— with four koalas and a tin of greasepaint. But now, here on TV Tropes, we'll have a closer look at the British radio station, Radio Active,
along with its spin-off, the highly daring satellite TV station, KYTV.
In the 1980s, commercial radio stations were getting numerous in Britain, creating a bit of competition for old BBC. One such station, however, managed to create a working relationship with BBC, wherein they would "link up" for half an hour every week and be allowed to broadcast their own content to BBC's listeners. This station was Radio Active.
...or at least, that was how they presented the concept. In reality, Radio Active
was a weekly comedy sketch program set in a fictional radio station by that name, spoofing commercial radio and various radio tropes. The station was run by people whose sole goal was making money rather than making quality radio, and so the majority of the staff was either hopelessly incompetent, too cynical to care what they actually broadcasted, or both. Each week's broadcast would either be an episode of a regular Radio Active program (a sports program, a talk show, a documentary, a phone-in program) or some special broadcast with a general theme, and would typically feature interviews, commercials, scenery reports and a "hit song" or two (usually parodies of well-known songs or artists), most of it generally screwed up in some way either by the incompetent Radio Active staff themselves or by their even more hopeless guests and interview objects.Radio Active
lasted for seven seasons, from 1981 to 1987, after which it got a reboot and was made into a TV series
in 1989 (though the series itself didn't begin airing until 1990) now with the name KYTV.
The writers, actors and characters were mostly the same (and indeed many concepts, jokes and even entire scenes of dialogue were taken from Radio Active
in largely unaltered form) but the setting was now an incompetent TV station, and the spoof target was satellite TV — most obviously Sky TV, whose name and logo had
been ripped off clearly inspired
KYTV's. (The title, incidentally, is a pun on KY Jelly... "KY telly," get it?)KYTV
lasted for three seasons (plus one pilot and one Children in Need
special) from 1989-93.Radio Active
later on made a surprise return in 2002 with a one-shot special called Digital Turn-On
which spoofed digital radio.
Major characters include:
- Mike Channel (Angus Deayton), the old veteran whose career is dwindling and keeps losing time slots and host jobs to younger presenters. He's also the go-to "reporter on the scene," particularly in KYTV, and tends to get stuck interviewing all the weirdoes and oddballs. Usually plays Straight Man to the others, but with a heavy accent on the Deadpan Snarker.
- Mike Flex (Geoffrey Perkins), the "rising star" of the station; huge egoist and Jerk Ass who tends to take all the jobs from Mike Channel. Also serves as the channel's main game show host, and always asking questions none of the contestants have any hope of answering correctly, so that he can keep the prizes for himself.note
- Anna Daptor (Helen Atkinson-Wood), girl reporter and hedonist who likes to indulge in life's pleasures, most notably food, drink and sex.
- Martin Brown (Michael Fenton Stevens), the world's most pathetic, incompetent, nervous wreck of a dimwit who makes even the other presenters look good by comparison, yet remains a permanent fixture of both Radio Active and KYTV simply because he works for less than minimum wage.
- Nigel Pry (Philip Pope), Talkative Loon reporter whose... unique way of talking can turn even the simplest statements into something nigh-incomprehensible. He is the biggest Cloudcuckoolander of the cast and seldom has any idea what's going on. Appeared in Radio Active only.
- Oyvind Vinstra (Geoffrey Perkins), a Norwegian presenter with a very poor grasp on the English language, and who speaks in mock Norwegian whenever he isn't using the wrong English words.
- Anna Rabies (Helen Atkinson-Wood), the resident "agony aunt" (advice columnist), who is extremely agressive and extremely sex-obsessed; her advice generally boils down to either "kill him/her/it" or "have sex with him/her/it."
- The Continuity Announcer (Phillip Pope), who has the thankless job of announcing upcoming programs, and who tends to either get cut off mid-sentence or appear on-screen mid-sentence, making for some rather interesting Noodle Incident implications. Appeared in KYTV only.
- Sir Norman Tonsil (Angus Deayton), the owner of Radio Active, a tyrant, slave driver and all-around Jerk Ass. In KYTV, he was renamed "Sir Kenneth Yellowhammer." (S.K.Y, geddit?)
