I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Home station||BBC Home Service|
|Air dates||1964 to 1973|
|No. of episodes||104|
I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again (often abbreviated ISIRTA) was a BBC radio comedy programme which originated from the Cambridge University Footlights revue Cambridge Circus. It had a devoted youth following, with live recordings being more akin to a rock concert than a comedy show – a tradition which continued right through to the days of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
The pilot programme and Series 1 were broadcast on the BBC Home Service (renamed BBC Radio 4 in September 1967). Series 2–9 were broadcast on the BBC Light Programme (renamed BBC Radio 2 in September 1967).
It was first broadcast on 3 April 1964 – the pilot programme having been broadcast on 30 December 1963 under the title "Cambridge Circus" – and the ninth series was transmitted in November and December 1973. An hour-long 25th Anniversary show was broadcast in 1989. It is comically introduced as "full frontal radio". I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, a spinoff panel game show, was first produced in 1972.
The title of the show comes from a sentence commonly used by BBC newsreaders following an on-air flub: "I'm sorry, I'll read that again." Having the phrase used to recover from a mistake as the title of the show set the tone for the series as an irreverent and loosely-produced comedy show.
- Tim Brooke-Taylor (later became one of the three members of The Goodies). He has written humorous books on various subjects, including cricket and golf. He was a member of the cast of the television comedy series At Last the 1948 Show with John Cleese (as well as Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman), and later appeared in Marty Feldman's television comedy series Marty. Brooke-Taylor has acted in many other television sitcoms, as well as appearing in the 1970s BBC radio sketch show Hello, Cheeky! with John Junkin and Barry Cryer, a show which later translated to ITV.
- John Cleese (later part of Monty Python and star of Fawlty Towers; formed his own production company Video Arts to make business training films, which contained much Python-esque/Basil Fawlty-style humour, as well as making films including A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures). On the 25th Anniversary show he did his famous silly walk — it made terrible radio — and sang "The Ferret Song". He appeared in At Last the 1948 Show with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman, and was co-writer (with Graham Chapman) of several episodes of the Doctor in the House television comedy series. In later series Cleese was often absent, due to his appearances in Monty Python; in the sleeve notes to the BBC's re-issues of the shows on cassette, his absences were explained as "[having] ranting commitments elsewhere".
- Graeme Garden (also became one of the three members of The Goodies). He is a qualified medical doctor, and was co-writer (with Bill Oddie) of several episodes of the medical comedy Doctor in the House on ITV (appearing in the episode "Doctor on the Box" as a television presenter). He also appeared as Commander Forrest in the Yes Minister television episode "The Death List". He was a member of I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again from the start. At the same time, he was studying medicine in London. Because he did a midwifery medical course in Plymouth, he was not able to be a member of the cast of ISIRTA during the third season, due to the enormous distance between London and Plymouth which prevented Graeme from being able to travel to London to record ISIRTA during that period. However, Graeme kept on sending scripts for the radio show by mail - and rejoined the cast of ISIRTA upon his return to his medical studies in London.
- David Hatch (who went on to executive positions within the BBC, including the top position of Controller of BBC Radio 4). As was common in BBC radio at that time, Hatch served both as the show's announcer and as a cast member (similar to Douglas Smith's role in Round the Horne; Hatch however did give his roles some characterisation, in contrast to Smith's totally deadpan style). Hatch's announcements were frequently lampooned or interrupted by other cast members.
- Jo Kendall (a radio actress in many straight dramas subsequently; also appeared in the equally popular radio comedy series The Burkiss Way). She also guest starred (as the voice of 'The Queen') in The Goodies 1980 episode "Goodies and Politics".
- Bill Oddie (also became one of the three members of The Goodies). He has written many books, and has been an important spokesman on wildlife and ecological issues since the 1980s. Bill Oddie wrote and performed a daft but well-crafted song in the middle of most ISIRTA programmes. He was co-writer (with Graeme Garden) of several episodes of the Doctor in the House television comedy series.
- Humphrey Barclay was the producer of ISIRTA until 1968; from April that year the task was shared by David Hatch and Peter Titherage. In 1973, production was shared by David Hatch with John Cassels (for six episodes) and with Bob Oliver Rodgers (for two episodes).
- Music for the links and songs was provided by Dave Lee and his band.
