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.

Radio Memories – Saturday Night Fry.

Saturday Night Fry (BBC Radio 4, 1988)

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are a double-act who appeared in various things throughout the 80s and 90s. Their TV work includes the acclaimed comedy sketch show A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, and also the sitcom Jeeves And Wooster. They also appeared in plenty of adverts including Alliance And Leicester, but wherever they turned up, they were always entertaining. And in the late-80s, they also featured in their own radio series.

Saturday Night Fry always began with the theme music, which definitely seem to become familiar as the theme music, and most sketches were introduced with a piece of classical music. Even at this early stage, their familiar style had been developed. Fry was the main host and writer, and there was a very impressive cast, he was he often accompanied by Laurie, but also contributing were Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, and Robert Bathurst.fry0001

There were no regular characters as such, but there were plenty of memorable sketches. These included the script being arranged by the others when Stephen wasn’t looking, causing all sorts of chaos, Stephen travelling around the country on a bike with his wobbly belly, and also Stephen Will Do His Level Best To Comply With Your Wishes, where listeners wrote in hoping that their dreams would come true, but it often doesn’t happen.

And there was also a chance to learn how to speak Strom, a rather bizarre made-up language, this was one of the highlights, how did they think of these things. The show was also rather fond of featuring some unusual names, but it’s always good to hear from the likes of Suckmaster Burstingfoam. One episode featured a rather enjoyable guest appearance from Barry Cryer (“at my age it’s a miracle!”).

Saturday Night Fry contained a lot of the clever wordplay that Fry and Laurie would become known for, and if I can make a bad attempt to mimic some of this myself, I would have to say that a lot of the sketches were very cuddly and the show overall was thoroughly lovely. There was only one series, but we did go on to get four series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, which continued in a similar style. About a decade later, there was another radio series with the same title, but this wasn’t a comedy.

Radio Memories – On The Hour.

On The Hour (BBC Radio 4, 1991-1992)

This is a comedy show that is one of the most pioneering of its era. On The Hour can be seen to be essentially a parody of news presenting, but there is much more to it than that. The aim of the show was to offer listeners all of the news as it happens, if it happens. The main anchor was Chris Morris, who had already worked in BBC local radio, kept on top of everything that was happening, and was also rather fond of endless timechecks.

Morris was supported by his top-class team of paper shufflers, meaning that it was possible to efficiently cover every topic. This show was made during a period when news coverage was taken rather seriously at the BBC, and they really did work hard on their mission to explain. There were also some amusingly odd turns of phrase, squishing the English language into newly peculiar shapes like no other show before or since.

Along with the news parodies, there was also a look at areas that had barely featured in comedy shows before, including the audio pull-out, covering several subjects in the news, along with mocking Radio 1 hosts, continuity announcers, American reporters, and some not-so-subtle digs at other shows on Radio 4’s schedule at the time, including their comedy panel games and satirical reviews of the week.

There were also some audio clips spliced together, with one of the most amusing examples being “what you mustn’t do in politics is listen to people”, and the public were also asked for their views, which is never really a good idea. Needless to say, this highly-trained group of reporters were soon winning plenty of awards for their irresistible journalism.

On The Hour is best-known though for being the first show to feature Alan Partridge, who at this point was the reporter who was able to cover a wide range of sport, and sometimes he was even able to correctly identify what team had won. He would also interview sport stars and ask them all the wrong questions. I doubt many people at the time would realise just how long this character would run for. oth

There were two series of On The Hour, and almost three decades on, the show is still a good listen, thanks to the creative ideas and great cast. The final edition concluded with the idea of the BBC turning into an endless 24-hour live news channel, so you could have big facts thrown at you any time you wanted, as if that could ever happen! And in 1994, the show transferred to BBC2 as The Day Today, which is widely regarded as one of the best TV comedy shows of the 90s.

Radio Memories – That Mitchell And Webb Sound.

That Mitchell And Webb Sound (BBC Radio 4, 2003-2013)

David Mitchell and Robert Webb are a comedy double-act who have been around since the late-90s. They appeared in some comedy sketch shows including Bruiser and The Mitchell And Webb Situation. These were little-seen shows, but it was a good way for them to develop their style. Their profile really began to increase though with the sitcom Peep Show, which ran for over a decade.

Along with this, they had plenty of other things on the go, including their own radio sketch series. That Mitchell And Webb Sound featured the duo as a wide range of characters, and they wrote most of the sketches themselves. Also featuring among the cast was Olivia Colman, who had worked with Mitchell and Webb on several series, long before her rise to being a winner of several high-profile acting awards, along with James Bachman (who also contributed to Bleak Expectations among others). maw

There weren’t too many regular characters, but these did include the snooker commentators, who rather than talk about the game, often fantasised about the players (let’s try and forget the time though when they performed as these characters live on Comic Relief and promptly died, now that really was a bad miss). And there were also the panel of old ladies where people had to justify to them their job, and they determined whether it was something worthwhile to do or not.

