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The News Huddlines

Radio 2
First broadcast 1975

Radio 2’s answer to Week Ending, and as such, somewhat different in style and audience.  Since its launch some five years after its Radio 4 sister programme, the weekly concoction of topical humour has always been based around the distinctive persona of Roy Hudd, a comedian and comic actor who had first come to listeners’ attention during the final years of the variety show Workers’ Playtime.  The introductions and linking pieces, which also featured in Week Ending in the early stages of its evolution, are still very much a part of Huddlines: so too is the studio audience, without which a whole dimension of Hudd’s performing style would be lost.

The material is also conspicuously different — more traditional, openly willing to appeal to an older audience, with every gag ending on a recognisable punchline.  This may seem surprising given that Huddlines and Week Ending have, in the past, shared a large proportion of their casual and regular writers.  It is impossible to say how many contributors who found early opportunities on this show have since gone on to success as writers or writer-performers, often with material very far removed from their beginnings.  Now that Week Ending is no longer with us, the greater part of the responsibility for developing new talent presumably passes to Huddlines.

Each show includes strings of ‘news items’ — usually convenient pegs on which to hang one-liners of greater or lesser topicality — and sketches about events in the week’s news.  Hudd’s constant fellow-performers over many years have been Chris Emmett, a comic and impressionist who also cropped up on Week Ending on occasion, and June Whitfield (successor to Alison Steadman), who has of course gained untold television, radio and film credits over the past four decades.  The sketches are usually about public figures, but here the series has an individual approach which sets it apart from Week Ending or Spitting Image.  There is an element of the running joke, as particular figures tend to reappear from week to week, and are not always represented with ‘straight’ impressions, but with fanciful characterisations which have often developed over the years.  For instance, the ex-prime minister’s wife Norma Major, as voiced by Whitfield, seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to Eff, her character in ‘The Glums’, a widely-remembered segment in the 1950s series Take It From Here.  Certain members of the royal family (a Huddlines staple) are likewise not copied from life.

The show became British radio’s longest-running audience comedy in 1994 and is currently the second longest-running overall behind Week Ending, which was terminated in 1998; Huddlines, unless it suffers a similar fate, will therefore overtake it in 2003.

© JB Sumner 1998, 1999. Uploaded 26/2/99