As well as obviously giving rise to The Goodies, ISIRTA shows the roots of Monty Python very clearly, with Cleese, Chapman and Eric Idle all regular script contributors. The show's creator Humphrey Barclay would also go on to create the TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set, featuring the rest of the Python team.
ISIRTA's own roots can be traced back to classic radio comedies like ITMA, The Goon Show and Round the Horne.
As with Round the Horne, the cast's adventures would sometimes be episodic with cliff-hanger endings each week as with The Curse of the Flying Wombat (3rd series), and Professor Prune And The Electric Time Trousers (6th series). Christmas specials normally included a spoof of a traditional pantomime (or several combined). They had few qualms about the use of puns – old, strained or inventive – and included some jokes and catchphrases that would seem politically incorrect by the mid-1990s. Garden's impressions of the legendary rugby league commentator Eddie Waring and the popular Scottish TV presenter Fyfe Robertson, Oddie's frequent send-ups of the game-show host Hughie Green and Cleese's occasional but manic impressions of Patrick Moore (astronomer and broadcaster) built these people into eccentric celebrities in a way that the Mike Yarwood, Rory Bremner, Spitting Image and Dead Ringers programmes would do for other TV presenters with similar disrespect years later.
The show ended with an unchanging sign-off song which Bill Oddie performed as "Angus Prune" and was referred to by the announcer as "The Angus Prune Tune". Spoof dramas were billed as Prune Playhouse and many parodies of commercial radio were badged as Radio Prune, but the name Angus Prune seemed as random and incidental as the name Monty Python, which appeared several years later.
Although earlier BBC radio shows such as Much Binding in the Marsh, Take It From Here and Beyond Our Ken had conditioned listeners to a mix of music, sketches and jokes within a 30 minute show, and Round the Horne was also doing this, ISIRTA (as it was known to its friends) accelerated the transitions, and it certainly seemed more improvised. It was one of those programmes where you were unlikely to get all the jokes on first hearing so would have to listen to the scheduled repeat (or a tape recording) to discover what you had missed. It thus helped prepare the television audience for At Last the 1948 Show, Spike Milligan's Q series, Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Goodies. It also may have influenced other spoof-based British radio programmes such as Radio Active, On the Hour, The Sunday Format, and The News Huddlines.
Several cast members have since appeared in the radio comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, which was originally a spinoff from ISIRTA but has outlived it by decades. Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden continue as regulars on the show as of 2012.
Episodes of ISIRTA have frequently been heard on BBC Radio 4 Extra (available on digital television, DAB digital radio and the web).
Listeners in Australia occasionally find ISIRTA in the 05:30am vintage comedy timeslot on ABC Radio National (available on the web to overseas listeners)
- "I'm sorry, I'll read that again". A frequent interruption to mock news broadcasts on the show – the line often reads "Here is the news. I'm sorry, I'll read that again: Here are the news."
- "Rhubarb tart?" A delicacy much loved by all the cast members and often used as a bribe during sketches. David Hatch famously leaves the University of the Air during a Julius Caesar spoof lecture after Bill Oddie's flip remarks, only to be coaxed back with offers of rhubarb tart. It is also Angus Prune's favourite dish. In the Ali Baba sketch in the 3rd series, Cleese appears as Omar Khayyam; he remarks to Ali Baba, played by Brooke-Taylor, "Surely you've heard of the Rhubarb Tart of Omar Khayyam?" There were also two Rhubarb Tart songs, one sung by Cleese which he also sang in the TV show At Last The 1948 Show and one sung by Oddie which became The Custard Pie Song in the TV series The Goodies
- The Tillingbourne Folk and Madrigal Society. A recurring parody of English a cappella folk music (madrigal). The Society performs a range of songs from a medley of football chants through to the never-ending folk song "There was a Ship that put to Sea all in the Month of May". They also presented a version of "House of the Rising Sun", with Graeme Garden singing a fairly straight version of the song and the rest of the group providing highly-mannered interjections of "tiddly-pom", "whack-fol-riddle-me-o", and so on. Despite all this, it's clear that the cast are very capable singers.
- "I'm the king rat!" Generally said very over-dramatically by John Cleese, on which the rest of the cast would reply, "Oh, no you're not!" This was later referenced in a Monty Python sketch at a "hospital for over-actors."
