I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again

From Academic Kids

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I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again was a long-running radio comedy programme that originally grew out of the Cambridge University revue Cambridge Circus. It had something of a cult following and was broadcast initially on the BBC Home Service (renamed BBC Radio Four in September 1967).

It was first broadcast on April 4 1964 and the eighth series was transmitted in November and December 1973. An hour-long 25th Anniversary show was broadcast in 1989. Humphrey Barclay was the producer until 1968 and from April that year the task was shared by David Hatch and Peter Titheradge.

The cast comprised:

  • Bill Oddie (important spokesman on wildlife and ecological issues since c.1980)
  • Tim Brooke-Taylor
  • Graeme Garden (these three later became more famous as The Goodies on British television)
  • John Cleese (became a lead Python and worked on serious business training films). He did his famous silly walk on the programme and it made terrible radio.
  • David Hatch (who went on to executive roles within the BBC) and
  • Jo Kendall (a radio actress in many straight dramas subsequently; also appeared in another popular radio comedy series The Burkiss Way)

Bill Oddie wrote and performed a daft but well-crafted song in the middle of most programmes. Tim perfected a high-pitched feminine voice for the ghastly Lady Constance de Coverlet, who would often arrive at the close of a lengthy adventure to a rapturous audience welcome. John and Jo developed poignant - almost romantic - dialogues as the respectable but dysfunctional couple "John and Mary", a forerunner of the relationship between Basil and Sybil later televised in Fawlty Towers. As with Round the Horne, the cast's adventures would sometimes be episodic with cliff-hanger endings each week as with the "Curse of the Flying Wombat". Christmas specials normally included a spoof of a traditional pantomime (or several combined). They had few qualms about the use of puns - old, strained or inventive - and included some jokes and catchphrases that would seem politically incorrect by the mid 1970s. Graeme's impressions of Eddie Waring (a rugby league commentator) and John's occasional but manic impressions of Patrick Moore (astronomer and broadcaster) built these people into eccentric celebrities in a way that the Mike Yarwood, Lenny Henry, Rory Bremner, Spitting Image and Dead Ringers programmes would do for other TV presenters with similar disrespect years later.

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The show ended with an unchanging sign-off song which Bill Oddie performed as "Angus Prune". Spoof dramas were billed as Prune Playhouse and many parodies of commercial radio were badged as Radio Prune, but the name Angus Prune seemed as random and incidental as the name Monty Python, which appeared seven years later.

Although the BBC radio shows ITMA, Much Binding in the Marsh, Take it from Here and Beyond Our Ken had conditioned listeners to accepting a mix of music, sketches and jokes within a 30 minute show, and Round the Horne was currently doing this, ISIRTA (as it was known to its friends), accelerated the transitions and certainly seemed more improvised. It was one of those programmes where you were unlikely to get all the jokes on first hearing so would have to listen to the scheduled repeat (or an illegal tape recording) to discover what you had missed. It thus helped prepare the television audience for At Last the 1948 Show, the Q Series from Spike Milligan and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

It may also have influenced other fast-paced British radio programmes such as Radio Active , On the Hour, The Sunday Format, and The News Huddlines.

Some of the cast also appear in the radio comedy quiz show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, which was originally a spinoff from ISIRTA but has outlived it by decades.

Since December 2002, examples of ISIRTA can be heard on BBC 7 (available on the web, digital radio and digital television). Currently, it is broadcast on Mondays at 14.30 and Tuesdays at 06.30 hours (London time).

Catchphrases

  • "I'm sorry, I'll read that again". A frequent interruption to mock news broadcasts on the show - the line often reads "Here is the news. I'm sorry, I'll read that again: Here are the news."
  • "Lady Constance!" The cue for the arrival of Tim Brooke-Taylor's desiccated dowager character of Lady Constance de Coverlet. Lady Constance's over-ripe upper class accent was always greeted thunderously by the studio audience, even when she had no bearing on the plot. Lady Constance is once invited to sit down "Anywhere...or in your case...everywhere."
  • "Rhubarb Tart?" A delicacy much loved by all the cast members and often used as a bribe during sketches. David Hatch famously leaves the University of the Air after Bill Oddie's flip remarks, only to be coaxed back with offers of rhubarb tart. It is also Angus Prune's favourite dish.
  • The Tillingbourne Folk and Madrigal Society. A recurring parody of English a capella folk music (madrigal). The Society performs a range of songs from a medley of football chants through to the never-ending folk song "There was a Ship that put to Sea all in the Month of May".
  • The Angus Prune Tune. Written and performed by Bill Oddie (often with considerable audience involvement), this was the sign-off song for the series. The full text runs as follows

My name is Angus Prune

and I always listen to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

(You Don't!)

My name is Angus Prune

and I never miss I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

(Go Away!)

I sit in my bath

And I have a good laugh

Cause the station is named after me

(Tell us yer name!)

My name is Angus Prune

And this is my tune

It goes I-S-I-R-T-A

I'm Sorry I'll Read That AGAIN!

  • Beethoven's Fifth. The famous opening bars of this piece of music are constantly used in the series, usually in inappropriate settings. David Hatch once begins the show with "As we sally forth (music) or Beethoven's Fifth..."
  • "Arnold Totteridge?" Another famous recurring character, Arnold Totteridge is a doddering old man who gets lost in the middle of his sentences. His most famous moment is in the 25th Anniversary Episode, where he has been appointed "The Dynamic new-de-oo-do-de-oo-do-de-oo Head of Radio-do-do-de-do Comedy"
  • "The Ferret Song". John Cleese has an obsession with ferrets throughout the show, including his famous performance of The Ferret Song. This song begins with the line "I've got a ferret sticking up my nose" and promptly gets worse.
  • The Silly Roll Call. During many of the longer adventures, the cast engage in the Silly Roll Call, where a series of words appropriate to their adventure are turned into people's names. The "Jack The Ripper" story involves criminals such as "Mr and Mrs Ree...and their son...Robby Ree...and his Arabic half-brother Ahmed Robby Ree" and "Mr And Mrs Sittingforimmoralpurposes...and their son...Solly Sittingforimmoralpurposes". "Jorrocks"' Hunt Ball features appearances by Lord and Lady V'syuyeahyeahyeah and their daughter Sheila V'syuyeahyeahyeah as well as Lord and Lady Umeeroffen and their son Duke Umerroffen. Even the Ancient Greek world of Oedipus is not sacred - Socrates appears with Knobblyknees, Euripides with Iripidoes and the treble of Aristophanes, Hoiteetoitees and Afternoontes.
  • Grimbling. Voiced by Bill Oddie, Grimbling is a "dirty old man" who often appears as a groundskeeper or in a similar profession. Due to the limitations of an audio-only medium, the true nature of Grimbling is never revealed, however he is greeted with universal repulsion by all bar the audience. He memorably introduces himself "I am Grimbling, but don't worry, I'll clean it up later." In another story, David Hatch asks him "Aren't you a little past it, old man?", only to have Grimbling respond, "No, I'm a little dirty old man".
  • The Gibbon. Whenever a generic animal is required for a sketch, the team always use a gibbon. This is often expanded to ludicrous lengths, such as a "Gibbon-Fanciers' Club". As expected, Edward Gibbon's famous "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is rendered as "Decline and Fall of the Roman Gibbon, by Edward Empire".
  • Bill Oddie's accent. Having a very thick Yorkshire accent made Bill the butt of many jokes, as well as giving him many roles in sketches where someone was required to speak incomprehensibly.


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