The Burkiss Way 

15 August 2001


Episode guide ➡


The Burkiss Way is probably the most underrated comedy show ever to be broadcast on BBC radio, especially at tea time. It had everything: regular characters, catch-phrases, a versatile cast and writing that was original and inventive and which, for the first time since The Goons, fully exploited the medium of radio (though she later claimed she had not been exploited because the nudity had been essential to the plot).



Most of the later programmes had a remarkably complex structure as the programme temporarily left one sketch to join another, often returning to the original sketch much later in the programme. A programme could be dropped on the floor and broken, only to be reassembled in the wrong order, or the closing credits might appear at the beginning of the show, which would then work its way methodically backwards to finish at the beginning. Dummy endings and fake continuity announcements were commonplace.

Writers Andrew Marshall and David Renwick

Writers Andrew Marshall and David Renwick

The scripts may have been downright silly but they also sparkled with a rare intelligence which gave the show virtually instant cult status. Indeed, if we dig down to the show’s roots we find that it began life as that almost unique animal, a Radio 3 comedy programme! It was called The Half-Open University. The first of these was effectively a pilot for The Burkiss Way and was broadcast during the August Bank holiday weekend of 1975, on 25 August. The cast consisted of Timothy Davies, Chris Emmett, Christine Ozanne and Nigel Rees; the writers were Andrew Marshall, John Mason and David Renwick, and the producer was Simon Brett (who can be purchased for just a few pence).

It took more than a year for the second Half-Open University programme to appear in the schedules but it was eventually broadcast on 1 December 1976, also on Radio 3, but by then the first series of The Burkiss Way had been broadcast on Radio 4 and the second series was about to go out.



For those of you reading this in mono, the "acting team" from Left to right: Chris Emmett, Jo Kendall, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris.

For those of you reading this in mono, the “acting team” from Left to right: Chris Emmett, Jo Kendall, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris.

All the shows were recorded in the BBC’s Paris Studio, Lower Regent Street, London and from Lesson 28 onwards the shows were recorded and broadcast in stereo.

The shows were written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick and produced first by Simon Brett ‘of Stepney’, then later by John Lloyd ‘of Europe’ and ultimately by David ‘Hatch of the BBC’ Hatch, who was previously known to fans of radio comedy from his appearances in I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.

Cast member Nigel Rees recalls:

In the early series, until about 1978, The Burkiss Way was, without doubt, a cult show. I have never known anything like the studio recordings in those days. So many people wanted to come, we had to sit them on the floor and even on the stage.

And it was a very young audience, very un-Radio 4, with pubescent girls wearing T-shirts saying, “I do it the Burkiss Way”! But the BBC – particularly Radio 4 – didn’t know what to do with it, as there were a lot of complaints. When David Hatch took over as producer he took the programme in a more mainstream direction.

You may remember there was a lot of fuss made at the time about the very last edition of the programme, Lesson 47 “Wave Goodbye to CBEs the Burkiss Way”. It poked fun at the grovelling Radio 4 celebrations of the Queen Mum’s 80th birthday (and featured David Jason as a guest).

Radio Times listing

The final and most controversial programme of the smash-hit tv series, Lesson 47, was broadcast on 15-Nov-1980, ending the programme’s 5 year run.

The then Controller of Radio 4 was so appalled at this lèse-majesty (more against her than the Queen Mum, I’d say) that when the programme was repeated it had had six minutes chopped out of it and they filled up the time with guitar music.

Ironically, producer David Hatch (by this time boss of BBC Radio) duly collected his own CBE in 1994!


You Say

35 responses to this article

Andrew Bowden 4 January 2011 at 10:17 pm

Thank goodness for BBC7. Otherwise I would never have heard this wonderful show!

James 25 September 2011 at 9:29 am

I’d never heard of The Burkiss Way until a few weeks ago when I turned on Radio 4 Extra and I’d thought I’d missed it when I turned the radio on as it was ending. It then started again, half way through the show.

I am now trying to get them all on mp3 download but it appears only the first series is available.

Radio 4 Extra is brilliant for old comedy especially as the new stuff is generally really poor on radio and TV (TV is far worse than radio though).

Paul Johnson 29 September 2011 at 11:00 pm


BARRIE HOWELLS 15 October 2011 at 12:16 pm

I loved the Burkiss Way to bits when it was first broadcast I was in my late teens at the time.

I loved Renwick and Marshall’s writing, I felt that I was on the same wavelength as them as I loved to mock the bad tv and radio of the day.

What Burkiss Fan could forget, “Desert Island Wobblies” and a delgihtful parody of a book programme called “Read All About It”.