- The Angus Prune Tune. Written by Bill Oddie with lyrics by Humphrey Barclay and performed by Bill Oddie (often with considerable audience involvement), this was the sign-off song for the series. In a retrospective show called "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, Again" broadcast on BBC Radio 4Extra in March 2013 to celebrate 50 years of ISIRTA, Bill Oddie said that the lyrics had been written by Humphrey Barclay. The full text runs as follows:
- My name is Angus Prune
- and I always listen to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again
- (You Don't!)
- My name is Angus Prune
- and I never miss I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again
- (Get Away!)
- I sit in my bath
- And I have a good laugh
- Cause the sig tune is named after me
- (Tell us yer name!)
- My name is Angus Prune
- And this is my tune
- It goes I-S-I-R-T-A
- I'm Sorry I'll Read That AGAIN!
- Beethoven's Fifth. The famous opening bars of this piece of music are constantly used in the series, usually in inappropriate settings; in fact, their first appearance was in the first sketch of the pilot programme in 1963, and during an Opportunity Knocks spoof in the 3rd series, Bill Oddie tries to tap-dance to them in what sound like hob-nailed boots. David Hatch once introduced the cast: "...with another of their sallies forth – (GRAMS: 'Da-da-da-dummmmm') – or Beethoven's Fifth –" On another occasion, the pre-show teaser was Beethoven, played by Brooke-Taylor, trying to get Bill Oddie, playing a very Jewish music publisher, to market the tune. After hearing the tune, Oddie says: "That's a load of old rubbish!" and then twists the melody to form the opening sig. The closing bars of the final movement of the symphony were used to introduce a 'promenade concert' which featured "There was a Ship that put to Sea all in the Month of May" – Hatch says solemnly in his best BBC voice: 'That was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler. Now, while they're getting up ...'.
- "The Ferret Song". John Cleese has an obsession with ferrets throughout the show, including his famous performance of The Ferret Song. This song begins with the line "I've got a ferret sticking up my nose". The line is repeated, then: "How it got there I can't tell, but now it's there, it hurts like hell and, what is more, it radically affects my sense of smell" – and promptly gets even worse. The song, which was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, was eventually included in The Fairly Incomplete And Rather Badly Illustrated Monty Python Song Book, accompanied by a picture of John with a Terry Jones-shaped ferret up his nose.
- The Silly Roll Call. During many of the longer adventures, the cast engage in the Silly Roll Call, where a series of words appropriate to their adventure are turned into people's names. The Jack The Ripper story involves criminals such as "Mr and Mrs Ree ... and their son ... Robby Ree ... and his cousin from the Far East, Ahmed Robby Ree; Mr and Mrs Nee, their Swedish son Lars Nee .. and his sister Betty Lars Nee; and Mr and Mrs Sittingforimmoralpurposes...and their son...Solly Sittingforimmoralpurposes". In Jorrocks, the Hunt Ball features appearances by "Lord and Lady V'syouyeahyeahyeah and their daughter Sheila V'syouyeahyeahyeah" as well as "Lord and Lady Umeeroffen and their son Duke Umerroffen" (Do you come here often?). Even the Ancient Greek world of Oedipus is not sacred – Socrates appears with Knobblyknees, Euripides with Iripadose, Antigone and Uncle-igone, and the treble of Aristophanes, Hoiteetoitees and Afternoonteas (as well as a barrage of rotten fruit). The basic idea of the Silly Roll Call would later be revived in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, the final game of the show often being some variant of the "Late Arrivals (at a society ball)" where the same sort of 'silly names' would be announced by each of the players in turn.
- The Gibbon. Whenever a generic animal is required for a sketch, the team always used a gibbon. This is often expanded to ludicrous lengths, such as a "Gibbon-Fanciers' Club". Edward Gibbon's famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is rendered as "Decline and Fall of the Roman Gibbon, by Edward Empire". Stanley Gibbons' Stamp Catalog became known as Stanley Stamps' Gibbon Catalog. Later, during The Goodies' heyday in the 1970s, Brooke-Taylor, Garden and Oddie would have a Top Ten hit with the song "Funky Gibbon" which reached #4, which they sang live on Top of the Pops, as well as the Amnesty International show A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick), and during The Goodies' episode "The Goodies – Almost Live". During another Goodies' episode "That Old Black Magic", Graeme Garden acts like an ape to the accompaniment of the Bill Oddie song "Stuff The Gibbon" — and, in yet another Goodies' episode, "Radio Goodies" the small boat above their pirate radio submarine is called "The Saucy Gibbon". A track on Soft Machine's "Six" album entitled "Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album" is dedicated to Bill Oddie.
