On The Hour: “This Is The On The Hour” and “Arise Sir News”

Kidderminster has been found abandoned in a hedge. The M25 is missing. Events are continually unravelling. And Lynda Chalker exists.

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Kidderminster has been found abandoned in a hedge. The M25 is missing. Events are continually unravelling. And Lynda Chalker exists.

We’ve been steadily working our way through Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s On The Hour series these past couple of days, which are finally coming out as two CD box sets thanks to the Warp label next month. It’s weird, listening to supposedly topical comedy over 15 years after it was originally broadcast. And I would have thought that On The Hour’s blend of surreal non-sequiturs and relentless satire on news programming might seem a bit tired, given the preponderance of comedy shows full of surreal non-sequiturs and relentless satire on news programming in the intervening years.

On The Hour still works, though. For a start, Morris is so much smarter and funnier than all of his incalculably dimmer clones. When he wades into soft targets like American evangelical churches, the pointed, withering oddness of his comedy is still striking.

And second, the occasional references to Tory dinosaurs like Chalker and Kenneth Baker notwithstanding, On The Hour seems to be surprisingly timeless. It’s strangely comforting, listening to these 12 half-hour episodes, to discover that the world – or at least the broad strokes of the media world – hasn’t changed a great deal since the early ‘90s. That the British press are fixated on the same hobby-horses that they have been for, it’s clear, decades.

War is on the horizon. “Green” issues are a fashionable selling point. Specifics aren’t really worth going into, because that would credit news broadcasters with tackling issues in depth. Much of On The Hour is about precisely nothing; Episode 3 of the first series is about “events”, that eventually – and utterly anti-climactically – become “war”. It’s all bombastic hot air.

There’s also something perversely satisfying to be reminded that the sound of Radio 4 is fundamentally unchanged. In Episode Five, for instance, there’s a pastiche of a radio comedy called Thank God It’s Satire Day (but which could have been called The Now Show), which is appallingly reminiscent of virtually every Radio 4 satire show of the past 20 years (apart from the ones that have ripped off On The Hour, of course).

But anyway, I thought I’d spotted a continuity error in this meticulously controlled universe, when the bumptious young Alan Partridge’s wife unexpectedly dies. By the next episode, however, she’s risen from the dead, the better to leave him later in his fictional life.

And now I’ve switched the programmes off, and I’m in that post-Morris state of mind perhaps you’ll recognise, where everything you read seems completely absurd. Here’s a press release I just opened: “Electronic artist and DJ Andrea Parker climbs 5 of the world’s volcanoes for in aid of the NSPCC.” You couldn’t make it up, I suppose.


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