RADIO: RADIO ACTIVE

 by Tony Lang (reprinted from LAUGH MAGAZINE #18, 1998)

Back in 1980, commercial radio had only been running in the U.K. for a few years when a new local station burst on to the airwaves … Radio Active. Being difficult (if not impossible) to pick up with conventional radios, they had to make do with a series of live link ups with BBC Radio 4. Or so the perpetrators would have us believe … it was actually a novel sendup of the fledgeling industry inspired by the 1978 Oxford University student show which was adapted for the 1979 Edinburgh Fringe.

The first of the so-called “simulcasts” took place on April 8th 1980 as part of the The Oxford Revue, and starred Helen Atkinson Wood, Angus Deayton, Philip Pope, Karen Ras­mussen, Michael Stevens and David Jackson Young. The B.B.C. subsequently commissioned a season of six further link ups under the title Radio Active which were aired eighteen months later. In the series, Rasmussen and Young were replaced by Geoffrey Perkins and (occasionally) Morwenna Banks. Eventually the programme would run to some fifty editions (plus three specials).

As the show progressed, we were introduced to various staff members at the radio station … 

. Mike Channel (played by Deayton)
– the station’s “implod­ing” personality, who started out as a presenter of a peak time weekday show, was moved to the Sunday morning 4am time-slot, and ended up as Aaron The Aardvark on the Saturday morning kiddies show.

•Mike Flex (Perkins)
– the cocky presenter whose career was heading in the opposite direction to Channel’s.

•Anna Daptor (Wood)
– the podgy host of the midday show, whose obsession with food caused all sorts of problems.

 •“Uncle” Mike Stand (Stevens)
– the ‘kiddies favourite’, whose well-intended actions inevitably led to his arrest for child mo­lesting.

  (Oh so daring) Mike Hunt (Pope)
– the station’s daredevil, who performed stunts which even a five-year-old would consider tame.

 •Anna Rabies (usually Wood, but occasionally Banks)
– the very aggressive agony aunt, whose solution was usually to kill the source of the problem.

 •Martin Brown (Stevens)
– the shyest DJ on radio, who started on the local hospital radio 4am show, and was employed for one reason – he was cheap.

 •Nigel Pry (Pope)
– a one-man accident black-spot, who often demolished the studio within seconds of starting his show.

 •Oivind Vinstra (Perkins)
– a Norwegian DJ with a poor command of English (another inexpensive announcer).

 •Sir Norman Tonsil (Deayton)
– the pompous, opinionated and downright obnoxious chairman.

 •Dr. Philip Percygo (Pope)
– the singing medico.

 Over the years the show sent up just about every sort of radio programme, ranging from mass debates (Are you in favour of all-out nuclear destruction?), cookery (I thought everybody knew coq au vin was a recipe with chicken, and I can’t be held responsible for what has happened to your husband), and unbiased election specials (with the station chairman, Sir Norman Tonsil, standing as the candidate for the Free-Enterprise-Bring-Back-The-Rack-And-Send-Home-All-Those-With-A-Touch-Of-The-Tar-Brush-In-Them Democratic Party in the Thodding Bye-Election) to a fly on the wall docu­mentary about an average family (Mr and Mrs Famley) with intimate details of their disintegration, nervous breakdowns and the major fire caused by a faulty microphone lead.

Each episode had a musical break (usually written by Philip Pope) consisting of a sendup of a popular group or artist. One of these groups was the HeeBeeGeeBees, that well-known trio of Norris, Dobbin and Garry Cribb. As portrayed by Pope, Deayton and Stevens, the trio began releasing commercial recordings even before Radio Active began, and their “life story” was profiled in a Radio 2 documentary broadcast in 1981.

The shows were broken up by a wide range of advertisements including sendups of real ads (the sound of someone being violently sick, followed by “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label”) and exclusive products (suck Quillies throat lozenges). A regular advertiser was Honest Ron (Stevens), who threw in a visit from six out-of-work jockeys bent on rearranging parts of your anatomy if you didn’t pay up on time.

Also broadcast were blindingly obvious public informa­tion advertisements to warn you against such activities as letting small children play in the fast lane of a motorway.

Radio Active tried to help the community with a wide range of telephone help lines including the I’m In Trouble Line, the Oh God, I’m Unemployed Line and the Christ Almighty, I’m Starving To Death Here And You Bastards Don’t Seem To Be Able To Do Anything About It Line.

