How To Pose For Strangely-Coloured Photographs The Burkiss Way, as demonstrated by Fred Harris, Nigel Rees, Chris Emmett and Jo Kendall. (Denise Coffey was appearing as a jar of vapour rub at the Old Vic.)...or you too can have three like mine!
Broadcast from August 1976 to November 1980 on Radio 4
, former radio show The Burkiss Way To Dynamic Living
is the product of the disordered mads of brain-men Marshall, Andrew and Renwick, David. Spinning off from two half-hour specials the pair had written spoofing the BBC's Open University educational programming (under the title 'Half-Open University') The Burkiss Way
was initially presented as 'the first correspondence course for radio', supposedly delivering a set of life-lessons devised by one Professor Emil Burkiss, with each episode tackling a different subject encapsulated in its title: Peel Bananas The Burkiss Way, Solve Murders The Burkiss Way, etc.
Over the course of the first series, which starred Chris Emmett, Nigel Rees, Fred Harris and Denise Coffey, the show's adherence to this conceit gradually loosened; By the middle of the second series (in which Denise Coffey was permanently replaced by I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
's Jo Kendall) the idea had been abandoned completely except as a vague Framing Device
to be called on whenever the writers felt like it, and the show had taken on its true form as a surreal, absurdist sketch show mingling satire, parody, innuendo, and Pythonesque deconstruction of the radio medium itself.
The show developed an immediate cult following
, its recording sessions attracting audiences so large they starting spilling out of the seats and onto the stage. Unfortunately, its chances of a breakthrough to mainstream popularity were scuppered somewhat when it and everything else on radio were overshadowed by the blockbuster mega-success of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
. The fact that Douglas Adams
had contributed several sketches to early shows didn't stop them thereafter spoofing it and him (as "Mr. Different Adams") from an only semi-fake position of bitterness and jealousy. It also really didn't help that Adams had explicitly based the character and temperament of Marvin the Paranoid Android on that of Andrew Marshall, who was naturally inclined to revenge.
This series provides examples, straight or parodied, of:
- Accidental Misnaming:
- In one sketch, a mad tax official keeps referring to everyone (including himself) as "Pronderghast". When a man who is visiting to complain about his tax bill finally manages to communicate that his surname is not Pronderghast, the official responds by asking his secretary Miss Pronderghast for a set of name-change forms.
- Subverted in a different sketch when a boss keeps pronouncing his employees surname differently every time he uses it. It appears to be this trope until the boss suddenly asks him to "stop changing the letters in your name around when I'm trying to talk to you!"
- Achilles' Heel: The Greek hero Testiclese (who apparently had a brother called John). It wasn't his heel his mother held him by when she dipped him in the Styx, but oooh he wishes it was.
- Anachronic Order: In "How To Succeed In Business The Burkiss Way", the show is dropped on the floor and broken, then stuck back together with a tube of BBC coffee. This results in sketches and scenes being in the wrong order and cutting back and forth from one another at random moments.
- Attending Your Own Funeral
- Awful British Sex Comedy: Parodied with a sketch about the "Confessions of People Who Show Off Spherical Bits of Anatomy" film series.
"To be honest, Sir, I think people are getting fed up with all these eyeballs on the screen in the first place."
- Bad Impressionists: "Solve Murders The Burkiss Way" features the New Faces Impressionist Squad, a group of police detectives made up entirely of bad Frank Spencer impersonators. At one point, they are interrupted by Leonardo Da Vinci doing a bad Tommy Cooper impression.
Leonardo: "Ah ha ha! Just like that! Just like that! Ah ha ha!"
Suspect: "What on earth was that?"
Detective: "That was an artists impression. [audience reaction] No, don't harrass me, I don't write this..."
- Deliberately rotten impressions are something of a running gag on the show; Individuals impersonated by several people for no reason ("Now it's time to change -" "- into my other voice"), Jo Kendall impersonating men ("I'm Noel Edmonds, but that's your problem"), people just not bothering with voices at all, and the host of a South Bank Show parody introducing himself as "a man holding his nose to sound like Melvyn Bragg"...
