The Burkiss Way

By Mike Brown

Burkiss Way

The Burkiss Way is probably the most underrated comedy show ever to be broadcast on BBC radio, especially at tea time. It had everything: regular characters, catch-phrases, a versatile cast and writing that was original and inventive and which, for the first time since The Goons, fully exploited the medium of radio (though she later claimed she had not been exploited because the nudity had been essential to the plot).

Recording The Burkiss Way

Most of the later programmes had a remarkably complex structure as the programme temporarily left one sketch to join another, often returning to the original sketch much later in the programme. A programme could be dropped on the floor and broken, only to be reassembled in the wrong order, or the closing credits might appear at the beginning of the show, which would then work its way methodically backwards to finish at the beginning. Dummy endings and fake continuity announcements were commonplace.

Rehearsing The Burkiss Way

The scripts may have been downright silly but they also sparkled with a rare intelligence which gave the show virtually instant cult status. Indeed, if we dig down to the show's roots we find that it began life as that almost unique animal, a Radio 3 comedy programme! It was called The Half-Open University. The first of these was effectively a pilot for The Burkiss Way and was broadcast during the August Bank holiday weekend of 1975, on 25 August. The cast consisted of Timothy Davies, Chris Emmett, Christine Ozanne and Nigel Rees; the writers were Andrew Marshall, John Mason and David Renwick, and the producer was Simon Brett (who can be purchased for just a few pence).

Reading The Burkiss Way

It took more than a year for the second Half-Open University programme to appear in the schedules but it was eventually broadcast on 1-Dec-1976, also on Radio 3, but by then the first series of The Burkiss Way had been broadcast on Radio 4 and the second series was about to go out.


Listen to an mp3 of the opening of the first Half Open University programme

The regular cast of The Burkiss Way was Chris Emmett, Fred Harris, Jo Kendall and Nigel Rees.

Burkiss way team
For those of you reading this in mono, the "acting team" from Left to right: Chris Emmett, Jo Kendall, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris.

All the shows were recorded in the BBC's Paris Studio, Lower Regent Street, London and from Lesson 28 onwards the shows were recorded and broadcast in stereo.

People in charge of The Burkiss Way

The shows were written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick and produced first by Simon Brett 'of Stepney', then later by John Lloyd 'of Europe' and ultimately by David 'Hatch of the BBC' Hatch, who was previously known to fans of radio comedy from his appearances in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.

The Radio Times and The Burkiss Way collide
The final and most controversial programme of the smash-hit tv series, Lesson 47, was broadcast on 15-Nov-1980, ending the programme's 5 year run.

Cast member Nigel Rees recalls:

In the early series, until about 1978, The Burkiss Way was, without doubt, a cult show. I have never known anything like the studio recordings in those days. So many people wanted to come, we had to sit them on the floor and even on the stage.

And it was a very young audience, very un-Radio 4, with pubescent girls wearing T-shirts saying, "I do it the Burkiss Way"! But the BBC - particularly Radio 4 - didn't know what to do with it, as there were a lot of complaints. When David Hatch took over as producer he took the programme in a more mainstream direction.

You may remember there was a lot of fuss made at the time about the very last edition of the programme, Lesson 47 "Wave Goodbye to CBEs the Burkiss Way". It poked fun at the grovelling Radio 4 celebrations of the Queen Mum's 80th birthday (and featured David Jason as a guest).

The then Controller of Radio 4 was so appalled at this lèse-majesty (more against her than the Queen Mum, I'd say) that when the programme was repeated it had had six minutes chopped out of it and they filled up the time with guitar music.

Ironically, producer David Hatch (by this time boss of BBC Radio) duly collected his own CBE in 1994!

Points from the Post

Thank goodness for BBC7. Otherwise I would never have heard this wonderful show!

Andrew Bowden

Posted 10:17 PM, 4 January 2011

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I'd never heard of The Burkiss Way until a few weeks ago when I turned on Radio 4 Extra and I'd thought I'd missed it when I turned the radio on as it was ending. It then started again, half way through the show.

