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The Way It Is

Radio 4
Series One 1998 (eight programmes)
Series Two 1999 (eight programmes)
Series Three 1999 (eight programmes)
Series Four 2000 (eight programmes)

One of numerous programmes devised to fill the 'satire gap' resulting from the removal of Week Ending, this series targeted both the week's events in the news itself and the way the news is presented: as such, it came across as a (sometimes uncomfortable) blend of Week Ending and On The Hour.  The show was put together by Goodness Gracious Me! producer Anil Gupta, and had as its original performers Sanjeev Bhaskar (also of GGM), Simon Evans, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Dave Lamb (availability problems, however, led to Oberman being replaced by Fiona Allen -- later of Channel 4's Smack The Pony -- for most of the first series). 

The supposed presenters, namely the alert but astonishingly arrogant Richard Richard (Evans, displaying clear Paxman-via-Chris-Morris influences) and the dopey Lolly Swain (Oberman/Allen), were joined each week by regular guests and reporters.  A variety of comic styles were at work in creations ranging from 'Lloyd Fisher' (a quickfire correspondent who, giving one-word rhyming answers to successive questions, is probably better heard than described), through 'Dr Benjamin Hardstaff' (a Magnus Pyke-alike with a tendency to become over-excited by his Commodore 64 graphical displays), to undeniable On The Hour-isms including an unusual vicar and a reporter-who-doesn't-know-what's-going-on. 

The initial writing team consisted of Bhaskar, Evans, Jon Holmes and Andy Hurst, Justin Sbresni, and Alex Walsh-Taylor: like Week Ending, the series also took contributions from non-commissioned writers.  Some of these, including Terry Franks-Newman, Paul Sassienie, Howard Ricklow and Simon Blackwell, were commissioned for the second series, in which the programme hit its stride.  Oberman was by now back on board, but Bhaskar was absent (touring with the live version of GGM) for all but the last show, his place going to Chris Pavlo. 

At this point, The Way It Is was probably the only satirical series on Radio 4 with any degree of 'bite': it was funnier than most of the Week Ending replacements (admittedly a rather poor bunch), and sharper than the parent programme had been for most of its life.  The only serious failing was the continuing and obvious debt to On The Hour.  Unlike the comparatively disappointing Now Show, editions of The Way It Is were not repeated in the week of original transmission, which is unusual in the case of topical shows unsuitable for re-broadcast later in the year.  It was thus only heard in a late-night slot - possibly because of the abrasive nature of some of the material (jokes at the expense of recently-deceased and decidedly unloved public figures, an area Week Ending had tended to steer well away from, were one noticeable feature). 

Further series have appeared at approximately six-monthly intervals.  Evans, Lamb and Pavlo continued into the third season, with Laura Shavin (also of Radio 5 Live's The Treatment and, latterly, The Now Show) now playing Lolly (plus the entire female character voiceload -- the personnel changes seem to have unsettlingly little effect on the sound of regulars like on-the-spot reporter 'Jackie Trent'). Established performer Phil Cornwell came in for Dave Lamb for part of Series Four.  One-time writer Alex Walsh-Taylor was now the producer, and the core writing group had swelled a little. 

Over the third and fourth seasons, parts of the show began to seem more than a little tired: new characters and occasionals (notably the Burchillian 'Julie Bristol') unsurprisingly outclassed the regular stock characters and set-ups, many of which had persisted virtually unchanged since the first series.  This tendency is taken to extremes (and hence, to some ears, excused) by the brazen iteration of Paul Sassienie's 'Matt Black'/'Pauli Hikilo' routine, which, each week, runs as follows: Richard delivers news item relating to Finland; introduces Helsinki correspondent who (in another On The Hour nod) delivers item containing exactly the same information; Richard proceeds to interview representative of Finnish government who, whatever the question, merely shivers and says "It's very cold in Finland..."  Perhaps fortunately, Series Four provided ballast to the news items with a few glimpses into the two presenters' personal lives, including Lolly's marriage plans and the saga of Richard's missing cat 

© JB Sumner 1998-2000.  Thanks to Simon Evans and Paul Sassienie.  Updated 9/3/00