Right. This is it, then. The one thing I have always most wanted to do in comedy is write and perform my own radio sketch show, and… now I have. I really hope I haven’t messed it up. (To find out if I have, and if so how much, listen to Radio 4 at 7.15 on Sunday nights, or go here.) It was always specifically a radio sketch show I wanted to do - much as I loved TV comedy growing up, it was listening to things like On The Hour, People Like Us and Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner on the radio; and cassettes of things like I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and Pete and Dud, that really made me wish I could find a way to be allowed to do that when I grew up, as opposed to, say, a proper job. There’s something about the idea of a gang of people clustered round a microphone trying to make the audience and each other laugh that I particularly loved - in fact, we recorded this show round one central mike, rather than the usual method these days of having one each, more or less entirely (whatever I might have said to the cast at the time) so that I could pretend I was in The Goon Show.
There’s no theme to the show - I felt that if I was going to write every sketch myself, which I was egomaniacally keen to do, I couldn’t really afford to restrict myself to one subject area or even style. So, there are sketches, like Before You're Thirty, which, if not exactly satirical, at least have a point to make; there are sketches like To Rerecord Your Message which come entirely from character, and there are sketches like Three Guards, which are just silly and fun. I hope. Also, there are no returning characters. The rule is that one sketch can return up to three times in an episode, but nothing appears in more than one episode… with the exception of the stories at the end.
The stories at the end are something I’ve been doing on the live sketch circuit in London for a while, and started as a parody of the great ghost story writer M.R. James, and in particular an audiobook of his stories read by Derek Jacobi, which I urge you to download if you like that sort of thing. Jacobi reads it perfectly, and part of reading it perfectly is that he - I’m sure deliberately - invests the narrator with an incredibly pompous cosiness which I find very funny. As I’ve written more of them, the style has widened out to be a bit John Buchan, a bit H.G.Wells, and a bit R.L.Stevenson - in fact any of those writers between about 1885 and 1939 who wrote stories in which chaps who only ever refer to one another by their surnames are reluctantly persuaded by other chaps at the club to tell tall stories in which, despite their apparent modesty, they feel able to say things like this (from a Buchan short story):
‘I learnt to walk in the Himalayas, and the little Saxon hills seemed to me inconsiderable, but they were too much for most of the men.’
Mainly though, let’s be honest, these sketches are a homage (rip-off) of the Round the Horne or ISIRTA tradition of ending with a daft gang-show ‘play’: an opportunity for the cast to do even more than usually stupid voices, and me to do even more than usually stupid jokes and puns - and let me straight away acknowledge the glaringly obvious influences of Police Squad, Mark Evans’ Bleak Expectations, and Stephen Fry’s famous ‘Letter’ sketch: ‘Of all the hideous disfigured spectacles I have ever beheld, those perched on the end of this man’s nose remain forever pasted into the album of my memory.’
What else? Well, since people seemed to like the notebook photos when I blogged Cabin Pressure episodes, here is the page of my notebook in which I came up with the ‘Tardis Noise’ sketch - which I did, as I often do, by writing something that annoys me in the middle of the page, and seeing what happened next. Two things I find interesting about what happened in this case - firstly, the false start with the princess who wants to be a police dog handler, which is a perfectly decent starting point, but didn’t seem to go anywhere. Had I written it, that one would have been a more straight-forward attack on the Follow Your Dream thing that annoyed me in the first place, whereas the Tardis one isn’t really about that at all, it’s a character-driven story. Secondly, how late in the construction of the sketch the Tardis noise itself entered the picture - for most of its development, it seems to have been a sketch about dodgem cars.
That’s it. I can’t quite believe my luck in having got the chance to do this show; I’m really proud of it; and I very much hope you enjoy it.