Radio Active was immensely popular but had its contro­versial moments. The satire on religious broadcasting (aired on September 12 1987) provoked a series of complaint letters to the Radio Times when some took it the wrong way. The D-Day Show (November 1 1986) also received complaints, with apologies being demanded by some of those who had fought at Normandy.

The show ran for a total of seven seasons. There were rumours of an eighth season, but instead the team transferred to television in May 1989 as part of the Comic Asides series. This was a showcase for five ‘pilot’ programmes (akin to the Comedy Playhouse series which spawned Steptoe And Son and many others back in the 1960s and 1970s).

In the move from radio to tv, the idea switched from being a commercial radio station to a satellite tv company, and in the process gained a new chairman – Sir Kenneth Yellowham­mer. Unfortunately another group was already using the name SKY TV, so the “Sir” part was dropped. He led the station in an aggressive drive for what the Radio Times described as “a headlong chase for ratings at the expense of quality”.

Some new characters appeared, such as Mad Hattie, the fitness expert and Rabbi Rabbit, a glove puppet who appeared in the religious programmes.

Much of the material in KYTV was taken from Radio Active including a charity fundraiser, the D-Day special and a fly-on-the-wall documentary (this time featuring Mr and Mrs Walls). TV sendups included Challenge Anna, in which Anna Daptor had to locate a spleen for a life-saving transplant operation and a documentary about the making of the play Martin Chizzlenutt (loosely based on an idea by Charles Dickens). Other Radio Active ideas surfaced in modified form such as Brown Nose Day, sending up the BBC’s Red Nose Day (where twenty-five barefoot East End kiddies set off across Antarc­tica with KYTV T-shirts, sandwiches and buckets and spades to recreate Captain Scott’s expedition).

KYTV ran three seasons before the concept ran its course, though there was one final encore for its audio parent. For Christmas 2002 (to launch a season of repeats) R4 aired Radio Active’s Digital Turn On, which included an apology for fifteen years absence from the airwaves owing to a slight technical problem.  

Radio Active was honoured with the BPI Award for Best Radio Comedy Show of 1981, the Sony Award for Best Light Entertainment Programme of 1982 and the Premio Ondas of 1983. KYTV won the Silver Rose Of Montreux in 1994.

EPISODE GUIDE

 

RADIO ACTIVE

The Oxford Revue: R4 April 8 1980

Series 1: R4 September 8 to October 13 1981 (6 editions)
The Late Show
Bedrock The Early Morning Breakfast Show
Midday Show
The Radio Active Roadshow
What’s News
Radio Active Awards 

The HeeBeeGeeBees Story: R2 December 19 1981 

Series 2: R4 August 16 to September 20 1982 (6 editions)
The History Of Radio Active
Charity Radiothon
Good Day Sport
What’s Going On
The Nigel Pry Show
Pick Of The Week

Series 3: R4 July 12 to August 16 1983 (6 editions)
Euroshow
Probe Round The Back
Funday
Repeat After Three
Lunchtime With Anna
What’s Going On At The Edinburgh Festival 

Radio Active’s Christmas Turkey: R4 December 20 1983

Series 4: R4 July 9 to August 27 1984 (8 editions)
Salute To New York
The Martin Brown Show
Round Your Parts
Breakfast Show
Minorities Programme
Bio Show
Gigantaquiz
Martin Chizzlenutt

Series 5: R4 July 5 to August 23 1985 (8 editions)
Wimbledon Special
Nuclear Debate
Out Of Your Depth
In Australia
Get Away With You
Wey Hey It’s Saturday
Music Festival
Did You Catch It? 

Series 6: R4 October 11 to November 29 1986 (8 editions)
A Thodding By-Election Special
The Fit And Fat Show
Radio Active’s Bogie Awards
The D-Day Show
Radio Active Goes To The Movies
Stop That Crime UK
In House Documentary
Backchat 

Series 7: R4 August 29 to October 19 1987 (8 editions)
It Was 20 Years Ago Last Tuesday
Radio Radio Programme
God Alone Knows
Probe Round The Back
Mike Says – Here’s A Bit Of Talent
Flu Special
You And Your Things
Mega Phone In 

Radio Active’s Digital Turn On: R4 December 17 2002

KYTV

Comic Asides: BBC2 May 12 1989

Series 1: BBC2 May 3 to June 7 1990 (6 editions)
The Launch Of KYTV
Big Fight Special
The Green Green Show
Those Wonderful War Years
It’s A Royal Wedding
Challenge Anna 

Series 2: BBC2 March 17 to April 21 1992 (6 editions)
KY Telethon
God Alone Knows
Good Morning Calais
Crisis Special
Talking Head
Speak For Yourself 

