Radio 4 Extra, New Comedy Award and my Trip to Manchester – September 8th 2014
A break away from Sport for this week’s feature – but it’s Freeview related and the channel I’m going to write about is worth knowing about. Now, you’ll have heard of BBC Radio 4, but have you heard about Radio 4 Extra? If not, check it out. Formerly BBC7, Radio 4 Extra broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on digital radio, and through Freeview television sets also on channel 708. I’ve discovered some gems on there – including radio shows of Eric and Ernie, during Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary season there was a brilliant range of dramas and stories… Saturdays they have a great slot called ‘The Comedy Controller’… It broadcasts a good mix of archive comedy and drama, but it’s not all repeats and a lot of people think it is. For example, starting this Friday (Sept 12th), they will be playing highlights of the BBC Radio 2 New Comedy Award heats, at 10:30pm. Eight heats, each featuring ten acts who each have to perform for five minutes in front of a live audience.
And so, I applied for tickets to attend the first Manchester heat on Monday September 8th with my friends Ian and Alan. I had a Plan B lined up in case we couldn’t get there – more on that later… But tickets we got (Amelia thank you for your help!) and so at 4:50 I left Bradford and drove along the M62 towards Manchester. Wet Wet Wet’s Greatest Hits playing in the car (which incidentally was the 1st CD I ever bought – from Woolworths in 1993, bit of useless trivia for you), and all was well with the world until a traffic just before junction 24 (near Ainley Top). Two lanes had been closed for what I believe what was a broken down lorry – I beginning to wonder if I’d get to Manchester at all…
Thankfully, the traffic didn’t hold me up too much. At 5:40pm, I was at Milnrow Metrolink Station, and now had a 50 minute tram journey to Deansgate Metrolink Station; this station is directly above The Comedy Store – and you’ll hear trams passing over frequently if ever you see a live show there. During my tram ride, I listened to ‘The Show What You Wrote’, a great Radio 4 comedy show where listeners are invited to submit sketches – Series 2 has just been made and I was lucky enough to watch the ‘Sports and Leisure’ episode being recorded in Manchester a couple of months ago.
I met up with Ian at 6:30, who was sat outside ‘Baa Baa’ (just a couple of bars down from the Comedy Store) enjoying a Brooklyn Brewery beer and watching the world go by. Sounds like a plan to me – I went to the bar and got the same drink for me to enjoy.
Me and Ian enjoying a beer outside Baa-Baa’s
I then gave Ian a book which my sister in law Katie had bought for me yesterday – but I already have – a Marks and Spencer’s book on Snooker from 1989! 60p from a charity shop – bargain! I gave Ian, like I do he likes his snooker. And I like the book because my favourite player Steve Davis was still top of his game when the book was published!
Ian in a state of disbelief after receiving the Snooker book!
We then moved on to another bar (just over the road from the Comedy Store) called Rebelllion and it was there that Alan joined us. It had been his birthday recently, so before the gig we gave him some belated presents (one of the bits I’d got him was ‘Dangervision’ – a compilation of the Rik Mayall/Ade Edmondson Dangerous Brothers sketches, available at www.networkdvd.net).
Alan enjoying a pre-show Guinness
I love Manchester – I lived in the Manchester area for the first 25 ½ years of my life and for a long spell on Saturday afternoons I’d venture into the city on the bus with my friends Antony and Craig and we’d look around DVD shops such as HMV, Virgin Megastore (remember that?), and we’d walk around some of the sights of Manchester, normally passing the Comedy Store before going for a coffee in Starbucks in St. Anne’s Square. The Comedy Store is a brilliant venue – first time I went there was 8 years ago… went to one Radio 4 show there called ’28 Acts in 28 Minutes’ where one act came on stage totally naked! Of course he got the best laugh of the night, but I’m guessing his humour didn’t transfer over to the audience at home…
View from our seats at the gig
Justin Moorhouse was the MC for tonight’s New Comedy Award heat – Justin of course co-starred in Peter Kay’s comedy series ‘Phoenix Nights’, but has recently been seen on the cobbles of Weatherfield… Full house inside the Comedy Store, and a really good atmosphere – you’d forget it was a Monday night with England on the telly against Switzerland. Justin was really funny, with a mini-set at the start (look for the picture of Julia and Paul on Justin’s Twitter page – they were frequently sat on the front row and referred to frequently during the night), and then another one just after the interval.
