On The Hour was first broadcast 20 years ago, on 9 August 1991. The anniversary gives me another excuse to plug my book on Chris Morris again, which itself begins by discussing On The Hour, the BBC Radio 4 series that introduced Chris Morris to the nation. And there is still so much to love about On The Hour! Start with Alan Partridge making his first appearance and then randomly celebrating headline wordplay that was the writers’ signature. ‘Sri Lankan diplomat expelled for copying rice.’ Here’s Morris vox popping the public about illness.
And one more to revisit. The hoax about Neil Kinnock (played by Steve Coogan) being drunk in the 1992 election and shouting ‘Forget Paddy Pantsdown, I’m Neil King-cock.’ The Sun broke the original Paddy Ashdown story and the idea they might get a follow-up overrode all the alarm bells that On The Hour’s elaborate set-up should have triggered. Happy birthday, On The Hour.
One thing stood out for me about how original the show was. It was hugely influential on the genre of comedy disguised as documentary, so much so that it seemed to be the start of it. It seemed to pop up fully formed and, underlining that, there was no one favourite ancestor named in interview by actors and writers, though This is Spinal Tap popped up more than once. And it immediately made sense. Spinal Tap may have been American rather than British and it was a movie rather than telly or radio. And it wasn’t a name that everyone mentioned – Armando Iannucci cited radio sketch show The Burkiss Way as an influence. But it was that sense of doing things for real which was so compelling in Spinal Tap. Strange that something so thoroughly American could feel so completely like it could only have come from the UK and been so formative for so many comedians. To finish with, not On The Hour, but Spinal Tap. You’ll have to bear with me and click through as for some reason I can’t get the blog software to insert the band’s manager explaining just why he loves his cricket bat.