Well, what a treat, above all.
That’s the main thing to take away from Offstage Theatre’s live tribute to the wonders of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again – how lucky we all were that they put that show together, and those of us who were born long after the last proper episode of ISIRTA had been recorded at London’s Playhouse in 1973 (and too young to even know about the real final reunion recording 15 years later), should have nothing but gratitude that we could finally get an approximation of the dizzying Prunemania that the original rowdy audiences enjoyed up to 50 years ago.
As a professional ISIRTA bore, yes, if this was a first night of a run, there would be ‘notes’ to offer the cast and whirlwind writer/director/producer/performer Barnaby Eaton-Jones, to make a great show greater. If one was sat at a mixing desk for the show, the tempo could certainly have been upped by at least 20% – and a fair bit more material squeezed into the script as a result. And the absence of Totteridge was certainly a shame. Oh, and… that’s really not how Grimbling sounds. Funny voice, though.
Churlish stuff – over with.
We all hope there are more iterations of this show, not least considering the incredible effort everyone has gone to, to stage such a professional production. Coming from an inveterate flake like myself, with my Unrehearsed Theatre Company and Ukeaoke making a virtue of total and utter lack of preparation, very much the badger-wrapped-in-a-curtain school of entertainment, Barnaby’s achievement is astonishing, from the cast caricatures that dominate the stage to the old BBC microphones where they stood performing these old howlers. And what a cast – William KV Browne and David Clarke not missing a beat, Hannah Boydell doing full justice to the brilliance of Jo Kendall, Ben Perkins a dream booking as the BBC personified, and then there was Barnaby’s own vocal dexterity. His Professor Prune was the one time in the show where you could close your eyes and SWEAR that any of the originals, in this case, Graeme Garden, was actually on stage – as it happens, the one veteran of those crazy teapot years who was present was the ever-huggable Tim Brooke-Taylor. With Tim in my eyeline, I admit I spent half the show soaking up the fun on stage, joining in the groans and the giggles, clapping along to ‘Stuff That Gibbon’ and so on – and another eye on Tim himself, laughing along with all the hoary old material afresh. He was unmistakably loving every moment, commenting with pleasure to his wife when every familiar trope turned up, from the Babies to John & Mary to, inevitably, Lady Constance herself.
It was an achievement few could pull off, but they all did. I hope everyone involved woke up this morning with a feeling of deserved accomplishment, and perhaps a desire to do more.
However, besides gushing approval, the reason for this blog is to return to that earlier point about re-inserting material, because when I submitted my script for Part 1 of this exciting revival (a script which admittedly ran at about 90 minutes in itself), it was quite a different animal. I was working from isolation, without having met any of the cast, and it was still uncertain whether any attempt was going to be made to put each of the cast roughly in the shoes of the original Wonder Team – the only logical decision made being the impossibility of finding any kind of ersatz Otto Cleese. But I argued strongly that the show needed a strong context for all the old jokes to thrive, and the original series always began with the ever-missed David Hatch bringing the team together while acknowledging the appalling nature of the jokes they were uniting to perform, and I wanted to find a way to do this for a modern reboot, while as exclusively as possible using material directly taken from the old shows. The original programme rarely started with The Angus Prune Tune, as with Monty Python’s credits, the beginning often came in after quite a lot of silliness, and I felt this was an important feel to get across, as well.
The honest truth is, as irritatingly Uriah Heap-ish as I tend to be with most things I do, I was immensely proud of what I achieved in this line. The script I handed in was, for me personally, the ultimate all-time ISIRTA celebration there could ever be – ‘for me personally’ being the clincher there. I love the show in a way I suppose few do (having spent years writing the official history of it), and so I wrote the tribute I wanted to see, and I have no qualms about saying it was perfect, in my head.
