1 9 9 0 – 1 9 9 2 (UK)
13 x 30 minute episodes
Mary Whitehouse was a tireless campaigner against lax morals in Britain, who could be relied upon to condemn anything from Dennis Potter plays to Doctor Who. However, any programme she judged as “filth” could expect a bump in the ratings the following week.
The mischievously titled The Mary Whitehouse Experience made its debut on Radio 1 where it attracted audiences of over a million despite a midnight slot on a station that rarely broadcasts comedy.
Of its ensemble of rising comic stars – including Jo Brand, Jack Dee, and Mark Thomas – only four survived the transfer to TV on BBC2: Steve Punt, bishop’s son Hugh Dennis, David Baddiel, and Rob Newman.
Irreverent and controversial, the show alternated (at a frenetic rate) between stand-up and sketch comedy. Some skits parodied contemporary popular culture, such as those featuring Punt’s Hannibal Lecter and Newman’s ‘Edward Colanderhands’.
Mr Strange (Dennis) had an unsettling obsession with dairy products, muttering “milky milky” and sending shivers down the spines of the audience.
Ray (Newman) was cursed with terminal sarcasm, and his misadventures were forever characterised as “a personal disaster”.
Most successful of all was ‘History Today’, in which Newman and Baddiel played stuffy and pompous history professors whose discussions always descended to schoolyard taunts: “That’s you, that is.”
Newman regularly appeared as The Cure‘s Robert Smith, imitating the singer’s morose delivery while singing incongruously cheery songs, including the theme from young children’s series Play Away, culminating with an appearance from the real Smith in the final episode.
At a time when all other 90s comedians were appearing on Channel 4, The Mary Whitehouse Experience proved a positive blush-saver for the BBC, so long the home of cutting edge, small-screen humour.
The team splintered after just two seasons. Newman and Baddiel took ‘History Today’ to Newman and Baddiel In Pieces (1993) and to Britain’s arenas until their relationship strained to breaking point.
Meanwhile, Punt and Dennis fronted their own series before returning to radio in 1998 to host the satirical The Now Show.