done. And of course they could look forward to people shouting “this is a local shop!” at them for the next 25 years, how terrific.

Radio Memories – The Shuttleworths.

The Shuttleworths (BBC Radio 4, 1993-2010)

A while ago, I looked back at 500 Bus Stops, the BBC2 series that gave some TV exposure to the comedy character John Shuttleworth. He had various series on the radio as well, which have been repeated in more recent years on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra. Shuttleworth was of course the self-styled versatile singer-songwriter from Sheffield, who was created and played by Graham Fellows.

Now he already knew a little about having some musical success, being behind the Jilted John character, who really did have a hit single. Shuttleworth by comparison was someone who was rather dull, but in an amusing way. He often toured the country with his trusty old keyboard, and he delighted crowds with such self-composed bangers as “My Wife Died In 1970”. Who needs Britpop, when you can enjoy lovely music like this.

Throughout the several series of The Shuttleworths, we gained further insight into his life at home, as we got the chance to meet some family and friends, including the wife Mary, and his agent Ken (both of these were voiced by Fellows too). With this quirky mixture of comedy and music, listeners really were rather keen to find out what he had been up to, and hear his latest songs.

There was also the feature “Make Mary Merry”, where famous comedians would be invited round to John’s house to perform some of their routine to his wife, in the hope that this might cause her some amusement. However, being a rather dour character, this was more difficult to do than was it seemed, and many a comic (even Milton Jones) had to deal with an unexpectedly awkward moment. As John might say himself, “oof!”.

Shuttleworth has featured in several other radio series. These include Shuttleworth’s Showtime (BBC Radio 1, 1994), Radio Shuttleworth (BBC Radio 4, 1998-2000), and John Shuttleworth’s Open Mind (BBC Radio 4, 2006), where he met various guests who tried to explain to him some of the mysteries of the world, and try to remove his scepticism. Are there really aliens and vampires out there?

And in John Shuttleworth’s Lounge Music (BBC Radio 4, 2014-2016), he would be joined by a musical guest (most of them found fame in the 80s), such as Heaven 17 (they’re still going??) or Nick Heyward, where they would be invited to join in with his songs, or even perform one of their own if there’s time. Most of these series only had 15 minute episodes, but they definitely packed in a lot of amusing moments.

Radio Memories – Rigor Mortis.

Rigor Mortis (BBC Radio 4, 2003-2006)

I recently found a piece of paper featuring some more radio series that I still haven’t reviewed, so it’s about time for another one. Sitcoms have been set in a lot of unusual locations over the years, but a pathology lab? Yes, it really happened. You could never have thought that such a place could generate so many laughs. The main character was Dr Webster.

He is always rather keen to perform a post-mortem that determines the rather bizarre ways in which people have met their maker. He likes to solve a mystery, and the more curious they are, the better. He really enjoys his work, it’s where he, er, comes to life. Helping him along is Dr Anderson, and there is also Professor Donaldson, who mostly assumes the sitcom role of barging in and ending up slapping his forehead in frustration at the antics of the rest of the team that are beginning to get out of hand.

There were three series of Rigor Mortis, which got into the BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra repeats loop. The cast members were Peter Davison, Tracy-Ann Oberman (replaced by Matilda Ziegler for the second and third series), and Geoffrey Whitehead, who continued his superb commitment to lending his voice to every other TV and radio comedy going back decades.

The critics seemed to be rather fond of this too, one of them said that all of this was “brilliantly funny”, how nice. But the reason that I recall Rigor Mortis from the time was because my sister was very keen to see this performed, and she was in the audience for the majority of the episodes in the third and final series, down at the old Drill Hall.

Now as you’ll know, in the 80s Davison donned the old coat to become the sixth Doctor Who. He was her favourite, and the one, who as people say, defined her childhood, so any opportunity to see him do his thing was welcome. She was also more than aware that his predecessor was considered to be the definitive Doctor, but she never liked him, Davison was the best as far as she was concerned, and she didn’t care at all about this being perceived as the “wrong” answer among fans, and good for her.

