DailyAudio: Our handy guide to BBC Radio Comedy

WELCOME to Daily Audio, the blog that offers review and recommendation on easy-to-find audiobooks.

  It’s nearly the end of the year, so I thought why not have some fun and do something a little different to see out 2020. Today we’re not going to confine ourselves to talking about one specific audiobook or series. Instead, we’re going to look at a whole bunch of series, or more specifically comedy radio series.

There are a lot of BBC comedy radio releases available in various online market places and plenty of physical media still floating about that are not really audiobooks, and they’re not really radio shows either .  How’s that for a hook; Audios That Ain’t. But how can you tell the difference? Well, that’s where I can help. I’ve navigated this minefield myself so please allow me to be your guide.

The British Broadcasting Corporation have been making their world -famous  radio output commercially available for years on various different formats, under many different brand names, but they have also been releasing their world-famous television comedy output available to buy and own on audio as well. These releases are usually simply the soundtrack of a radio-friendly episode from a long running comedy series, transferred to audio, possibly with some narration to guide you through the non-talky bits. Fawlty Towers is one that’s been available on just about any recorded audio format from vinyl and cassette tape in the 1980’s,  to CDs and MP3 . The early releases have linking narration by Andrew Sachs (who played hapless spanish waiter Manuel on screen) to help the listener through the visual gags, but otherwise, it is the television soundtrack copied straight to an audio format. These ‘transfers’ (for want of a better term) are rarely played on the radio, so they are in no way BBC radio comedy. They were not commissioned by the radio comedy department or made with radio in mind. So far, so clear, right? Nothing complicated about that. But things do get slightly confusing, however, when television programmes migrate to audio via newly recorded performances or re-enactments done specially for a radio series.  But before we look at those here are some examples of television series where their soundtracks have been committed to an audio format with hardly any changes. 

Fawlty Towers

Black Adder

Only Fools And Horses

Monty Python’s Flying Citcus

The Two Ronnies

Smith & Jones

Absolutely Fabulous

Personally, I find the practise of transferring television comedy soundtracks to audio pointless. I understand why it was common before VHS, DVD and streaming – it was the only way (bar the odd repeat) to experience these shows after their original broadcast, but the practice continued into the late 90’s and naughties. I try to avoid these releases, however you may prefer them. Sometimes it is nice to have a bit of easy familiarity to listen to, so you may prefer this type of release. And that’s really the reason why I’m here today taking a close look at BBC radio comedy, because, as I mentioned earlier there are alternatives to this approach.

There are lots of BBC TV comedy series that started life on the radio and enjoyed such tremendous success BBC bosses could not wait to get them on the box and get them exposed to a larger audience. Some of these examples of famous TV comedies that originated on the radio may surprise you:

Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge

The Mighty Boosh

Dead Ringers

Little Britain

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Hancock’s Half Hour

Marriage Lines

Those series and a good few others all started of on the radio as direct forbears to their television incarnations. All clear so far? I hope so because there’s more for us to get our heads around, another type of series you can find on a BBC audio format that is neither a prelude to a TV series or a straight transfer of the soundtrack.

We mustn’t forget the comedy programmes that were a huge success on TV and subsequently spawned a new radio series. These, for me, are the most fun as they usually featuring the same actors reprising their television parts for a new audience. These include :

Dad’s Army

Steptoe and Son

To The Manner Born

As Time Goes By

Yes,  Minister

One Foot in the Grave

I hope that was helpful and you now feel armed with a little bit of knowledge, should you go shopping in the January sales for cut price audios. But I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t give you a few recommendations, my ‘picks’ as it were. So here are what I consider the pick of the bunch

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

If you find the animated links and the sometimes seemingly aimless direction of the TV series a bit much, then this 60 minute compilation of all the best and funniest sketches from the first two series can be enjoyed in this triple filtered release

Dad’s Army

Mostly re-enacted TV episodes with few changes. All 67 episode feature the original cast, so you can take all the loveable characters with you, wherever you want to go.

One Foot in the Grave

Four episodes from the long-running 1990’s series were adapted for radio and make for fun listening. The actors are having a ball revisiting some of the series’ best-remembered instalments and some of the two-hander episodes work better on audio.

Hancock’s Half Hour

Tony Hancock is a bit of a forgotten comedy genius but if you ever found his TV show a tad irritating it’s worth checking out the much toned down radio shows where he seems more at home.

So, there we go. That concludes Daily Audio’s multi-day run of review and recommendation on the many and varied BBC comedy that’s available on Audible, You Tube or our  trusty friend Radioechoes.com

Come back here tomorrow for a special look at my top five picks from all the audiobooks we’ve reviewed on Daily Audio in 2020.



Short, snappy audiobooks designed to be started and finished all on your coffee or tea break. Download, stream and share. And shout from the rooftops! Just click HERE to take you to the Break Time Audio page.



All content copyright Martin Gregory 2020

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