What Have Been The Most Watched Things on Talking Pictures, Then?

This feels like something we should prefix by saying “they’re not paying us to say this”, but we absolutely love Talking Pictures. Shoved in SD only at the ragged end of Sky’s film section, it hosts a wealth of antique films, mostly but not exclusively British, and frequently spitting out gems we’d long heard of but never seen.

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Pleasingly, since the channel launched it’s managed to grow in popularity at a steady rate, rising from a peak-time audience of a few thousand to gaining viewing figures not too far away from certain digital mainstays. Here’s a chart we’ve compiled confirming it – it’s a channel on the rise.

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And on surprise with such a varied output – from 1930s crime dramas to 1980 Children’s Film Foundation fare. And that’s without possibly the most interesting output on the channel – TV shows that would otherwise remain restricted to a dusty archive, often taken from the lesser heralded regional ITV outpost Southern. Look out for weirdly compelling 1980 soap Together (including Phil Redmond on occasional writing credits and Sarah Greene putting on some of the acting talent that would later resurface in Ghostwatch) and the brilliant 1950s ITV crime drama Colonel March of Scotland Yard, starring Boris Karloff as the titular Colonel of the Yard’s excellently named ‘Department of Queer Complaints’. And there’s the occasional episode of Runaround bunged on to remind everyone how horrible Mike Reid was before EastEnders. Seriously, the Christmas ‘Runaround on Ice’ special had to have a special caption beforehand warning viewers “that the following film contains scenes of outdated racial representation that some viewers may find offensive’. On a programme made for children. Eep.

Anyway. that’s not while we’ve fired up Open Live Writer to pen this update. We’ve been enthusiastically bobbing for numbers in the Barb website and come up for air clutching the entire weekly top ten viewing figures for Talking Pictures in our remaining teeth (we were a little too enthusiastic).

Here are the ten most watched things in Talking Pictures’ history so far. All viewing figures from the reliably marvellous barb.co.uk.

THE TEN MOST WATCHED THINGS ON TALKING PICTURES SO FAR

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10 TWO WAY STRETCH (1960)

(1755 Thurs 10/03/16, 35,000 viewers)

D-list crim Dodger Lane (Peter Sellers) has planned the perfect caper. Only problem is, he’s clanged up at Her Maj’s pleasure. Sir Bernard Cribbins, Lionel Jeffries, Liz Fraser and Beryl Reid also feature.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Always tending to crop up a lot on Talking Pictures, some of our favourite actors turning up in relatively minor roles. Definitely a category worth including. No, it is. This film scores highly on that scale: Sellers aside, you’ve got Sir Bernard Cribbins, Lionel Jeffries, Liz Fraser and Beryl Reid (as we just said), but also Irene Handl, Liz Fraser, Warren Mitchell and Arthur Mullard. CULT VALUE: 8/10

9 DESERT MICE (1959)

(1711 Thurs 26/05/16, 36,000 viewers)

World War II, and life is pretty ghastly on the North African front. Luckily, there’s an entertainment troupe on hand to provide comedy and chaos. Starring Alfred Marks, Sidney James, Dora Bryan.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Another nice score. John Le Mesurier as ‘Staff Colonel’, Irene Handl as ‘Miss Patch’, Liz Fraser as ‘Edie’ and – bonus points here – a young, uncredited Paul Eddington. Told you this category would be worthwhile. CULT VALUE: 5/10.

8 THE IRON MAIDEN (1962) 

(2121 Sat 06/08/16, 38,000 viewers)

Disappointingly vague here, we’re afraid – our best guess that this is a title IMDB lists as ‘The Swingin’ Maiden’, starring Michael Craig and Anne Helm. “An American airline firm plan to buy a new British passenger plane, but the deal hits trouble when the plane's designer Jack Hopkins and Kathy Fisher the daughter of the Airline owner, take an instant dislike to each other, after crashing into each other in a quiet country lane.“

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Slightly disappointing, to be honest. Joan Sims and Anton Rodgers. And we’re deducting a point for Alan Dale also being there. CULT VALUE: 1/10.

7 GAOLBREAK (1962)

(1450 Thurs 19/11/15, 39,000 viewers)

Off to a great start by using the correct Honest British Spelling of ‘gaol’, and the plot doesn’t disappoint either. A family of crims plan a heist at a jewellry shop (NOT STORE). When those barely baked plans go awry and the family safecracker is incarcerated, a plan is concocted to break him out.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Slightly disappointing, but there is a place for Ivor Dean from The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins. CULT VALUE: 1/10.

