The Burkiss Way
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Home station||BBC Radio 4|
|Syndicates||BBC Radio 7|
|Starring||Denise Coffey (series 1)
Jo Kendall (series 2–6)
|Producer(s)||Simon Brett (series 1–2)
John Lloyd (series 3–4)
David Hatch (series 5–6)
|Recording studio||BBC Paris Studio, Lower Regent Street, London|
|Air dates||27 August 1976 to 15 November 1980|
|No. of series||6|
|No. of episodes||47|
stereo (from Lesson 28)
The Burkiss Way was a BBC Radio 4 sketch comedy series broadcast from August 1976 to November 1980. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, with additional material in early episodes by John Mason, Colin Bostock-Smith, Douglas Adams, John Lloyd and others. The show starred Denise Coffey (series 1), Jo Kendall (series 2 onward), Chris Emmett, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris. The series had three producers, announced as "Simon Brett of Stepney", "John Lloyd of Europe", and "David 'Hatch of the BBC' Hatch".
An excerpt from Douglas Adams's Burkiss Way sketch, "Eric Von Contrick" excerpt
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The series had its roots in two half-hour sketch shows entitled Half-Open University which Marshall and Renwick had written with Mason for Radio 3 as a parody of Open University programmes. The first, broadcast on 25 August 1975, spoofed science, the second, on 1 December 1975, history.
In a similar vein, The Burkiss Way was styled around fictional correspondence courses by "Professor Emil Burkiss" entitled The Burkiss Way to Dynamic Living, and each episode or "lesson" had a number and a title based on one of the course's subjects: "Lesson 1: Peel Bananas the Burkiss Way", "Lesson 2: Pass Examinations the Burkiss Way", and so on. Although the numbers and titles were maintained throughout the run, a significant change of style early in the second series saw the radio correspondence course become a hook rather than a narrative device, and it was mentioned only in passing.
From here on the programme continued in a more conventional sketch format, though it was to use increasingly Pythonesque devices including surreal, stream-of-consciousness linking, back-referencing and aggregation. Like the Pythons before them, the writers lampooned and tinkered with the medium on which the show was broadcast, including spoofs of Radio 4's continuity style. Many later episodes had false endings, sometimes disguised as genuine continuity announcements. The opening and closing credits might be anywhere within the show. One show ran backwards from the closing to the opening credits, while another was allegedly dropped, broken and glued together with a tube of BBC coffee, resulting in a disjointed running order with many sketches beginning and ending in mid-sentence.
As time went on the show became increasingly surreal, and in several sketches the writers seemed to see how many strange ideas they could cram into a sketch. For example, one later episode contains a sketch about an amoeba employed by the Department of Civil Service Staff Recruitment and Fisheries as a token Desmond Dekker and the Aces but who keeps reproducing asexually by mitosis while singing a Lee Dorsey song.
In the first series Chris Emmett made several appearances as a dirty old man; in episode 2, his character became Prime Minister thanks to the Burkiss Way. From series 2 this voice became "Eric Pode of Croydon", one of the show's few recurring characters and the only one not a parody of a real person. He is a man with unsavoury habits, inspired by Round the Horne's "J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock". Each week he is interviewed by Fred Harris's character, who calls him Mister Croydon, is disgusted by his habits and puns, and always remarks, "isn't he a panic". This was one of the show's two catchphrases, the other being "there will now be a short intermission". There was usually a series of linked sketches through each episode, the intermission sketches providing a break.
The fact that Douglas Adams had written for the show did not prevent his becoming a target for satire. He was parodied as Mister Different Adams whose catchphrase is "I see comedy as a kind of...". Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was also a target; the 1979 Christmas show (Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special) closes with Peter Jones as his HHGTTG character, The Book, attempting to vilify BBC Radio 4 for broadcasting The Burkiss Way, but in typical fashion he is cut off in mid-sentence.
The Burkiss Way ran to 47 episodes in six series, but the episode and series numbering are derailed by "Lesson 31" and "Lesson 32", which are a single episode masquerading as two half-episodes, the first of which ends series 3 and the second of which begins series 4. There are two "Lesson 39"s, both entitled "Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way", which have identical beginnings. The consequence is that "Lesson 33" through the first "Lesson 39" have lesson numbers that are one greater than the cumulative number; from the second "Lesson 39" onward the correct numbering is restored.
A sketch in Lesson 28 featuring unsubtle references to newscaster Reginald Bosanquet's alcoholism was cut following the first broadcast and was never reinstated. The last episode was cut short by 6 minutes on its first repeat transmission, on the instructions of the controller of BBC Radio 4. The missing material lampooned the grovelling approach of Radio 4 to the Queen Mother's 80th birthday celebrations. Repeats on BBC7 are still censored, although a restored version was broadcast in Celebrate The Burkiss Way on BBC7 on Saturday, 4 April 2009, (repeated most recently on BBC Radio4 Extra on 3 December 2011).
The show gained a cult following and has several reruns on BBC 7 / BBC Radio 4 Extra. Listeners complained about some omissions, which may indicate that episodes have been lost or wiped – notably Lesson 6 – and some episodes have been broadcast in mono, suggesting the original stereo masters were wiped. The suggestion is, however, false as the BBC is known to have all episodes in its archive. Lesson 6 is unique in being only 15 minutes long, which makes it difficult accommodate in R4 Extra's schedule.
