Superb radio series (1989-90), followed by tepid TV adaptation (1990-92)
The rushes for the second show in the first radio series (recorded on
12/04/89 for transmission two days later) reveal that, at this early stage in the series'
development, producer Bill Dare was genuinely afraid of litigation from Mrs Whitehouse herself - so
much so that David Baddiel recorded an alternate version of the opening theme music, announcing
'The William Rees-Mogg Experience'. Steve Punt dismissed the fears onstage, saying "I can't
believe she's got a case." Dare was doubtful: "I'm more frightened of Mary Whitehouse than I am of Steve Punt," he confessed.
The first-series episode featuring the 'Doctor Who Monsters Dispute'
sketch (Show 3, 21/04/89) has apparently vanished from the BBC archives. The producer of Radio 4's
Pick Of The Week borrowed the tape to include the sketch on that week's programme,
but never returned it. The three appearances of the sketch (on Punt & Dennis Sample Mary
Whitehouse, a Comic Relief compilation broadcast on 15/3/91, a one-off
compilation broadcast on Radio 4 in March 1992, and on Punt & Dennis' Radio 2 'comedy clips'
series The Joy Of Sketch running from January - February 1998) have all been taken
from the Pick Of The Week broadcast rather than the original episode.
In the opening episode of the third radio series (6/01/90), the audience was
asked to take part in a spoof game show entitled 'Shag Or Die'.
Mysteriously, the entire sketch was missing from the midnight repeat
broadcast a few days later (12/1/90). Meanwhile, the following show
(13/01/90) also ran short by approximately seven minutes. A week
after that, Bill Dare left as producer and was replaced by Armando
The 'Superstition' sketch in Show 6 of the fourth radio series (24/11/90) opens with these lines:
The Britain of today is a
land of reason - a land in which empirical science and rational
thought has triumphed over mysticism and superstition.
Yes, in spite of modern
advances, superstition is still alive and well...
The Mary Whitehouse Experience
Series 4, Show 6, 24/11/90, BBC Radio 1
This exchange is a non sequitur. Could it therefore be the case that Dennis' opening speech originally had a punchline? Perhaps a pause, then:
The reasons for its cut may be artistic (i.e., it pre-empted subsequent jokes in a similar vein),
or perhaps legitimate (i.e., it didn't get a laugh - the audience were quite an
unpredictable crowd that evening). It is also possible, with the show being recorded in the days of
analogue technology, that the equipment failed, meaning Dennis' line was obliterated. It is just
about possible to discern an edit between the two lines.
Anyone who has been to a radio recording will know that a restless audience will always cheer when a successful attempt at a problematic sequence is finally achieved. This may go some way to explaining the cheering after the 'shark' sound effect in the sketch about 'the
world becoming nice' (Series 3, Show 7, 17/02/90), or the squeaking mice in one of the Christmas
pantomimes (Series 4, Show 7, 01/12/90), when Rob Newman announces "It'll take too long to
explain, listeners..." We can assume that the analogue tape equipment had failed once again.
In show 9 of the fourth radio series, Baddiel reads the end credits and
informs us that "The show was brought to you by the son of the bloke who wrote Kevin Keegan's
top ten hit". The audience-laugh (which occurs before Baddiel has completed the line) suggests that this was a back reference to something cut from the episode. Since the team were running a feature in which listeners
were asked to brag about their encounters with celebrities, it is probable that this was a claim-to-fame declared by someone in the audience.
In 'The Phenomenal World Of The Unexplained' sketch in the fourth
episode of the first TV series (24/01/91), David Baddiel plays an estate agent on a spaceship,
showing some aliens around Earth. His end-line "Oh by the way, the heating's broken" curiously gets no laugh
whatsoever. One may conclude that it was the last of many takes, especially since the line linked into a special effect of Hugh Dennis being 'beamed up' as John Cole which may have proved problematic.
The radio series was notably more liberal in
its use of profanities and 'offensive' material than the
a) In the fourth show of the first TV series, Baddiel did a routine about the shampoo Wash & Go
being "a constructivist name for a product...named after what you do with it, and what you do
immediately afterwards" . He then gave two further examples - "Eat & Go, for
All-Bran", and "Down & Throw, for Kestrel lager". There was then an edit to some
out-of-place laughter and a cutaway - these both disguised his final example, which was "Board
& Sink, for P&O Ferries". This line, which appeared in the radio version (27/10/90),
was cut either for 'taste' reasons, or because of an over-zealous fear of litigation.
b) Another sketch in the first TV series (Show 5, 31/01/91) featured a parent and child attending a
gypsy caravan site and mistaking it for a funfair. The child yells "Dad! I want to go on the
pile of burnt mattresses!", but the father's response (presumably "Hold on, we haven't
played count-the-sores-on-the-child's-lips yet!", which was used on the radio version,
31/11/90) was cut, and Rob Newman's mouth does open slightly to deliver such a line.
c) 'The Swearing Experience' was cut heavily for TV (07/02/91), and - if it followed the radio
version (07/12/90) - may have contained references to felching, a parody of a dictionary's
embarrassed definition of the word 'bottom', further allusions to the word 'cunt', and musings on
the sex life of Mary Whitehouse herself ("Some words are so far beyond Mary Whitehouse's ken, or
even beyond her first husband...").