I musnt forget the man in one sketch who went to his Doctor suffering from Hogmanay of the knee,”Is is serious, no its too bloody silly for words.”

Burkiss sosunds surprisingly fresh today and as for Eric Pode Of Croydon,”Isn’t he still a panic.”

TIM AZURE 21 October 2011 at 10:29 am

There are some references in the show to a Mr Different Adams-Douglas Adams did in fact write for the show, the Kamikaze sketch. A sketch where Death couldn’t come and see someone and Scrofula came instead was later borrowed by Terry Pratchett.

James 23 October 2011 at 3:38 pm

David Renwick and Andrew Marshall also wrote for ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ and the ‘gramophone’ sketch was taken from The Burkiss Way.

Trev Collier 16 January 2013 at 4:50 pm

I listen to this wonderful program at least three times per episode. You always miss some of the “one-liners” first and second time. Better than “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue” with Humph.

Thank you radio 4 extra.

Eric Pode of Croydon

Nigel Stapley 16 January 2013 at 9:26 pm

The writing was extremely clever.

Umberto Eco has (according to Victor Lewis Smith) stated that “inversion is the essence of comedy”. One episode of “The Former Radio Show The Burkiss Way” has a very concise example:

fx: knock on door

fx: door opening

Chris Emmett: Yes?

(short pause)

Nigel Rees: What do you mean, ‘yes’? I live here, what do you want?

There are numerous examples of little turns and twists of language which made TFRTBW the natural heir to The Goons, e.g.

Doctor (Nigel Rees): I’m here to see Mr Thrimpson. I understand he’s in bed with a broken leg.

Mr Thrimpson (Chris Emmett): Yes, his teddy bear’s at the mender’s.


Dave Brown 14 February 2013 at 2:37 pm

Ah…The Burkiss Way to Dynamic Living. The perfect programme for a 14-year old in the late 1970s to tape-record and repeat sketches from at school the next morning! Who can forget “Doctor Batmanandrobin” and the terrifying Curse of Biblical Film Music? (“It’s coming under the door!”)

Could never figure out why Eric Pode of Croydon was always referred to as “Mr Croydon” though…

Nigel Stapley 17 February 2013 at 10:15 pm

Because that was his surname.

The People's Fiend 9 March 2013 at 10:52 pm

So, what did those lost six minutes of David Jason’s Queen Mother commentary so offensive to the station controller consist of? Have any scripts survived?

Nigel Parkinson 14 June 2013 at 1:36 pm

The ‘lost six minutes of David Jason’s Queen Mother commentary’ aren’t really lost, indeed Radio7 played it at least once, and anyway, like all Burkiss fans of a certain vintage, I taped the show every week at the time.

I still find myself saying ‘thrid’ and ‘well, the offer was there’ and ‘don’t kid yourself lady’, and so on, just to amuse myself.

I recommend the book, BestSeller, by the way.

Nigel Stapley 16 June 2013 at 10:13 pm

When Radio 7 (or whatever it was called that week) broadcast “Celebrate The Burkiss Way” a year or three back, the version of the last episode played ran for about 27 minutes, which leads me to suspect that it was the original transmission version.

Ian Docwra 6 November 2014 at 12:46 pm

A real trivia question – what was the background music to the Red Death’s appearance about four minutes in to ‘Avoid Like The Plague The Burkiss Way’? Sounded a bit like ELO.

Jan Henning 14 May 2015 at 2:18 am

Regarding ‘lost minutes’, does anybody know whether a tape recording of the original broadcast of Lesson 28 – Ignore These Program Titles The Burkiss Way has survived somewhere? The “Two Reggies” sketch originally featured a musical number about Reginal Bosanquet which was then cut from all subsequent repeats.

Mark 21 June 2015 at 8:06 pm

Hello. Does anyone know what the Burkiss Way’s signature tune is called and who created it? I’m assuming it’s some jazz classic that the rest of the universe knows about. Can’t get it out of my head!

Raymond George Rainbow 5 February 2016 at 5:55 pm

I really wish more than just the first series was available on CD – I’m starting to wear my copy out!

Mr Prondergast 9 April 2016 at 11:15 pm

To Mark
I asked Andrew Marshall via Twitter – it is called Brass Band Boogie and examples played by jazz bands are on Youtube (it was speeded up for TBW)

steve 5 December 2016 at 8:05 pm

What is that early music which is sometimes played?
elisabethan perhaps?

Flick Barton 3 September 2017 at 3:59 pm

@ Jan Henning: yes, a recording of the original broadcast of Lesson 28 HAS survived, complete with the Two Reggies sketch and song, which is about 1 min 27s.