So she saw him playing a doctor… but not that one! I remember being told that the cast acted sillier than usual for what turned out to be the final episode, there was that mood where they had realised that this would most likely be the final time that they would all be working together, and they wanted to make the most of it. About a year or two after the end, it seems that there were some plans to transfer this to TV, but this never happened.

Radio Memories – Little Britain.

Little Britain (BBC Radio 4, 2000-2002)

The double-act Lucas and Walliams had worked on several comedy shows over the years, including Rock Profile. But when they launched a sketch show on the radio, they must’ve been hoping for this to do well of course. In Little Britain, we were invited to meet the people of Britain, and it didn’t take long to realise what a remarkable bunch they really are.

All of the sketches featured an introduction from the booming voice of Tom Baker. I imagine that they had ambitions to eventually transfer this to TV, but the success must’ve exceeded even their expectations. I must admit that I didn’t hear too much of this first time round, and yet again, a repeat run on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra let me finally catch up.

The characters who would soon become rather familiar included Marjorie Dawes and Vicky Pollard. Of course, having lots of catchphrases definitely helped catch the attention of listeners. And when I finally heard the first series, I was surprised by how many sketches were recycled for the TV version, and that’s probably why that series managed to hit the ground running.

It would be because all of the characters had already been established and they knew how to play them. I imagine that it would’ve also been rather fun for them to work on what these characters would look like, and create the right image for them. The supporting cast was rather good too, and managed to help them out with the sketches.

But little did they realise that not only would there be a TV version, but this would also lead to the tours, the games, the dolls, the keyrings, they really did milk the merchandise, but then people did want to buy them. Well who wouldn’t want a Vicky all of their own to fondle. There were two series of the radio version of Little Britain, Lucas and Walliams would soon be among the biggest names in comedy, how nice. Goodbay!

Radio Memories – Dead Ringers.

Dead Ringers (BBC Radio 4, 2000-2007, 2014-present)

A while ago, I took a look back at the TV version of comedy sketch show Dead Ringers, which recently reached its 20th anniversary (was it really that long ago?), and was fairly successful. This was a spin-off from the original radio version that I did listen to as well. This was usually in the Friday evening slot, that also featured The News Quiz and The Now Show.

This consisted of celebrity impressions, and also of politicians, meaning that this was a topical show that was always recorded as close to transmission as possible. The cast usually consisted of five or six comedians who provided the variety of voices. One of them who has featured in every series is Jon Culshaw. Now he has turned up on a lot of other radio shows I that listened to doing his impressions.

I’ve already told the story of when I remember him doing his voices as a guest on Chris Moyles’s BBC Radio 1 show. But he also turned up on Steve Penk’s show on Capital FM, where rather memorably he managed to get through to the prime minister on the phone and try to persuade him that he really was the opposition leader, he wasn’t having any of it though.

And he was also a regular guest on James Whale’s Talk Radio show for a time too, I don’t know how he did it all. Also among the regular cast were Phil Cornwell and Jan Ravens. Of course, any figure who was currently in the news was considered to be fair game. I don’t listen to Radio 4 much beyond their comedy programming, so some of their targets were lost on me a little.

But their running jokes about cast members of The Archers and news hosts really did seem to go down well with the studio audience (do you remember the days of studio audiences? What a time that was). And I imagine that Culshaw would do his popular Tom Baker impression whether he had to or not. I also remember that there were a lot of writers, who probably had to work hard.

Indeed, there were so many, that when credits were read at the end in the style of a celebrity, the writers list was so long, that the voice had to be speeded up before the closing music would run out. Despite a seven-year break on the radio, there have now been 17 series of Dead Ringers, along with repeat runs on Radio 4 Extra, and lots of highlights released on CD.

