Before I read this book I was unaware that scripted comedy on BBC Radio 1 was ever a “thing”. But then I don’t ever really listen to Radio 1, I didn’t even back in the sun-blessed days when I was technically in their supposed 15-29 age demographic. I’ve always found Radio 1 to be – what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes – annoying. I was born into grumpy middle-age and the sound of the average Radio 1 DJ’s asinine babbling, if I’m ever forced to suffer them, tend to have me reaching for the Hemlock.
It turns out I was missing out on some top end and cutting edge humour, especially in the stations late-80’s to early-90’s pomp. Even way back when Radio 1 replaced the BBC Light Programme in 1967 there was funny to be found.
Of course, there have always been “funny” disc jockeys (deliberately or otherwise). Jack Jackson was one of the DJs who launched Radio 1 and his regular show punctuated the music with cleverly manipulated comedy clips and sound effects. He was soon followed by Kenny Everett, fresh from pirate station Radio Caroline, who brought his characteristic mix of multi-tracked comic jingles and eccentric comedic personas. There was even an anonymous Mancunian DJ called only “The Baron” who specialised in hoax interviews with members of the public on fictitious and ridiculous topics. Such was the secrecy surrounding his identity even the BBC contracts department only had him down as “The Baron”. No-one, to this day, knows who he really was.
Things moved on when “comedy” bands like The Scaffold, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and The Liverpool Scene started to contribute sessions to shows like John Peel’s “Top Gear” and their comedic patter was combined with the music. Vivian Stanshall from the The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band would go on to fill in for John Peel while he was on holiday with his own show “Radio Flash” which was a mixture of music and comedy sketches where his unlikely comedy sidekick was Keith Moon, the drummer from the Who (who would also later cover for Peel on his own).
This would further lead to Stanshall famous “Rawlinson End” monologues, pieces of inspired whimsy detailing the fortunes of the off-beat Rawlinson family in their crumbling ancestral pile. Stanshall continued chronicling the Rawlinson’s misadventures for over a decade, on the airways and vinyl. There was even a film. The Rawlinsons sadly outlived Stanshall, who died in a house fire in 1995, but the recordings are well worth your time if you fancy hunting them down.
Then, for much of the 80’s, Radio 1’s comedic output went quiet. Comedians would appear as guests and provide on air laughs, but original humour wasn’t a priority.
But then there was a great explosion of comedy, echoing the British cultural explosion of Britpop. Pioneers like Victor Lewis-Smith, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Armando Iannucci, Simon Munnery, Chris Morris, Stuart Lee and Richard Herring were giving the channel’s younger listeners comedy that tested the boundaries of the medium and genre, and often patience and nerves of the station’s controllers. Material that would never have been produced in the staid confines of the other BBC stations was reaching its target audience. Radio 1 comedy was the new Rock and Roll.
But then Matthew Bannister took over as new controller of Radio 1 in 1993 and things began to change. Alongside the culling of the Smashy and Nicey-esque old guard of DJs the stations previous dedication to cutting edge comedy began to fade. The reasons for this are vague, especially as Bannister declined to contribute to the book, but Radio 1’s comedy muscle atrophied to the point where the most its listeners can expect is a one-off comedy special every other year.