The Burkiss Way

The Burkiss Way is a BBC Radio 4 sketch comedy series, originally broadcast between August 1976 and November 1980. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, with additional material in early episodes by John Mason,[1][2] Colin Bostock-Smith, Douglas Adams, John Lloyd and others. The show starred Denise Coffey (series 1), Jo Kendall (series 2 onward), Chris Emmett, Nigel Rees and Fred Harris. The series had three producers, announced as "Simon Brett of Stepney", "John Lloyd of Europe", and "David 'Hatch of the BBC' Hatch".

The Burkiss Way
GenreSketch comedy
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Home stationBBC Radio 4
SyndicatesBBC Radio 4 Extra
StarringDenise Coffey (series 1)
Jo Kendall (series 26)
Chris Emmett
Nigel Rees
Fred Harris
Written byAndrew Marshall
David Renwick
Produced bySimon Brett (series 12)
John Lloyd (series 34)
David Hatch (series 56)
Recording studioBBC Paris Studio, Lower Regent Street, London
Original release27 August 1976 – 15 November 1980
No. of series6
No. of episodes47
Audio formatstereo (Lessons 1-5, 28 onwards)
mono (Lessons 7-27)
unknown (Lesson 6)

The show's humour was based on surrealism and literary and media parodies, sprinkled with puns.


The series had its roots in two half-hour sketch shows entitled Half-Open University which Marshall and Renwick had written with Mason for Radio 3 as a parody of Open University programmes. The first, broadcast on 25 August 1975, spoofed science, the second, on 1 December 1976, history.

In a similar vein, The Burkiss Way was styled around fictional correspondence courses by "Professor Emil Burkiss" entitled The Burkiss Way to Dynamic Living, and each episode or "lesson" had a number and a title based on one of the course's subjects: "Lesson 1: Peel Bananas the Burkiss Way", "Lesson 2: Pass Examinations the Burkiss Way", and so on. Although the numbers and titles were maintained throughout the run, a significant change of style early in the second series saw the radio correspondence course become a hook rather than a narrative device, and it was mentioned only in passing.

From here on the programme continued in a more conventional sketch format, though it was to use increasingly Pythonesque devices including surreal, stream-of-consciousness linking, back-referencing and aggregation. Like the Pythons before them, the writers lampooned and tinkered with the medium on which the show was broadcast, including spoofs of Radio 4's continuity style. Many later episodes had false endings, sometimes disguised as genuine continuity announcements. The opening and closing credits might be anywhere within the show. One show ran backwards from the closing to the opening credits, while another was allegedly dropped, broken and glued together with a tube of BBC coffee, resulting in a disjointed running order with many sketches beginning and ending in mid-sentence. For one pair of shows, one sentence was split over two programmes, with 'Eric..' ending lesson 37 and '..Pode of Croydon' starting lesson 38.

As time went on the show became increasingly surreal, and in several sketches the writers seemed to see how many strange ideas they could cram into a sketch. For example, one later episode contains a sketch about an amoeba employed by the Department of Civil Service Staff Recruitment and Fisheries as a token Desmond Dekker and the Aces but who keeps reproducing asexually by mitosis while singing a Lee Dorsey song.


In the first series Chris Emmett made several appearances as a dirty old man; in episode 2, his character became Prime Minister thanks to the Burkiss Way. The fourth episode of series one, "Solve Murders the Burkiss Way", featured the voice as "Eric Pode of Croydon" as a disguise of mass-murderess "Beatrice Crint of Chingford". The same voice was used in the next episode, "Keep Unfit the Burkiss Way", as "Ron Pode of Hackney" and from series 2 this voice resumed as Eric Pode of Croydon, becoming one of the show's few recurring characters and the only one not a parody of a real person. He is a man with unsavoury habits, inspired by Round the Horne's "J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock". Each week he is interviewed by Fred Harris's character, who calls him Mister Croydon, is disgusted by his habits and puns, and always remarks, "isn't he a panic". This was one of the show's two catchphrases, the other being "there will now be a short intermission". There was usually a series of linked sketches through each episode, the intermission sketches providing a break.

The fact that Douglas Adams had written for the show did not prevent his becoming a target for satire. He was parodied as Mister Different Adams whose catchphrase is "I see comedy as a kind of...". Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was also a target; the 1979 Christmas show (Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special) closes with Peter Jones as his HHGTTG character, The Book, attempting to vilify BBC Radio 4 for broadcasting The Burkiss Way, but in typical fashion he is cut off in mid-sentence.

Broadcast history

The Burkiss Way ran to 47 episodes in six series, but the episode and series numbering are derailed by "Lesson 31" and "Lesson 32", which are a single episode masquerading as two half-episodes, the first of which ends series 3 and the second of which begins series 4. There are two "Lesson 39"s, both entitled "Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way", which have identical beginnings. The consequence is that "Lesson 33" to the first "Lesson 39" inclusive have lesson numbers that are one greater than the cumulative number; from the second "Lesson 39" onward the correct numbering is restored.

A sketch in Lesson 28 featuring unsubtle references to newscaster Reginald Bosanquet's alcoholism was cut following the first broadcast and was never reinstated. The last episode was cut short by 6 minutes on its first repeat transmission, on the instructions of the controller of BBC Radio 4. The missing material lampooned the grovelling approach of Radio 4 to the Queen Mother's 80th birthday celebrations. Repeats on BBC7 remained censored until a restored version was first broadcast in Celebrate The Burkiss Way on BBC7 on Saturday 4 April 2009.

