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Radio / I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

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L to R: Bill Oddie, John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall, Graeme Garden and David Hatch

"This is 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again', an extravaganza especially written for the wireless by several persons, and featuring a number of performers."

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again was a popular BBC Sketch Comedy show which ran between 1965 and 1973, with a one-off "25th anniversary" show in 1989. It was something of a spiritual successor to The Goon Show, featuring numerous awful puns, funny voices and bizarre situations. The program originated from a broadcast of the 1963 Cambridge Circus revue, followed by three preparatory shows in April 1964, which were followed by the first series proper a year and a half later.

The cast, all Cambridge alums, included Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, who later went on to create The Goodies, and John Cleese, who, along with occasional writers Eric Idle and Graham Chapman, later went on to form Monty Python. Also in the cast were Jo Kendall and David Hatch. The early series featured occasional appearances by producer Humphrey Barclay (the original director of Cambridge Circus), but these ended after Barclay handed the reins of production to Hatch.

The format of the show was rather slapdash in the beginning, but eventually was streamlined into a Cold Opening sketch followed by the tongue-in-cheek opening announcements, followed by two or three unrelated sketches, a (usually) comic song by Bill Oddie, and then the extended central sketch of the week, usually an Affectionate Parody of either a specific film, book, or play, or just a genre.

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again was responsible for the creation of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue a few years later.

I'm sorry, I'll trope that again...