Series 1 exists in stereo since, at the time of the recording, it was not known whether it would be broadcast on BBC R3 or R4. (The confusion arose because The Half-Open University, effectively two Burkiss Way pilots, were broadcast on R3. As is now known The Burkiss Way became a BBC R4 show and thus series 1 was originally broadcast in mono. The reason for this was that at that time R4 had a policy of not broadcasting Light Entertainment shows in stereo, and for this same reason Lessons 7-27 were recorded in mono. After this BBC R4 policy towards broadcasting LE and comedy changed, allowing subsequent shows to be recorded and broadcast in stereo.
|1||1||Peel Bananas the Burkiss Way||27 August 1976|
|2||Pass Examinations the Burkiss Way||3 September 1976|
|3||Escape from Prison the Burkiss Way
also known as "The Burkiss Special with James Burkiss"
|10 September 1976|
|4||Solve Murders the Burkiss Way||17 September 1976|
|5||Keep Unfit the Burkiss Way||24 September 1976|
|6||Win Awards the Burkiss Way||1 October 1976|
|2||7||Influence Friends and Win People the Burkiss Way||15 December 1976|
|8||Plan Christmas Schedules the Burkiss Way||22 December 1976|
|9||Gain Spiritual Fulfilment the Burkiss Way||29 December 1976|
|10||Govern Britain the Burkiss Way||5 January 1977|
|11||Journey into the Unknown the Burkiss Way||12 January 1977|
|12||Make Short Comedy Programmes the Burkiss Way||19 January 1977|
|13||Commemorate Jubilees the Burkiss Way||26 January 1977|
|14||Do You Know What the Burkiss Way||2 February 1977|
|15||Skive From School the Burkiss Way||9 February 1977|
|16||Get Off With Life the Burkiss Way||16 February 1977|
|17||This Is Your Life the Burkiss Way||23 February 1977|
|18||Become a Rock Star the Burkiss Way||2 March 1977|
|19||Replace the Burkiss Way||9 March 1977|
|3||20||Discover Gravity the Burkiss Way||15 November 1977|
|21||Get Cut Off the Bur...||22 November 1977|
|22||Succeed in Business the Burkiss Way||29 November 1977|
|23||Son of the Burkiss Way||6 December 1977|
|24||One Hour to the Burkiss Way||13 December 1977|
|25||Not to be Opened Until Christmas the Burkiss Way||20 December 1977|
|26||First Prize the Burkiss Way||27 December 1977|
|27||Around the World the Burkiss Way||3 January 1978|
|28||Ignore These Programme Titles the Burkiss Way||10 January 1978|
|29||Complain About the Burkiss Way||17 January 1978|
|30||Not the Burkiss Way||24 January 1978|
|31||Bruce's Choice||31 January 1978|
|4||32||Start New Series the Burkiss Way|
|33||The Last Burkiss Way||7 February 1978|
|34||The Next to Last Burkiss Way||14 February 1978|
|5||35||Remember the Burkiss Way||2 April 1979|
|36||Rise from the Grave the Burkiss Way||9 April 1979|
|37||Is Britain Going the Burkiss Way? (part 1)||16 April 1979|
|38||Is Britain Going the Burkiss Way? (part 2)||23 April 1979|
|39||Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way||30 April 1979|
|39||Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way||7 May 1979|
|40||Avoid Like the Plague the Burkiss Way||14 May 1979|
|Special||41||Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special||26 December 1979|
|6||42||The Man From the Burkiss Way||11 October 1980|
|43||Sack the Burkiss Way||18 October 1980|
|44||Love Big Brother the Burkiss Way||25 October 1980|
|45||Write extremely long titles with lots and lots of words in, like this, so that the Radio Times will have to allot more space than the measly half a centimetre of billing space we usually get and at least it'll look a bit more prominent on the page, although still nowhere near the 50 column inches they give to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the Burkiss Way
also known as "Write Extremely Long Titles the Burkiss Way"
|1 November 1980|
|46||Settle Out Of Court the Burkiss Way||8 November 1980|
|47||Wave Goodbye to CBEs the Burkiss Way||15 November 1980|
Lessons 31 and 32 were in fact a single 30-minute show masquerading as two 15-minute episodes.
The two lessons numbered 39 were different, but started exactly the same way. Because of this, all of the episodes between Lesson 33 and the first Lesson 39 have lesson numbers that are one greater than the actual half-hour episode numeration.
A BBC Radio Collection in 1994 contained excerpts rather than complete episodes.
A book, Bestseller! The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon, was published by Allen & Unwin in 1981, loosely based on sketches from the series.
- Wells, Paul, "The Burkiss Way", Radiolistings. Retrieved 1 April 2011
- Brown, Mike, "The Compleat Burkiss Way", Transdiffusion Broadcasting System. Retrieved 30 March 2011
- Arnold, Steven, "The Guide to the Burkiss Way", The British Comedy & Drama Website. Retrieved 30 March 2011
- Lavalie, John, "The Burkiss Way (a Titles & Air Date Guide)", epguides.com. Retrieved 30 March 2011
- Marshall A and Renwick D (1981), Bestseller: The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon, Allen & Unwin, London, ISBN 0-04-827036-9