The show gained a cult following and has several reruns on BBC 7 / BBC Radio 4 Extra. Listeners complained about some omissions, which may indicate that episodes have been lost or wiped notably Lesson 6 and episodes 7 to 27 inclusive have been broadcast in mono, suggesting the original stereo masters were wiped. The suggestion is, however, false as the BBC is known to have all episodes in its archive, though it is unusual for the early shows to be made in stereo and then some later shows to be only in mono. Lesson 6 is unique in being only 15 minutes long, which makes it difficult accommodate in R4 Extra's schedule.

Episode list

SeriesLessonTitleFirst broadcast
11Peel Bananas the Burkiss Way27 August 1976
2Pass Examinations the Burkiss Way3 September 1976
3Escape from Prison the Burkiss Way
also known as "The Burkiss Special with James Burkiss"
10 September 1976
4Solve Murders the Burkiss Way17 September 1976
5Keep Unfit the Burkiss Way24 September 1976
6Win Awards the Burkiss Way1 October 1976
27Influence Friends and Win People the Burkiss Way15 December 1976
8Plan Christmas Schedules the Burkiss Way22 December 1976
9Gain Spiritual Fulfilment the Burkiss Way29 December 1976
10Govern Britain the Burkiss Way5 January 1977
11Journey into the Unknown the Burkiss Way12 January 1977
12Make Short Comedy Programmes the Burkiss Way19 January 1977
13Commemorate Jubilees the Burkiss Way26 January 1977
14Do You Know What the Burkiss Way2 February 1977
15Skive From School the Burkiss Way9 February 1977
16Get Off With Life the Burkiss Way16 February 1977
17This Is Your Life the Burkiss Way23 February 1977
18Become a Rock Star the Burkiss Way2 March 1977
19Replace the Burkiss Way9 March 1977
320Discover Gravity the Burkiss Way15 November 1977
21Get Cut Off the Bur...22 November 1977
22How to Succeed in Business the Burkiss Way29 November 1977
23Son of the Burkiss Way6 December 1977
24One Hour to the Burkiss Way13 December 1977
25Not to be Opened Until Christmas the Burkiss Way20 December 1977
26First Prize the Burkiss Way27 December 1977
27Around the World the Burkiss Way3 January 1978
28Ignore These Programme Titles the Burkiss Way10 January 1978
29Complain About the Burkiss Way17 January 1978
30Not the Burkiss Way24 January 1978
31Bruce's Choice31 January 1978
432Start New Series the Burkiss Way
33The Last Burkiss Way7 February 1978
34The Next to Last Burkiss Way14 February 1978
535Remember the Burkiss Way2 April 1979
36Rise from the Grave the Burkiss Way9 April 1979
37Is Britain Going the Burkiss Way? (part 1)16 April 1979
38Is Britain Going the Burkiss Way? (part 2)23 April 1979
39Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way30 April 1979
39Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way7 May 1979
40Avoid Like the Plague the Burkiss Way14 May 1979
Special41Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special26 December 1979
642The Man From the Burkiss Way11 October 1980
43Sack the Burkiss Way18 October 1980
44Love Big Brother the Burkiss Way25 October 1980
45Write extremely long titles with lots and lots of words in, like this, so that the Radio Times will have to allot more space than the measly half a centimetre of billing space we usually get and at least it'll look a bit more prominent on the page, although still nowhere near the 50 column inches they give to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the Burkiss Way[3]
also known as "Write Extremely Long Titles the Burkiss Way"
1 November 1980
46Settle Out Of Court the Burkiss Way8 November 1980
47Wave Goodbye to CBEs the Burkiss Way15 November 1980

Lessons 31 and 32 were in fact a single 30-minute show masquerading as two 15-minute episodes.

The two lessons numbered 39 were different, but started exactly the same way. Because of this, all of the episodes between Lesson 33 and the first Lesson 39 have lesson numbers that are one greater than the actual half-hour episode numeration.[4][5][6]

Releases and Other Media

A book, Bestseller! The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon, was published by Allen & Unwin in 1981, loosely based on sketches from the series.[7]

A BBC Radio Collection in 1994 contained excerpts rather than complete episodes.

A BBC Radio Collection in 2010 contained the complete first series.


In 2018, Rob Grant claimed he "really admired The Burkiss Way," saying "it was a terrifically funny show and I loved it."[8]

See also


  1. John Mason 1941-2016, NA digest 16:37 (2016)
  2. John Charles Mason, Remembered Forever
  3. Wells, Paul, "The Burkiss Way", Radiolistings. Retrieved 1 April 2011
  4. Brown, Mike, "The Compleat Burkiss Way" Archived 15 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Transdiffusion Broadcasting System. Retrieved 30 March 2011
  5. Arnold, Steven, "The Guide to the Burkiss Way", The British Comedy & Drama Website. Retrieved 30 March 2011
  6. Lavalie, John, "The Burkiss Way (a Titles & Air Date Guide)", Retrieved 30 March 2011
  7. Marshall A and Renwick D (1981), Bestseller: The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon, Allen & Unwin, London, ISBN 0-04-827036-9
  8. Roberts, Jem; Grant, Rob; Marshall, Andrew "Rob Grant & Andrew Marshall interview - The Quanderhorn Xperimentations - British Comedy Guide", Retrieved 9 September 2018
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.