Of course, translating these things to an actual two hours of people saying things on stage in front of an audience requires endless concessions, changes and fudges to make it happen at all, and so I did specifically request that Barnaby and script editor Dirk Maggs get on with it, do what they needed to, and didn’t involve me in the editing process because it would just tear me to bits, and I’d never agree with some decisions they had to take, just to make it happen. So I absented myself from that particular grief. And of course the show they ended up with was a joy. I was stunned at some of the stuff they did keep – my mention of twerking (which seemed a reasonable update of ‘miniskirts’ as a sign of modern society gone to pot), which I was happy to see jettisoned, wanting to avoid too many modern references, was actually extended, and loads more modern references thrown in, to boot. And then there were odd errors, such as a French Count character in the Prune Play ‘Moll Flounders’, who I renamed ‘Hans’ purely to do the ‘Hans knees and boompsidaisy’ gag, staying with the incongruous name even though they cut the actual gag. Similarly, the ultimate fish pun sequence was cut, but the desperately-crowbarred-in introduction to it was still in there, inexplicably. I blame nobody, of course, I could have offered a little more after-care service perhaps for these details – and above all, nobody there noticed or gave a toss, I was the only one who knew where the joins were.
But I am so proud of the script I wrote, I would like to share the opening section here. There’s lots of other stuff I included which hit the floor before the show began yesterday – the cherished Top Of The Form sketch, Butterling the Zookeeper, the song BLIMPHT, ‘Orrible ‘Airy Spiders – probably about 30 minutes’ worth of material which never made it to the final square. But the biggest absence was all the business about the ‘poor old grey-headed jokes’ which I made the absolute raison d’etres of the show being staged at all, that the crappy semi-sentient old puns protected by the original Wonder Team were being handed on to a new generation. I’d say this is the one and only thing which definitely weakened the show by being cut. So now you can see the kind of concept I was aiming at.
Of course, there may be many ISIRTA fans out there who bloody hate what I attempted to do here, and I can certainly identify with anyone who comes out in hives whenever they hear words like ‘reboot’. But as I explained above, I’m afraid I don’t care, as this is the show that I wanted to see, the ultimate tribute to what I consider to be the greatest radio sketch show of all time. The fact that Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden were the main writers of the original material gives me licence to be arrogant about it, these aren’t my jokes (with one or two minor exceptions), I’m just arranging them – and so my personal dream ISIRTA tribute show can remain in my head. This is, however, an idea of how it started…
But before the cut-and-paste moment, let’s just return to the main thrust of this blog: What. A. Treat. Thank you for involving me, Barnaby, and well done to every single person who made last night’s lifetime ambition realisation such a joy. Let’s hope there’s more to come…
A tribute live radio script written mainly by Graeme Garden & Bill Oddie, freshly stitched together by Barnaby Eaton-Jones & Jem Roberts, and script-edited by Dirk Maggs.
DAVE It is 2016.
BARNABY Nah, more like five past eight.
DAVE Can we not at least get the show STARTED? It is 2016, somewhere in the bowels of BBC New Broadcasting House.
BUFFIES Blah blah, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb…
BUFFY 1 Rhubarb tart, anyone? (THEY ALL MAKE APPROVING NOISES)
BUFFY 2 Well, if it isn’t you, Humphrey!
BUFFY 1 Well, if it isn’t you, Peter!
BUFFY 2 Well, if it isn’t either of us, we’re wasting our time.
BUFFY 3 Gentlemen, gentlemen, we have a problem. The BBC is no longer funny!
BUFFY 1 I don’t know, it makes me laugh.
BUFFY 2 Not deliberately! Not like in the war.
BUFFY 4 Oh the war, the war!
BUFFY 3 Yes, we all had such a laugh in Iraq.
BUFFY 1 I had all my hair blown off in the war. Look, I’ve got a wooden wig!
BUFFY 2 Oh yes. I thought it was odd, you combing your hair with a chisel.
BUFFY 3 When I was in France, I lost three legs. And a gramophone!
BUFFY 2 I had my gramophone blown off.
BUFFY 3 I had my hat blown off.
BUFFY 4 I had EVERYTHING blown off! I’m completely wooden, you know.
BUFFY 1 You tell that to these modern youngsters they’d laugh in your face.
BUFFY 2 Flared trouser wearing pippies… (ETC.)
BUFFY 1 AND ANOTHER THING! All this twerking they do these days…
BUFFY 3 The twerking! The twerking! (ALL JOIN IN)
BUFFY 4 What about it?
BUFFY 1 I mean, it’s alright for you but I just haven’t got the cheeks for it.
BUFFY 2 Anyway, we must cook up a plan to return BBC Sound Radio to the glories of its hilarious past!
BUFFY 3 The problem is there’s just NOT ENOUGH TO COMPLAIN ABOUT on the radio nowadays! (THEY ALL AGREE WILDLY, CRIES OF ‘NOWADAYS’ ETC.)