- BBC Quarry: The Burkiss spoof of Blake's 7 was called Blake's Shot in Old Gravel Pit.
- Big Brother Is Watching: the spoof of 1984 starring one Winston Smoth.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: One episode opens with a vicious spoof of the then just becoming successful BBC television comedy sketch show Not the Nine O'Clock News - Which Marshall and Renwick were writing material for at the time. (Two of the shows well remembered sketches, about buying a record player and ordering a meal in a hamburger bar, were actually recycled from Burkiss).
- Another episode spoofed Nigel Rees' BBC radio show Quote Unquote, with Rees playing the sketches parody of himself.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: A version of the ending credits in which they are subject to a schoolboys Latin translation renders "Happy dynamic living!" as "Gay, energetic wages!"
- Bowdlerise: The show weathered complaints from listeners (and within the BBC) quite well, but a small handful of episodes suffered editing after initial broadcast:
- "Pass Examinations The Burkiss Way" has an illiterate customer mispronounce the show's name as "The Burgess Wog" during the testimonials spot at the beginning. This line is omitted from current repeats.
- "Ignore These Program Titles The Burkiss Way" featured a musical number making fun of the supposed drinking habits of newsreader Reginald Bosanquet. This was cut from repeats (and the original piece of tape apparently stamped on).
- "Is Britain Going The Burkiss Way (part 2)" spoofed the Orson Welles version of War of the Worlds, and the urban legend of the realism of the broadcast causing mass panic. Despite repeated blatant lampshading, the BBC still received complaints about the show panicking people; as a result an awkward and out-of-place announcement that "You're listening to The Burkiss Way, the not-to-be-believed comedy show" was inserted into the middle of the episode on repeats.
- The final show, "Wave Goodbye To CBEs The Burkiss Way", featured a number of pre-recorded announcements, voiced by David Jason, mocking the BBCs crawling and obsequious coverage of the Queen’s birthday. These were cut entirely from repeats, shortening the episode by a full six minutes. They were eventually restored for a special broadcast as part of BBC7s celebration of the shows thirtieth anniversary, with Marshall and Renwick joking that it was okay to put them back now that David Jason had safely got his knighthood.
- Candid Camera Prank: Spoofed with "Candid Cat", in which innocent members of the public are put in embarrassing situations whilst secretly being... watched by a cat.
- Catchphrase: Several.
- "There will now be a short intermission." The once-a-show introduction to a spoof ad break.
- "Eric Pode of Croydon!" Eric Pode's self-announcement of his arrival.
- "Isn't he a panic." Highly insincere reaction to Eric Pode from whoever got stuck talking to him (usually Fred Harris).
- "I see comedy as a kind of amphibious landing craft/isosceles triangle/cheese souffle..." The only thing Mr. Different Adams ever gets to say before being told to shut up.
- "Happy dynamic living!" Announcers end of show sign off, retained long after the correspondence course framing device had been abandoned.
- "...with Burkiss spelt wrong." Late addition to the shows catchphrases from the final series, appended to mentions of the shows title even when the show was masquerading under a completely different title:
"That was Bob Langley Gives You The Willies, with Burkiss spelt wrong."
- Correspondence Course: One on radio. Don't ask how that works. The Burkiss Organization's other courses are also advertised, such as a bodybuilding course that promises to give you bulging rippling muscles simply through lifting up all that heavy money and sending it to Professor Burkiss.
- Credits Gag: Jokes with the contents of the credits and their position in the show were frequent:
- The shows three sucessive producers were always refered to, in order, as "Simon Brett of Stepney", "John Lloyd of Europe" and "David 'Hatch of the BBC' Hatch".
- The credits are played with as early as show four, "Solve Murders The Burkiss Way", in which the end credits immediately follow the opening credits. This is inverted in "Make Short Comedy Programmes The Burkiss Way", in which the show takes the entire half-hour to get started, and the opening credits are just squeezed in before the closing credits. In "Become A Rock Star The Burkiss Way", the show starts at the wrong end, opening with the closing credits and working its way back to the opening credits.
