British Radio Comedy

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Radio comedy has not only entertained audiences for some 70 years, it’s also been a medium for change in British society itself.

Bandwaggon established a new formula of comedy sketches and music. At the beginning of the war it was a wonderful boost for morale.

After the War there was the famous Goon Show, created by Spike Milligan. Incredibly funny surreal humour with characters drawn from all walks of life, which the younger generation adored, the Goons left older people confused, including the hierarchy at the BBC. They never realised how the anarchy, chaos and irreverence in the show were subtly affecting class attitudes. Also a whole generation was laughing at the same thing.

The Goon Show
The Goon Show

As the nation changed after the war, so did the BBC and its radio comedy continued to influence the nation and vice versa. Importantly it was a change in the background of the comedy writers and producers hired by the BBC that kept radio comedy changing with the nation. The BBC realised it needed to attract a broader audience, and that it needed to hire working class writers and producers, which it started to do in the 1950s and 60s, including writers like Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the men who brought Hancock’s Half Hour to the radio.

Hancock's Half Hour
Hancock's Half Hour

Just after the war the BBC produced The Little Green Book, a guide as to what comedy writers and producers could and couldn’t say on air. I remember being told by one producer when recording a stand up show that I couldn’t use the word naked as a punchline to a joke, it was a banned word in the Little Green Book’s guidance and censorship.

The rules they introduced were often ignored or were even used by some writers as something to challenge and subvert. The writing team of Marty Feldman, Barry Took, and later Brian Cooke, on Round the Horne were an example. The programme introduced characters that the BBC frowned upon. According to the rules in the Green Book you couldn’t have reference to a man being effeminate, but then came Hugh Paddick’s Julian and Kenneth Williams’ Sandy to challenge the Green Book and break down the taboo of homosexuality.

Julian and Sandy

When Round The Horne started if you winked at man in the street you would be arrested but what Julian and Sandy [Kenneth Williams, above] did was stop some of that.

Round the Horne
Round the Horne

Many of you will have been witness to that huge impact that radio comedy has had since the 1950’s and the BBC still maintains its high standards, which is valuable, but they have moved a long way from the establishment viewpoint they adopted in their pre-war days. These changes have come about principally through the power of humour to influence attitudes and patterns of behaviour and in it’s that way that radio comedy has helped change a nation.

Now you can listen to all these wonderful comedies again on the British Comedy Channel from the ROK Classic Radio Old Time Radio Network!

Enjoy 🙂

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ISIRTA – I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again!

I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again (often abbreviated ISIRTA) was a BBC radio comedy programme which originated from the Cambridge University Footlights revue Cambridge Circus.

Hancock’s Half Hour

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Hancock’s Half Hour was a BBC radio comedy, and later television comedy, series of the 1950s. It starred Tony Hancock, with Sid James; the radio version co-starring Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams.

Kenneth Williams - Tony Hancock - Bill Kerr - Sid James

The series was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and produced by Dennis Main Wilson for most of its run. After Main Wilson departed for his television career, his role was taken by Tom Ronald. The distinctive tuba-based theme tune was composed by Wally Stott.

Comedian Tony Hancock starred in the show, playing an exaggerated and much poorer version of his own character and lifestyle, as a down-at-heel comedian living at the dilapidated 23 Railway Cuttings in East Cheam.

The comedy actor Sid James played a criminally-inclined confidant of Hancock, who usually succeeded in conning him each week; Bill Kerr appeared as Hancock’s Australian lodger, a character who became noticeably dim-witted in the later shows. A young Kenneth Williams, taking his first job in comedy, provided the funny voices for all the minor characters in the show each week. Moira Lister appeared in the first series, before being replaced by Andrée Melly for the next two; both women played love interest for Hancock’s character, in essentially ‘straight’ roles. In the fourth and fifth series a comedienne, Hattie Jacques, provided comedy in the female role as the harridan Grizelda Pugh, who was Hancock’s secretary and Sid’s occasional girlfriend. By this time, Hancock’s difficulties with women had become part of the characterisation.