6 THE FLYING SCOT (1957)

(1015 Sun 06/11/16, 39,000 viewers)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/1/1e/%22The_Flying_Scot%22_(1957).jpg/220px-%22The_Flying_Scot%22_(1957).jpg

Or, as IMDB has it in the best tradition of The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down, “The Mailbag Robbery”. A band of villains carry out a robbery on the titular train, what with it carrying a heap of withdrawn bank notes from Scotland to London to be destroyed. Presumably they get away with it only to find no-one south of Carlisle is willing to accept Scottish banknotes anyway.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Patsy Smart, who later appeared in Alexei Sayle’s Stuff so two points there, and another two points for ‘Geoffrey Bodkin’ who seemingly only appeared in this film, and under the uncredited role of ‘Neat Boy’. CULT VALUE: 4/10.

5 THE IRON MAIDEN (1962) 

(1600 Sun 20/11/16, 40,000 viewers)

Again? Tsk.

4 THE WESTERNER (1960)

(1555 Weds 11/11/15, 44,000 viewers)

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Not actually a film, but rather a TV serial western that ran for one series on NBC in 1960. Created and produced by Sam Peckinpah, no less. But it’s still a western. And a bit of a shame that this is the only TV show here. CULT VALUE: 0/10.

That said, the content of The Westerner is probably much less dodgy than TP’s repeat of Southern TV’s Star Treatment Show starring Cannon and Ball.

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Hmm. That doesn’t crop up on any double-act retrospective you’re likelty to see soon, does it?


3 LAST HOLIDAY (1950)

(1305 Sat 09/04/16, 45,000 viewers)

Much more like it. A JB Priestley screenplay, starring Alec ‘Genuine Class’ Guinness. A unfulfilled farm equipment salesman has just a few weeks to live – time to withdraw his life savings and set about having the time of his rapidly diminishing life.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Alec Guinness, Beatrice Campbell, Muriel 'Went the Day Well?' George, Bernard 'M' Lee, Esma Cannon, Sidney James, Charles Lloyd Pack. PROTIP: Any film where Sidney James is credited as ‘Sidney James’ = good. Any film where Sidney James is credited as ‘Sid James’ = less good. CULT VALUE: 7/10.

2 REACH FOR THE SKY (1956)

(1332 Sun 02/10/16, 46,000 viewers)

A biopic of Douglas Bader, starring Kenneth More.

BROKENTV SCREEN HERO WATCH: Not much, to be honest. Though there is an uncredited role for noted TV producer Barry Letts, who’d later move from minor acting roles to producing the likes of Treasure Island, Sexton Blake and the Demon God, Goodbye Mr Chips and 128 episodes of a little show called Doctor Who. CULT VALUE: 3/10.

1 THE BARGEE (1964)

(1405 Sun 14/02/16, 48,000 viewers)

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Now we’re talking. The tale of life on the waterways of mid-60s Britain, with a diminishing number of bargees struggling to make ends meet as the new-fangled motorways wrestle away their livelihoods. With us so far? No? How about noting that that the action centres on Hemel Pike, a canal-based casanova who has a lady lurking by every lock, but who won’t restrict himself to a single woman. Won you over yet?

Nope, probably not. Indeed, were such a premise to appear a decade later the threat of a bobbing Asquith’s arse might well loom large. Cast such thoughts from your mind, gentle reader (erm, if you can now we’ve said what we did). We’ve cleverly been saving the key details ‘til last. Written by a certain Galton and Simpson, with Hancock and Steptoe producer/director Duncan Wood calling the shots. Better yet, there’s some cream casting contained within – Harry H Corbett as lead lothario Pike (yes, we know you’ve already seen the photo up there), Ronnie Barker as his simple but well-meaning brother Joe, Julia Foster as Pike’s on-off girlfriend Christine, with the marvellous Hugh Griffith as Christine’s overly protective Dad. And those are just the main characters – Eric Sykes, Derek Nimmo, Richard Briers, Brian Wilde, not to mention uncredited appearances for Pat Hayes and Una Stubbs. All that, plus a story that belies the pull-out synopsis at the top of this entry – without spilling the plot details, this turns out to be a tale that’s genuinely heart-warming and even – yep – pretty progressive given the era. CULT VALUE: 10/10.

