Narrator; “It was twelve o’clock, and the porter tolled the bell.”
Porter; “It’s twelve o’clock, Bell.”
Oh no! It’s “I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again”- again!
Yes, this is the fiftieth anniversary of what may have been John Cleese’s greatest role, the masterpiece of his career.
Between the generation that listened to the Goon Show and the generation that watched Monty Python, there was the generation that listened to “I’m
Sorry, I’ll Read That Again”.
This was a semi-topical radio comedy programme, named after the standard formula used by newsreaders tripping over their words.
The ISIRTA team was Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall, David Hatch and, of course, John Cleese (normally announced as John Otto
Cleese). The first three names were later known on television as “The Goodies”. John Cleese was later known on television as “John Cleese”.
In those days when the stage was getting used to full frontal nudity, they were the pioneers of “full frontal radio”.
Who could forget the “Dirty Songbooks” extracted from the works of Julie Andrews (“I could have BLEEP all night”), and Rolf Harris (“I’m
Jake the Peg, with an extra BLEEP”)?
They began one episode with a complete list of people they would be offending that week;
“All vicars, colonels, Prime Ministers, Tony Blackburn [a radio DJ], all gibbon-fanciers and Julie Felix, all housewives, radio listeners, Tony
Blackburn again, and John Davidson (‘Who?’).
The Musicians’ Union, all Directors-General of the B.B.C, and at least one contemporary English M.P. for Wolverhampton with a small moustache and
the initials E.P. [google Enoch Powell].
Also small people will be slightly sneered at.”
During the protests and controversy surrounding the 1970 tour of the South African cricket team, the ISIRTA contribution was a song celebrating “the
fighting lads” of the M.C.C. .
“Proudly we march with our heads in the sand,
Backward, when England calls (Calls!),
Fighting the foe with a bat in our hand,
And a load of old cricket balls (Balls!).”
And then they wondered why none of them had received the O.B.E.
(Though the Beatles got one each)
On the night of June the ninth, 1968, “I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again” included a parody of David Frost (“The Kevin Mousetrap Show”), a
fake doctor persuading a girl to undress in front of him, a husky-voiced singer being cured by the mid-song removal of his tonsils, and an urgent
travel warning for motorists driving down the A35 to Cambridge (“The A35 doesn’t go to Cambridge”).
But the highlight of the evening was their production of the Scottish play, in which John Cleese played the title role.
This was an updated version, restoring some of the jokes which Shakespeare was obliged to cut from the original text.
Macbeth is introduced on the blasted Heath. “Better than the infernal Wilson!” (a topical political reference).
It’s a terrible night to be abroad- or anyone else, for that matter.
There he encounters the weird sisters;
Macbeth; “You evil creatures!”
Hecate; “Yes- we can”.
Macbeth; “I hear you can foretell the future. [pause] Wait a moment, that’s very good!”
(Hecate, Queen of the witches, is played in the same voice that was normally assigned to the grotesque aristocratic nymphomaniac, Lady Constance de
Coverlet, and she conducts herself accordingly)
We follow Macbeth through the well-known story of his doom.
We hear his ambitions wakened by the witches’ first promise, that he will be Thane of Cawdor and Glamis;
“Thane?! Thane?! What the hell’s a Thane?”
He copes with his wife’s thick accent, and with the weapon that explodes in his hand; “I was right! It wasn’t a dagger”.
Without flinching, he stands on his bulwarks.
But then comes the problem of Banquo. Your hair will stand on end and your blood will run cold, as you overhear the sinister conversation between
Macbeth and the appointed assassins;
“Lady Macbeth: We must put an end to Banquo and his son Fleance. Macbeth, I have hired two murderers! (three knocks on the door) That'll be them.
(sound of door opening)
Macbeth: Ah. You must be the...
Murderer 1: Exactly.
Murderer 2: Quite.
Macbeth: As you may know, I have a little-
Murderer 1: Embarrassment?
Macbeth: Precisely, it's a rather...
Murderer 2: Delicate situation?
Macbeth: Quite. You see this man is rather, er, shall we say-
Murderer 1: Inconvenient?
Macbeth: I thought perhaps he could, uh-
Murderer 1: Meet with a-
Murderer 2: -shall we say-
Murderer 1: -little accident?
Macbeth: My very words.
Murderer 1: There is of course the question of-
Macbeth: Er, say no more!
Murderer 1: Splendid, I'm sure we'll come to some-
Murderer 1 & 2: -arrangement.
Macbeth: Good. So you'll-?
Murderer 1: Exactly.
Macbeth: And he will-?
Murderer 2: Quite.
Macbeth: And it'll be-
Murderer 1 & 2: Naturally.
Macbeth: Well I think we-
Murderer 1 & 2: Understand each other?
Macbeth & Murderer 2: Good. (Macbeth leaves)
Murderer 2: What've we got to do?
Murderer 1; I’ve absolutely no idea.”
Birnam Wood does come to Dunsinane, but only in the form of Hecate with leaves in her hair. In this version, Macbeth does not die. Though he is
threatened with the eager clutches of this avatar of Lady Constance, which some might consider to be a fate worse than death.
Cue the Angus Prune tune, and the final credits.
What’s that? You want more John Cleese? OK, what about the Ferret Song?
Or would you like a slice of rhubarb tart?
And, of course, no early John Cleese is complete without the Frost Show’s “class” sketch;
a reply to: gortex
Youtube is currently hosting many episodes uploaded by enthusiasts. Just search on ISIRTA.
I can particularly recommend the play "Murder on the 3.17 to Cleethorpes", which will probably appear high on the page.
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