The Burkiss Way

The Burkiss Way

"The Burkiss Way" is a BBC Radio 4 sketch comedy series that was broadcast from August 1976 to November 1980. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, with some additional material in early episodes by John Mason, Colin Bostock-Smith, Douglas Adams, John Lloyd and others. The show starred Denise Coffey (series 1 only), Jo Kendall (series 2 onward), Chris Emmett, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris. The series had three producers over the years, announced as "Simon Brett of Stepney", "John Lloyd of Europe", and "David 'Hatch of the BBC' Hatch".

The series had its roots in a pair of half-hour sketch shows entitled "Half-Open University" which Marshall and Renwick had written with Mason for Radio 3 as a parody of the real life Open University programmes. The first of these shows, broadcast in August 1976, spoofed science, while the second, in December, lampooned history.

In a similar vein, "The Burkiss Way" was originally based around a fictional series of 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 fictional subjects: "Lesson 1: Peel Bananas the Burkiss Way", "Lesson 2: Pass Examinations the Burkiss Way", and so on. Although these numbers and titles were maintained throughout the show's run, an obvious and rapid change of style early in the second series saw the notion of a radio correspondence course become a hook rather than a narrative device, and it was thereafter mentioned only in passing. From here on the programme continued in a more obvious "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 very medium on which the show was broadcast. Radio 4's continuity style was often spoofed. Many later episodes had false endings, sometimes cunningly disguised as genuine continuity announcements. Both the opening and closing credits might be placed anywhere within the show. One particular show ran "backwards" from the closing to the opening credits, while another was allegedly dropped and broken, and subsequently glued together with a tube of BBC coffee, resulting in a disjointed running order with many of the sketches beginning and ending in mid-sentence.

The show's humour was based on surrealism and literary and media parodies, liberally sprinkled with bad puns.

In the first series Chris Emmett made several appearances as a nondescript dirty old man; in episode 2, for instance, his character becomes Prime Minister thanks to the "Burkiss Way". From series 2 onward this voice became known as "Eric Pode of Croydon", one of the show's few recurring characters and the only one who is not a parody of a real person. He is a dirty old man with unsavoury habits, probably 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 his terrible puns, and always remarks, "isn't he a panic". This was one of the show's only two catchphrases, the other being "there will now be a short intermission". There was usually a series of linked sketches running through each episode, with the "intermission" sketches providing a break.

The fact that Douglas Adams had written for the show did not prevent him from becoming a favourite target for satire in later episodes. He is frequently parodied as "Mister Different Adams" whose catchphrase is "I see comedy as a kind of..." Naturally Adams's "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was also a frequent 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.

As time went on the show became increasingly surreal, and in several sketches the writers seem to be trying to see just how many strange ideas they can cram into a single sketch. For example, one of the later episodes contains a sketch about an amoeba that has been 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 instead.

"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 actually a single episode masquerading as two separate half-episodes, the first of which ends series 3 and the second of which begins series 4. Just as confusingly, there are two "Lesson 39"s, both entitled "Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way" which have identical beginnings. The consequence of these irregularities is that "Lesson 33" through the first "Lesson 39" have lesson numbers that are one greater than the actual cumulative episode 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 for reasons of taste and was never reinstated.

The last episode was cut short by 6 minutes when initially retransmitted on the instructions of the controller of BBC Radio 4. The missing material lampooned the grovelling approach of BBC Radio 4 to the Queen Mother's 80th birthday celebrations. Repeats on BBC7 are still censored.

The show has gained a cult following over the years and has had several reruns on BBC 7. Listeners have complained about some omissions, which may indicate that episodes have been lost or wiped – most notably Lesson 6 – and some episodes have been broadcast in mono, suggesting that the original stereo masters were wiped. Off-air recordings of the entire run survive in collectors' hands. (Lesson 6 is unique in being only 15 minutes long and is therefore probably too short to fit into a BBC7 schedule).

A book, "Bestseller! The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon", was published by Allen & Unwin in 1981. Like many other books based on radio or TV comedy programmes, it was loosely based on sketches from the series. [Marshall A and Renwick D (1981), "Bestseller: The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon", Allen & Unwin, London, ISBN 0-04-827036-9]

A BBC Radio Collection was released in 1994, containing excerpts from various episodes rather than complete episodes themselves.

Listen|filename=Eric Von Contrick.ogg
title=Burkiss Way, "Eric Von Contrick" sketch excerpt |description=An excerpt from Douglas Adams's Burkiss Way sketch, "Eric Von Contrick" excerpt
Listen|filename=42 Logical Positivism Avenue.ogg
title=Burkiss Way, "Logical Positivism" sketch excerpt |description=An excerpt from Douglas Adams's Burkiss Way sketch, "Logical Positivism" excerpt


External links

* [ Radiomusications — The Burkiss Way]
* [ How to write a web site the Burkiss Way]

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