And there we go. It’s probably lucky that someone like Ballard Berkeley, Clive Swift or Hilda Braid wasn’t there too, or we’d have had to award it 12/10 and thereby broken the internet. Anyway, want to see the top 100 in full? Here’s a Google Sheets link for you. You’re welcome.

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Talking Pictures is available on Sky, Freeview, Freesat and YouView. And they’re still not paying us to say all this, so we’re going to make you find out the channel numbers for yourself.

BrokenTV’s Review of the Year 2016

 

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1 out of 5. Too many major characters killed off, and no redemptive resolution after it looked like all the bad people were going to triumph. Though we did enjoy Euro 2016, and Bridget and Eamon was really good.

The Top 200 Sitcom Characters of All-Time: 197

Four entries in and already feeling the urge to iterate that we really do know what we’re doing, we’ve already decided who’s going to be number one, and we really can’t be sure if any of us will be alive by the time we get to that point. Also, a nagging sensation that we should have made this a Top 500, just to make life really difficult for ourselves. Because we really like doing that. We’re actually typing this on an aged Eriksson flip-phone running WAP internet whilst trapped in a well, for example.

197 Fa'ad Shaoulin (Running Wilde)

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The first US entry on the list, and it’s from a show that found itself panned more frequently than the gasman from that episode of Bottom. But, hey. Diamonds in the rough. The sitcom in question was Mitchell Hurwitz’s Running Wilde, which could almost be taken as a pseudo-spinoff for Hurwitz’s much-loved Arrested Development. The action centred on the titular Steven Wilde, an egotistical tycoon who tries to offset his depression by winning the heart of childhood sweetheart turned eco-activist Emmy. The lead role was played (and indeed, developed for) standout Arrestee Will Arnett, moving from the self-centred if emotionally fragile moneyed douchebag Gob Bluth, to self-centred if emotionally fragile douchebag in search of betterment Steve Wilde.

Despite a premise on nodding terms with the critical smash, it seemed an uphill struggle for Wilde – while Arrested Development built an audience on the back of Selfish Rich Assholes Running Out Of Money, the sit behind Wildes’ com was Selfish Rich Asshole Doesn’t Run Out Of Money But Feels A Bit Bad About It wasn’t as alluring a prospect. And when you consider Arrested Development hardly set Neilsen boxes ablaze in the first place, it was always going to be a non-starter. So hey, at least the nine or so episodes it’ll get air before cancellation might be good, yeah?

Well, they were okay. Ish. But the main draw was that of Steven’s eccentric neighbour and best pal – a similarly listless oil magnate from foreign lands, Fa’ad Shaoulin. What was so special about him? It certainly helps that the role provided a breakthrough role in US TV for a certain Peter Serafinowicz. Whether it’s plodding around on the back of a prohibitively expensive micro-pony, getting locked in a vodka freezer, or pretending to be Alan Alda, Serafinowicz lifts the mood whenever he appears on screen. Whether that’s down to Fa’ad seldom having to bother with having any of that ‘plot’ and ‘consistent character’ nonsense, or just that we enjoy seeing really good BBC2 sketch comedians cropping up on US network TV – a bit like seeing someone else wearing a T-shirt of an obscure indie band you like whilst at Asda – we can’t quite be sure, but Fa’ad was the only character that kept us coming back to Running Wilde throughout it’s initial nine-episode run.

The Top 200 Sitcom Characters of All-Time: 198

The second instalment of the ongoing series that we’ve been writing on our phone while stuck in various waiting rooms then several weeks later trying to decipher the autocorrected text subseqyuently generated .

Today’s mystery phrase: “Full on Below ski mode”.

198 Alain Degout (Paris)

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Imagine if Alexei Sayle, in full on maniacal Belovski mode rather than the beardily erudite Question Time particpant mode of today, were a struggling artist loitering around Rue de la Skidpan in turn of the century Paris? Because that's kind of where the premise begins and ends in this single series offering from Linehan and Matthews, dipping their respective toes into the sitcom writing pool for the first time, following their work on the criminally ignored sketch show All New Alexei Sayle Show.