The radio version should not be confused with the Canadian TV show Radio Active
, nor should the TV version be confused with the actual TV station KY3 of Springfield, Missouri.
This show provides examples of:
- Bad Bad Acting:
- A staple of Radio Active's drama company. Their productions would include missed cues, misread words, Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping, horrible monotone delivery and actors reading each other's lines by mistake.
- It got even "worse" in the first season of KYTV, when they sent the Brazilian soap opera Ole!, translated and dubbed by KYTV. It was a horrible soap opera with melodramatic overacting, dubbed over by voice actors who have no idea how to emote or do proper lip-sync, and who regularly flub their lines.
- Bilingual Bonus: A curious example. Oyvind Vinstra's "Norwegian" is generally no more genuine Norwegian than the Swedish Chef's "Swedish" is genuine Swedish, but it does sometimes include a genuine Norwegian phrase, "Jeg har arbeid på en gård" (roughly translated "I work at a farm"), or variations thereof, and the Norwegian cities Trondheim and Lillehammer. Part of the fun is that nothing of what Oyvind says on the show should include references to farms, or Trondheim and Lillehammer.
- Black Comedy: In spades. Particularly prominent in Radio Active, but KYTV had its fair share as well.
- British Brevity: Three seasons of KYTV still means only eighteen episodes (nineteen if you include the pilot), as each season was only six episodes. Radio Active, with its longer run, has fifty-four episodes spread out over seven seasons.
- Butt Monkey:
- Mike Channel. If any of the characters has to go through something bad, embarrassing, painful or plain unfair, nine times out of ten it'll be him.
- Surprisingly enough, even for all his patheticness and tendency to be put down upon, Martin Brown does not count as a Butt Monkey. Any misfortune he suffers is purely the result of his own incompetence ("The great thing about (galvanized spikes) is that they tend to go right through the concrete support... and into your leg. Nurse? NURSE?"), and he's not always the only victim either.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Martin Brown, which is a big problem when he tries his hand at being a stand-up comedian.
- Catch Phrase: Oyvind Vinstra's "And on with the music."
- Character Exaggeration: As a very good example of Tropes Are Not Bad. In the first season of Radio Active, the staff were largely interchangeable and had few individual traits apart from their Punny Names. From the second season on, they got more caricatured and subsequently much more interesting and entertaining.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Many characters who are prominent in earlier seasons vanish without explanation in later seasons. Justified in that it's not at all rare for people to quit working for a radio or TV station, and be sent off with little or no fanfare. The exception to the "without explanation" part is "The kiddies' favorite, Uncle Mike Stand," who was explicitly mentioned to be in jail.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Anyone interviewed by Mike Channel will, most of the time, turn out to be some variant of this. Of the regular characters, post-Flanderization Nigel Pry is the most notable example.
- Comically Missing the Point: Martin Brown's specialty — he even manages to miss the point when he himself is the one who sets it up.
"Here is a fabulous new comedy double act, Mike Flex and Mike Channel, who — because of their names — I've called 'The Two... Men.'"
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sir Norman Tonsil/Sir Kenneth Yellowhammer is a blatant and unashamed example, combined with Bad Boss, and it was all, of course, Played for Laughs. He openly admits that he's only in the business for profit and that he doesn't care one bit about quality programs, and he seldom has anything nice to say to or about any of his employees... or audience... or anyone else.
- Darker and Edgier: "Fly on the Walls" in KYTV — a very dark Black Comedy with a Downer Ending.
- The Determinator: Martin Brown may not be able to do anything right, but he never gives up and never loses his childlike enthusiasm.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mike Channel, most obviously, but Anna Daptor and Mike Flex had their moments as well.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first season of Radio Active is very different in tone, and the presenters are generic and interchangeable without the personalities and quirks that would come to define them in later seasons (Mike Channel and Mike Flex are civil to one another, Nigel Pry is coherent, Mike Stand does not giggle and make Accidental Innuendoes).
- Enhance Button: Parodied in the KYTV Siege Special:
"If we slow the film down and zoom in on the student protestors captured on amateur film here... we can see that it's absolutely impossible to make his face out."