- In "Complain About The Burkiss Way", the opening and closing credits are both inserted into phone calls from an angry listener - This is lampshaded in the calls themselves both times.
"And as for your producer John Lloyd of Europe, I've told him before about using my phone calls to secretly slip in his silly closing announcements!"
- Dirty Old Man: Recurring character Eric Pode of Croydon.
- Also, from the episode "Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special", Mr. Mouthdribble, who molests ballet companies.
"Mr. Mouthdribble's attempts to offer the D'Oyly Carte a nice bag of sweeties brings new meaning to the phrase 'Macintosh's Rollo.' "
- Framing Device: As stated, the show originally used the 'radio correspondence course' conceit as a framing device. When this was dropped, framing devices actually multiplied; episodes would frequently use more than one, nested inside each other, and the writers became experts at moving back and forth between them at the most unexpected moments. For good examples, see "First Prize the Burkiss Way", in which the show is a long game of 'The Dinosaur/Cheese Interlude'; "Get Cut Off the Bur-", which uses the Arabian Nights; "Write Extremely Long Titles the Burkiss Way", which frames the episode inside an entirely different show; and "The Man From the Burkiss Way", which manages to trap all future Radio 4 broadcasts for the rest of time inside its framing device.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Quite a few examples, but nothing beats Ivan the Terrible angrily informing a narrator that he's "an idiot with a capital C!"
- Hometown Nickname: Of a sort - Everyone refers to Eric Pode of Croydon as "Mr. Croydon", rather than "Mr. Pode".
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming
- In The Style Of: The Quinn Martin version of Little Women.
"I shall never forget that melancholy winter's evening in August, when Amy, Jo, myself and the other one sat in the gathering dusk, our somber faces betraying the inward sense of despair we all felt so deeply. Was it, I wonder, the depressing gloom of our surroundings? Was it the stark chillness of the still night air? Or was it the four stiffs lying on the carpet with knives in their backs?"
[Hawaii 5-0 theme tune starts playing]
"Little Women! Starring William Fat as Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy!"
- Instructional Title
- It's Not Porn, It's Art: From the "Confessions of People Who Show Off Spherical Bits of Anatomy" sketch:
Mr Sausagemachine: It's still a bit, um, gratuitously smutty, somehow.
Flunky: Then how about: Timothy Groin goes to serve a woman with some petrol, and they both show off spherical bits of anatomy, but with Irene Handl standing in the background.
Mr Sausagemachine: I like it, I like it! Now that's pretty sophisticated stuff!
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: Subverted in "Do You-Know-What The Burkiss Way", when it turns out the announcers are embarrassed because they don't know what You-Know-What is.
Announcer: "Now You-Know-What is of course rather a silly euphemism for, for, well, for, well for quite some time now..."
- Law of Alien Names: One of the show's Hitchhiker's spoofs involves a narrator talking about the Omni-Quargs of the planet Sargo-Sworreldong, in the star system of Grudnivogarr-Actinax, in the constellation of Go-And-Upset-Another-Scrabble-Board-Les-I-Need-A-New-Name.
- Long Title
- Missing Episode: The final episode of the first series is not included in the shows repeats on BBC 7, presumably due to it being, for some reason, only fifteen minutes long.
- Musicalis Interruptus
- Namesake Gag
- Nepotism: There seem to be an awful lot of people with the same surname working for the Burkiss Organization...
"Wardrobe Mistress: Fifi Burkiss. Wardrobe's Very Angry Wife: Naomi Burkiss. Set Dresser: Bill Burkiss. Welsh Dresser: Dai Burkiss. Titles: Lord Sir Duke The Marquis of Earl His Royal Highness Burkiss. Fight Arranger: Nigel Rees' mother in law, Mrs. Burkiss. Man Who Pours Out Fred Harris' Tea: Alfred Burkiss. Man Who Holds Up Fred Harris' Little Finger In The Air While He's Drinking His Tea: Bob Oliver Burkiss. Colour by Burkisscolour. Token Non-member Of The Burkiss Family: John Burkiss. Real Token Non-member Of The Burkiss Family: Denise Coffey. Nee Burkiss."