More TV Memories – Tim Vine Travels In Time.

Tim Vine Travels In Time (BBC1, 2017)

Tim Vine is someone who has been on the stand-up comedy circuit for about three decades now, and I have been a fan of his since the mid-90s, as he combined his amusing range of quickfire jokes and puns with hosting game shows, along with various other TV appearances. He has performed on several successful tours, and he was also a regular in sitcom Not Going Out for a while.

I do enjoy seeing him on TV, and I also hope that he is given a show of his own, so when he had a sitcom that was part of a series of comedy pilots, of course I just had to watch this. Tim Vine Travels In Time (or Tim Vine Travels Through Time as this has also been credited) actually started out as a one-off on BBC Radio 4 (he also had a radio comedy chat show at this time), before transferring to BBC1 later in the year.

This was an opportunity to be rather silly, whilst twisting the genre a little. The idea is that Tim works in an antiques shop, and various people turn up. Then, thanks to a magic grandfather clock, he then travels back in time, this can be as far as several centuries, and he bumps into various historical figures. Look, there’s Robin Hood! Look, there’s that woman off that thing!

There was also a scene where a game of archery was played. Now Tim is really into his darts, meaning that this almost turned into an edition of Bullseye at one point, which really was marvellous. Will he make it back home in time for his dinner? This didn’t receive a full series, which was a disappointment (being shown in a post-news slot didn’t help), but surprisingly, there was one further episode, which was a Christmas special.

This did again contain the mix of celebrities and silly jokes (and he might even burst into song if you’re lucky), but I do feel that a lot of the potential of this idea has remained untapped, I would’ve been pleased to see more. I do still follow Tim’s career, and I hope that he will get more TV comedy work for a while yet (even I don’t know what his “Plastic Elvis” routine is all about though).

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One of his most recent TV appearances was in Dictionary Corner on Countdown, which is usually a lot of fun. But unfortunately this time round he struggled, partly because he had no studio audience to bounce off as usual, but also because host Anne Robinson didn’t seem to find his style amusing, although this is mostly because Anne is seemingly unaware of the basic human emotion of laughter.

Radio Memories – The News Quiz.

The News Quiz (BBC Radio 4, 1977-present)

This is another of the longest-running comedy panel games on the radio. The News Quiz very simply features people being asked questions about what has been happening in the world lately. There have been several hosts over the years, and I became a regular listener around the time that Sandi Toksvig was in charge, who laughed rather a lot at everything.

Two teams of two take part, usually consisting of journalists in the early series (and a team captain), but now the mix is more of satirists and comedians. They are given a question, and they have to say what it’s about in the news. Sometimes a musical clue is given. There are points on offer for this, but this is another game show where that isn’t really the main focus.

Between rounds, there are some local newspaper reports that are read out, usually by a news reporter or announcer, that contain mistakes, or are just plain bizarre. They are rather amusing, and this can lead to lots of giggles (and that’s just from the announcer). To finish off, the panellists also offer their own favourites from what have been sent in by listeners.

This format to some extent transferred to TV as Have I Got News For You, which is now a long-runner too, and it is proof that as there is always something happening in the news somewhere, there will always be plenty to talk about. And The News Quiz is another one where lots of highlights are regularly released on cassette and CD.

For about a decade now, on BBC Radio 4 Extra there has been The News Quiz Extra, which is extended to 45 minutes to feature even more of what has been discussed. After almost five decades, they are now up to series 107 (and that is not an exaggeration), and it’ll be there on Friday evenings as the week comes to a stop for a long time to come.

Radio Memories – Just A Minute.

Just A Minute (BBC Radio 4, 1967-present)

I have already looked back at the three attempts to bring this comedy panel game to TV, but I thought that I would review the original radio version as well, as many people think that this is the definitive one, and it has brightened many a Monday evening. Just A Minute is based on a radio game from the 50s called One Minute Please, and this is another one that was created by Ian Messiter.

