Monday, 1 December 2014

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.


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

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.


1 .:

ruudby said...

The Archers, amazingly, went through a phase of doing this. Clearly, I'm not going to search through a hundred years worth of listings on genome to find examples, but I do remember that an episode description once was "Making plans for Nigel".

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