An experiment to determine which decade produced the best cult comedy radio programmes

Time spent travelling on public transport and not otherwise reading books and news or listening to new music.

BitTorrent is a marvellous thing. Over the last month or so I have managed to download loads of Goon shows and the entire runs of both Round the Horne and the Mary Whitehouse Experience. It didn’t take me long to get through all 40+ MWEs and now I’m some way into RtH. So I only have preliminary results for you… (SPOILERS) TMWE is coming out of this very poorly.

It surprised me. I was an avid listener at the time – I was a student, so the target market – and of course everyone remembers what a seismic effect Newman and Bladdibab had on britcom now over 10 years ago. I mean FFS, they did a comedy gig at Wembley Arena! Newman then vanished, and Baddiel descended into flatsharing with Frank Skinner.

Nevertheless the radio shows (89/90) stink. For those of you too young to have ever heard of this, here’s how about 3/4 of the material used on the show starts: “And now it’s time for the [OBSERVATION COMEDY SUBJECT] experience. The problem with OCS is that everything about OCS… is crap.” audience shits itself laughing.

Now obviously comedy is a fashion thing, and i listened to it trying very hard to recast myself into the correct context, and recall my own experience, i.e. enjoying this stuff. This re-framing proved oddly difficult, and in this way the show felt like “Comedy: The Rock and Roll Years”. Blimey, the things going on in the world in the late 80s! The Stone Roses! Manchester! Howe resigning! Betty Boo, etc. They make jokes about all-but-forgotten political scandals and have a bit of fun with the annoying ads of the day.

Lots of the “supporting cast” are terrible: Skint Video (comedy songs with acoustic guitar strumming), Jo Brand, Mark Thomas (really not very good here), Donna McPhail. Mark Hurst is the one exception that got a laugh out of me. Rob Newman’s contributions are largely stock impressions of Jonathon Ross, Top Cat/Officer Dibble, and Johnny Morris. Johnny Morris hadn’t even been on telly for about 10 years by then. Odd that he has come out of this as the intelligent one.

At the end of series 1 they (finally) have a go at Radio 1 djs. This came as a slight shock as I was reminded of the content of Radio 1 back then – and proved that my re-framing hadn’t been very effective. Maybe it was entirely in contrast to the rest of the stuff coming out of Radio 1, i thought, that this show seemed/was ground-breaking and entertaining stuff. Yes, “The problem with Radio 1 is, that everything about Radio 1… is crap”.

(Partial) Conclusion
The stuff that people remember about MWE on telly (which was MASSIVEly succesful) are things like the History Today sketch – childish and silly playground humour, that only starts to creep in by the final series. Nostalgia has been overplayed in comedy since then, but simple name calling and smut is something that will survive through comedy fashion. Which listening to Round the Horne confirms, as I’m laughing much more at that already. About four laughs i think.