Thursday, 25 November 2010


It was late. Somewhere, an owl hooted....

Funny how groups of words stick in your head, isn't it? Those couple of sentences are (I think) taken from an episode of 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again', of which I had some BBC Audio tapes when I was little-ish. They appeared somewhere within a sketch as the deliberately cringesome opening lines of a not-very-scary (but supposed to be scary) story. Even now they make me smile. You had to be there, I guess.

'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again' (ISIRTA) was a BBC radio comedy which ran from the mid-60's through to the early 70's, featuring Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, David Hatch, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jo Kendall. This all took place a fair chunk of time before I came along, but I had a Monty Python phase around the age of 10-12, and the presence of Cleese in the cast probably caught my attention when looking to offload my pocket money one weekend in a local independent music and record store. (Would you believe it's still there?! Established 1848 and still going strong. Visit if you ever come to Bath:

As such, the show was one of several fore-runners to Flying Circus. As well as Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle were regular script contributors. But of course the most obvious product of 'ISIRTA' was The Goodies, the TV sketch show starring Brooke-Taylor, Oddie and Garden. The Goodies never caught my imagination in the same way as Monty Python, but anyone who only knows Bill Oddie as an annoying and slightly unhinged twitcher should listen to his early radio efforts. Some of the topical and/or absurd songs he wrote and performed more than 40 years ago actually stand the test of time rather well.

The spin-off of 'ISIRTA', 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue', began in 1972 and remains a popular favourite on Radio 4. I haven't paid it much attention for years. But I still remember every word of 'The Angus Prune Tune' - the theme tune of it's parent, which ended three years before I was born.


FreeFox said...

Wow. Most of that went right past me. A record store from 1848? I remember Dr. Seward's wax drum audio diary from Dracula, but even that was 40 years later, wasn't it?

But what is so cringeworthy of "It was late. Somewhere, an owl hooted..."? It's not even Snoopy's "It was a dark and stormy night..."

(And actually, as a kid I loved the [German version of] "It was a dark and stormy night, and the Captain said to the Bo'sun: Bo'sun, tell us a story. And the Bo'sun began to tell: It was a dark and stormy night...")

After all, "A Wrinkle in Time" begins with that sentence, as does Philipp Pullman's "Spring-Heeled Jack". I think Ray Bradbury began a short story that way, and Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman made good use of the phrase in "Good Omens."

But then, you might have noticed that sometimes I relish in embracing a cliché. There's purity in clichés. ;)

Ben said...

Fox - I did say 'music and record store'. They also sell musical instruments, which has always been their main trade. They do a great line in sheet music, too, if you like that sort of thing.

Trust me, owls hooting in scary stories is corny in extremis; but like I said, you had to be there.

Cliches (where the hell is that acute accent on my keyboard?) become so because they speak truth, and have purity. So we agree on one thing at least!

Hurry up with that next instalment, won'cha?

FreeFox said...

There. Next installment is up. One more and I'm through with accursed Edinburgh and can leave for the highlands. Even though Edinburgh was actually kinda pleasant and the highlands, well, let's say, getting slowly closer to the heart of darkness...

No idea why writing about Edinburgh is so hard. I mean, I hate the way I've written the chapter now, but I'll ust move past it for now, revise later...

FreeFox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.