I am now trying to get them all on mp3 download but it appears only the first series is available.

Radio 4 Extra is brilliant for old comedy especially as the new stuff is generally really poor on radio and TV (TV is far worse than radio though).

James

Posted 9:29 AM, 25 September 2011

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Try http://www.otrcat.com/burkiss-way-p-1146.html

Paul Johnson

Posted 11:00 PM, 29 September 2011

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I loved the Burkiss Way to bits when it was first broadcast I was in my late teens at the time.
I loved Renwick and Marshall's writing, I felt that I was on the same wavelength as them as I loved to mock the bad tv and radio of the day.

What Burkiss Fan could forget, "Desert Island Wobblies" and a delgihtful parody of a book programme called "Read All About It".
I musnt forget the man in one sketch who went to his Doctor suffering from Hogmanay of the knee,"Is is serious, no its too bloody silly for words."

Burkiss sosunds surprisingly fresh today and as for Eric Pode Of Croydon,"Isn't he still a panic."

BARRIE HOWELLS

Posted 12:16 PM, 15 October 2011

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There are some references in the show to a Mr Different Adams-Douglas Adams did in fact write for the show, the Kamikaze sketch. A sketch where Death couldn't come and see someone and Scrofula came instead was later borrowed by Terry Pratchett.

TIM AZURE

Posted 10:29 AM, 21 October 2011

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David Renwick and Andrew Marshall also wrote for 'Not The Nine O'Clock News' and the 'gramophone' sketch was taken from The Burkiss Way.

James

Posted 3:38 PM, 23 October 2011

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I listen to this wonderful program at least three times per episode. You always miss some of the "one-liners" first and second time. Better than "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" with Humph.

Thank you radio 4 extra.

Eric Pode of Croydon

Trev Collier

Posted 4:50 PM, 16 January 2013

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The writing was extremely clever.

Umberto Eco has (according to Victor Lewis Smith) stated that "inversion is the essence of comedy". One episode of "The Former Radio Show The Burkiss Way" has a very concise example:

fx: knock on door
fx: door opening
Chris Emmett: Yes?
(short pause)
Nigel Rees: What do you mean, 'yes'? I live here, what do you want?

There are numerous examples of little turns and twists of language which made TFRTBW the natural heir to The Goons, e.g.

Doctor (Nigel Rees): I'm here to see Mr Thrimpson. I understand he's in bed with a broken leg.
Mr Thrimpson (Chris Emmett): Yes, his teddy bear's at the mender's.

Genius.

Nigel Stapley

Posted 9:26 PM, 16 January 2013

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Ah...The Burkiss Way to Dynamic Living. The perfect programme for a 14-year old in the late 1970s to tape-record and repeat sketches from at school the next morning! Who can forget "Doctor Batmanandrobin" and the terrifying Curse of Biblical Film Music? ("It's coming under the door!")

Could never figure out why Eric Pode of Croydon was always referred to as "Mr Croydon" though...

Dave Brown

Posted 2:37 PM, 14 February 2013

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Because that was his surname.

Nigel Stapley

Posted 10:15 PM, 17 February 2013

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So, what did those lost six minutes of David Jason's Queen Mother commentary so offensive to the station controller consist of? Have any scripts survived?

The People's Fiend

Posted 10:52 PM, 9 March 2013

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The 'lost six minutes of David Jason's Queen Mother commentary' aren't really lost, indeed Radio7 played it at least once, and anyway, like all Burkiss fans of a certain vintage, I taped the show every week at the time.
I still find myself saying 'thrid' and 'well, the offer was there' and 'don't kid yourself lady', and so on, just to amuse myself.
I recommend the book, BestSeller, by the way.

Nigel Parkinson

Posted 1:36 PM, 14 June 2013

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When Radio 7 (or whatever it was called that week) broadcast "Celebrate The Burkiss Way" a year or three back, the version of the last episode played ran for about 27 minutes, which leads me to suspect that it was the original transmission version.

Nigel Stapley

Posted 10:13 PM, 16 June 2013

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Article ©2001 Mike Brown

Compilation ©2001 Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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