I have already gone over the rules of this one, but of course this is the game where the four celebrity panellists have to talk on a given subject for one minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. The original host was Nicholas Parsons, and although I wasn’t around at the time, it seems that the format as we know it now took about two or three series to establish itself.

A lot of people have taken the challenge over the years, only to discover that it isn’t as simple as it seems. I was more familiar with the ITV version before I heard the radio version, and I didn’t become a regular listener until the late-90s, so I was rather interested when there was a repeat run of some editions from the 70s and 80s on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra a while ago, as I could hear these for the first time.

One of the most regular panellists who has contributed for over three decades now is Paul Merton, he first featured before Have I Got News For You had launched, and he is always good value. My mum was in the audience for an edition, when one of the panellists was some called Suki Webster. And it turns out that this is Paul’s wife, so I’m sure that she definitely got on the panel on her own merit with no influence from anybody else…

One remarkable thing was the longevity of Parsons, who was the chairman for over half a century and almost 1,000 editions, he was still in charge at an age when most people have long since retired, and it was clear that he had as much enthusiasm for the game as he always did. But after a gap when there was time to consider the next move, a new host was eventually chosen.

This was Sue Perkins, who once mistakenly told Gyles Brandreth that he had “34 minutes” to talk instead of “34 seconds”, but he probably could’ve still achieved this. Who knows how many more years Just A Minute can run for, as I said in my previous review, putting some funny people together and giving them interesting subjects to talk about means that you can stretch the idea almost infinitely.

There have also been some variations on the format, including going to different countries, as this show is indeed very popular around the world, a junior version with children playing, and several highlights have been released on cassette and CD. And there is also a comprehensive fansite ( worth visiting with everything you could ever want to know, including statistics and transcripts.

Radio Memories – Dealing With Daniels.

Dealing With Daniels (BBC Radio 4, 1982-1983, BBC Radio 2, 1984-1989)

This is a radio game show that I don’t actually remember from the time, but here’s why I was interested to find out more. As I have said before, Paul Daniels had a rather unusual double career, being both a magician and a game show host, including Every Second Counts. But did you know that in the 80s he also hosted a game show on the radio?

Dealing With Daniels was based on an earlier radio game show called Fair Deal, which was created by Ian Messiter, who was behind several quirky formats, the most successful being Just A Minute. The show’s title had a clever double meaning, because it meant “dealing” as in “giving out playing cards to people”, and also “dealing”, as in “having to put up with him”, how clever, er, yes…

Every week, three celebrity panellists took part, including comedians and TV hosts, and Barry Cryer, Patrick Moore, and June Whitfield were among those who often featured. Dealing With Daniels was a test of both memory and general knowledge, and it could be a big night for one of them if they play their cards right. No wait, that’s a different show…

There is a pack of playing cards, and every suit is represented by a different category. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 cards are not used. 7, 8, 9 and 10 cards are worth one point, Jack, Queen, and King cards are worth two, and Ace cards are worth three. They pick a card, and they are given the question. Some of these are rather silly, and can lead to what some people might describe as “faffing”.

The categories are played in rotation, and if a panellist asks for a card that has already gone, a rather loud hooter would go off, they would be penalised the points value of that card, and they would have to pick again. Get three wrong in a row and they lose their turn. Hopefully their choice would still be there. But they could also play their Joker, this could only be used once, and would restore any lost points.

This meant that it was a good idea to play this as close to time being up as possible, so all of the clocks in the studio were removed to make this more difficult. They could also play for a bonus if they thought that all of the cards had gone in a category. If they had, they would score ten points, but if not, they were penalised by how many cards were remaining.

There were a lot of points won (and lost), and there was a winner declared at the end, but there were no prizes on offer, how mean. Dealing With Daniels ran for about seven years, and it was good to come across this one and discover that this was a game that was enjoyable, and had a few twists, like the ones that Paul hosted on TV, how magic.