BUFFY 4 Something must be done! Where’s that hot new controller of BBC Radio Comedy?
FX DOOR CREAKS OPEN
TOTTERIDGE Ah, good evening good evening good evening! How d’you do, d’you do, d’you do, do you…?
BUFFIES Good evening.
TOTTERIDGE And good evening to you too, sirs!
BUFFY 1 Arnold P Totteridge, you slip of a thing, what would you do to bring back genuinely funny… I mean, offensive radio comedy?
TOTTERIDGE Well, I seem to recall… I do seem to… Yes, I’m sure if I think hard I can recall there was this one presentation, broadcast on The Light Programme. Ah, yes! The Wonder Show, they called it.
BUFFIES The Wonder Show!
TOTTERIDGE Yes, and now I come, I come to, now I come to think of it, which I do, I believe it was entitty-tittly-eye-tittled I’m Sorry I’ll, I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry I Will… I’m Sorry… I’m sorry, I’m not boring you, am I?
BUFFY 4 What was it called???
TOTTERIDGE I’m Sorry, I… Haven’t A Clue.
BUFFIES NO! NO NO NO!
BUFFY 2 Too many panel games!
BUFFY 1 We need something old, but with new catchphrases, new ideas, new blood, new guts – giblets, dismembered weasels, oh I love it, I love it…
FX DOOR OPENS
BBC PA Excue me, but what are all you old Buffies doing in Alan Yentob’s Thought Palace?
BUFFY 4 Well, he won’t be needing it any more!
BBC PA Come on, out of it now, you twentieth century anachronisms, and never darken the BBC’s airwaves again! (BUFFIES COMPLAIN AS THEY ARE USHERED OUT)
FX FOOTSTEPS, DOOR SLAM! BIG ECHO!
BUFFY 1 Well, what do we do now?
DAVE Somewhere, in a theatre in Gloucestershire.
BUFFY 2 Who said that?
BUFFY Hey, you young gaggle of long-eared layabouts! What do you know of this fabled Wonder Show?
ALL The Wonder Show?
BARNABY I think I’ve heard of that.
BEN Some mystical old legend, from long ago times of yore.
HANNAH Your what?
BEN Your great granny’s infancy!
WILL I seem to remember something about ferrets.
DAVE Terrapins and teapots!
BARNABY A cactus down your Y-fronts!
BEN The Ferret Song!
WILL Rhubarb tarts! Gibbons!
BARNABY GIBBONS GALORE!
HANNAH And John Davidson!
BUFFY 1 Yes, that’s it! We’re looking for a load of pathetic old gags, feeble puns, stupid voices, appalling songs, so naturally we’ve come to you. What we need to bring that magic back to the sad austerity-struck folk of Britain in the twenty first century…
DAVE Is for some gang of relatively young comedians to come along…
HANNAH Dig up a few old ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’ scripts…
WILL Yes, then cut out all the jokes that are rude or offensive or bad taste or horribly out of date or unfunny…
BARNABY Then stick them all together to make a show!
DAVE Of course, you’d have to make a few careful cuts, to make sure it was palatable for a modern audience…
BARNABY (FRUITY) You edit us, and I’ll scratch your eyes out!
BEN (FRUITY) Ooh yes, touch my howlers and I promise you I shall wince!
WILL Hello, cheeky!
DAVE Now, that’s enough of that, you can cut that out for definite.
HANNAH But do people really want to spend their evenings remembering a time when Bruce Forsyth and Come Dancing was on the TV and Tony Blackburn polluted the radio?
WILL And besides, how could we ever find a gang like that original lot, eh?
HANNAH They must be really old by now.
BARNABY SO old…
BEN Yes, who on Earth can replace the original Wonder team? The Magnificent 6 and a half? ‘Tis written in legend that they roared across the airwaves like gods!
WILL Nobody ever came close!
DAVE They wouldn’t dare…
BARNABY Well at least we’ve got an Announcer, that’s something to start with.
DAVE Yes indeed. (ANNOUNCER VOICE) And so, a new Announcer was found… who is it?
ALL It’s you!
DAVE No! I don’t wanna be the Announcer! Boring old kipperfeet straight-laced Announcer, who never gets any of the fun! I can do voices and be all kinky as well, you know! I can be as kinky as they come!
