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Offensive Charms: An Armando Iannucci Radio Primer

Read Monday, 1 May 2017

In the shadow of TV and film achievements such as VeepThe Thick of It and In the Loop – and his crucial role in some of the most biting British satires of the past two decades – Armando Iannucci’s radio work has perhaps been easier to miss.

Radio maker Miyuki Jokiranta brings together a selection of broadcasts that showcase Iannucci’s experiments with characters, humour and farce.

Illustration of Armando Iannucci, based on an original image CC-BY-2.0 Chatham House
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On the Hour (1991–1992)

This 12-episode series from the early 1990s would ultimately prove an uncanny projection of the news today. On the Hour was a radio current affairs show which sounded exactly like the news – except filled with nonsense.

Produced by Iannucci, the programme was a gathering of British comedy heavyweights including host Chris Morris, and the first appearance by Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.

In a world where the role of comedian and journalist are eerily interchangeable … tucked somewhere between the overblown bulletins and amped news stings, On the Hour could practically have coined the term post-truth. It was eventually adapted for television as The Day Today.

Armando Iannucci on BBC Radio 1 (1993–1995)

Iannucci’s eponymous show was a wild ride through parody, piss-take, mash-up and absurdist humour – all under the guise of a music programme on popular music station BBC Radio 1.

Iannucci’s deft editing skills and freewheeling, adventurous creativity were barely contained in the range of subjects (most absorbent livestock), music collages (Mark E. Smith and an angry tramp) and phone-in ideas (shouting matches between callers). It was radio ‘put through the blender and re-stitched together the wrong way round’.

The show included appearances from fellow On the Hour alumni – Rebecca Front and Steve Coogan – and early appearances from Richard Herring and Stewart Lee … each contributing to a seemingly ad-libbed, brilliant pile of gibberish.

The News Quiz (1997 to present)

The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 was one of the earliest programmes to tackle the week’s news stories with a panel of experts, not-so-experts and a barrage of questions.

Iannucci cites The News Quiz as an early listening influence, and went on to become both an early producer of the programme and a regular panellist. (The show is currently up to it’s 93rd series. Whew.)

You can find some Iannucci-era episodes here.

Charm Offensive (2005-2008)

Promotional image of Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive (BBC)
Studio pose: <em>Charm Offensive</em>

Iannucci’s most recent radio series, Charm Offensive, was a comedy panel show with a live audience, in which guests pulled apart the news. Each week, figures from politics, journalism and the arts danced through a maze of debate, sketches, arbitrary interruptions and emanations from the archives.

The result was a suspension of fact and fiction – a sleight of hand between the real and the surreal – where all rants, diversions and misdirections were encouraged, if not required. (BYO small novelty cigarette-dispensing plastic donkeys.)

Lionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World (1992–1993)

Distinct from Iannucci’s own predilection for topical news satireLionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World was a BBC Radio 4 comedy series – loosely parodying Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of… TV series. The programme featured Iannucci in a rare acting-only role. 

Comics (and regular collaborators) Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Rebecca Front and Iannucci investigated (nay, spoofed) paranormal topics in themed episodes such as ‘Monsters’, ‘Magic’ and ‘The Unexplained’. Hosts Lee and Herring guided listeners through oddball sketches, sci-fi humour (perhaps slightly dusty now) and pop peculiarity, all set to a laugh track … or was it just a live audience trained to sound perfectly canned?

In Melbourne

Bonus track: Iannucci on Desert Island Discs (2006)

As a studious teen in Jesuit school, Iannucci aspired to become a Catholic priest. He spent three years at Oxford writing a thesis about religious language … but in the end, comedy beckoned. As a guest on Desert Island Discs, Iannucci meanders through the corridors of his career and shares a few of his favourite tracks, including a cherished audio moment of his own – the opening of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.

Listen here.


If you’ve developed an appetite for more, you might forage for various quiz shows (including Quote… Unquote and The 99p Challenge) and sketch comedies (Week Ending, The Mary Whitehouse Experience) in which Iannucci’s had a hand. (Found a gem? Let us know!)


Watch Armando Iannucci in conversation

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