Tuesday, 2 December 2014

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


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


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
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
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


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.



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