Series 3: BBC2 September 17 to October 22 1993 (6 editions)
The Making Of David Chizzlenutt
Those Sexciting Sixties
Fly On The Walls
2000 ‘n’ Whither
Hot Crimes
Get Away With You 

RECORDINGS

Meaningless Songs/Posing In The Moonlight
Original Records/R.C.A. single ABO 2 (1980) 

439 Golden Greats – The Original HeeBeeGeeBees
Original Records/R.C.A. LP TV/ITS 101 (1981)
Meaningless Songs (HeeBeeGeeBees)
(Dancing) Up The Wall (Jack Michaelson)
Dead Cicada (The Beagles)
Quite Ahead Of My Time (David Bowwow)
You’re My Son (Kenny Rogered)
Boring Song (Status Quid)
Ah! (HeeBeeGeeBees)
Too Depressed To Commit Suicide (The PeeCees)
Simple Song (Paul McCarthrob & Wangs)
Granma (St. Winnalot’s Reform School Choir)
Music Machine (Babba)
Oh Me! (Larry Pilsson)
Bird Of Peace (Neil Dung, Bob Vylan, The Bland, Frank Sumatra, Dean Martian, Leonard Crowing, George Harrassing) 

Too Depressed To Commit Suicide/Up The Wall + Meaningless Songs
Original Records/R.C.A. single HGBG 1 (1981) 

Boring Song/Dead Cicada
Original Records/R.C.A. single HGBG 2 (1981) 

Radio Active
B.B.C. LP REH 471 (1983)
highlights from series 1 and 2:
Police File + Shipping Forecast
Commercial Break
Ches And Des
Luscivia In The Foyer
Dedication + Wordplay Jackpot
Radiothon
Kate Bosch
Pensioner At The Ritz
Soap Box Corner
Commercials (Wilson’s Cricket Bat + Martin’s Of Bond Street)
S.O.S. Message
Thought For The Day
Sword Fighting
Results Service
Next Time
Incorrect Traffic Report
Commercial Time (Bad Breath Advert)
Bob Dylan Sings
Sooty’s Magic Show
David Copperfield
Hymen And Carbuncle Playhouse
Masterquiz
Commercials (The Basement + Nappies)
Adventure Holiday
Wang Wang
Should You Find Any Fault 

HeeBeeGeeBees Present 20 Big No 2’s
J & B LP (Australia only) JB 197
Pretty Boys On Video (Drone Drone)
Kiss And Make Up (Couture Club)
Purple Pants (Ponce)
When Two Songs Sound The Same (Frankie Goes To The Bank)
Wherever I Lay (Paul Yuk)
Scatalogical Song (Supertrash)
Down Tools (Men Relaxing)
Dancelot (Poxy Music)
Toyland Rhapsody (Queer)
Gary Cutter Is Back (Gary Clitter)
Get ‘Em Off, Irene (Sexist Midnight Runners)
I Don’t Want Your Baby (Human Leak)
Me! (The Kids From Shame)
Bored In The U.S.A. (Bruce Springbok)
Song Without A Tune (Billy Idiot)
Curdled Milk And Boot Polish (Paul McCarthrob and Stevie Blunder)
Are Trains Electric? (Gary Inhuman)
Out Of Proportion (Jack Michaelson)
I Don’t Wanna Smoke Anymore Dope (Eddy Grunt)
Lies (Spamdown Belly)
We Can’t Have Hits Of Our Own Anymore (Stars Over 45: Kenny Rogered, Dolly Hardon,|
Julio Insidias, Bob Vylan, Frank Sumatra, Paul McCarthrob, John Denture, Jack Michaelson, The HeeBeeGeeBees) 

(When) Two Songs (Sound The Same)/Purple Pants
10 Records single TEN 61 (1989) 

Radio Active
B.B.C./Canned Laughter audio cassette ZBBC 1522
features
Mega Phone-In
Martin Chizzlenutt 

Further Selections From Radio Active
B.B.C./Canned Laughter audio cassette ZBBC 1718

BOOKS

Radio Active Times
Sphere Books paperback, 1986

The Utterly, Utterly Amusing And Pretty Damn Definitive Comic Relief Revue Book
Penguin paperback, 1989
includes scripts: Three-Way Quiz and Martins’ Of Bond Street

VIDEO

KYTV
B.B.C. Video BBCV 5193
features
The Making Of David Chizzlenutt
Those Sexciting Sixties
Fly On The Walls

 

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