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Erich von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods and other best-selling books about how mankind was helped along by Ancient Astronauts, was spoofed in one sketch as Eric Von Contrick, author of Spaceships of the Gods, Some More of Me Spaceships of the Gods and It Shouldn't Happen to a Spaceship of the Gods. (At the end of the sketch, the Ancient Astronauts show up to demand a cut of the profits.)
- Besides the aforementioned Mr Different Adams, the shows other recurring character based on a real person is Lord Russian Emigre, a shamelessly downmarket showbiz impresario (his production of Oedipus Rex cuts all the stuff about murdering his father and marrying his mother to make room for a hillbilly dance routine), clearly intended to be Baron Lew Grade. He reappears in an episode of End Of Part One under the even blunter name of Lord Jewish Caricature.
- Once for Yes, Twice for No
- One Steve Limit
- Orphaned Punchline
- Our Vampires Are Different: The extended parody of Bram Stoker's Dracula in which the Count is revealed to be a lifelong churchgoer, a charitable philanthropist, a man of great integrity and probity, who made the fatal mistake of inviting Sun journalist Bram Stoker to ghost-write his autobiography.
"I believe it's a sort of theological discourse on my faith in the certainty of resurrection to God's holy kingdom. What's it called again?"
- Overly Long Name: One sketch features a Lady Marquis-Mellvile being fitted for a new hyphen in the manner of one being fitted for a new dress. The first attempt renders her name as Lady Marquisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss-Mellvile, in the second the hyphen is a musical fanfare that lasts at least a minute. Finally the tailor fits her with four hyphens, making her Lady Marq-U-I-Smell-Vile.
- Piano Drop
- Private Eye Monologue: The "Burkiss Way in Action" sketch at the end of the very first episode, featuring private detective Harry Nelson.
- The Remnant
- Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: One sketch set in a travel agents has the assistant making all the sound effects himself due to an economy drive.
- The opening of "Journey Into The Unknown The Burkiss Way" inverts this with the show in sound effects only, due to a loss of actors.
- Whilst "Is Britain Going The Burkiss Way? (part one)" combines it with Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud by opening in A Tea Lady Reading Out The Script only.
- Scenery Porn: A spoof of the BBC's All Creatures Great and Small sends up the shows tendency towards this.
"Starring the Yorkshire Dales. With some actors in front of them sometimes."
- Self Plagiarism: In "Ignore These Program Titles The Burkiss Way", King George I visits Handel to complain that the Water Music he composed for him is suspiciously similar to his Hallelujah Chorus, consisting as it does of the word "hallelujah" endlessly repeated but with the phrase "splish splash" inserted between every ninety-fourth and ninety-fifth hallelujah.
- Shout-Out: Billy Bunter of Greyfriars turns up as a character several times — first as an assistant to Lord Peter Wimsey (a Name's the Same gag); then as part of an episode long spoof of the Greyfriars stories; then finally an adult Bunter appears as "the Assistant Fat Owl of the Mathematics Department", being interviewed by the school board about his habit of eating the pupils.
- Sir Swearsalot: The show's send-up of period drama The Duchess of Duke Street:
Louisa: Cor blimey, your majesty! If you wern't so bleedin' busy sitting on your bleedin' throne, you'd see what a fine mess the bleedin' country's in! Cor blimey, I mean to say! Have some lobster thermidor garnished with tiny sautéed BBC props! If you pulled your bleedin' finger out, our poor bleedin' soldiers bleedin' in bleedin' France, instead of bleedin' the bleedin' country apart, would be bleedin' the bleedin'-
Announcer: Next week, Louisa says 'bleeding' to Tsar Nicholas the Second of all the Russias and Alexandra; 'Cor blimey your highness' to the Grand Duchess Mary of Hess and Saxe-Coburg; and 'Pull your bleedin' finger out' to eight hereditary peers, two archbishops - one orthodox, the other heterosexual - and a photo of Queen Mary.
- The Smurfette Principle: Jo Kendall is occasionally subject to jokes about being the only female in the show: In one sketch, a male character introduces her to "My wife and two pet daughters, none of whom say anything because we've only got one woman in the cast and that's you", whilst in another she plays two characters and distinguishes them only by adding "...in a different voice" to the end of one characters lines.