The end credits in both series were superimposed over footage of the entire
show being rewound at high-speed (an idea stolen from A Kick Up The Eighties). However, a close
examination of certain episodes reveals some hidden material. For example, the fourth episode of
the second series (23/03/92) shows the caption 'The Glorious History Of The BBC Experience' and various scenes which were not present in the transmitted show. Presumably, these 'rewind' sections were produced before any eleventh-hour cuts were made, and capture the show in a looser (or alternate) edit.
In the first show of Series 2 (02/03/92), Baddiel's line "No one is going
to be fooled just by the mask" (in
'The Real Horror Show Maskies On Experience') is
followed by a Crimewatch parody. However, the burst of music used
for the sketch appears to come in a beat too quickly, and is
accompanied by an unnatural-sounding audience laugh. This could mean
that material was present either before the parody, or after
Baddiel's feedline which made editing problematic.
Viewers may note that 'The Party Animal Experience' (Series 2,
Show 4) does not concern itself with consistent subject matter - the theme of parties is abandoned
halfway through, and the sketch about a father pre-empting his student son's offers of help seems
strangely out of place. This is because the sketch was originally recorded for Show 3, but the
punchline (in which Hugh Dennis had to hold up a washing-up brush and say 'Now, who's going to
help me shove this up my arse?') had to be taken three times due to the camera crew's
ineptness. After a fourth take failed to produce an audience laugh, the item was postponed, and was
later canned during the Show 4 recording. This is evidence of edits bringing about a lack of structure, as
opposed to assisting with it.
The fourth show of the first series has some backwards messages buried under
the end theme music (continuing a 'devil worship' theme developed in one of the show's sketches).
When reversed, the messages are as follows: Baddiel declares "Satan is a good bloke!",
whilst Rob Newman appears to mutter "Yeah, Satan helped push my car once" in a Robert De Niro
[NOTE: Thanks to Ian Rushforth for the correct transcription of the backward message. Our original source, a tape of an off-monitor recording, twisted upside down, produced a slightly garbled version.]
There is a section in 'The It Was Really Nothing Experience' (Series
2, Show 1), where a man (Punt) informs another man (Dennis) that his ex-girlfriend is in a
distressed state. Dennis responds by saying 'that's terrible', before giving a 'sorted'
gesture and a wink to the audience. Here we leave the sketch, but we can see that Dennis is about
to say another line to Punt. It is probable that the line was "Fancy a pint?," since Dennis
also uses this as a punchline to the 'Drunk Inspector Morse' sketch, and this could have been an aborted running
'The Lonely Experience' (Series 2, Show 4) has a punchline that
doesn't make sense. Returning to his flat, Rob Newman picks up the telephone expecting to hear his
ex-girlfriend's voice, only to hear a man (Baddiel) enquire "How long will it take to get a
parcel by motorbike to Halifax in West Yorkshire?". The huge audience laugh suggests that the
set-up material for this punchline had been cut. The set-up, if it followed material printed in
The Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopaedia (Boxtree, 1991), involved a mysterious caller who insisted on bothering Newman with such a request.
The Mary Whitehouse Experience was the first programme to be targeted by the
Broadcasting Standard Council (BSC), set up by Lord Rees-Mogg in 1991. It was hauled up before this
body following the opening episode of its first TV series (3/01/91), where Baddiel referred to Henry
Kelly as a "wanker", something which he also did, without
opposition, on the radio version (17/02/90). The complaint was not
upheld, however - the BSC's official conclusion being that the
insult in question was 'fair comment'. Meanwhile, three
edits were made to repeats of the second TV series, broadcast in
August/September 1992. All cuts were made on the hearsay of three
separate (and solitary) callers to the BBC:
(a) Material concerning fellatio, pornography and masturbating in front of one's mother was removed
from a sequence about sex ('The Angel Disguised As Lust Experience', 16/3/92) in Show 3.
[Complaint filed by: Mrs Bock of Leicester. Upheld.]
(b) The 'Suspect Device Experience' was cut completely from Show 1 following a scene where
an RUC officer spoke sarcastically to an IRA terrorist when he claimed responsibility for a bombing
('Oh, we'd never have guessed - we were racking our brains, thinking 'Professor Plum?'...').
A brief sketch featuring Baddiel chained up in a Beirut prison and getting a phone call from his
girlfriend ("I'm not being
distant, I'm just in the middle of something..." he whined,
continuing a running joke set up earlier in the episode) was also cut, presumably because - with
the IRA sketch absent - it was not possible to accommodate it structurally.
[Complaint filed by: Mr Robinson of Clwyd. Not upheld.]
c) 'There But For The Grace Of Chlorpromazine' (Show 5, 30/03/92) featured a short routine
where Baddiel pondered on why the director of Truly Madly Deeply had imported
disabled actors from Swindon ("You know, London's a bit strapped for nutters, isn't it?") A
pious Richard Jobson, working for the BBC access programme Biteback (edition
broadcast 10/05/92) interviewed Baddiel, who apologised and offered a justification for the
material. Jobson then forced a group of mentally handicapped people to watch the sketch, before
sticking a camera in front of them and telling them how upset they should be. Naturally, Baddiel
became the villain of the piece, and - once again - the sequence was cut from the repeat broadcast.
[Complaint filed by: Mr Pugsley of Leicestershire. Upheld.]
[NOTE: Steve Punt was the only member of the team who bothered to voice his anger at these
cuts, arguing (on Oracle teletext, September 1992) that fans were being short-changed by the views
of people for whom the show was never intended.]