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 (http://just-a-minute.info/) 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.

Radio Memories – The Unbelievable Truth.

The Unbelievable Truth (BBC Radio 4, 2006-present)

The Monday evening slot on BBC Radio 4 has been filled by comedy panel games for several years. These include Just A Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which have both become institutions, although there doesn’t seen to be too much overlap in fans, do you really have to come down on either side and only like one or the other?

But in more recent years, another one has come along and managed to establish itself as a long-running success too. The Unbelievable Truth is hosted by David Mitchell, taking a day off from his many other comedy projects including Would I Lie To You. The co-creator of this is Graeme Garden, so it’s no surprise really that when he has been a panellist he has done rather well.

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The basic idea is based on truth and lies, and trying to make your opponents work out what the truths and the lies are. Four panellists take part, who are usually comedians. They are given a subject, such as maybe an item or a famous person, and they have to give a short lecture (if it is an item, David will also offer a dictionary or encyclopaedia definition).

The lecture is mostly nonsense, but there are five truths that are concealed within, and the panellists have to be able to spot them. If they think that they have, they buzz in and explain why they think it’s a truth. If they are right, they score a point, but if they mistake a lie for a truth, they lose a point. The panellist also scores points based on how many of the truths they managed to smuggle past the others.

A lot of the humour in the show comes from panellists buzzing in, insisting that they have found a truth, when they are totally wrong. Unlike other shows, there is also time spent picking apart the format (although there aren’t a huge amount of rules really). And of course there is also the interesting “is that really a fact?” element too.

Points are awarded and a winner is declared. Minus scores can often be achieved, but whoever does have the most points is always declared to have a total that is “unassailable”. It’s clear that there is something worthy in The Unbelievable Truth as there have now been over 25 series that have managed to keep up the standard of mixing bizarre facts with funny moments.

Radio Memories – Brain Of Britain.

Brain Of Britain (BBC Radio 4, 1968-present)

This is one of the longest-running game shows on the radio, and it is possibly the ultimate of the ones in the “so you think you’re clever, do you?” category, merely being invited to take part is considered to be an honour on the scale of similar shows including Mastermind and Fifteen-To-One. This format has been around since the 50s, and is based on a game called What Do You Know?

The longest-serving host of Brain Of Britain is Robert Robinson, but as I became a regular listener in more recent years, I am more familiar with the current host Russell Davies. Not so long ago, a book was released featuring questions of varying difficulty, and there was also a brief history of the show featured, which explained a little more about how the questions are compiled, and what it actually takes to succeed.

Every week, four contestants from across the country take part. They are asked fairly difficult general knowledge questions for one point each. But if they give a wrong answer, or run out of time, it goes on offer to one of their opponents. There are several questions where every contestant can end up offering an answer, and sometimes they all miss out.

If they manage to give five correct answers in a row though, they score a bonus point, which is an impressive achievement. Around the halfway point in the game, two questions are asked that have been sent in by a listener. They can confer on these, and this doesn’t affect the scores. In the unlikely event that they manage to beat the contestants, the listener wins a prize.

They then go back to the regular game, and there are also questions that contain an audio clue, usually a piece of music. The winners and the highest-scoring runners-up progress to the next stage of the contest, and the overall champion at the end of the series should definitely be proud of themselves. This is one of those shows where listeners hope to get some answers right themselves, but are mostly in awe of the knowledge on display.

Every so often, there is also Brain Of Brains where the most recent champions play each other, along with Top Brain, where the winners of this play each other. Defeated contestants can also come back to play again after a few years, and it’s probably no surprise that people who have done well on other game shows like Mastermind also do well here, maybe they could end up on The Chase.

Radio Memories – The Sunday Format.

The Sunday Format (BBC Radio 4, 1996-2004)

This is another comedy series that I didn’t hear first-time round, but I did hear a repeat run as BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra came to the rescue once again, and I did think that this one was rather interesting. The idea of this show is based on something that I don’t know a huge amount about, but it was clear that this was a rather amusing parody.

In the 90s, broadsheet newspapers on Sunday seemed to expand in size by a large amount, and this was an attempt to retain their readers by offering them more and more sections on subjects that they supposedly wouldn’t find anywhere else, and hoping that they would keep going through everything until it was time for the next issue the following week.

Suddenly there were pull-outs on culture, travel, property, finance, and much more, maybe even some news if they were lucky. These sections needed to be filled every week of the year with articles, interviews, and lists, and this meant that as the weeks passed a lot of ground had to be covered. The Sunday Format styled itself as being “a newspaper on the radio”, and this condensed the highlights of everything that we needed to know, all into only half an hour. Remember, it’s a newspaper, not a snoozepaper.

We constantly jumped around all of the features, creating a bizarre sound, so people answering questionnaires, crossword clues, and art exhibitions being reviewed would all become intertwined, accompanied by additional “turn to page 39 for more”-type comments. This was all read by the soothing voices of comedy talent including Rebecca Front and Alexander Armstrong among others, and there was also some constant ambient music in the background.

The Sunday Format ran for a few series and won some awards. I did enjoy the wordplay, and the way that all of the features bizarrely mixed into each other, which was enhanced by everything being played totally straight. It’s probably no surprise to realise that this show was created by the same team behind radio comedy series People Like Us, which had a similarly creative idea.

Radio Memories – World Of Pub.

World Of Pub (BBC Radio 4, 1998-1999)

I reviewed the TV version of this sitcom a while ago, but this is another one that started out on the radio. It was clear that World Of Pub was something that was going to be a little different from the outset, being described as “EastEnders meets The Simpsons in a cartoon series for the ears”. It seemed that this would be a good one to get into for people who had a more surreal sense of humour.

Brothers Garry and Barry run a pub in the East End, but there are almost never any customers. Their friend (and just about the only regular) Dodgy Phil, is something of a wheeler-dealer, with lots of contacts, and is always thinking of plans that will boost their trade. He insists that he isn’t dodgy, and his ideas will be a big success, people will soon be coming into those doors, and they’ll love what they have to offer.

These plans included saying that the pub was the oldest in the world, trying to be more environmentally friendly (my producer just said, “environmentally friendly, hoorah!”), or celebrating the 500th anniversary of the East End. But these never do work though, and the pub always ends up being destroyed by the end of the episode, yet somehow it is standing again by the start of the next one, only for the cycle to begin again.

There was a lot to like about World Of Pub, with the rather unusual moments, and parodies of various things. The great cast included Peter Serafinowicz, John Thomson, Alistair McGowan, and Phil Cornwell (McGowan and Cornwell also took the opportunity to play various other characters and do some of their impressions, including Cornwell’s take on Michael Caine, that also featured on the TV shows Dead Ringers and Stella Street around this time).

There were eight episodes of World Of Pub in two series, in the first series the episodes were 15 minutes long, and someone must’ve liked it, because in the second series they were extended to 30 minutes. The TV version came across a couple of years later and is also very good, and the radio version is still repeated rather frequently rather late at night on BBC Radio 4 Extra.