Despite suffering from largely terrible reviews at the time, when viewed as a ironic punk cover version of an unmade Blackadder Five this is actually a thunderingly enjoyable gem. It packs all the verve and energy you’d expect from full-pomp Sayle, still standing on the tail end of his imperial phase, includes a guest cast way better than the budget should allow – including Eleanor Bron and (as above) Windsor Davies, plus Neil Morrissey as a winsome foppish combination of Tony from Men Behaving Badly and a latter day Lord Percy. It probably wasn’t helped by arriving in a C4 Friday night schedule otherwise dominated by meticulously engineered US imports – the long-running Friends/Roseanne/Cheers axis – where a variety of homegrown comedy efforts were left looking unfashionable. Some unfairly so – Craig Ferguson appearing opposite Peter Cook in My Dead Dad, for example – some thoroughly deserving of scorn – Captain Butler, we’re looking at you.

But, back to Paris. No wonder a still-good NME seemed to act as sole champion of the show at the time of broadcast. Sadly, chances to reevaluate the critical kicking the series received have been almost entirely absent since first broadcast, with (as far as we're aware) a dawn-skirting 4Later repeat run as being the only chance to reappraise the show without hunting barely seeded torrents. Or, happily, YouTube.

 

BONUS FOOTNOTE FEATURE: The Bottom 200 Sitcom Characters of All-Time

200. The Baby from My Hero

199. Captain Butler from Captain Butler

198. David Baddiel from Baddiel’s Syndrome

Broken TV’s Top 200 Sitcom Characters of All-Time–Part One: 200-199

Hey gang! After spending way too long doing other stuff how about we pour some petrol in this baby and crank it up one last time? Metaphorical baby. Not a real one. That would be wrong. We know that now.

What with the BBC putting on a landmark sitcom season, only to go and invalidate the whole thing by having Mrs Browns Boys as part of it, it looks like it's up to us to do things properly. Having an entire season marking 60 years since Hancock’s Half Hour showed how practically perfect a British sitcom could be, then rebooting several series that failed utterly to learn from it. The clots.

So, Delivering our own sense of Quality First, we're about to compile a list of the best sitcom characters of all time. How many? 200 should do it. Basically enough to get us through to Christmas. Though we’re not saying which Christmas, given the frequency of our blog posts over the last half-decade. So it might be ages until we reveal that John Inman’s titular character from Take A Letter Mr Jones makes the top ten. Or not.

Here goes. Starting with…

 

200 Alex Picton-Dinch (Hippies)

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Unfairly lambasted when originally aired for the crime of being less good than Father Ted, time and occasional repeats on the digital wilderness have combined to prove that Hippies deserves to be remembered much more fondly. While the antics of Simon Pegg, Sally Philips and Darren Boyd would have been enough on their own,  it's Julian Rind-Tutt’s original hipster that really stands out. Much cooler than his crusty cohorts, it wouldn't have been a surprise for Alex to have secretly been the love child of Sgt Wilson.

 

199 Guy Fuddle (Happy Families)

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Hard as it might seem now, in this era of a BBC2 Comedy Zone being the occasional half-hour ghetto six weeks out of every twelve, but a lot of comedy used to get scheduled on the corporation. A lot. And the lack of an overstaffed middle-management at the Beeb meant that some of it seemingly made it to air without Men In Suits And Ties checking the contents.

Take Happy Families, for example. An ambitious post-Young Ones sitcom/drama by Ben Elton starring Jennifer Saunders in a variety of roles and Adele Edmondson as hapless lyrics idealistic berk Guy. Containing giggles about cocaine, sitting on the toilet with siblings and paedophilia, by rights this should have belonged firmly on the seedy side of the watershed on BBC2. Instead, possibly because schedulers saw the tidy and assumed it would be a cosy suburbia-set Martin Jarvis offering, it aired at 8.30pm on BBC1. In 1985. A different age.

Jennifer Saunders was the real comedic tour de force behind the programme, of course. Playing the entire female side of the Fuddle family, Saunders displayed a million times more range than subsequent decades trotted out Edina Monsoon would suggest. And yet this place on the list belongs to Ma Fuddle’s idiot offspring Guy. Unencumbered by awareness and tasked with bringing back his estranged sisters for one last reunion with their ailing (if irksome) mother, Ade Edmondson personified Nice But Dim years before Harry Enfield’s Television Programme.

Now, how about a DVD release of the series?