The official judges were Steve Bennett (Editor of Comedy website Chortle), Alison Vernon Smith (BBC Radio Executive) and Alan Cochrane (who has appeared on ‘Just a Minute’ and Radio 4’s Fun House). Me, Ian and Alan decided to unofficially ‘score’ the acts as they came on – as the episode we watched isn’t going to be broadcast yet, I’ll refrain from putting names and scores and may include them once the episode has been transmitted. What I will say is that the two comedians who I thought would reach the semi finals didn’t; Ian however did guess the winner correctly!
We were even treated to a 10 minute set from last year’s New Comedy Award winner Steve Bugeja whilst the judges were making their final decisions at the end of the night. Show finished at 10:10pm – I had to leave my friends Ian and Alan quite rapidly (I would have loved to have stayed out for a coffee and a further catch up but conscious of my journey home, and the fact my children are normally awake at 6am!), and caught the tram back to Milnrow, then the 30 minute drive home – getting back to dearest Bradford 10 minutes before I’d have turned into a pumpkin.
What was my Plan B I mentioned earlier for the night? Well, at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club in Manchester on Mondays, they have a ‘Beat the Frog’ night – 10 wannabe stand up comedians can sign up and attempt to do jokes until they get kicked off basically. And, I’d signed up for it! I’ve always wanted to try stand-up comedy – and having watched last night’s heat at the Comedy Store it’s just inspired me to apply for next year’s competition; although getting to the heats would indeed be an achievement – Justin Moorhouse last night said to the audience that 750 people had applied for the competition, with only 80 people being selected for the eight heats. But, I’ll apply – watch this space…. The Final of this year’s Radio 2 New Comedy Award will be in December, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2.
The transmission dates on BBC Radio 4 Extra for the eight heats are indicated below:
Edinburgh Heat 1 – 10:30pm, 12th September
Edinburgh Heat 2 – 10:30pm, 19th September
Cardiff Heat 1 – 10:30pm, 26th September
Cardiff Heat 2 – 10:30pm, 3rd October
Manchester Heat 1 – 10:30pm 10th October (the heat I attended last night)
Manchester Heat 2 – 10:30pm, 17th October
London Heat 1 – 10:30pm, 24th October
London Heat 2 – 10:30pm 31st October
I’ve been advised approximately three minutes of each act will be played on as part of the Radio 4 Extra shows, there will also be backstage interviews included as well.
So, look out for the heats, but more importantly, look out for BBC Radio 4 Extra. Channel 708 on Freeview – make a note! Your TV set doesn’t just have to be used for something instantly visual – let your imagination run wild, it’s good to do that. Incidentally, my wish list for BBC Radio 4 Extra would be the following:
- The Now Show (brilliant BBC Radio 4 comedy series which you can hear this Friday at 6:30pm – I’d love to hear archive episodes… after all Dave repeats old episodes of ‘Have I Got News For You’ so I think this is plausible).
- The Russ Abbot Show – this was broadcast on BBC Radio 2, and ran for a few series. Russ of course has been on BBC1 recently in new sitcom ‘Boomers’ and his comedy is often forgotten.
- The Archers – ok, I’m not a regular listener but if ever I’m out in the car between 7:05 and 7:20 (and at that time it’s normally on the way to collecting a Chinese take-away order), I’ll tune in to BBC Radio 4 and it doesn’t matter where the storylines are up, I’ll be instantly hooked. I think they should repeat some vintage episodes from Ambridge…
If you’re a Radio 4 Extra listener, please leave a message on the blog and give the readers some tips of your favourite programmes to look out for!