I have a question about a different cut: In Lesson 40, Avoid Like The Plague, at 6:19 Nigel Rees’s character says “Well Propero, I must say this ball of yours has no equal!” There follows a few moments of silence before the audience laugh. It was like this in the original broadcast, but does anyone know what the censored punchline was?

Jan 27 November 2017 at 8:58 pm

@Flick Barton:
Great, thanks. Could you contact me for further details under burkissway (at) buttercookie (dot) de?

James Cornell 1 September 2018 at 3:58 pm

Flick Barton, I suspect there was no punchline. The gap would have been the audience taking a second to pick up on the double entendre. And just to kill any remaining humour, the joke is that Prospero has a splendid testicle but only one of them

Jan 8 October 2019 at 11:49 pm

And another question:
Does anybody know anything more about the purported Harold Macmillan sketch in lesson 6?

On the one hand, stylistically it would seem to fit as a Burkiss Way sketch and the spoof sign off at the end (And that’s the end of ‘Today in Parliament’.) would also fit given the show’s propensity for that kind of thing and the fact that that particular episode did run directly after Today in Parliament for its initial broadcast.

On the other hand that sketch would take the total length of that episode to around 17′30″, meaning it would have had to overrun its allocated slot somewhat, it isn’t included in the official CD re-release of series 1 as far as I can tell (the running length of lesson 6 there more closely matches the official 15 minutes slot), and only appears in the recordings floating around on the internet, the audio quality of that sketch in those recordings is somewhat inferior compared to the rest of that episode, and to add a final bit of confusion on top, some collections feature that sketch at the beginning of lesson 6, while others have it at the end.

So does anybody have any idea as to that sketch’s status – is it actually a Burkiss Way sketch or not, and if yes, which version is the correct one – at the beginning of the episode or at the end? And if no, where did it actually originate from then?

Ian Z 11 October 2019 at 5:21 pm

Did you ever get the missing two Reggies sketch? I just dug out my old cassettes and found it is there in all it’s glory.

Jan Henning 17 October 2019 at 8:48 pm

@Ian: Now you mention it, no, I unfortunately didn’t.

Jan 20 October 2019 at 3:18 pm

Now you mention it, no, I unfortunately didn’t. So I’d still be interested…

Ian Z 21 October 2019 at 2:05 am

Jan, I have sent you some details. Hopefully this will sort you out. I was in the audience for the broadcast of BW28. I remember them getting us to all chant rattle the handles in unison.

IanZ 22 October 2019 at 9:03 pm

I’ve been out car prospecting. There’s Hillman Imps in them thar hills. They’re not real Hillman Imps, they’re just fools Hillman Imps. Well what other sort is there?

Adrian Howes 31 December 2019 at 9:44 pm

@InanZ. I recorded all original Burkiss Ways but have managed to lose the tape containing the two Reggies sketch. I do remember some of the lyrics to the song “Look how quickly it all disappears”. If there is any chance of getting hold of a copy I’d be most grateful.

Jonathan Snowden 15 February 2020 at 7:40 pm

From Memory, to the tune of “Non-Stop” – ITN News, two lines from verse one, and all of verse two….
I am Reggie, he is Sandy, his is water, mine is brandy,
Notice how it quickly diappears…
I am Sandy, he is Reggie,
My producer’s getting edgy
He can see the join from where he sits,
Keeps on moaning. It needs toning,
What an awful bore,
He’s really getting on my tits…

Stuart Monk 12 April 2020 at 8:14 pm

I’d also like to hear the ‘missing’ Bosanquet sketch from Lesson 28, please and thanks!

Stuart Monk 13 April 2020 at 1:46 pm

Hi, IAN Z –
Could you PM me about the missing sketch in Lesson 28?
stuartmonk 28 at gmail dot com with no spaces would be great!
Best Wishes,

Rocky 16 April 2020 at 3:28 pm

@Flick Barton:
Andrew Masrhall was asked on Twitter about the Prospero silence in Lesson 40. The silence is a joke on the listener, to make you think the punchline was so rude it was censored.

Ian 8 February 2021 at 7:08 pm


Yeah, but compare the silence after “You are Rod Stewart’s agent?” – where it’s just the actors saying nothing and you can hear quiet noises of the theatre – and the silence after “this ball of yours has no equal!” – where it’s absolutely silent.

Prince Brainier 10 November 2021 at 3:06 pm

I got the full series. all progs ever from earthstation 1 in the states.
And all the telegoons shows as well.
You know, all those shows the BBC aren’t sure they’ve got.

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