BEN Who’s a great big fibber, then?
DAVE I am. It’s alright for you. You’ll play all of the characters getting all the good jokes, and what will I get? All the boring bits. This is no work for a man to do. Mother was right, I should have stuck to flying. At least you meet interesting people when you’re an air hostess.
HANNAH Aw, poor little Announcer David! You know you want to.
ANNOUNCER Oh all right then. I’ll take the short straw. It’s tough at the top! And it’s a little bit bendy in the middle. Now, who else was there in this old Wonder Show team of yours…?
BUFFIES CAN’T REMEMBER! (NOPE, NO IDEA! ETC.)
BARNABY Well naturally, you’re going to need a Man of 1,000 voices, someone capable of being everything from a tottery old man to a cheeky charlady!
ANNOUNCER Go on, then, give us your best?
BARNABY Well, er… (GOES INTO UNMISTAKEABLE EDDIE WARING NOISE, WITH A MESS OF VOWELS CONTAINING ABSTRACT PHRASES LIKE ‘HULL KINGSTON ROVERS’, ‘AND IN ACTUAL FACT’, ‘EDDIE WARING ACTUALLY’ AND ENDING WITH ‘AND THAT’S ALL YOU’RE GETTING!’)
WILL Who in HELL was that supposed to be?
BARNABY NOBODY EVER KNEW! AH go on, I can do them all I can, Eddie Waring, Hughie Green, David Frost, Kenneth Wolstenholme, Mrs. Dale, Joe Grundy…
WILL Never heard of ‘em!
BARNABY I can do you and all!
ANNOUNCER Right. And do you have a medical qualification?
BARNABY None at all.
ANNOUNCER Well, you’re in now. Who’s next?
WILL Um, I could be Oddie!
ANNOUNCER I’m sure you could. Give us your best rock scream.
WILL (ACTUALLY RATHER GOOD) Waaaaaaarrrrghhh-hooooo!
ANNOUNCER Not bad, okay you’re in.
WILL Thank you. Now, please let go of them.
ANNOUNCER Oh yes, sorry. Now of course, there’s an absolutely crucial place to fill. Someone who can somehow recreate the sheer talent of one of the finest trailblazers in female comedy history, a woman of endless skill and verbal dexterity, a true Queen of the comedy wireless airwaves! THE UNDER-APPRECIATED PARAGON OF FEMINIST COMIC BRILLIANCE!
HANNAH Do you mean… ‘The Girl One’?
ANNOUNCER Yes, yes I do.
HANNAH Okay, well that’ll be me, then.
ANNOUNCER Splendid. But we’re still holding out for a hero.
ANNOUNCER A fine actor, young and dashing and handsome, capable of being the everyman figure for every plot from Beau Legs to The Curse of the Flying Wombat, a fine singer and all-round entertainer, always ready with a quick barb and a cheeky grin…
BEN IT’S ME, IT’S ME, IT’S ME!
ANNOUNCER … Who can also inexplicably bring to life an enormous amorphous blob of a pantomime dame with a warble like a horny flock of chickens?
BEN Oh, ah, er, maybe not.
BARNABY Let me do her! I can play the part, I can play them all!
ANNOUNCER Okay, okay! Well it seems that we do have a cast for you, old BBC Buffies.
BUFFY 1 But haven’t you forgotten somebody?
BUFFY 2 A true collossus?
BUFFY 3 A great big, skyscraping ogre of comic genius?
ANNOUNCER Oh… HIM!
BARNABY You don’t mean… the one they called… Otto?
ANNOUNCER Oh no, we can’t find one of them.
BUFFY 1 Yes, you won’t get him!
BUFFY 2 You won’t get him! (GENERAL GRUMBLED AGREEMENT.)
BUFFY 3 You know, his career’s really sky-rocketed since he did that advert for Sainsbury’s.
BARNABY Yeah, forget it. Let’s just say he’s at home, mowing the kittens or something.
HANNAH Ah! Here’s the perfect stand-in for Otto, I’ve found this stuffed ferret.
ANNOUNCER I still smell a rat.
ANNOUNCER Not you. If we’re going to take this job on, I want to hear some statements from top BBC officials.
BBC OFFICIAL “I never touched her!”
