Review for The Kit Curran Radio Show: The Complete Series
Before Frasier Crane, before Alan Partridge, before Smashey and Nicey, and before Delbert Wilkins, there was The Kit Curran Radio show, a sitcom about a fictional radio DJ, probably the first of its kind on UK TV. Written by Andy Hamilton, and starring Denis Lawson (Star Wars, Local Hero), it told the story of the biggest ego on the airwaves, a comedy in two series. Kit Curran was a major highlight of my childhood, and a source of fond memories, which after all this time had faded to a warm glow. You see, while I remembered watching Kit Curran, no one else that I know did, to the point where I began to doubt that the show even existed. Thankfully, Network have come to the rescue with a couple of DVDs to stoke the embers of memory.
He is the biggest star on Radio Newtown, even if Kit Curran says so himself, but his gift of the gab doesn’t stop with the radio mike, as he’s always after a get rich quick scheme. He’s even created a second persona, another DJ on the station, which would be all well and good, but he’s drawing two salaries for it. His easy life is about to get a whole lot more difficult now that a new boss is coming to Radio Newtown, a man intent on clearing away the old guard and bringing the station kicking and screaming into the modern day.
Disc 1: The Kit Curran Radio Show
1. End of an Era
2. The New Broom
3. Bread and Circuses
4. “P” is for Positive
5. Election Fever
6. The Big Break
The inevitable happens. One of Kit Curran’s can’t fail money-making schemes fails, and Radio Newtown closes with everyone laid off. It’s the perfect chance for Kit to go into business for himself with a pirate radio station.
Disc 2: Kit Curran
1. One Door Closes
2. The Lucky Break
3. The Street of Shame
4. A Sick Society
5. Blind Date
6. Doctors Can Seriously Damage Your Health
Kit Curran gets a 4:3 regular transfer that reflects its eighties TV origins. That means that it was filmed and then archived on videotape, and that tape hasn’t weathered the years all that well. Certainly in the second episode, there’s a short stretch where the colour keeps dropping out. But generally the image is stable and free of significant tape artefacts. The show is certainly very watchable on these DVDs.
The sound is presented in what I guess is DD 2.0 Mono English. The all important dialogue is clear, and Denis Lawson’s theme song comes through in each episode. Age does tell with these episodes, particularly in the first season, with the odd moment of hiss, or a persistent hum in a couple of episodes.
The discs present their contents with static menus and episode listings.
I had a distinctly binary experience watching Kit Curran on these discs. I had the nostalgia goggles on big time for the Kit Curran Radio Show, as I recall being enthralled with the characters and the comedy when it was originally broadcast, the flamboyant, cheeky and scheming Kit Curran something of an unlikely role model to an 11 year old boy. The goggles came right off when it came to the second season though, as I never watched it; judging by the language it was probably broadcast past the watershed, and past my bedtime. That might be the reason why I rate the first season more than the second, or it could actually be that the second season really isn’t as good.
I have to say that essential viewing as Kit Curran was for my eleven-year-old self; today it feels like just another sitcom, although I certainly did enjoy watching that first season over again. With Kit Curran always coming up with a scheme to make money, or to boost his public presence, there is a strong Only Fools and Horses vibe to it, while the constant bucking of authority, the ‘battle’ between management and staff gives it a sense of Porridge (made all the stronger with Brian Wilde in the role of the station manager Roland Simpson; he played Mr Barrowclough in Porridge). What ties it altogether is the radio station setting for the show, you get taken into a world that you usually don’t see, and it paints a colourful background to the episodes.
Kit Curran is the eye of the hurricane around which all the comedic chaos unfolds. Constant foil for his schemes and human disposal unit is his engineer Les Toms, never seen without a snack in hand and bite in mouth. The most inspired character in the show has to be newsreader Damien Appleby, a sarcastic, bile-filled, barely contained explosion of vitriol, whose news reports are worth watching for the mimes alone.
After a couple of episodes of trying to hold onto their jobs, Kit’s schemes to boost the station’s ratings, and earn a few bob kick in, schemes that invariably wind up leaving the station boss in distress, emotional, physical, or mental. Ideas like the self-help seminars, the radio bingo, the gossip grapevine, or the election debate all tend to blow up in spectacular ways.
Then the second season comes around, with Radio Newtown off the air and with Kit, Les, and Damien out of work. It’s a shame to see what happens to a sitcom without the ‘sit’, and to be frank, all that’s left of the original premise is Only Fools and Horses, with Kit coming up with a new get-rich quick scheme each week, and for them all to fail spectacularly. The boss whose nose would get tweaked is gone, and instead there is the attractive fashion designer working across the corridor that Kit falls in lust with. The sop to the radio premise is that Kit now runs a pirate radio station from the back of his office, but this gets less and less airtime as the series peters out (Damien does go full force on the news reports though, which is fun). Instead we get episodes focusing on running a press agency, selling double glazing (and causing a riot), and the nadir of the series, a dating agency. Still, Kit Curran does go out on a high with a strong episode about alternative medicine.
A comedy from the mid-eighties; you’d expect to have some politics in there, and Kit Curran doesn’t disappoint, taking plenty of opportunities to stick it to Maggie, and some commentary can be depressingly familiar. One caller to Kit’s show demands that Britain leave the Common Market! But where Kit Curran really stands out is in its commentary on the press and media industry. Part of the clash of personalities in the first season is that of a boss from a BBC background running a commercial radio station, and Kit’s schemes to increase ratings show a manipulative cynicism that foreshadows ‘Fake News’ by thirty years. Despite the second season’s shortcomings, it’s actually stronger in this one regard, as with Kit Curran now outside the system, he gets more and more creative in trying to increase his press exposure, to the point where he uses a press exposé on one of his scams as an opportunity to advertise another.
That’s the depressing thing about nostalgia. Sometimes things are a lot better in memory than they are in reality, and that certainly happened to me with The Kit Curran Radio Show. It has its moments of brilliance to be sure, but it can also be cheesy and predictable, and by ditching the premise for the second season, it lost what individuality it had. But The Kit Curran Radio Show is certainly worth watching, and it very much deserves a better place in history than it has, if only because it was an important milestone for writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin on the road to Drop the Dead Donkey.
Now here’s a challenge for Network, prying the BBC’s vicelike grip from the Lenny Henry Show long enough to release the two “Delbert Wilkins” series, pirate radio comedy done right!