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Radio 4's Down The Line to return for lockdown special

Tuesday 5th May 2020, 9:59am

Down The Line. Gary Bellamy (Rhys Thomas). Copyright: Down The Line Productions

Radio 4 has confirmed it will be broadcasting a one-off lockdown special of Down The Line, the ground-breaking spoof phone-in show created by the team behind The Fast Show.

Down The Line: Lockdown Special will star Rhys Thomas as host Gary Bellamy, with regulars Amelia Bullmore, Simon Day, Charlie Higson, Lucy Montgomery and Paul Whitehouse.

Guest stars joining them will include Harry Enfield, Robert Popper and Geoff Schumann.

It will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 11pm on Thursday 14th May, and then available via BBC Sounds.

Down The Line launched in May 2006. The first episode was not billed as a comedy, causing some listeners to think what they were listening to were real idiotic callers. The format ran for five series, followed by a Olympic Legacy special in 2013.

Charlie Higson says: "It's great to be back with this Down The Line one-off special. A spoof radio phone-in show is the perfect project to make in lock down as all the cast can literally phone their performances in. So we have a great range of characters calling our host, Gary Bellamy, who are as weird, confused, angry and nuts as the callers on any other phone in show. The only sadness is that this is the first Down The Line we've made without the inimitable Felix Dexter, whose unique characters were such a big part of the show. Otherwise, all of the original cast - Rhys Thomas, Paul Whitehouse, Lucy Montgomery, Simon Day, Charlie Higson, and Amelia Bullmore are back, as well as guest stars including Harry Enfield, Robert Popper and Geoff Schumann."

What's Funny About...

What's Funny About.... Image shows from L to R: Jon Plowman, Peter Fincham

Radio 4 Extra has also revealed a new show called What's Funny About.... Starting Wednesday 13th May, the format sees TV veterans Peter Fincham and Jon Plowman talk to the writers, producers, and performers behind some of the UK's biggest TV comedies to hear the inside story of how they brought their programmes to the screen.

Episodes in the series include Dawn French and Richard Curtis on The Vicar of Dibley, Armando Iannucci and Rebecca Front on The Thick Of It; Meera Syal and Anil Gupta on Goodness Gracious Me; Jennifer Saunders on Absolutely Fabulous; Hugh Bonneville and John Morton on W1A; and John Lloyd and Sir Tony Robinson on Blackadder.

Peter Fincham says: "Jon Plowman gave me my first job in television in the mid-80s. Since then, we've both been lucky enough to be involved in some of the best comedy programmes of recent decades. So it seemed entirely natural that if we were going to make a programme together today, it should be all about TV comedy."

He adds: "In our programme about W1A, John Morton, its creator, says: 'I think generally comedy doesn't last very well. I may be wrong about this, but I think it goes off faster than other things in the larder'. The truth is that comedy endures longer than almost anything else on television. At its best, great comedy is timeless. And in these difficult days, more and more viewers and listeners are rediscovering the best of TV comedy, and enjoying it afresh. So this is a series that looks back with no anger at all at some wonderful television programmes made by some brilliantly talented people, some of whom are called John."

Jon Plowman adds: "I worked on some of these shows from a distance but it's always interesting to hear from the people at the heart of a project why they wrote it and then to find out why they think it worked. I've sometimes been told that trying to take a TV comedy apart to see what makes it work is rather like pulling the wings off a butterfly, or even a Boeing 747. But I think we've found with this series that this is far from the case. The things that keep the ship afloat or the plane in the air, or the butterflies making butter is not a mystery , it's the sheer talent of the writers and performers involved. What makes a hit TV show funny? Frankly I've no idea, but the people we meet in this series have so let's listen to them and learn."

More radio cult comedy classics will be broadcast across Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra to keep people entertained during lockdown. It includes a chance to hear the first ever series of The Boosh on Radio 4 Extra on Saturdays at 10pm from 9th May. The stations will also air repeats including The Frankie Howerd Show, Hancock's Half Hour, Cabin Pressure, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and Just A Minute.

Tony Pilgrim, head of programming for Radio 4 Extra, says: "Radio 4 Extra has always provided listeners with treasures from our rich archive - but in these current times comedy is more important than ever. We'll be delving into our archives to provide some joy to listeners and both Radio 4 and 4 Extra will bring back some of the most-loved radio comedy, as well as brand new programmes celebrating comedy classics. What's Funny About... hears from the best comedy minds in the business, and gives listeners deeper insight and behind-the-scenes access to some of the UK's best TV comedies."

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