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Radio 4: The Programmes

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

IMPROV-HEAVY panel game whose legacy has far outweighed its paltry six-episode tally. Clive Anderson presided over the freefall humourous shenanigans of various soon-to-be big names – amongst them Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Sessions, Dawn French, Rory Bremner and Jimmy Mulville – and a couple of old hands (John Bird, Griff Rhys Jones and so forth) as they messed around with alternate lines of stage plays, ‘scenes cut from a movie’ and playlets in genre styles based on largely ignored shouted suggestions from the audience. Channel 4 got in while the BBC dithered over a television adaptation, and ended up with ten years’ worth of seemingly round-the-calendar Slattery-heavy antics notoriously seeming to feature Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles every single bloody week. More staggeringly still, an American version has been running for even longer, and still with those two as permanent fixtures.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Droogie

    May 22, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Following the excellent BBC documentary on Tony Slattery, it’s fascinating watching the original UK Whose Line now and seeing how Tony is the heart of the show through it’s British run. The early episodes where the show was mainly a vehicle for John Sessions are rather clunky, mainly due to Sessions’ ego and his selfishness as a team player. When Tony arrives as a regular the dynamic of the show changes dramatically (especially after Sessions leaves because the other cast members had issues performing with him.) A lot of WL fans say the show wasn’t really good until Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochery became regulars, but this is a nonsense as there are plenty of excellent episodes without them, including wonderful performers like Mike McShane, Josie Lawrence,Steve Frost, Paul Merton, Greg Proops, Steve Steen, Jim Sweeney and of course Tony. Ryan and Colin were very good, but the show became a bit too slick and repetitive when it all became based around them, losing the anarchy of some of the earlier episodes. It’s sad watching Tony’s decline in his final season – you literally see him physically and mentally deteriorate as his addictions become evident. One show where Tony is visibly coked-up features him psychotically screaming at Clive Anderson to fuck off when Clive gets a bit too sarcastic (though I’m sure lots of people have wanted to do the same.) When Tony was eventually sacked from the show , his good friend Mike McShane left in disgust at Tony’s shabby treatment by the producers. Although the show continued and eventually became the successful but sanitised American version with the charmless Drew Carey, the original heart of the show had gone for good.

    • THX 1139

      May 23, 2020 at 12:29 am

      I agree, that documentary on Tony was excellent, but very depressing. It could double as an extended PIF warning against substance abuse, he’s a wreck of a man compared to the handsome, vital performer who was all over the TV before he burned out.

      I also agree he was the heart of Whose Line, it was where he truly shone. I believe he briefly rejoined the show at Edinburgh a couple of years ago, got a standing ovation.

      Tony and Mike did a fun little TV show called S&M way back when.

  2. richardpd

    May 22, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    Caroline Quentin was another regular in the mid 1990s.

    Richard Vranch featured a bit more in at this time to supply a bit more music during the rounds rather than just playing the piano for the hoedown.

  3. Droogie

    May 23, 2020 at 1:45 am

    Tony was indeed a handsome dude way back. He had a brief movie career too in Peters Friends and The Crying Game. S+M was a fab series.
    I’d forgotten what a wonderful WL performer Caroline Quentin was too. Her duet with Josie Lawrence improvising a love song together about a beached whale with Richard Vranch on piano is a thing of beauty. ( watch it on YouTube now!) I’m just baffled why producer Dan Patterson hasn’t allowed a reboot of tWhose Line on British telly. That could easily work with a mix of new improvisers and classic performers like Josie and Mike and Greg who still perform. (I’d rather watch that than Mock The Week .)

  4. richardpd

    May 23, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    I remember that whale song Caroline & Josie improvised being very funny.

    Kate Robbins the other occasional female performer on WLIIA.

    Certainly the format is well worth a revival.

    • THX 1139

      May 23, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      Sandi Toksvig was funny on it too.

  5. Droogie

    May 25, 2020 at 1:40 am

    It’s interesting remembering the folk who performed on Whose Line UK that didn’t fare so well too. Julian Clary and Ardal O’Hanlon were never asked back. George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) was surreally bad too. Possibly the worst team member ever was Debi Durst who only appeared because she was an old friend of cast member Greg Proops . But then you had famous peeps who only performed once or twice who were actually quite good. Jonathan Pryce was great, as was Eddie Izzard.

    • richardpd

      May 25, 2020 at 11:33 am

      I remember Eddie Izzard being very good on the show, as his career was taking off at the time I guess he was too busy to perform on it too often.

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