Tony Hancock

The series broke with the variety tradition which was then dominant in British radio comedy, highlighting a new genre: the sitcom or situation comedy.

Commissioning of series in the UK were then closer to the American practice with extensive runs not unknown, but in this case, with only two writers. Continuity in the idiom was yet to develop, and details changed to suit each episode. The domestic situation varied, but Hancock usually portrayed a ‘resting’ or hopeless down-at-heel actor and/or comedian (though some episodes showed him having runs of success, while some episodes depict him pursuing professional careers as fantasies), James was always on-the-fiddle in some way, Kerr gradually became dim and virtually unemployable (although he had started out as a fast-talking American-style Australian), and Hancock’s ‘secretary’, Miss Pugh, had such a loose job description that in one celebrated episode she had cooked the Sunday lunch.

Hattie Jaques

Hancock’s character had various addresses, but by the third radio series he had arrived at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. Sometimes this was portrayed as a council house, but occasionally there was a private landlord. In a few early episodes Hancock owned the house, and later this became the norm. The house changed to accommodate the cast: in some episodes it appeared to be a two-bedroom terraced house, with Kerr as Hancock’s lodger; but in series four and five it had at least three bedrooms, as Miss Pugh was also resident in some episodes. In others she ‘came round’ each day, presumably from her own domicile. Railway Cuttings and East Cheam were fictitious, but Cheam is a real town in Surrey, located to the west of Sutton.

Sid James & Tony Hancock

Most of the radio episodes were recorded between one day and three weeks in advance of broadcast, except for Series 6 which was mostly recorded during a three-week period in June 1959 in order to avoid clashing with the recording of Series 5 of the television show.

It should be noted that Galton and Simpson never gave any of their Hancock scripts, for Radio or Television, titles, this was usually left to the girl who filed the scripts at their office, she gave them names that were a reminder of what the script was about, so when Roger Wilmut came to write his book ‘Tony Hancock – Artiste’ (first published 1978) he took the liberty of inventing titles where necessary and these titles, a combination of the file names and Wilmut’s own, have become the accepted titles ever since with the approval of Galton and Simpson and the BBC.

Kenneth Williams

The regular cast members generally played “themselves” — that’s to say, the characters were called by the actor’s real name. However, there were exceptions:

* Kenneth Williams played a series of unnamed characters referred to in the scripts — but not on air — as “Snide”, Edwardian Fred a criminal associate of Sid’s and Hancock’s Vicar as well as various other characters.

* Alan Simpson played an unnamed man who listened patiently to Hancock’s long-winded stories in early episodes

* Hattie Jacques played Grizelda Pugh, Hancock’s secretary.

Two wiped episodes of the radio series — “The Blackboard Jungle” (series 3) and “The New Secretary” (series 4) — were recovered in 2002 from off-air home recordings made by listener Vic Rogers.

Death

Tony Hancock committed suicide, by overdose, in Sydney on 24 June 1968, being found dead in his Latimer Road, Bellevue Hill apartment with an empty vodka bottle by his right hand and amphetamines by his left.

Grave of the mentally tortured genius Tony Hancock

In one of his suicide notes he wrote: “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times”. His ashes were brought back to the UK in an Air France hold-all by satirist Willie Rushton and in deference to his fame and knowing love of cricket, his ashes travelled back in the first class cabin.

Listen out for  Hancock’s Half Hour on the British Comedy Channel!

You can also download the ‘Radio Ham’ & the ‘ Blood Donor’ in our download section…. Happy Listening!

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Jimmy Clitheroe – The Clitheroe Kid

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James Robinson Clitheroe (24 December 1921 – 6 June 1973) was a British comic entertainer. He never grew any taller than 4 feet 3 inches, and could easily pass for an 11-year-old boy, the character he played in The Clitheroe Kid.

