TV Cream

Radio 1: The Shows

Mary Whitehouse Experience, The

LATE-NIGHT topical standup cult phenomenon for which the phrase ‘cutting edge humour’ might well have been invented. Concieved as a slightly less iffy replacement for uber-under-achieving Hey RRradio!!, the managerial masterstroke was putting together a regular team of relatively young and hip’n’happening comics – surly down-wiv-va-students (ie they’d heard of All About Eve) iconoclasts David Baddiel and Rob Newman, arch advert-hating satirists Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, shouty hectoring Reading Festival type Mark Thomas, sarky Women’s Libber Jo Brand, and last but not least those blokes with acoustic guitars who lived to parody other blokes with acoustic guitars Skint Video – and asking them to come up with material relating to ‘issues’ affecting Radio 1’s target audience instead of just repeating their stage act only slightly less visually.

With Hithouse’s Jack To The Sound Of The Underground as its very Radio 4-unfriendly clarion call, that regular-as-clockwork format in full – Baddiel makes off-colour introductory quip; Punt & Dennis scoff at some happening in the pop or film world; Newman does pants impression of Shaw Taylor, Ronnie Corbett or Jonathan Ross and nobody else; multi-handed ‘Character Assassination’ of self-important public figure; Skint Video take the piss out of World Music fans; Jo Brand laughs at problem pages in a teenage girls’ magazine; extended thinkpiece on abstract subject (eg ‘The Pub Experience’) with both double-acts in a Nuts’n’Gum-style team-up; Mark Thomas shouts at audience for not having an opinion on something to do with South Africa; Skint Video parodying Suzanne Vega and her ilk; Baddiel and Thomas frowning exasperatedly at audience-submitted entries for ‘The Punchline Competition’; and finally Crackerjack-esque all-hands-on-deck sitcom sketch lunacy in ‘All Cosy At Home In The Family House’. Initially heard only by confused metalheads who had forgotten to turn off after Tommy Vance’s show, word soon spread and by the end of the first run it was required volume-down-low subterfugal listening to rank with John Peel.

Carried on to near-unstoppability throughout 1989 and 1990, causing no small amount of froth-mouthed calls from ‘squares’ who took offence to the content but making a much larger amount of listeners laugh to parent-waking extremes with gags about Ayatollah Khomeni, Twin Peaks, answering machines, Ken Dodd (“is innocent!”) and that logically-taxing motorbike-in-elevator Levi’s ad amongst many, many other turn-of-the-nineties cultural concerns. Rising profile of contributors led to a couple of line-up changes along the way, with Brand, Thomas and Skint Video replaced by Nick Hancock, Mark Hurst and The Tracy Brothers/Tim Firth respectively, but the core double-act setup remained, and with the arrival of Armando Iannucci as producer halfway through became even more Radio 4-scaringly unhinged, with the regular broadcast of behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and technical disasters (“it would take too long to explain, listeners…”), and audience-baiting – both in person and by telephone – positively encouraged. Clocked up a whopping forty five shows – not to mention Baddiel and Newman doing a spot of DJ-ing on Radio 1 – before TV came calling, resulting in the ultimate Sixth Form Favourite which, as anyone who was there will tell you, was never quite as good as it was on the radio. Not that it ever gets repeated to prove that, mind…

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Matthew Rudd

    June 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I’m glad there’s a mention of the Newman impressions thereon as he actually did very little else in terms of audible contribution in those early episodes, though obviously was a major co-writer and got second place in the credits. He was a character comic and never sounded comfortable doing monologue stuff that didn’t require a Basil Brush guffaw as a punchline, yet conversely when he got it right, he had the best comic timing of them all.

    Mark Hurst’s performances when he began to cover for Mark Thomas were great, and this was the first ever outlet that I heard Jack Dee perform on too.

    Donna McPhail did the early girlie roles, and was allowed to do her own stand-up just once. It was so hideous that she never did it again, and went back to “That’ll be the vicar noooooy” duties. They got TTOI’s Rebecaa Front on in later episodes, plus Alison Goldie, who went on to be the “David’s girlfriend having a fling with Rob” character in Newman & Baddiel In Pieces.

    Still love it. Still love Fluff’s over-enthusiasm when he took over from the Saturday editions (“Must go see them record one of those shows, alright?”) and Gary King’s pre-amble half an hour earlier (“Catch them now before the telly takes them over!”).

  2. Adrian

    June 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Milky Milky!

  3. Matthew Rudd

    June 9, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I like “advert-hating satirists Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis” – that’s ace, given that Hugh Dennis is now the most frequently heard voiceover on TV and radio and Steve Punt took the Dial-4-A-Loan shilling…

  4. Jeremy Williams

    October 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Can i own up to being responsible for them ripping apart Jive Bunny, i provided them with a copy of Look-In with him on the cover and they just ended up taking the piss out of him for a few weeks! I was at 90% of the recordings!

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