  • Ambiguous Syntax: One John and Mary sketch has John driving Mary around the bend with an incessant string of magic tricks:
    John: How about the baffling Chinese mice trick?
    Mary: Darling, the dining room is full of Chinese mice as it is.
    John: Well, can't I go down and baffle them?
  • And Starring: Invoked in the intro of one episode, in which no one can agree about the casting and billing.
    John: This is I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, with special guest John Cleese.
    Tim: Featuring Tim Brooke-Taylor...
    David: Starring David Hatch!
    Graeme: Surprise celebrity — Graeme Garden!
    Jo: Introducing Jo Kendall.
    Bill: With...(sadly) Bill Oddie.
  • Butt-Monkey: Bill Oddie, and occasionally David Hatch. Example:
    Jo Kendall: And now a little song about a one-man band, sung by our little songster, Bill Oddie, who should be one man banned.
  • Camp Gay: Often played by Tim Brooke-Taylor, and sometimes John Cleese as well.
  • Camp Straight: Sir Prancelot, in the Arthurian sketch, is Tim Brooke-Taylor at his most camp — and madly in love with the King's daughter.
    Prancelot: That surprised you, didn't it?
  • Captain Obvious: They mined this for a lot of humour.
    David: Oedipus had known his mother a long time.
  • Car Meets House: Bill and Graeme park inside Tim's house in the 25th anniversary episode.
  • Catchphrase: Usually avoided, although "I'm the king rat!" stands out as an exception, as well as Jo Kendall's characters' "Hello, sailor!" and Bill Oddie's "How de do dere, honey!"
    • One episode featured Bill attempting to turn "Terrapins!" into a catch phrase, only for the rest of the cast to keep telling him there was nothing funny about terrapins. He proceeded to prove them wrong with "The Terrapin Song".
    • Another episode included characters randomly blurting out the word "teapot" in the hope that the audience would be conditioned to find it funny. And by halfway through the episode they were.
    • Catchphrases seemed to keep happening, whether the performers wanted them or not. In one later episode, they ran through all the catchphrases from the show's run right at the start to get them over with, with John Cleese commenting "Honestly, it's like feeding time at the zoo" at the audience's cheers.note 
  • Censored for Comedy: A recurring gag with medleys of censored songs from performers like Tom Jones or Rolf Harris. As you can imagine, they had a lot of fun with songs like 'Two Little Boys' (even if that's Harsher in Hindsight now).
  • Character Development: Unusual for a sketch show, but still present — for many seasons, David Hatch usually played himself playing a generic announcer, and was otherwise either dull or snarky. Then, towards the end of season 7 and throughout season 8, he started identifying himself more as a producer, becoming more assertive, occasionally power-mad, and actively trying to stop the surreality/filthy-mindedness of other cast members rather than just providing a contrast to it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: David Hatch and John Cleese, but John especially. A running gag was him breaking character or otherwise interrupting to snark.
    David: London is home to many people.
    John: ..."London is home to many people". Oh, well done. David Hatch, the boy genius.
  • Dirty Old Man: Grimbling.
    John: Aren't you a little past it, old man?
    Grimbling: No, I'm a little dirty old man.
  • Double Entendre: Almost every joke that wasn't a pun was this. Sometimes the jokes were sexual in nature, sometimes they were simply plays on the fact that a given word or phrase could be taken two different ways and spun off from the less obvious interpretation.
    David: Think of Scandinavia, and you may think of beautiful blondes.
    Graeme: Oh, may I?
    David: Oh, certainly.
    Graeme, Bill, Tim: [lustily] Wa-hey!...
    Graeme: [chuckles] Oh, thank you, I enjoyed that.
    David: Yes, not at all.
  • Exact Words: The unfortunate name of an arts show is caused by this.
    David: No, no, that's not going to cut it. Look, we need an arts show — but something with a bit of a kick in it.
    (theme music)
    Tim: We present A Kick In The Arts.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Played for laughs in a sketch where Tim, John and Jo wanted to present three different radio programs (gardening, yoga and cookery respectively) at the same time, so Graeme makes them share the same microphone, leading to a barrage of Double Entendre comedy.
    Tim: Good evening. Now is the time of year you should be lifting your bulbs-
    John: -crossing your legs-
    Jo: -and whipping half a dozen-
    Tim: -pansies. And as soon as you can, get them into the bed-
    Jo: -coat them liberally with butter-
    John: -and take a deep breath.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Many times.
  • Impossible Insurance: In one sketch, a character buys a ridiculously-specific insurance policy that will only pay out if he's trampled by a herd of bison in the middle of Whitehall. As he is explaining to a skeptical friend (while standing in the middle of Whitehall) what a good deal it was, he is indeed trampled by a herd of bison — but it turns out they're buffalo, not bison.
  • Inherently Funny Words: Favorite frequently used funny words on the show included "ferret", "rhubarb tart", "gibbon", and "terrapin".
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Unintentional on David's part. From their version of Alice Through The Looking-Glass:
    David: Oh my, oh my, oh my—I'm late, I'm late, I'm late—oh my ears and whiskers—oh my, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late...
    John: It was a loony.
    David: I am not! I'm a little white rabbit!
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Played for Laughs in their Great Escape sketch where the escaping P.O.W.s are told:
    In case of capture, you'll each have a pistol with one bullet. So, for God's sake, be careful or you could hurt yourself!
  • Left the Background Music On: Several times. In one episode, the BBC can't afford any musicians, so the linking music that usually signifies a shift in location is conspicously absent. The cast, therefore, sing an a cappella rendition of the music to move from location to location.
    • Also played straight at times:
      BBC Director: Now, here's what we want you to do!
      [transitional piano music]
      David Hatch: ...but I can't play the piano.