- Era-Specific Personality: Some of the central characters were altered a bit in the transition from Radio Active to KYTV, mostly because of how the actors didn't always look the part they'd been playing. Mike Channel, for one, is repeatedly mentioned as old and over the hill in Radio Active, but in KYTV he's roughly the same age as the rest of the cast, and, while still the Deadpan Snarker Butt Monkey of the show, has lost his self-pitying pathos. Likewise, the radio version of Anna Daptor is hinted to be a fat slob, but the on-screen version is quite slim and pretty.
- Flanderization: Very notable with Nigel Pry, who was a completely normal, almost nondescript, reporter in the first season, but on one occasion got drunk and started mixing up words, leading to bizarre, nigh-incomprehensible statements. The writers seem to have caught on how much funnier he was this way, because from the second season on, he talks like this all the time. That said, in Radio Active's "It Was 20 Years Ago Last Tuesday" (a special celebrating the anniversary of Rolf Harris's "Two Little Boys") he drank some drugged tea and found that "All my words are suddenly tumbling out in the wrong order! For the first time in my life I feel as if I'm not making any sense at all!"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: It took several seasons before the censors realized the implications of having a character named "Mike Hunt".
- Hypocritical Humor: One of the Running Gags is that one or more of the hosts or staff will ensure the audience or guests that Radio Active/KYTV will never do [some crass and/or vulgar thing], only to immediately turn around and announce: "And now, on Radio Active/KYTV, [some crass and/or vulgar thing]!"
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Quite a few, especially in the character names. More than half the male staff were called "Mike" with a punny surname: Mike Channel, Mike Stand, Mike Cable, and Mike Hunt (always pronounced with a deliberate and clear pause between the first and last names).
- I Take Offense to That Last One: A variant occurs when Sir Norman Tonsil takes in calls from listeners:
Caller: I think your programs are amateurish rubbish!
Sir Norman Tonsil: No, no, I'm sorry, I must totally disagree with you there. They're very professional rubbish.
- Jerk Ass: Mike Flex, bordering on Smug Snake at times (especially when interacting with Mike Channel). Sir Norman Tonsil/Kenneth Yellowhammer is this and a Bad Boss.
- The Klutz: Martin Brown.
- Naked People Are Funny: Invoked on a few occasions.
- Nipple and Dimed: KYTV never shied away from showing topless women, usually as part of a joke.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Celebrity spoofs tended to vary between these and straight-up caricatures of the actual celebrities.
- Noodle Incident: Much of the humor involving the continuity announcer relied on these, though they showed up elsewhere too — the most-referred one showing up in later seasons, namely the exact circumstances around the imprisonment of "The kiddies' favorite, Uncle Mike Stand."
- Obfuscating Stupidity: There are the occasional hints that Oyvind Vinstra might be doing this; at least his English seems to be getting worse whenever someone says anything negative to him. In the final episode, "Radio Active's Mega Phone-In," when an immigration official called Oyvind to "discuss the nature of (his) work permit"...
Oyvind (in perfect unaccented English): Well, I'm afraid there's no one of that name working at the station at the moment and we're running out of time anyway!
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe, often happens with the actors of the drama company and the dubbers of Olé!
- Parody Assistance: The parody of Challenge Anneka included a cameo by Anneka Rice.
- Parody Commercial: Since both Radio Active and KYTV were "commercial" stations, every single episode featured a handful of these.
- Quote Mine: Happens in the Radio Active "backstage tour" episode "A Probe Round the Back", where an editor decided to demonstrate how editing "helped" a sound clip buy playing first an unedited sound clip of a politician's passionate anti-racism speech, and then an edited one.
Unedited version: Firstly, I am personally convinced that this government's immigration policy is crass and retarded, and anything they do, I say now, should be subject to the utmost skepticism and hopefully ignored. For example, in reality, I am sure the rights of a black man and woman with a large family are not properly guarded. I am driven mad by politicians and the like who believe such people should be simply regarded as a family of social outcasts and deported at the earliest opportunity! Get rid of racism, and believe me, the world will be a better place!