 

Jimmy Clitheroe

The Clitheroe Kid was a BBC radio comedy show featuring diminutive Northern comedian James Robinson (“Jimmy”) Clitheroe in the role of a cheeky schoolboy, who lived with his family at 33 Lilac Avenue in an un-named town in the north of England. Jimmy’s best friend was Ozzie, alias Oswald Higginbottom, a character who was only heard of secondhand and didn’t actually appear. Sixteen series were produced totaling 290 episodes in all. The show was broadcast between 1957 and 1972.

Main Characters

The show’s stars included:

1.      Peter Sinclair playing Clitheroe’s Scottish grandad

2.      Patricia Burke as his mother (also played by Renee Houston in some early shows)

3.      Diana Day as his sister Susan (also played early on by Judith Chalmers)

4.      Danny Ross played Alfie Hall

5.      Tony Melody played Mr Higginbottom

Jimmy Clitheroe was 35 when he started playing the part in 1956, but he could pass as an 11-year-old boy because he had never grown physically beyond that age, though in later years his face gave his real age away. The series was made with a studio audience and there were frequent gales of laughter at Jimmy’s schoolboy humour, as well as at Alfie Hall’s mangling of the English language as he tried to explain something and made it worse.

Jimmy wore a schoolboy blazer and cap even for radio recordings, to maintain the appearance that he was 11 years old. Real children never appeared in the show, as this would have given away that Jimmy was an adult acting a part; so he talked of his pal Ozzie and his friends in the “Black Hand Gang” (who would punish any member caught in the company of a girl) but they never actually appeared.

Jimmy Clitheroe as the Clitheroe Kid

The humour could seem sharp, and if read in the cold light of day might occasionally seem harsh, but this was because it was supposed to be the humour of a schoolboy. The audience accepted this and roared with laughter at it.

Jimmy referred to his teachers by nicknames such as “Umm-ya Pete” and “Tick Tock Tillie”. His grandfather’s Scottish ancestry was endlessly mocked, with talk of haggises and bagpipes, and he was portrayed as someone who only lived for his beer. Jimmy’s sister Susan was usually referred to as “Scraggy-neck”, “Sparrow-legs” or occasionally “the Octopus” (for her clinches with boyfriend Alfie), though she in turn often had a go at her “little brother” (Jimmy was only 4 ft 3 ins).

Alfie, too, was mocked endlessly; but the daft character portrayed by Danny Ross probably never understood the insults. Mr Higginbottom was also mocked whenever he appeared: among other things, his house was said to be rat-infested and a dump. But Jimmy was very careful about this as Higginbottom had a hair-trigger temper. Higginbottom’s son, the much-maligned Ozzie, was a fat kid who (despite being Jimmy’s best friend) was knocked about by him a goodly number of times, and frequently suffered as a result of Jimmy’s schemes. But Ozzie seemed to feel it was safer to be Jimmy’s friend than his enemy!

Patricia Burke played Jimmys Mother

The one person who escaped Jimmy’s quick wit on the radio was his mother. In real life his father had died and he lived with his widowed mother, and was devoted to her. Jimmy would not stand for his mother being mocked, even if it were only his fictional mother on the radio.

Jimmy’s radio character frequently listened at keyholes, where he usually got the wrong end of the stick. Even when he tried to do good, as when he thought his grandad had stolen some money from a local shop (but which grandad had actually been given to look after), he usually messed things up, with the help of Alfie Hall. After the end credits, a short piece by Jimmy was usually inserted where he winds-up the show, tying up any loose ends in the plot and often reporting that Grandad had spanked him for what he had done.

Jimmy, Susan and Alfie (Played by Danny Ross)

As a celebrity, Jimmy Clitheroe was much in demand at public events, he had many business interests outside show business. He owned a racehorse, betting shops, and a hotel. Jimmy had a reputation for being “careful” with his money – a trait he got from the hard background which he endured growing up in the Great Depression.

He maintained a very private private-life, away from all his other interests, living quietly at Blackpool in a semi-detached bungalow with his mother.

