Radio comedy: all life is here

Here’s a link to a thoughtful piece from the BBC website by Nicholas Parsons, examining the role of radio comedy in the national discourse. From The Goons and Hancock’s Half-Hour to Round the Horne and Goodness Gracious Me (which started on the radio), there’s something here that most people would recognise.

Of course, you can take risks on the radio; artistic, financial and political risks that just wouldn’t be acceptable on the telly where so much more is at stake. And these risks, being taken or even welcomed, had quite an effect according to Mr Parsons. He outlines how Julian and Sandy of Round the Horne fame were a direct challenge to the BBC’s censorship rules of the time and this is symptomatic in how the genre has broken down the barriers between people in British society.

Yes folks, this social glue is exactly what your licence fee pays for, and we forget that at our peril. And this gentle levelling of barriers the reason the Beeb is always viewed by right-wingers as a subversive, lefty-liberal organisation.

Sanjeev Bhaskar is quoted talking about his comedy successes: “We wrote about what we knew, we never had a political agenda.

“We were described once as the lubricant in the engine of race relations and I still don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a compliment and I’ll take it.”

Long live radio comedy in all its off-colour, hilarious, anarchic and subversive glory. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the article:

How radio comedy changed a nation

Before the advent of radio, comedy and light entertainment emanated from two sources, music hall or variety and the legitimate theatre. The working classes would flock to the music halls, where they enjoyed broad comedy, whereas the legitimate theatre was patronised by the more discerning or elitist members of society.

Those who supported one form of entertainment rarely visited the theatres that presented the other. Through radio comedy the BBC began to broadcast shows that bridged the gap and with a cross section of entertainers, listeners were exposed to performers who represented a different class to the ones they mixed with or recognised, and they enjoyed them. Class barriers were being subtly broken down.

A show like ITMA, It’s That Man Again, starring the national hero Tommy Handley, did much of that work. Comedy writer Brian Cooke remembers it as “the one that broke down a lot of barriers”.

“It was a very fast show, it was the equivalent of The Fast Show back then. People would open the famous door and say their catchphrase and then went. You’ve got so many catchphrases and they caught on, some of them rather sadly. Mrs Mops’ Ta Ta For Now which became TTFN was often the last phrase uttered by people dying in hospital.” Read full piece here…