Edited version: Firstly, I am personally crass and retarded, and anything I say should be subject to the utmost skepticism and hopefully ignored. For example, in reality, I am a black woman with a large family. I am mad, and should be regarded as a social outcast and deported at the earliest opportunity! Get rid of me, the world will be a better place!
- Running Gag: Oh, so many.
- The Show Must Go Wrong: Mishap-prone live radio was a fixture of Radio Active. For example, in the 1983 episode "A Probe Round the Back", a spoof of "behind the scenes" documentaries, Anna Daptor interviews technician Eric Alcock (Michael Fenton Stevens) about the jingles he will be playing live for the upcoming Mike Channel Show. Then the show begins:
(a jazzy tune plays in the background) Mike Channel:
Hello, it's a sunny Monday here on Radio Active, and my name is ("Tra-ffic NEWS!")
... er, Mike Channel, traffic news will of course be coming up later in the show, but ("Tra-ffic NEWS!")
straight off today here's our first record... (beat) ("Tra-ffic NEWS!")
... er, yes indeed, er, Radio Active, er, here, and I'm Mike Channel, er, w-which of course brings you the best sounds around, and ("Tra-ffic NEWS!")
and of course, good old, er, traffic news. But, er, straight off today, here is
our first record- ("Mike Chan-nel!")
Er, Mike Channel here, and- ("Mike Flex!")
er, Mike Flex will be here later on, but now- ("Mike Stand!")
er, Mike Stand was on earlier, but now- ("Si-mon BATES!")
... Simon Bates is on Radio 1, but right now, here on the Mike Channel Show here on Radio Active, we have today's first record, that great hit of the Seventies, it's- ("Commercial time!")
- Slapstick Knows No Gender: While the male characters do, on the whole, take more abuse, the female characters are by no means safe from it.
- Spiritual Successor: Im Sorry Ill Read That Again was also a BBC radio sketch show based around the concept of a fictional radio station (Radio Prune), based on a university revue that performed at the Edinburgh Fringe (Oxford, rather than Cambridge). The Clue Bible takes it further, comparing each member of the Radio Active cast to one of the Prune gang:
- Angus Deayton -> John Cleese (the tall, sarcastic one)
- Michael Fenton Stevens -> Tim Brooke-Taylor (the one with the double-barrelled name who often played female roles)
- Philip Pope -> Bill Oddie (the musical one)
- Helen Atkinson-Wood/Morwenna Banks (Banks stood in for her in some episodes) -> Jo Kendall (the female one with a knack for voices)
- Geoffrey Perkins -> David Hatch (the one who was also the producer, and went on to be part of BBC management)note
- Tactful Translation: One episode presenting the life of an old English actor, Sir John Leslie (not to be confused with the real-life Scottish TV presenter of the same name... or was he?), had an interview with an Italian director who had Sir John star in one of his film. As the director speaks only Italian, he has an interpreter... and it gets increasingly obvious that the director loathes Sir John and is clearly saying so while the interpreter is trying to soften it as much as possible — hence a rant involving the words "un impossible bastardi" and "grande primadonna" (as well as what is clearly a description on how Sir John was always shirking work and saying "I have to go and lie down now" whenever the director called for action) is translated by the interpreter with "Sir John was a great actor," "I had the biggest respect for him" and "He was always a hard worker on the set, and, er... all best wishes to your family!"
- Too Dumb to Live: Martin Brown and Nigel Pry are the clearest examples, but several guests and one-shot characters more than qualify too (in fact, some of them don't live through the show).
- Two Chicks in a Kitchen: One of the recurring Parody Commercials would feature Mary and June, two women who kept informing each other about various strange consumer products.
- The Unintelligible:
- Played with with Nigel Pry. His strange way of tossing words around most often ends up getting his basic meaning through to the audience, but none of the other characters ever understand a word he says.
- Oyvind Vinstra plays the trope straight, at least when lapsing into mock Norwegian.
- Wheel of Decisions: One is used in "Challenge Anna" to add random obstacles to Anna's challenge — such as requiring her to perform a transplant in person, rather than just finding a suitable organ donor.