So, Which Is The Most Beloved Premier League Manager?

Hello, everyone. Some proper updates soon, promise. About telly and everything.

For now though, with the end of the football season approaching, who is the most beloved Premier League football manager? And who is the most beloathed? We’ve done fifteen minutes of Google searches so YOU don’t have to.

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There may be other Mark Hugheses and Alex Neils out there, of course. But you can’t argue with cold hard data.

The Art of Deliberately Misleading Comedy TV Listings: Part Three

In which we spend a third day uncovering entertaining Radio Times listings from yesteryear, because just taking things from the BBC’s Genome website is every bit as good as actually creating something ourselves. Still, three updates in three days!

Deliberately Misleading BBC Comedy Episode Descriptions Of The Past, Part Three: There’s a Lot of It About

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Following on from Qs five through nine, There’s a Lot of It About marked the last ‘proper’ series for the arch Goon, with Spike thereafter restricted to sporadic guest appearances and one-offs (like C4’s The Last Laugh Before TV-am). Luckily, with it having roped in prolific mirth-merchants Marshall and Renwick (see also: yesterday’s blog) that meant another great example of wonderfully inventive Radio Times listings. And here they are.

In this programme (which is not suitable for those of a sensitive or nervous disposition) SPIKE MILLIGAN , the famous author and philosopher, takes an in-depth look at all kinds of wild and exotic life abounding in this anniversary year, and poses many interesting and intellectual questions he doesn't understand.
- 20 September 1982

Former stuntman and free-fall parachutist SPIKE MILLIGAN comes out of hospital for tonight's special thrill-a-minute show which is dedicated to all those unseen people who encouraged him in his dare-devil career yet were happy to stand firmly in the background. But for them he might have remained an unknown writer-comedian.
- 27 September 1982

Tonight SPIKE MILLIGAN will be talking frankly to four ravishingly beautiful women - a nude model, a stripper, a rugby supporter and a bus conductress - about their attitudes to the opposite sex in this permissive society, and asking the question ' Does age matter? ' He will definitely not be watching this programme which is not half as interesting.
- 4 October 1982

In a heavily censored programme, SPIKE milligan takes a restrained and patronising look at Unemployment, the GLC Marital Harmony Squad, Japanese Ritual Suicide, the British Space Programme and Hitler's well-meaning attempts to break into the pop-music business and become a household name. The censored bits will be released on a BBC video cassette in 1985. Pirate copies are available now from ' 24 hr Grocers' (24 hr Grossers Ltd), Tooting Broadway, SW1Z
- 11 October 1982

[There’s every chance the original RT listing had ‘SW12’ there, but SW1Z is a better joke so we hope it didn’t. Of course, any of the seemingly mis-transcribed misspellings of ‘Milligan’ that are on Genome could be deliberate.]

Spike Milligan , recently voted light entertainment's Smiley, in an excerpt from his one-man show.
- 18 October 1982

In a programme celebrating his 63 years with BBC Television, spike MILLIGAN will be looking back on his long career at Television Centre; serving his apprenticeship as canteen manager before graduating to comedian. He will be remembering all those interesting people he worked with during that time who had a profound effect on his life and getting his own back.
- 25 October 1982

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Disappointingly, the 30 July-27 August 1985 repeat run largely re-uses those same descriptions, truncating several of them to fit a less prestigious amount of column inches. That's save for the repeat broadcast on 20 August 1985, which has the following listing. Presumably originally intended for episode 5 of the original run (the one with the phoned-in "excerpt from his one-man show" listing up there), it's nice to see this somehow survived whatever filing system the Radio Times used in 1982.

In a lively programme dedicated to his bank manager, Spike looks at the toupee epidemic, army boots and the perils of smoking.
- 20 August 1985

Unfortunately, the revised repeat showings of ...About in 1989 didn't go as far as including new descriptions, so we're not going to include them.  Instead, here's all of episode one.

The Art of Deliberately Misleading Comedy TV Listings: Part Two

Our scamper through the metaphorical blizzard of entertainingly unhelpful TV episode captions continues. Today, a programme that fits the remit we outlined then ignored yesterday.

Deliberately Misleading BBC Comedy Episode Descriptions Of The Past, Part Two: Alexei Sayle’s Stuff

http://images.tvrage.com/shows/3/2531.jpgWho is that rotund roustabout?

