What was it all about?
A noisy, fast-moving revue show with silly voices, mild smut and excruciating puns. It was schoolboy heaven. Principal writers were John Cleese and Graeme Garden.
When was it on?
From 1964 to 1973 on BBC radio, a total of nine series. In 1989 the cast reassembled for a 25th anniversary show which was broadcast on Radio 2 on Christmas Day.
Who were the star turns?
John ‘Otto’ Cleese, Bill Oddie, Tim-Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall and David Hatch. The first series of three shows featured Anthony Buffery instead of Garden.
Any regular items?
The fourth series included a serial, The Curse of the Flying Wombat, starring Tim Brooke-Taylor as ageing dowager Lady Constance de Coverlet, a woman determined to recapture her youth…if only she could find him. Her signature tune was Happy Days Are Here Again.
Series seven boasted a new serial, Professor Prune and the Electric Time Trousers, a send-up of Dr. Who. Radio Prune — and its legendary founder, Angus Prune — frequently cropped up on the show.
Who wrote it?
John Cleese and Graeme Garden were the principal writers although the whole team pitched in. Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke (creators of Man About the House, George and Mildred etc) also cut their teeth on I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again.
How did it come about?
The gang met at Cambridge University and collaborated in a 1963 Cambridge Footlights revue called Cambridge Circus, extracts of which were broadcast on the Home Service on 30 December 1963. The first series a year later was billed as ‘three diversions round Cambridge Circus’. The third series was described as ‘a radio custard pie’.
Where did the title come from?
I’m sorry, I’ll read that again was a phrase used by radio newsreaders after making a blunder. The show was originally to have been called Get Off My Foot. Don’t ask why.
Who tuned in?
ISIRTA (as it was known) became a cult show for students who made up a large part of the studio audience. They would cheer wildly at the good jokes and boo and groan at the awful puns.
John Cleese felt the audience went too far. ‘The audience changed,’ he said. ‘It started getting like playing at the Cup final. Instead of having a nice audience that laughed, suddenly there was a football crowd atmosphere.’
What about a sample joke?
‘Here is a warning to all motorists driving on the A35 to Cambridge: the A35 doesn’t go to Cambridge.’ What did you expect — biting satire?
Didn’t David Hatch become a BBC big-wig?
A vicar’s son, he joined the BBC in 1964, mainly as a producer, but rose to become Controller of Radio 2 in 1980 and Managing Director of BBC Network Radio in 1987.
On the 25th anniversary show of ISIRTA John Cleese played the BBC Director-General who, discovering that shows such as Derek Jameson’s were damaging the ozone layer, ordered David Hatch in his role as Radio MD to recycle lots of old programmes in order to repair the damage.
Any distant cousins?
Some of the ‘Goodies’ ideas were first aired on ISIRTA, notably Bill Oddie’s fascination with gibbons. His country and western song Stuff That Gibbon was a worthy forerunner of The Funky Gibbon. When ISIRTA ended, Tim Brooke-Taylor joined forces with Barry Cryer and John Junkin on another pacy radio pun-fest, Hello Cheeky.
As the gibbon was to Bill Oddie, so the ferret was to John Cleese. During ISIRTA his character revealed an obsession with ferrets which would resurface on At Last the 1948 Show when Cleese performed that moving ballad I’ve Got a Ferret Sticking Up My Nose.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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