By the late 1980s it was, perhaps surprisingly, ITV that dominated the satirical news landscape with Spitting Image. This was followed in 1990 by Have I Got News for You over on BBC2. Meanwhile it was Radio 1 that was leading the way with shows such as The Mary WhitehouseExperience and Loose Talk - both transferring to TV of course. The newly launched Radio Five Live offered The Treatment initially with Simon Hoggart (later to chair The News Quiz) bur for most its run (1994-2001) with Stuart Maconie.
We'll come to The Now Show and It's Been a Bad Week in a moment but by the time we get to the noughties there were a flurry of shows that took at least some of their inspiration from current events:
Dead Ringers (Radio 4, 2000-2007/2014 to date)
Parsons and Naylor's Pull-Out Sections (Radio 2, 2001-2007) starring Andy Parsons (now a team regular on BBC TV's Mock the Week) and Henry Naylor with musical interludes from Richie Webb.
Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive (Radio 4, 2005-2007). According to Iannucci "the aim of Charm Offensive is to take the talking points of the week and address them as a team of colleagues having a chinwag, in front of a studio audience." (RT 110807)
I Guess That's Why they Call it the News (Radio 4, 2009), a short-lived panel show hosted by Fred McAuley.
Newsjack (Radio 4 Extra, 2009 to date) which extends the open door policy of Week Ending to any budding comedy writing willing to email their sketches and one-liners.
7 Day Sunday (later 7 Day Saturday) (Radio Five Live 2010-2015) with Chris Addison and then Al Murray picking over the week.
But the regular purveyors of topical comedy for nigh on 30 years have been Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis.
Steve and Hugh's first on-air collaboration was the 1988 series for Radio 4, Live on Arrival. This was a rare venture into live comedy, previously done by the In One Ear team (1984-86), coming each Saturday night from the old Paris Studios. With Punt and Dennis was Flip Webster and singer/songwriter Guy Jackson. Here's the first edition from 30 April 1988.
In fact Punt and Dennis had worked together previously on a Radio 4 comedy, Project Santa Claus, with Hugh in the cast and Steve providing the script. Indeed Steve's comedy writing pedigree was well-established by the time they came to perform together. He'd submitted sketches and quickies to Week Ending since 1983, contributed material to the Jeremy Hardy comedy Unnatural Acts (1987) and to Loose Ends (1987-90) as well as writing for Jasper Carrott and Rory Bremner's TV outings in Carrott Confidential and Now-Something Else.
On Radio 4 in 1988 Punt and Dennis wrote and starred in a two-part comedy about "the oddities of Olympic antics" called Olympiod 88. Meanwhile Live On Arrival's producer David Tyler proposed a 15-minute edit of the show for a try-out on Radio 1. Controller Johnny Beerling turned the idea down but did ask David to develop a new comedy show for the network. The result was Hey Rrradio!!! (1988-89) with Patrick Marber acting as host and during the series Punt and Dennis popped up as guests. Following Hey Rrradio!!! on Radio 1 was The Mary Whitehouse Experience (1989-90) featuring the combined talents of Punt and Dennis and Newman and Baddiel. It was this that helped secure them more TV work: the TV version of The Mary Whitehouse Experience itself, Canned Carrott and The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show. Whilst Hugh has continued to regularly perform on TV, e.g. Mock the Week and Outnumbered, Steve has largely remained behind the scenes acting as script associate, i.e. writing the gags, on many shows including most of the run of Mock the Week.
However, on radio Punt and Dennis have remained consistently employed, and consistently funny, since 1998 on two series that have relied heavily on topical comedy.
On Radio 2 from 1999 to 2006 there were fourteen series of It's Been a Bad Week, perhaps best remembered for Van Man and the Worst Week of the Week Award, Awarded Weekly on a Week-by-Week Basis.
It's Been a Bad Week was an independent production from Celador, who described the programme thus: "Hosts Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis trawl the world’s media outlets in search of tales of woe, disaster and misfortune – and then have a good laugh at them. From gigantic corporate cock-ups to the sad failures of the humblest individual, It’s Been a Bad Week is unflinching in its search for stories that reflect the calamitous misfortunes which occur daily around the globe. Drawing on a mixture of sketches, songs, impressions, guest contributions and scripted news items, the show targets the week’s well-known bad news stories, governmental disasters, royal excesses, celebrity misbehaviour as well as a myriad of less well-publicised stories from Britain and abroad".
From 2005 this is the fifth programme in the eleventh series. With Punt and Dennis are Sue Perkins, Simon Greenall and Mitch Benn.
Starting in 1998, and still running to this day - the 47thseries kicks off this week - is The Now Show. Make that The Noooow Shoooow! A typical edition would go like this: Steve and Hugh pick on the week's top story for a routine invariably involving Hugh doing a comic voice or impression with support from Laura Shavin; a comic rant from someone like Marcus Brigstocke or Andy Saltzman; a song from Mitch Benn; a routine from vertically-challenged Jon Holmes ("his dream is to be the present in a Kinder egg") and rounding off with answers from the audience to a question set before the show.
This is first ever edition of The Now Show from 26 September 1998. With Punt and Dennis are Jane Bussmann, Dan Freedman, Simon Munnery, David Quantick and Nick Romero. Of the initial cast only David Quantick has remained a semi-regular guest.
This next audio upload concludes this series of posts. It's another Now Show from 2012, the final show of series 36. With Steve and Hugh in this pasty and petrol-fuelled edition are John Finnemore, Jon Holmes, Mitch Benn and Laura Shavin.
That Was the Week That Was