Sunday 23 October 2022

Not the A to Z of Radio Comedy: T is for Three Plus One


Three Plus One was one of those comedy shows that filled in the summer recess when Week Ending was off-air. The title of this sketch show reflects the cast make-up: three women and one man. It appeared in the summer of 1982 for just six episodes after a one-off Easter show that year and was never heard again. Until now.

The ‘three’ were:

Denise Coffey - established comic actress and the real star of the show. Best known on TV for Do Not Adjust Your Set and on radio for The Next Programme Follows Almost Immediately and The Burkiss Way (amongst dozens of credits).

Alison Steadman - at the time perhaps best known for her TV appearances in Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May and Abigail’s Party but on radio recent work on Eddie Braden’s The Show with Ten Legs and on The News Huddlines.

Susan Denekar – a relative unknown performer who has a number of tv and theatre acting roles to her credit but appears to have done no other radio work. She sings the comic songs in this series.

The ‘one’ was the token man David Jackson Young. A comedy writer and performer he had been involved with the Radio Active team and was one of the writers for Three Plus One.

In the pilot programme broadcast on 9 April 1982 the ‘three’ are Denise, Alison and Emma Thompson, whilst the ‘one’ is Nicholas le Prevost. Emma had already co-starred in a previous summer show whilst Week Ending was on a break. This was the rather more successful Injury Time in 1980 and again in 1981, that also came back for a Tuesday night series in the summer of 1982. Emma wrote a sketch for the sixth episode of Three Plus One.

The series was produced by Jan Ravens, another Cambridge Footlights alumni, who was a radio Light Entertainment producer in 1982/83 working on shows such as Week Ending and The Law Game.

Robert Ottaway previews the series
for the Radio Times

An episode of Three Plus One is being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra today (seems to be episode 2) as part of its Lost Gems archive offerings.  To supplement that repeat I’ve dug around in my box of tapes to turn up another show from the series. I kept all six shows though as I used cheap tapes for these recordings the quality isn’t great.

In the fifth episode the focus is on performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, a subject familiar to most of the cast and writers. There’s a stellar list of contributors to the script: Eddie Canfor-Dumas (TV scriptwriter and novelist), Janey Preger (mainly a TV scriptwriter including Angels, No Frills, Coronation Street and later on The Archers), David Kind (Punch Line, Naked Video, Hale and Pace and Spitting Image), Sandi Toksvig (at the time on ITV’s No 73), Nick Symons (who would also co-write with Sandi for Radio 4’s Cat’s Whsikers and TV’s Kin of the Castle) and Robin Sieger (later a BBC TV executive and now a leading motivational ‘guru’).

There’s a common thread linking the other writers with all of them working on shows such as Week Ending, The News Huddlines, Three of a Kind, Carrott’s Lib, The Lenny Henry Show and Spitting Image. They are Andrea Solomons, James Hendrie, Bob Sinfield, Guy Jenkin and Ian Hislop.

In this episode the song is written by American lyricist Fran Landesman

Does Three Plus One stand the test of time some 40 years later? I’ll leave you to decide based on these recordings.

Three Plus One

Pilot (title Three Plus One on 4) 9 April 1982

Episodes 1 – 6 Fridays 2235-2300 30 July – 3 September 1982

Saturday 15 October 2022

The Radio Princess

Radio may have its nobility whether it’s Tony ‘Your Royal Ruler’ Prince, Emperor Rosko or The Baron. But seventy years ago UK radio had the real thing, a broadcasting Princess whose career lasted thirty years but is now largely forgotten.

For many years Princess Indira Devi Kaur of Kapurthala reported to a worldwide audience on the proceedings in the House of Commons; at the time she was often the only woman in the Press Gallery. Later, during the 1950s and 60s, she would regularly provide a monthly commentary on the happenings at Westminster for the domestic audience of Woman’s Hour. 

Maharajkumari Indira Devi was born on 26 February 1912 to Maharaja Paramjit Singh and Maharani Brinda of Kapurthala in what was then known as East Punjab. It was not exactly an ordinary Indian upbringing. As a young girl she lived in a replica Palace of Versailles.  “My grandfather built it. He admired the French one so much that he had an exact replica made in Karpurthala. Grandfather was the last of the old-time Maharajahs.”

Despite this exotic upbringing Indira, perhaps fearing she would be forced into a loveless arranged marriage like that of her parents, ran away from home in 1935 and left for Britain, only her sisters Princesses Sushila and Ourmilla knowing of her plans. In London she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with the notion of becoming a movie star. She did briefly work for Alexander Korda at London Films who had her in mind as the next Merle Oberon. That failed to go anywhere but she gained some useful experience as a film extra, modelling, at least two theatre productions and an appearance on pre-war television on an edition of Picture Page.

When World War II broke out Princess Indira initially did her bit by driving ambulances for St John’s Ambulance but soon joined the BBC, at first as an interpreter, “in the department that translates letters in peculiar tongues. It was terribly boring”. By 1941 as part of the Indian section of the Eastern Services based at 200 Oxford Street (where George Orwell also worked as a Talks Producer), she began to make her first broadcasts in Hindustani on the programme Hello Punja, a programme aimed at members of the British Indian Army based in the Middle East and the Med. She also made her first broadcasts on the Home Service on the subject of Indian culture.

The Radio Princess, as she soon became known, also started to broadcast in English (initially on the Eastern Services but post-war on the General Overseas Service) in a programme known as The Debate Continues. Starting in 1941 this was a weekly 15 minute report on news from the House of Commons for the BBC’s international audience and ran on the GOS until the 1950s (exact date unknown to me).

For the London Calling magazine in December 1953 Indira made this contribution to a feature on Stories Behind the Broadcast.    

Between 1954 and 1964 she would make regular reports for Woman’s Hour on the Light Programme in The Month in Parliament, later billed as Parliamentary Notebook, Parliamentary Diary or Impressions from Parliament.

By the mid-60s Indira had moved to Ibiza but she continued to record occasional contributions for Woman’s Hour on her life on the island until her last broadcast in 1967. Little is known of her life at this time other than that she ran a bar, quite a contrast to her upbringing in the Indian Versailles. Indira died on 1 September 1979.    

You can hear and see The Radio Princess in this 1941 film documentary 19 Metre Band

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