- The Terrapin. One other animal that does appear occasionally is the terrapin. In one show, after a particularly macabre John Cleese monologue, Hatch sends him packing, whereupon the rest of the cast defect with Cleese and form Radio Terrapin in competition to Radio Prune. In another show, Bill performs "The Terrapin Song", and on yet another show, Hatch announces a terrapin joke, as follows: (Garden) Who was that Terrapin I saw you with last night? (Brooke-Taylor) That was no terrapin, that was our old school mistress – she tortoise (taught us) – a huge groan from the audience ....
- Bill Oddie's accent. Having a Birmingham accent (although born in Rochdale, in what was then Lancashire, he grew up in Birmingham) made Oddie the butt of many jokes, as well as leading him naturally towards many roles in sketches where someone was required to speak incomprehensibly. He did get his own back in the Lawrence Of Arabia On Ice sketch, when he appeared as Nanook of the North, complete with a plethora of cod-Lancastrian patois ("ee bah goom", "black puddings", "ecky thump", etc.) Later this became the basis for an episode of The Goodies where "Ecky Thump" was a secret Lancastrian martial art, the episode itself parodying the then-popular TV show "Kung Fu".
- The Old Jokes Home. The old jokes, of which there were many (see script below) were sometimes sent to the Old Jokes Home.
- OBE. Characters often have OBE added to the end of their name. It is also added to places, objects and names, as well as an interruption, e.g. in the Angus Prune (OBE) song. The cast occasionally ask for one ("thank you ma'am, I'll take the OBE if it's offered") or decline one that's been offered ("no thanks, I'm trying to give them up"). On one occasion, Hatch introduced the team as "Tim Brooke-Taylor, O.B.E., John Cleese, O.B.E., Graeme Garden, O.B.E., David Hatch, O.B.E., Jo Kendall, O.B.E., and Bill Oddie, O.D.D.I.E..". On another occasion, in a send-up of the Honours List, Hatch announces that a particular person has been made an earl, and also has been awarded the OBE; he therefore becomes an earlobe (this joke was also used in The Goodies series seven episode "Royal Command").
- (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie have now actually been awarded the OBE while John Cleese declined a CBE in 1996).
Episode and sketch titles
The episode titles are unofficial and mostly come from the last sketch in each program, which was usually the longest sketch.
Regular characters of the radio show
- The Director General of the BBC
- played by John Cleese. Continually sends memos to the ISIRTA team with the most ridiculous requests. One week, he decides that "Radio Prune" will become a music channel, a rival to Radio 1. His reason is "We at the BBC may be very, very silly, but we can write letters". He is also constantly offended by the contents of the show.
- American Continuity Man
- is a parody of Hughie Green usually played by Oddie, although on one occasion in the 3rd series, he's voiced by Garden. His catchphrases include "Thank-you, Thank-you" and "Wasn't that just great?" Invariably, when he hands over to Kendall for details of the Prune Play of the Week, she refers to him by another personality's name – Simon (Dee), Jimmy (Young, or possibly Savile), David (Frost) or Eamonn (Andrews). On one occasion, after Kendall announces the title of the Prune Play of the Week Jorrocks: The Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (or a man-hunting fox....), by Stanley Stamps, author of Stanley Stamps' Gibbon catalogue, Bill/Hughie says to the audience, "So will you please put your hands together ... and pray ...."
- Angus Prune
- is a character adopted by Bill Oddie to sing the playoff.
- Voiced by Bill Oddie, Grimbling is a "dirty old man" who often appears as a groundsman, butler or some similar profession. Due to the limitations of an audio-only medium, the true nature of Grimbling is never revealed, however he is greeted with universal revulsion by all bar the audience. He memorably introduces himself in the 25th Anniversary Episode "I am Grimbling, but don't worry, I'll clean it up later." In the same episode, Cleese asks him "Aren't you a little past it, old man?", only to have Grimbling respond, "No, I'm a little dirty old man". And in the Robin Hood sketch in the 3rd series, Grimbling is in the employ of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Garden), who tells him, 'You have done well, Grimbling; take this tennis racquet for your services.'