He died in June 1973, following her death. He was found unconscious on the morning of her funeral and died later the same day. An inquest found that his death was due to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Most of the recordings for this series were made by home listeners at the time of broadcast, using reel to reel recorders, so some will contain higher than normal tape hiss.

Out of the total of 290 episodes produced many are lost, we maintain 128 episodes which you can hear on the British Comedy Channel and the US & UK Channel ‘comedy block’

You can download a 30 minute documentary about his life called ‘All There With My Cough Drops – The Story Of Jimmy Clitheroe’ in our download section!

Happy Listening

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The Men from the Ministry

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The Men from the Ministry was a British radio comedy series broadcast by the BBC between 1962 and 1977, starring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Richard Murdoch and, from 1966, when he replaced Hyde-White, Deryck Guyler.

The Men from the Ministry
Wilfred Hyde White & Richard Murdoch

Written and produced by Edward Taylor with contributions from John Graham, and with some early episodes written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, it ran for 14 series, totalling 147 half-hour episodes. A further 14 episodes were made by the BBC Transcription Service in 1980 but never broadcast in the UK.

The series was about lazy, bungling, incompetent civil servants, “Number One” – Roland Hamilton-Jones (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and later Deryck Lennox-Brown (Deryck Guyler), “Number Two” – Richard Lamb (Richard Murdoch), with their dim, typo-prone, teenage secretary, Mildred Murfin (Norma Ronald), all watched-over by the lecherous, pompous, self-seeking Permanent undersecretary Sir Gregory Pitkin (Roy Dotrice and later Ronald Baddiley), all members of the British Civil Service based in Whitehall.

 

Derek Guyler in Men From the Ministry
Derek Guyler

The stories centered on their General Assistance Department which helps other governmental departments. Instead of assistance, the department creates mix-ups, misunderstandings and cock-ups that lead to a telling-off from Sir Gregory, who sees his ‘hard earned’ Civil Service career and pension disappearing.

In one 1960s episode, “The Big Rocket”, General Assistance Department is put in charge of publicity for Britain’s almost non-existent space programme. With “One” out of the office and through a series of blunders by “Two”, a press release reveals the launch of a non-existent British space rocket, carrying Britain’s first female astronaut, Mildred Murfin. This surprises Mildred as she has that morning stormed out announcing she is “going round Ma’s”. The press interprets this as the rocket “going around Mars” and “One” and “Two” are faced with “bringing Mildred down to earth” while keeping their blunders from the public and superiors.

Norma Ronald
Norma Ronald played Mildred Murfin

In another episode, “The Whitehall Castaways”, Lennox-Brown, Lamb and Mildred row to an island in a lake in Regent’s Park, General Assistance having been told to ensure the safety of a great bustard, a rare bird that is nesting there. Neglecting to tie the boat up, Lamb allows it to drift and the trio are, as Mildred puts it, “marooned”, none of them able to swim to shore and Lennox-Brown having ordered the park to be closed and not re-opened “until I give the order”. Spending weeks on the island, Lennox-Brown shows leadership and Lamb shows signs of mental distress, while back at the office Sir Gregory is delighted with their non-attendance and the prospect of being able to fire them, until a note cancelling an order for wooden pixies is found leading him to the conclusion that they may have taken their lives due to the shame of a blunder and his thoughts immediately turn to the effect this will have on his prospects. The trio are released by a boy and the fate of the bird and its eggs is revealed.

The characters are portrayed as inept, subject to greed, selfishness and incompetence. However, malice was never a factor and all the humour was light-hearted. There was also a little broad satire in many episodes. Later series tended to recycle older scripts, just people and places being changed.