Co-written with unstoppable sketch comedy pensmiths David Renwick and Andrew Marshall, Sayle’s Stuff was unfairly maligned in some quarters when first hitting our screens, variously maligned as being too rude or too reliant on channelling Flying Circus, but happily it was a winningly inventive series packed with barbed satire, sumptuous surreality and an always welcome willingness to play with the conventions of television. Jokes delivered via the medium of Ceefax, messing around with the BBC Two ident and even faking out the viewers by placing fake programme trailers after the end of an episode.

That invention even went as far as the Radio Times listings, which took the form of outraged letters to the RT itself. Here are a few examples:

Leibnitz - Man or Biscuit?
Dear Radio Times,
What a delight Alexei Sayle 's Stuff was this week! My family and I were enraptured by the two young puffins and their hilarious attempts to build a nest using old newspapers. Please, please repeat this soon as it was such a tonic for the eyes in these days of fat b*****ds and shaved heads whining on about Mrs Thatcher.
(Mrs) Josie Pencil
Stratford-under-Lyne
ALEXEI SAYLE replies: Who gives a damn what you think! 
- 10 November 1988 21.00

How to Point at Chickens
Dear Radio Times,
I switched on my TV set at 9.00pm on Thursday expecting to see another edition of Alexei Sayle 's Stuff as advertised. What a disappointment! Due to the whim of those mandarins in programme planning, the series was not cancelled to make way for last-minute coverage of the Embassy Pro-Am Snooker final from the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.
Spare a thought for the poor sporting viewer, please!
(Mrs) Daisy Hatch
Doncaster
ALEXEI SAYLE replies: Who gives a damn what you think!
- 17 November 1988 21.00

2: From Avogadro to Ava Gardner
Dear Radio Times,
Why oh why do TV producers insist on subjecting us to the inane cackle of audience laughter, completely drowning programmes with an endless cacophony of mindless braying at the slightest provocation?
Fortunately this is not the case on Alexei Sayle 's Stuff where, joy of joys, the studio audience always remains in stunning silence throughout! More of this please!
(Mrs) Sandra Robespierre ,
Chislehurst ALEXEI SAYLE replies: Who gives a damn what you think!
Featuring Alexei Sayle with Leslie Crowther 
- 20 October 1988 21.00

2: Westward H2O
Dear Radio Times,
Being right-wing crypto fascists with fixed ideas and loud screeching voices, my husband Pip and I sat down to watch this week's
Alexei Sayle 's Stuff on BBC1 with Great Trepidation (our 14-year-old labrador). Imagine our delight when we realised that Mr Sayle had lost several stones and spent the entire show sitting behind a news desk reading hilarious government 'plans' for education and health services - keeping us in stitches for the entire half-hour. More of this please!
Mrs Wilhemina ReesMogg ,
Dungeness, Kent
ALEXEI SAYLE replies: Who gives a damn what you think! 
- 26 October 1989 21.00

4: Six Body Builders of the Italian Renaissance
Dear Radio Times,
When, oh when, will the BBC stop concocting these appalling fake Radio Times letters from obviously bogus people called 'Mrs Noreen Gripper -Rod' and the like to publicise Alexei Sayle 's Stuff. Even I am completely dummy and do not exist in any rational sense - so stop printing this at once!
Dame Judi Dench , The Bafta Awards,
Attenboro'tfgh-on-Hankies, Surrey.
Alexei Sayle replies: Who gives a damn what you think?
- 9 November 1989 21.00

The Art of Deliberately Misleading Comedy TV Listings: Part One

As anyone likely to be reading this blog (the new bits of it, not just bits we wrote five years ago that are still ranked bafflingly highly in Google searches) will be aware, the BBC Genome Project is probably one of the finest achievements of humanity. Probably nestled between ‘free healthcare’ and ‘the invention of the Jaffa Cake’ at number seven in that particular list.

For the uninitiated, the BBC Genome Project compiles all listings – both radio and television – from the Radio Times between 1923 and 2009, including all text as it was printed at the time. Save for the occasional misjudged correction by the Beeb’s OCR software, of course.

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Since corrected, luckily/sadly

If nothing else though, this does give us good cause to flip through some of the wonderful times the creative teams behind the more inventive comedy shows of decades past were given free rein to pen their own programme descriptions. Normally of course, these would be a brief summation of the plot suffixed with the trad “hilarious consequences” rejoinder, or (for sketch comedies) something along the lines of “more madcap mayhem from Duncan Whimsy and company”.