- Lady Constance de Coverlet
- is a ridiculous female character played by Tim Brooke-Taylor. Lady Constance is usually introduced by a statement along the lines of "what is that coming towards us? – It's huge – It's a rhinoceros!" – "No, it's me!!!" and this is often accompanied by a rousing rendition of "Happy Days Are Here Again". Her size is legendary; in the Henry VIII sketch, Katharine of Aragon and Lady Constance (masquerading as Anne of Cleavage) fight a duel to decide who is to be Queen. Brooke-Taylor introduces her in the style of a boxing MC: "..and in the blue corner, at 15 hundredweight, your own, your very own – and there's enough to go round – twice -..." In the Dentisti sketch, a parody on the 1960s TV series Daktari, Lady Constance plays (appropriately) an elephant; and in Jack The Ripper, Lady Constance is invited to "please, sit down anywhere ... or in your case, everywhere". In the Radio Prune Greek Tragedy sketch, she plays the mother of Oedipus Rex – according to the Oracle, she was hoping for a dog – and she tells Oedipus "Now let me get on with my housework, I've got a little behind .." (pause for the double-entendre to register) ".. oh all right, I've got a colossal behind!!" In the Colditz sketch, the lads' escape route is through the plug hole of her bath, and Bill Oddie exclaims "She's like a ruddy great iceberg: one eighth above the water, 76 eighths below!". She also in her own way is a bit of a nymphomaniac – she's described in the 25th Anniversary show version of Jack The Ripper as a steaming volcano of eroticism – and there are frequent references to unfulfilled sexual desire: in the 3.17 to Cleethorpes sketch, she and the other players in the drama are adrift on a raft in the ocean; Lady Constance offers to take all her clothes off and use them for a sail, and when Hatch says, "Yes, and then what?", Lady Constance replies, "Well, that's rather up to you ...."
- Mr Arnold Totteridge
- Another famous recurring character, Arnold Totteridge (played by Garden) is a doddering old man who gets lost in the middle of his sentences. He invariably begins with: "How do you do, do you do, do you do...do you?" and after rambling incoherently for a few minutes returns to where he started. His most famous moment is in the 25th Anniversary Episode, where he has been appointed "The Dynamic new-de-oo-do-de-oo-do-de-oo Head of Radio-do-do-de-do Comedy"
- John and Mary
- John Cleese and Jo Kendall frequently performed poignant – almost romantic – dialogues as the respectable but dysfunctional couple "John and Mary", a forerunner of the relationship between Basil and Sybil later televised in Fawlty Towers. They bear a passing resemblance to Fiona and Charles of Round the Horne.
- Masher Wilkins
- A kind-hearted simpleton (played by John Cleese) who often appears as an unlikely villain or henchman. He is prone to malapropisms: "I've been trailing you through this impenetrable ferret-- I mean 'forest'" - but these are often the intro to clever running jokes. For instance in this case the line continues: "Oh no, not ferret, I mean stoat". "Stoat?" "Yes, 'stoatally impenetrable". At some point, a female character would often call out "Oh, Masher, Masher!" - followed by a chorus of "All fall down!" by the remaining cast. In one show, the topic on The Money Programme is fiscal policy and other matters monetary, and Masher asks some very abstruse questions about the Bank of England and its role in the economy. His last question, however is: 'An' wot's the combination o' de safe: oooh wot a giveaway!!'
Writers and cast in order of appearance:
Comedy songs replaced traditional songs during episodes.
- "Roger Wilmut's ISIRTA research notes". Home.clara.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- "''I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again'' on The British Comedy Website". Britishcomedy.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- Roger Wilmut From Fringe to Flying Circus: celebrating a unique generation of comedy 1960–1980. London: Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1980. ISBN 0-413-46950-6.
- "Research notes". Home.clara.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again Episode Guide
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again Episode Guide
- Roberts, Jem. The CLUE Bible. 2009. (Includes a large section on ISIRTA as well)
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again — British Comedy website
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again — Trash Fiction website
- Global British Comedy Collective — episode guides for ISIRTA and other radio comedy
- Detailed information on I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
- I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again — mentioned in the article "The History of the BBC" at the BBC website
- Detailed information on I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
- Detailed information on I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
- Detailed information on I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again on the Pre-Python Series page of the Origin of Monty Python website
- The Goodies Illustrated Guide; Cambridge Circus and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again (details of related sound recordings)