Cast

* “One” (Roland Hamilton-Jones) – Wilfrid Hyde-White (1962-65)
* “One” (Deryck Lennox-Brown) – Deryck Guyler (1966-77)
* “Two” (Richard Lamb) – Richard Murdoch
* “Mildred Murfin” – Norma Ronald
* Under-Secretary “Sir Gregory Pitkin”, CBE – Roy Dotrice (1962-65), Ronald Baddiley (1966-77)

Other occasionally recurring characters include “Lord Stilton”, Sir Gregory’s equally pompous boss, “Mr. ‘Whizzer’ Wilkins”, Lennox-Brown and Lamb’s aged and absent-minded colleague, and “Mr. Stack” – “Mr. Stack of ‘Records'” – in charge of the Ministry’s Records department and prone to taking naps in one of his filing cabinets.

In the 1970 episode, Bye-bye Mildred, Sir Gregory does not appear and we hear instead “Sir Hector Gunn”. Also appearing in some episodes are Mr. “Creepy” Crawley, a rather ingratiating member of the Department, and Miss Lusty, an elderly lady in the Pensions Department who lives up to her name. One of Sir Gregory’s later paramours was ‘Daphne Bentwater’ from the typing pool. Other named but non-appearing characters include ‘Mrs Bratby’, Lamb’s landlady.

Actors who appeared in episodes of the series include Clive Dunn, Pat Coombs, Warren Mitchell, Bill Pertwee, Joan Sanderson and Nicolette McKenzie.

Catch the Men from the Ministry on the Comedy Channel from the ROK Classic Radio OTR Network!

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Steptoe & Son Radio Series

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Steptoe and Son is a British sitcom written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about two rag and bone men living in Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Four series were broadcast by the BBC from 1962 to 1965, followed by a second run from 1970 to 1974. Its theme tune, “Old Ned”, was composed by Ron Grainer. The series was voted 15th in a 2004 BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom of all time. It was remade in the US as Sanford and Son.

 

Characters

The father, Albert Edward Ladysmith Steptoe (portrayed by Wilfrid Brambell), was born on 26 September 1899 (father not known but believed to be a local muffin man, now dead; the portrait he keeps of his father is in fact William Gladstone), though he always let on that he had been born in 1901.

He appears to have joined the army underage at the start of the First World War, and is seen wearing the Mons Star medals to prove it. He served with the British Expeditionary Force to Archangel, White Russia, in 1919. Steptoe Senior is lazy, stubborn, narrow-minded, foul-mouthed, and has revolting personal habits. Albert is content with his place in the world, utterly unpretentious and downright cynical. He can be extremely vindictive and does everything he can to prevent Harold, his son, improving himself—especially if it means him leaving home. He is normally unshaven and wears a very old pair of false teeth, discoloured and with teeth missing. His wife died in 1936. He mentioned in one episode that he was one of fourteen children.

Harold Albert Kitchener Steptoe (played by Harry H. Corbett), born 1925 (Corbett’s birth date) for the 1960s series (or born 1932 for the 1970s series) and educated at Scrubb’s Lane Elementary School is also obstinate, though prone to moments of enthusiasm about an idea.

He wants to move up in the world—most of all to escape from the family home and his stifling relationship with his father which was the subject of the first episode, “The Offer”. Harold has aspirations. He likes to see his business as being in antiques rather than junk. He bitterly regrets leaving the army, in which his service took him to Malaya and he achieved the rank of Corporal, and he nearly always wears a workman’s belt adorned with army cap badges. During the 1960s series he had been a veteran of the second World War but as he was ‘de-aged’ during the 1970s series this was never mentioned again. He is a dreamer and idealist. Politically, Harold is a Labour supporter who is appalled at his father who is a Conservative Party supporter. He aims to improve his mind and his social circle but always fails, often thanks to Albert’s deliberate put-downs or sabotage. Harold’s exasperation and disgust at his father’s behaviour often results in his repeating the catchphrase “You dirty old man.”

Situation

The episodes often revolve around (sometimes violent) disagreements between the two men, Harold’s attempts to bed women and momentary interest over things found on his round. As with many of the best examples of British comedy, much of the humour derives from the pathos of the protagonists’ situation, especially Harold’s continually-thwarted (usually by the elder Steptoe) attempts to “better himself” and the unresolvable love/hate relationship that exists between the pair.

