When it was launched in the Spring of 2006, Down the Line
was such an accurate parody of an inane phone-in show that
many Radio 4 listeners (and radio critics) thought it was
the real thing and launched a storm of protest. What on earth
was Radio 4 coming to? Seasoned comedy listeners, however,
soon detected the presence of several well-known voices including
members of The Fast Show team...
the Line was
attempt to spoof something that doesn't really need spoofing,
tacky phone-in radio shows with dumb hosts. I regularly listen
to Radio 4 and caught the first episode when it was originally
broadcast. As soon as it started I thought: "Hang on!
A chat show on Radio 4? I don't think so." And pretty
quickly it was obvious that it was a spoof show where the
gag was supposed to be at the audience's expense.
the listeners realise that it's a spoof show, then the joke
is over. And as within ten seconds of the very first show's
opening (despite being a new show with callers having no idea
what the phone number is or what tonight's topic is going
to be) the first caller is already on air asking a question,
it's not difficult to work out that the whole thing is a spoof.
idea would have worked a lot better if it had been broadcast
on Radio 1, but I seriously doubt (despite the BBC's claims
that listener's complaints were aplenty) that many Radio 4
listeners were really sucked into believing it was legit.
To start with it was broadcast in a comedy slot and then there's
the fact that the first spoof caller is obviously Paul Whitehouse.
While Whitehouse (and Charlie Higson for that matter) may
be great comedy writers and performers, they both have very
limited vocal ranges.
I tuned in the following week for the second episode I was
surprised at how quickly the gags were wearing thin. As a
long running series it just doesn't work. This is an idea
that would have maybe worked as a quick sketch in The Fast
Show, but there's not enough in the idea to have it run
for 30 minutes for six weeks.
said that, in amongst the many gags that don't work there
are some pretty funny elements to this show, host Gary Bellamy
(played by Rhys Thomas) gets funnier as the episodes progress.
I particularly loved the fact that he allowed a sexist caller
to rant on for a lot longer than he would have normally as
he he was black; and the fact that he keeps harping on about
knowing what it's like working abroad as he had a show in
Canada - therefore he thinks he is an expert in all things
that have a foreign slant.
only call that really had me laughing out loud was the caller
in episode six who tries to put across the point that homosexuals
are more like women than men. The host gets impatient with
him and finally reveals that his brother is gay, but that
you'd never know it. To which the caller says: "You would
if he tried to put his hand down your pants." Believe
me, it's funny on the recording.
it has it's moments, Down the Line is more miss than