The Secret World. Copyright: BBC.

The Secret World

BBC Radio 4 sketch show. 22 episodes (pilot + 4 series), 2008 - 2014. Stars Jon Culshaw, Lewis Macleod, Duncan Wisbey, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Julian Dutton, Debra Stephenson and Jess Robinson.

Press Clippings

The Secret World wins at Radio Academy Awards 2014

Impressions-based sketch show The Secret World has won the Gold award for comedy at the 2014 Radio Academy Awards. John Finnemore took the Silver prize.

British Comedy Guide, 12th May 2014

Radio Times review

When an impressionist has such a distinct face, sketches can fall flat on television, no matter how uncanny the voice. The same could be said of Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson, so a return to radio should bode well.

I have to say, however, it's a mixed bag. The John Craven skit was by far the funniest, where he's challenged to sex up Countryfile à la cult US show Breaking Bad. "Have you ever cooked crystal meth?" asks a terribly posh female TV exec. Ironically, the impersonation of Craven is probably the least accomplished in the programme.

Not so the ones of Alan Bennett, Jools Holland and William Hague, whose vocal quirks are caught to a T, though the scripts could have been tighter. In all, the show leaves a satisfactory, if not great, impression.

Chris Gardner, Radio Times, 28th November 2013

The Secret World (Radio 4, Tuesdays) provides none of them. Here's a comedy show that, through the employment of mimics, invites us to imagine what happens in the private lives of famous people. Sean Connery has a baking competition with James Gandolfini of The Sopranos, William Hague tries to entertain Angela Merkel in the absence of Prime Minister Cameron, Nick Clegg successively telephones Sandi Toksvig, Miranda Hart and Jo Brand, trying (always in vain) to get them to come to a party. It sounds stale, as if every situation has been chosen to fit the voices available rather than for any intrinsic wit.

Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph, 2nd October 2012

Never has Prof Brian Cox sounded so off-guard as when Kirsty Young, Jane Garvey and then HM the Queen attempt to go on a date with him. And as for the Archbishop of Canterbury - did he really think asking his followers to send tweets about films connected to fruit and vegetables would be good for his image? The satirical impressions series returns with some brilliant takes on the lives of the famous.

Jane Anderson, Radio Times, 11th September 2012

Enduring the passenger from hell, John Humphrys is dogged by Al Pacino and his increasingly daft conspiracy theories; Barack mistakes Lionel Blair for Tony and sends him to the Middle East as his personal envoy; and the police pin Alan Carr down as an obvious Islamic terrorist - he's gay, off the telly and not a Muslim - obvious. The impressionist show returns for a pleasing second run, even if it has one yearning for the dripping fangs of Spitting Image. But, then it is not meant to be topical or satirical. Just amusing. And that is exactly what it is.

Frances Lass, Radio Times, 1st July 2010

You'll recognise the name of Bill Dare as creator/producer of such programmes as Dead Ringers, The Now Show and I've Never Seen Star Wars. Here's a new series of a more recent invention, intertwining fantasy with the familiar. Lionel Blair, for instance, is mistaken for Tony Blair and has to go to the Middle East to get the leaders "dancing to the same tune", Al Pacino stalks John Humphrys. William Hague talks to the Ambassador of Kyrkistan having been mistakenly briefed on Uzbekistan. Jon Culshaw and Lewis MacLeod are among the skilled vocal parodists.

Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph, 1st July 2010

For the past few weeks Radio 4 has been running a series of late Monday night one-off comedy shows in pursuit of a series. "Patchy" would be the best way to describe them - until this week, when The Secret World came along to show that not only can an old dog learn new tricks, some of them are better.

It reunites the Dead Ringers pair of Bill Dare (producer, writer) and Jon Culshaw, man of a thousand voices, some of which were getting a bit tired. Now Culshaw and a team of impressionists sure to become more famous than they are at the moment have come up with some new ones. Cunningly, some of them are of people whose real voices are unfamiliar.

Mike Leigh is famous, but not for his voice, so we have to take it on trust that it's him running a thriving business providing Method actors as cheap labour while they research parts. And as for Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waking up in bed together after a crazy UN party, all we got was generic Middle Eastern accents.

This meant that the writers had to come up with things that were funny in their own right and, let's face it, the leaders of Israel and Iran in a gay love tryst was not that much of a thigh-slapper. But Peaches Geldof being shocked to discover that her father was involved in that gathering of "dad bands", Live Aid, was. As was Jools Holland trying to escape from a Misery-style stalker. And Amy Winehouse auditioning for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music.

Chris Campling, The Times, 2nd March 2008