A common theme is that Albert almost always comes out on top. Despite his lack of effort Albert routinely and easily proves himself superior to his son whenever they come into competition, such as in their frequent game-playing, e.g., the Scrabble and badminton games from the 1972 series. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but they come to nothing every time. His father’s success is partly down to superior talent but aided by cynical gamesmanship and undermining of his son’s confidence. In addition, Albert habitually has better judgement than his son, who blunders into all sorts of con-tricks and blind alleys as a result of his unrealistic, straw-clutching ideas. Occasionally the tables are turned, but overall the old man is the winner, albeit in a graceless fashion.

Harold is infuriated by these persistent frustrations and defeats, even going to the extent in “Divided We Stand” (1972) of partitioning the house in two so he doesn’t have to share with his selfish, uncultured and negative father. Predictably, his plan ends in failure and ultimately he can see no way out. However, for all the bitterness there is an essential bond between the pair.

 

 

Radio Series

The Steptoe radio series started on 3 July 1966, when the very first episode “The Offer” was broadcast. There were six series in all.

All of the radio episodes were reworking’s of the original television programmes, therefore some of the more visual episodes were not considered for radio. While it is possible for a radio audience to use their imagination to create almost any circumstance, the amount of additional dialogue required to re-create an episode like “Divided We Stand”, where the entire house is split in two, would either mean that the episode would overrun or most likely lose some of it’s impact.

The radio episodes have been broadcast continuously since they were made and can still be heard from time to time on BBC7, the BBC’s spoken word digital radio service and now all of the radio episodes including the Christmas specials can be heard on ROK Classic Radio OTR!

Steptoe & Son on Wikipedia

Albert & Harold Tribute Site

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Dad’s Army Radio Show

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“Dad’s Army” was a long running British comedy series created and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. The idea of a series came to Jimmy Perry when he realised that many people had forgotten about the contribution the Home Guard had made to the British Home Front during the years of the Second World War.

Commencing in 1968, “Dad’s Army” ran on BBC Television for 9 years with over eighty episodes spread within 10 series. The series is set in a small fictional seaside town called Walmington-on-Sea somewhere on the South Coast of England.

“Dad’s Army” is also remembered for its first class actors which starred amongst its credits, Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring, John Le Mesurier as Sergeant Arthur Wilson and Clive Dunn as Lance Corporal Jack Jones.

67 of Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s Television Scripts for “Dad’s Army” were adapted for BBC Radio by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles between 1973 and 1975. They were recorded at The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London and at The Paris Studios, Lower Regent Street, London.

All episodes were recorded in Mono and exist on Magnetic Tape in the BBC Sound Archive.

The Radio Series began on Monday 24th January 1974 and ran for three series with its final episode been broadcast on 7th September 1976. The Series was generally given two air periods a week on BBC Radio 4, the second of which would be a repeat.



The show’s main characters were:

Supporting characters included:

  • Mrs. Mavis Pike (Janet Davies)—Pike’s mother and Sergeant Wilson’s lover.
  • Reverend Timothy Farthing (Frank Williams)—The effete vicar of St. Aldhelm’s Church, he shares his church hall and office with Mainwaring’s platoon.
  • Maurice Yeatman (Edward Sinclair)—Mr. Yeatman was the verger at St. Aldhelm’s Church and head of the Sea Scouts group, and was often hostile to the platoon.
  • Private Sponge (Colin Bean)—Private Sponge had the job of representing those members of the platoon not in Corporal Jones’ first section.
  • Private Cheeseman (Talfryn Thomas)—a Welshman who joined the Walmington-on-Sea platoon during the seventh series to compensate for the death of James Beck who played Private Walker.

All 67 episodes are being aired on ROK Classic Radio, listen out for them during the UK and UK & US Comedy Blocks on ROK Classic Radio OTR 🙂

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