Audio: BBC: The Absolutely Radio Show

The Absolutely Radio Show

Released by BBC Audio

Written and performed by Pete Balkie, Morwenna Banks, Moray Hunter, Gordon Kennedy, and John Sparkes

Absolutely is a criminally undersung comedy collective from the late 1980s. Dominating Channel 4’s comedy output from 1989-1993, the team is full of names you know, but should… ahem… absolutely know better, including Morwenna Banks, Gordon Kennedy, Jack Docherty and John Sparkes.

Along with the likes of the Hat Trick crew and the Naked Video gang (with whom there was some overlap), Absolutely nailed some classic characters to the nation’s psyche, like Sparkes and Banks as Denzil and Gwynedd, a pair of married Welsh dysfunctional homunculi, Moray as Calum Gillhooley (billed as the world’s most boring man), Banks as the little girl who explained everything she knew about a given topic in a masterclass of childlike certainty, ending each monologue with “It is! It’s true!”, and the vague forerunner of The League of Gentlemen that was the Stoneybridge Town Council.

While everyone remembers the likes of The Comic Strip, fewer – but arguably more discerning – comedy fans everywhere in the UK remember Absolutely.

The Rebirth of Absolutely

But decades after Absolutely had flown the television coop and its members had gone their separate ways, a radio show determined to find the best new sketch comedy groups in the UK, Sketch-a-rama, put on a live comedy night in which most of the members of Absolutely reformed, ostensibly for a one-night-only gig, blending classic TV sketches with some brand, spanking new 21st century Absolutely content – and it absolutely killed.

Letting the likes of Morwenna Banks’ little girl loose in a world of Donald Trump, dating apps, and anti-trans sentiment was a pure joy, and interestingly, Calum Gilhooley, originally written as the world’s most boring man, became a strange kind of cult hero when pitted against the technological and restrictive madness of the 21st century.

Put Calum up against a recorded telephone system – Press 1 for orders, 2 for queries about existing orders and so on – and he became a kind of guru, the man who could out-madness the madness simply by nit-picking and dunderheaded, well-meaning persistence.

Pretty suddenly, the world – or at least the UK comedy scene – fell in love with Absolutely all over again, and it ran for three further series as The Absolutely Radio Show.

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

What you get on this new release from the BBCis the whole kit and caboodle – the original Sketch-a-rama episode that brought the team (sadly minus Jack Docherty, who was off doing a radio comedy show of his own – about which, more in a moment) back together, the three full series, and an almost priceless collection of interviews, conducted by Gordon Kennedy, with several cast and crewmembers, to get a fuller perspective on the show, its creation, its triumphs and difficulties, and how it felt to bring a Nineties show to life again in the second decade of the 21st century.

There’s even – for the joy of the immersive experience – an episode of the show raw, as recorded, including fluffs, bloopers, missed cues and the like, so you get the experience of more or less being in the audience at a live taping. In a sense, this is the absolute Absolutely Radio Show.

There’s sheer joy throughout this collection – because this is a group of performers who firstly, craft their sketch-writing in some cases to the point where shifting a comma would be heresy, secondly, feel like they can’t believe their luck to get a second bite at the apple doing the same kind of comedy, and thirdly, never shirk their duty either to be funny or to twist their satire-knives into their modern targets.

There’s satire here that will blow your hair back, especially in the light of the events of 2023 – in a segment called News News News, there are skewerings of both the media’s need for catastrophes to be ongoing, so it can milk as much speculative coverage from them as possible, and for instance, the demented, slavish interest of the media in the Royal Family.

In one such segment, we switch in moments from the hospital where a new prince is born, to the school where the new prince is expected to go to school a few years from now, to the church where he’s expected to get married 28 years from now, to the hospital where his own son is expected to be born 30 years from now, to the church where he’s expected to be buried, around 70 years from now.

All of that is presented as a single news item, with five different correspondents gloriously adding nothing to the world, and it’s so sublime in its observation it makes you want to stand up and clap.

The Docherty Gap

The absence of Docherty is a shame, but if you need some Jack Docherty in your ears, here’s a side-recommendation. Get something that’s confusingly listed as It’s Not Us, It’s Them, but which is actually Docherty’s sitcom-with-a-difference, Start/Stop – one of the jewels of any BBC Radio comedy fan’s collection.

Written by and starring Docherty, alongside Charlie (Fast Show) Higson, Kerry (After Life) Godliman, Katherine (The IT Crowd) Parkinson, John (The Fast Show) Thompson and others, the premise takes hree couples, each of whom are friends, each of whom’s marriage is struggling, and all of whom are able to stop the action of the situation to give asides or their inner thoughts to the audience, so you get a layered understanding of what’s happening.

Getting that alongside The Absolutely Radio Show will plug any Docherty gap in your consciousness, but the joy is that the rest of the Absolutely team update their premises to make them not just as funny as they were back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but better, sharper, funnier and more relevant to the world of the mid-2010s – which is close enough to make them still deliver value today.

The Absolutely Spa

Sharp, funny, sometimes squirm-inducing in its characters, The Absolutely Radio Show proved to anyone who’d managed to miss the TV incarnation of the show that this group of people, put together, were comedy dynamite, and for three additional years, they brought the Absolutely magic to the radio.

Run the new collection through your ears – it’ll make you forget… *gestures vaguely around* all this for nigh on ten hours. Cheaper than a spa day, less hassle than a mini-break, get your Absolutely Radio Show on and have yourself a laugh.

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