For Your Listening Pleasure – Comedy Keeps us Sane

Welcome to the next installment of the “For Your Listening Pleasure” series—a series in which we highlight and showcase podcasts and radio dramas that we enjoy. This installment is courtesy of our friend Pookie (of Reviews from R’lyeh), in which he brings the readers’ attention to several hilarious Britsh comedies he has enjoyed over the years. I invite you to get comfortable, stay awhile, and hopefully find something new for your listening pleasure.

All are available through the BBC Sounds app, website, or the links provided below.

As always, we encourage you to comment below with your favorite podcast; don’t forget to tell us what you love about it.

Just a Minute – Can you take a topic and talk about it for sixty seconds? Sure you can. But can you do it without hesitation, repetition, or deviation? Not so sure? But it is what the contestants of the BBC’s longest-running radio comedy panel game have to do. If the speaker hesitates, repeats themselves, or deviates from the subject, another speaker can buzz in and challenge. If the challenge is unsuccessful, the original gains a point and continues speaking, but if the challenge is successful, the challenger scores the point and continues talking about the subject until the minute is up. Whoever is speaking as the whistle is a blown when the minute is up scores a point. A contestant can also score an extra point if they can speak for a whole minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. It is devilishly difficult.

Opening with Frédéric Chopin’s piano Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, the’ Minute Waltz,’ Just a Minute is fifty-five years old, with the late Nicholas Parsons serving as chairman for over fifty of those years, and has in that time evolved from a regular gang of four speakers into a cast of regulars and guests, a mix of comedians, actors, and personalities. Over the years, they have been given subjects as diverse as ‘How to win an argument, ‘Accepting unwanted presents,’ ‘My proudest moment,’ ‘Reading the phone book,’ and so on. The subjects themselves are often ordinary; their exploration and extemporisation is anything but. When combined with the simplicity of the format, the contestants have the space to be themselves, to be funny, and banter back and forth with each other as they compete for control of a subject and thus points. Just a Minute is witty and wordy, and it can be serious or surreal, silly or straight, but ultimately, it is perfect for relaxing over a cup of tea.

Fags, Mags, and Bags – This Scottish radio sitcom is nowhere as rude as it sounds. The title refers to cigarettes, magazines, and bags, all to be had at a Scots-Asian corner shop in the town of Lenzie near Glasgow. Here Ramesh Mahju and his assistant Dave extoll their love of ‘shop,’ the art of selling all sundry of items they have in stock. From nice-price custard creams and sympathy cards placed just right on the Card Carousel to the almost mythical Ritter Sports chocolate bars and packets of Chutney Windmills from the fabled Wall of Crisps. Ramesh also has two sons, Sanjay and Alok, neither very keen on their father’s old school style of shopkeeping, and the shop sees a regular flow of customers and other shop owners. With titles such as ‘Florence Flouncingtons who lives in Flouncingtons Quadrant on the Flouncingtons Estate,’ ‘Schrodinger’s Birkenstock Interface Situation,’ and ‘Crispquilibrium’ there is a certain ridiculousness to the series. Still, the comedy in Fags, Mags, and Bags is dense and warm, as the regulars pop the shop’s door open with a ring, pick up their regular purchases, and let Ramesh sell them something else.

Cabin Pressure – Cabin Pressure is a classic sitcom set-up: A sense of being trapped in one place, a cast of characters who would prefer to be anywhere else, and one bad situation after another. The place is Gertie, a passenger jet for MJN Air, the tin-pot one-plane airline owned by the feisty Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, who, in her own words, points out that, “I don’t have an airline. I have one jet. You cannot put one jet in a line. If MJN is anything, it is an airdot.” The cast is led by Martin, the captain who is desperate to be liked and desperate to be the best pilot he can, and Douglas, the older, effortlessly charming, authoritative, dark-brown voiced smooth old sky god of a co-pilot, who has seen it all and done it all. Besides Carolyn, there is her enthusiastically enthusiastic son, Arthur, who, often idiotic but well-meaning, provides passenger service, thinks everything is ‘brilliant!’, including Douglas and Martin if even he sometimes does not believe them []. The bad situations involve various destinations, such as Helsinki, which Arthur thinks must be a brilliant(!) place to visit because it sounds “half helter-skelter, half twinkly,” and if not that, according to Douglas, “…like a sink of hell.”

Cabin Pressure runs to just twenty-six episodes and is a complete story in which the characters genuinely grow and reveal themselves to be all too human. Written by John Finnemore (who also plays Arthur), and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Douglas Allam, and Stephanie Cole, is sharp, witty, and silly; Cabin Pressure is a genuine joy to listen to.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue – Ask yourself, what’s the filthiest, funniest thing you have ever heard on the radio? If you can’t think of anything, then you will probably have never listened to I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. If you can think of something, then you probably have listened to I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Self-styled as the ‘antidote to panel games,’ I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is essentially four dirty old men (and more recently, women) being given silly things to do and, in the process delivering blue chip filth that is funny on paper, and then both incredibly funny and filthy in the delivery. Not so much double entendre as single entendre, all served up on a Monday evening. Now fifty years old, each episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is recorded before a live audience in a different town or city, and consists of series of panel games such as Uxbridge English Dictionary in which the panelists supply new meanings to old words; One Song to the Tune of Another, in which the panelists sing one song—yes, you’ve guessed it—to the tune of another such as The undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ to the tune of ‘Jerusalem’, The Kaiser Chief’s ‘I Predict A Riot’ to ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’, Madonna’s ‘Hanky Panky’ to the tune of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, or John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ to the ‘Muppet Show’ theme and then there is the inexplicable Mornington Crescent, a highly competitive and tactical game named after the underground station in London, which in fact is nonsensical, but played with utterly straight faces.

All of which is presided over by the dourest of dour chairmen, who makes it absolutely clear that he does not want to be there. The first chairman was the highly respected jazz trumpetist Humphrey Lyttleton and, with his sad passing, the comedian Jack Dee. He is joined by the lovely Samantha, whose escapades have to be heard to be believed (or Sven, when she is unavailable), and of course, Colin Sell on piano. There might not be points, and there probably won’t be prizes—remember, points mean prizes—but I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, now fifty years old and regarded as the greatest radio comedy of all time, is still filthily funny.

~ Pookie

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