    • An episode opens in the Houses of Parliament. The narrator explains that "select committees meet to discuss matters of national import" and then there is a tinkly piano transition. Followed by the narrator adding "And play the piano". The scene then cuts to a meeting room where a member is asked to stop playing the piano and come back to the table.
    • In "Murder on the 3.17 to Cleethorpes", Secret Serviceman Cliff Hanger-Ending (David) has just received orders from his boss, Special Branch head Twiggy (Graeme), to take classified documents to Cleethorpes, and says he will never be forgotten if he succeeds. Twiggy then immediately forgets who Hanger-Ending is and orders him out of his office. A clarinet-led musical transition follows, after which Twiggy adds, "And take that blasted clarinet with you!"
    • Another one from the 25th anniversary show when John begins to deliver an impassioned speech about how miserable he was not being allowed to do a Silly Walk or sing 'The Ferret Song' and a sad trombone starts playing in the background.
    John: Don't desert me, please... don't abandon me, please... and please... stop playing that bloody trombone, would you!
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Lady Constance. Her being an Abhorrent Admirer didn't help.
  • Mistaken for Gay: This, from "The Source of the Nile".
    Egyptian Man: Effendi, effendi! I have nice sister!
    Lord Luvaduck: How dare you?! I'm an English lord!
    Egyptian Man: Oh, I apologize. Effendi, effendi! I have nice brother!
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg
  • No Accounting for Taste: John and Mary, played by John Cleese and Jo Kendall. Usually Mary is a Love Martyr, but sometimes she hates John as much as he hates her.
  • Punny Name: Many.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: The show seems to have gotten exponentially faster and funnier each series.
  • Refuge in Audacity: You better believe it! They managed to get away with some staggeringly offensive jokes because of it (their 'Black and White Minstrel Show' went through various incarnations including the 'Yellow and White Minstrel Show' and the 'Red and White Minstrel Show' before settling on Tim performing solo as the 'Pink and White Minstrel Show').
  • Reunion Show: The 25th Anniversary show in 1988.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The final episode of the Professor Prune And The Electric Time Trousers serial opens with all the characters dying. They get better.
  • Running Gag: Many, such as Tim Brooke-Taylor playing all women's parts, the phrase "promises, promises" to signify a Double Entendre, David Hatch playing all boring bits, ferrets, gibbons, OBEs, and John Davidson (who?).
  • Show Stopper:
    • Once she becomes an established recurring character, Lady Constance's first appearance in any given episode always causes a prolonged audience reaction. (Inevitably, several episodes deliberately subvert the audience's expectation of an impending entrance by Lady Constance... for a minute or two, anyway.)
    • From the serial Professor Prune And The Electric Time Trousers, at every appearance of Spot the Dog (played by Tim Brooke-Taylor, who had previously not been given a role in the serial), there's huge audience applause, even though his only line is "Woof!". Eventually, John Cleese gets jealous.
    David: Oh, come now, John — you've got a sports car, a mansion, a career—all Tim's got is his woof! You don't begrudge him that, do you?
    John: Yes.
  • Shout-Out: In the 25th Anniversary episode, the chief of police calls in "Hercule Parrot". Who is promptly shot, making him Hercule ex-Parrot.
  • Show Within a Show: All the time, since the setting of the show was a radio station. Most notable is the weekly Prune Play Of The Week and the two serials, Curse Of The Flying Wombat and Professor Prune And His Electric Time Trousers, which featured an eccentric old buffer and his intrepid young assistants, travelling through space and time in the aforementioned Time Trousers.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: As with so many other BBC radio comedy shows before and since, sketches which first aired on this show, depending on who wrote them, migrated to television and took on a visual dimension. ISIRTA sketches went to TV shows as diverse as At Last the 1948 Show, The Goodies and Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • Spoonerism: The first episode of Series 5 ("Bunny and Claude") segues from the opening credits into "The David Hatch Show", in which David passes himself off as a DJ. His DJ patter includes the following careful subversion of the obvious spoonerisms:
    David Hatch: Yes, it's Dave the Rave on the medium wave, with another happy-go-go, ringing-dinging, bunky-futting, frunty-bucking, brunty-funking, funting-butting - that was close! (audience laughter) Funky-butting fun time of fun and frolics on Radio Hatch!
  • Stage Magician: One John and Mary sketch has John driving Mary round the bend with an incessant string of magic tricks, including versions of Pick a Card (he gets the card wrong) and What Have We Ear? (producing several remarkable objects, none of which is the one he intended).
  • Straight Man: David Hatch, who claims he "only does the narration and boring bits". Occassionally he bemoans it, and occassionally he uses it to avoid taking part in the latest shenanigans. (He did often get his share of puns to deliver, though. Just not as many silly voices.)
  • Take That!: Tony Blackburn, David Frost and many others.
  • Take That Us
  • Translation: "Yes": In the "Schmurtot Yach Proxyl?" sketch, an episode of a program teaching a fictional Eastern European language.
    "Did you notice that word 'apklaptischmurkschlagomfarawak'? Yes, it means 'with'."
  • Travelling at the Speed of Plot: Utterly averted in an installment of Professor Prune and the Electric Time Trousers.
    They built a boat and crossed the Atlantic in a record sixteen years.
  • Un Sound Effect: Frequently.
    Narrator: They basked in the sun merrily.
    Crowd: Bask, bask, bask...
    Voice: Merrily!
  • Weird Trade Union: In one episode a parody of "Song of the South" is held up by the representative of the division of Animals' Equity representing spiny anteaters, marsupials and other lower mammals, who demands that some of the parts should go to members of that division. Leading choruses of "B'rer Rabbit out! B'rer Platypus in!", he is successful, and when the production continues, not only does B'rer Platypus take the leading part, there's also one for B'rer Bandicoot.