Some programmes – Not The Nine O’Clock News or The Young Ones to name but two – went in completely the opposite direction, treated their Radio Times listings as an opportunity to squeeze a bonus bit of fun from the programme, submitting increasingly outlandish episode descriptions. Why? Well, why not. If your comedy series is to become the cult hit it sorely deserves to be, your battleground for viewers isn’t the listing in the RT, it’s the school playground, the factory canteen, the whatever-they-had-instead-of-water-coolers-in-offices-in-1981. That episode description can happily alienate casual viewers more attuned to Terry & June, because it’s not for them. It’s for the cool kids who already love the programme, and will lap up this extra bonus bit of content. A wonderful little secret treat, like reaching for the last After Eight envelope in the box and finding it contains a crisp fiver.

For the next few blog updates, we’re going to celebrate that golden age of Deliberately Misleading BBC Comedy Episode Descriptions Of The Past by collating some prime examples. Starting here. Now.

Deliberately Misleading BBC Comedy Episode Descriptions Of The Past, Part One: Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

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What was that about being deliberately misleading? Yeah, we’re actually going to kick things off with the programme that brought this very practice to mind. That despite the fact it’s a current programme, not even British and not even by the BBC (though it is produced by ITV’s Australian offshoot), it fits the remit perfectly with the episode descriptions that start from the perfectly sensible:

Shaun Micallef presents a round-up, branding, inoculation and crutching of all the important news stories of the week in a brand new show that's guaranteed to blow the lid off an entirely different kettle of fish. - Series 1, episode 1

but move very quickly to the slightly silly:

Shaun gets more than he bargained for when a car he was buying turns out to be an ocean liner. Meanwhile, Roz and Francis are up to their old necks too when a horse they were impersonating has to be put down. - Series 1, episode 2

to some of the marvellously unhelpful EPG descriptions ever:

Mongoose. Winter is closing in. It is not safe. Go into hibernation. Further instructions to follow. Cobra.  - Series 2, episode 5

Here are a few more of our favourites:

Voula, if you are watching this, I am so sorry babe. Please do not let the trust we have built up over the last two weeks go to waste just because I screwed another chick. Call me? Stav.  - Series 2, episode 7

Yo! Join Kook and the Bambino tomorrow morning at 7am on 103.6 Smash FM for your chance to win $10 playing Puzzling Noise. - Series 2, episode 6

Fill-in host Lee Lin Chin gets laughs with an over-sized torsion wrench. Also stars Emilio Tahoeny, Veruca Millstone and [TROUBLE CODE E01. THE DOOR OF YOUR MACHINE IS OPEN.]- Series 3, episode 3

Voula, I reckon I'm dead or something. Do you think it's from that pact we made because our love is too much for this world? Where are you? Shouldn't you be here in the White Void too? Stav. - Series 3, episode 9

Dave, it’s me. Sorry I didn’t get back to you, been flat out writing this EPG. I guess you want to know about the rocket? Well, good news – Derek Jacobi’s on board! Call me. - Series 4, episode 7

Just a few examples of why Mad As Hell is a lovely programme that deserves to be seen by more people outside Australia than just the 17 Shaun Micallef fans befitted with a hefty sense of tenacity and a list of likely torrent sites. Or, we suppose, access to YouTube. Here’s a full episode of it. Yes, we know it isn’t as good as Newstopia, but still. Australia gets this, we get The Revolution Will Be Televised doing jokes about Bill Clinton.

 

A more British-based example next time, listeners.

ChartBeat Day Two: Mock The Week’s Totally Non-Sexist Booking Policy

It’s good now that Mock The Week has vowed to give equal opportunities to female comedians, isn’t it? We’re sure that their protestations that they have plenty of female comics on the programme even before the BBC Trust dropped their diktat on them were absolutely based on fact.

Hey, here’s a pie chart.

 

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Surely though, things are much better now. Here, with data taken from the MoW Episode Guide on Wikipedia, is an episode by episode breakdown of just how many women are allowed to take part in, y’know, having a go at Eric Pickles for being portly and Jordan for being dim. All that kind of modern satire that probably made Peter Cook especially glad he’s long dead.

 

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So, in summary:

 

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