ANNOUNCER A likely story. You, you BBC throwbacks, can we ask what sort of audience you’re aiming at?
BUFFY 2 Anyone who’s too slow to get out of the way, basically.
ANNOUNCER Well I’m sorry, but it’s a no from me.
BUFFY 1 But you must!
BUFFY 2 You must, you must!
ANNOUNCER I’ll do it for an OBE.
BUFFY 1 Here’s a dozen!
BUFFY 2 It’s imperative that you help us!
BUFFY 3 You see, if we cannot bring this ragbag of old schoolboy woofers, strangulated songs and disgusting double entendres back in the new century, then all the jokes will die!
HANNAH What jokes?
BUFFY 4 These jokes!
FX A CREAKING CHEST OPENING. WITH AN AWESOME WHOOSH DESIGNED TO PRICK DIRK MAGGS’ PRODUCTION GENIUS, WE HEAR A MAGICAL BABBLE OF TITTERS AND HOARY OLD LINES, HOOTER HONKS, RIMSHOTS AND JOKE SHOP EPHEMERA. PLUS COUGHS AND GROANS. PERHAPS THERE ARE DISCERNABLE SNATCHES OF ‘SHE WENT OF HER OWN ACCORD’, ‘IF I COULD WALK THAT WAY’, ‘MY MOTHER-IN-LAW’, ‘TEAPOT!’, ‘OH, WHAT A GIVEAWAY!’, ‘WINTER DRAWERS ON’ AND SO ON. THE SOUND SWARMS IN THE AIR.
BEN OH MY GOD!
HANNAH The poor jokes!
WILL Trapped in that box for decades!
BARNABY Won’t somebody think of the woofers?
ANNOUNCER Yes, a miasma of hoary old gags floated in the ether, coughing and ailing and groaning all at once.
BARNABY Well announced!
ANNOUNCER Thank you. Shut up! You know, I’m still not sure.
MUSIC ‘LAND OF HOPE & GLORY’ BUILD BEHIND THIS SPEECH
BEN I am! YES! Yes of course, you poor old BBC Buffies, of course, we will care for these poor bed-ridden, grey-haired old jokes. Jokes that make us all proud to be British. Woofers, howlers, shaggy dogs, double entendres, witticisms, quips and pleasantries, and of course, puns puns puns and more puns. They will serve us well as they did so many many many generations before us. We won’t let them die. WE WON’T EVER LET THESE POOR JOKES DIE! NEVER EVER EVER! … Was I alright?
WILL Here, there’s a note on this joke chest.
HANNAH “We’ve saved these good old jokes, so when we’re gone, keep using them and if you bump into them let us know how they’re getting on. And perhaps you’d like to write for details of our ‘Adopt An Old Jokes’ scheme…” Signed, the Wonder Team!
ANNOUNCER Okay, then. Let’s do it, but let’s do it our way. Let’s throw tradition out of the window!
FX SMASH, TINKLE!
ANNOUNCER Let’s get rid of the old BBC image!
ANNOUNCER Let’s get rid of the old programmes!
GRAMS THE ARCHERS THEME, QUICKLY SLOWED TO NOTHING.
ANNOUNCER Let’s astound the critics!
CRITIC 1 I thought the whole thing was quite magnificent.
CRITIC 2 I do agree, it was quite fantastic.
ANNOUNCER Let’s experiment with Time!
FX BIG BEN CHIMES SPEED UP.
ANNOUNCER Let’s do a whole new Wonder Show!
WILL Nah, let’s just recycle any old rubbish.
BUFFIES GOOD LUCK!
FX RUNNING FOOTSTEPS, CAR DOORS SLAM, ENGINE TEARS OFF INTO THE DISTANCE
ANNOUNCER Charming. And so…
MUSIC DRUM ROLL/EXPECTATION!
ANNOUNCER The entire nation trembled as it heard once more that dreadful sound – a sound lost in the twentieth century, forgotten in the mists of time, a sound that the entire human race hoped never, EVER, EVER! to hear again…
FX BUILDS, UNDER THE ABOVE: A WWII SIREN, NUMEROUS WARNING ALARMS, THE SOUND OF IMPENDING DISASTER, BUILDING OMINOUSLY RIGHT UP TO…
MUSIC ‘THE ANGUS PRUNE TUNE’!