There were also plenty of one-off sketches that always featured interesting ideas, proving that whether they were being silly or satirical, they always had a sharp wit. Critics who considered them to now be their generation’s equivalent of Fry and Laurie definitely weren’t too far wrong. In 2006, the show transferred to TV as the similarly-titled That Mitchell And Webb Look, a few of the developed characters featuring including the snooker commentators, this ran for four series and won plenty of acclaim and awards, and there was also a book released.

And along with this, they also managed to still have the time to fit in a tour and perform on stage as several of these characters (in The Two Faces Of Mitchell And Webb), and even do a film or two as well, they must’ve been exhausted. There were five series of That Mitchell And Webb Sound, and in more recent years you’re more likely to see Mitchell making wry observations and absolutely losing it on various comedy panel games, which is always a treat.

Radio Memories – Hamish And Dougal.

Hamish And Dougal In You’ll Have Had Your Tea (BBC Radio 4, 2002-2007)

In this series, I don’t plan to look back at radio game shows or comedy panel games, but there have been plenty of these that have been successful over the years. I must admit that I haven’t listened to I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue as much as Just A Minute, but they are the two most popular and long-running shows in their genre on BBC Radio 4, providing laughs going back decades now.

But I do know that among the regular panellists on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue are Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden, two veterans of comedy who have written and contributed to dozens of quirky shows in their long careers. One highlight for regular listeners is when from the mid-90s they performed as the characters Hamish and Dougal, usually in the “Sound Charades” round, which is nearly as exciting as Give Us A Clue.

This became popular enough with listeners for them to be given their own spin-off series. Unsurprisingly, this went off in some rather unusual directions. Hamish (Cryer) and Dougal (Garden) are two elderly Scotsmen, and the title comes from their regular greeting “you’ll have had your tea”, and it could even be considered to be their catchphrase. They often bumble through life, doing daft things together, such as trying to get fit or entering a talent contest. Oh, jings! had

Among the other regular characters is their housekeeper Mrs Naughtie who wonders what they will do next, and the Laird, who often looks on with horror at their antics, and also likes to sing. But what I enjoyed most about the show was how daft it was, with plenty of in-jokes, bizarre place names, and innuendo, along with a lot of laughter and corpsing at their own rude jokes. There was also plenty of wordplay, my favourite exchange being “oh well, here’s my front door”. “What the hell’s it doing there?”. Now that is how you write great comedy.

Most of the episodes were only 15 minutes long, but there were also some extended specials where we found out what our heroes got up to during Hogmanay and the like, featuring some guest appearances from their I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue companions. There were three series of You’ll Have Had Your Tea, that packed in as much silliness that was possible, and there was also a book released.

Radio Memories – Radio Active.

Radio Active (BBC Radio 4, 1980-1987)

This is a show that has a good claim to being one of the most successful radio comedy series of the 80s. Radio Active featured a talented cast, who were Angus Deayton, Geoffrey Perkins, Michael Fenton-Stevens, Philip Pope, and Helen Atkinson-Wood, and the basic idea was a parody of the style of local commercial radio stations (something that had barely been going for a decade in this country by this point).

The cast played various hosts, who were all levels of ineptness, and most of them were called Mike (Mike Channel, Mike Flex, Mike Stand and so on), who were happy to be with you whenever they were needed. As well as their shows on the station, there were parodies of just about every other aspect of local radio, whether it was news reports, awkward interviews, lots of jingles, and also adverts. Most of these were parodies of adverts that were around at the time, along with several for Honest Ron (“the others are a con”). ra

One of the most popular elements of the show were the musical parodies (usually performed by Pope, who had the ability to impressively imitate several several singers and pop music styles), and he was also part of The Hee Bee Gee Bees, whose hit single “Meaningless Words (In Very High Voices)” caused a sensation, and even earned them a page in Smash Hits. Yes, really.

As the series progressed, there were several episodes dedicated to various themes, including a look behind the scenes, debates about important things in the news, badly put-together plays, award ceremonies, and you probably won’t be too surprised to learn that one of my favourite episodes is The Gigantaquiz, a parody of overblown game shows. Also starring in the later episodes was the truly hapless Martin Brown. Because remember, when it comes to entertainment, they stop at nothing.

Most episodes also ended with a rather unusual statement or a piece of noise, and this was an attempt to catch out the plummy Radio 4 announcer, although such antics didn’t faze the the much trendier up-to-date BBC7 host (which was were I heard most of the episodes for the first time). There were seven series of Radio Active, including a few specials.

There were also some books released, and several episodes have also been performed on stage in various tours. And of course there was also the BBC2 spin-off KYTV that mocked the early days of satellite TV and ran for three series (and Deayton became the host of Have I Got News For You and this time too). The show is still fondly thought of, and it could be said to be the 80s equivalent of On The Hour, another popular series that I’ll review soon.

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 na├»ve 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.