I was listening to some episodes of the old Chris Morris radio show On The Hour yesterday and today — the tapes were a very welcome present once upon a time from comrade and weblog reader Richard — and I’m delighted to report they remain extremely funny indeed. One might have thought that this kind of satire would become very stale very fast, since the programme is a parody of BBC news radio shows, with many of the jokes driven by references to contemporary politics. But ten years later On The Hour is extraordinarily fresh, and has borne the test of time far better than – for example – the near-contemporary political monologues of Ben Elton or the jokes of Spitting Image.
On The Hour also was very much a document of the Major years in British politics, and as Tony Blair tries to continue to push the Major agenda that little bit further with every passing year, the political arguments and attitudes which the show relentlessly mocks are still very much those of our ruling elite. But there is also an element of exceedingly good fortune: history has this well-documented tendency to repeat itself, of course, and America has, now as then, a President Bush with a whiney voice and a tendency to say silly things. In addition, several of the segments seem curiously prescient: one report concerns the British tourist who finds himself briefly in charge of the Argentinian government after its sudden collapse, and who has to be guided over the phone through some tricky negotiations with international financial agencies.
But what is most remarkable of all, I think, is the fact that ten years later, the BBC radio shows which On The Hour parodies still sound exactly the same as they did back then. Chris Morris and his fellow presenters caught the mannerisms, the emphases, the little abuses of the language which BBC presenters tended to perpetrate back then absolutely perfectly, and they still do. On the Today programme in its current incarnation, to take a trivial example, it’s impossible to listen to the regular business correspondent or any of the sports reporters without Alan Partridge coming to mind — especially when they conduct their own mini cross-examinations of people in the news.
And the immediacy with which the jokes in On The Hour hit home suggests that — all the widespread guff about the internet, Cool Britannia, etc., notwithstanding — there was actually very little or no fundamental cultural change in the decade since those shows were recorded, which is a very interesting thought.