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.
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.