- Snake Oil Salesman: Professor Emil Burkiss is clearly a fraudulent quack whose course is a complete waste of time and money. The show is quite open about this, urging the gullible and easily-led to keep listening, and describing itself as "the first radio show exclusively designed for suckers."
- Sound to Screen Adaptation: with a revised cast, including the return of Denise Coffey, LWT's End of Part One is essentially The Burkiss Way for television. Unfortunately it was badly scheduled. A DVD release is due November 2012.
- Space Clothes: Mocked mightily in the shows Blake's 7 spoof:
"Attention earthlings! I must warn you all that unless you surrender to us immediately, we shall be forced to put on pairs of glittery tights!"
"Not the tights! They wouldn't dare!"
"Ooooh yes! We shall also slip into the shirts with strings up the front, get out the badly designed motorbike boots and ponce around with lots of women with no bras on!"
"I may have my hands full here..."
- Special Guest:
- Peter Jones himself turns up in one of the show's Hitchhiker spoofs, delivering a Guide monologue that turns into a rant about The Burkiss Way's habit of mocking other 'much more successful' shows, and the poor quality of its impressions: "This one, for instance, sounds absolutely nothing like me."
- The Special Guest concept is spoofed in "Start New Series The Burkiss Way", in which the studio audience is collectively the guest star.
Announcer: Now, Studio - I hope you don't mind if I call you that...
Studio Audience: [together] No, go right ahead.
Announcer: Oh good. Well now Studio, I'm very sorry we can't actually pay you for this guest appearance in The Burkiss Way, but I'm afraid I haven't got enough Polos to go round!
Studio Audience: [together] Go round what?
Announcer: Ha ha! Very good, but in future stick to the script!
- Stunt Double: On more than one occasion characters bring in stuntmen to deliver particularly bad punchlines rather than doing it themselves. Marshall and Renwick were clearly fond of this joke, as it later reappeared in End of Part One.
- Talking to Himself
- The Cameo: Tim Brooke-Taylor makes a one line appearance in "Avoid Like The Plague The Burkiss Way". The debt Eric Pode of Croydon owes to his Lady Constance deCoverlet character from ISIRTA is acknowledged by having her turn up where Pode is expected. Turns out it's Eric Pode pretending to be Lady Constance.
- They Killed Kenny
- To Be Continued/Previously On: Averted by the shows only two-parter, "Is Britain Going The Burkiss Way?"; The first episode just ended in mid sentence ("Eric-"), and the following week’s show picked up from the exact same spot without explanation ("-Pode of Croydon!")
- Un Installment: The episode "Get Off With Life The Burkiss Way", in which the show is placed on trial on charges of "being funny", supposedly replaces the scheduled episode, "Be Patient The Burkiss Way". Which we are told will not be heard for another two weeks.
- Unusual Chapter Numbers: Each episode is "Lesson Number X", where X corresponds to the episode number... Until Lesson 31 and Lesson 32 are broadcast as two fifteen minute halves of the same half-hour show. In addition, Lesson 31 is the final show of series three and Lesson 32 is the first show of series four, meaning series four is what should have been the last two and a half episodes of series three. The out-of-sync lesson numbering is then corrected in series five when there are two consecutive Lesson 39s, both called "Repeat Yourself The Burkiss Way".
- Verbal Tic: Following a joke in the second series about a plague of typing mistakes, the word "third" was permanently pronounced as "thrid" in all shows thereafter. Also, "Smoth" and "Jobes" would always be substituted for the names "Smith" and "Jones".
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?
- Written-In Absence: In "The Last Burkiss Way", Jo Kendall appears only in inserted announcements apologising for 'the loss of Jo Kendall' in the manner one talks about a technical hitch. In the following week’s show, "The Next To Last Burkiss Way", she is entirely absent, and the opening of the show informs us her part will be played by the rest of the cast. This consists solely of occasional male characters being randomly refered to as 'Miss Kendall'.
...see you next week folks, and happy dynamic troping!