Once upon a time a group of British comedy writers and performers – including Four Lions director Chris Morris, Veep/Death of Stalin creator Armando Iannuci, and Steve “Alan Partridge” Coogan – got their big breaks on BBC radio in the form of On the Hour, a comedy program satirising both the news of the day and radio news as a format. Much like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy before them and The League of Gentlemen after them, the On the Hour team got the chance to take their concept and unleash it on television.
With Chris Morris himself in the “lead news anchor” role, using his own name in keeping with the series’ love of pranks based on blending reality and fantasy, the show was one of 1994’s critical successes and spawned a substantially more controversial followup on Channel 4 – 1997’s Brass Eye. Let’s take a look back and see how they’ve aged.
The Day Today
The Day Today makes an immediate visual impact, and is a masterpiece of visual presentation even before the actual underlying writing is considered. It makes extensive use of out-of-context clips from the actual news, a visual style for the in-studio segments parodying the worst excesses of TV news of the era (and which remains a solid stab at the style of TV news today), and faked reports and extracts from other shows rounding out the episodes; it’s effectively a sketch comedy show where the sketches are framed as news reports.
The production team show an uncanny knack for mimicing the styles of media of the era, as is evident right from the first episode, which includes an extract from a US news report from “CBN” on a convicted serial killer who elects to be executed in a manner inspired by the death of his hero, Elvis. (He’s sitting on a toilet that’s been converted to an electric chair, which will electrocute him once he’s eaten enough burgers.)