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Alan’s Big 1FM
Radio 1
Series One 1994 (eight programmes)
Series Two 1994
Series Three 1995

This was the first entirely new show transmitted according to Radio 1’s new formula for comedy broadcasting: live, hour-long shows in which the comedy was interspersed with music tracks.  It is perhaps surprising, then, that the show’s format was in some ways a throwback to the days of ITMA, with a central, presiding straight-man surrounded by a colourful cast of disruptive characters (although the content was geared distinctly towards the 1990s).  The ‘Alan’ of the title was Alan Davies, a frizzy-haired comedian then known mainly for his stand-up work; his unlikely fellow broadcasters included opinionated grunge rock queen Stacey Ringworm, psychotic road-loving fascist and nominal travel reporter ‘Wags’ Wilkins, placid West Country hippy Jake the Crustie (“Traveller!”), clueless ‘Manchester correspondent’ Ian Dee (“Kickin’… buzzin’”) and, in the first series, Alan’s unshakeable ‘mad ex-bird’, Madeleine Ex Bird.  All these characters were amusing enough, but none of them had any particular context or obvious relation to one another.  The show was not attempting to go anywhere or be anything: it was just a “Big 1FM”.  The occasional shreds of plotline had a chaotic feel to them: the mad ex-bird, having finally coerced Alan into marrying her at the end of Series One, promptly vanished from the show, leading to Alan being repeatedly asked, “Where’s your wife?” throughout Series Two (a question which never received an answer).  In fact, Alan himself was totally absent for two consecutive Series Two episodes, for one of which the celebrated John Shuttleworth appeared on the show instead (his own Radio 1 show Shuttleworth’s Showtime aired a few weeks later).  In another episode, a rogue F-word slipped out of a participant’s mouth during a sketch which was being performed live.  Davies hastily performed an admirable damage-limitation exercise: “That was absolutely nothing to do with us…”

The series gained considerable notoriety for an insert in each show entitled “Eamon: Older Brother of Jesus”.  Written (uncredited at any point) by the comedian Michael Redmond, this was based around the idea that the holy family were in fact of Irish origin, having emigrated to the Nazareth area, and that Jesus had a hapless elder brother named Eamon who was compelled to work in the family carpentry shop while Jesus went off to compose parables.  It was an odd concoction, completely unconnected to anything else on the show (indeed, it later resurfaced in the middle of other Radio 1 comedies), and was probably too innocuous to justify the miniature frenzy of speculative indignation which emanated from religious objectors at the time the series first aired.

The core supporting cast for Alan’s Big 1FM consisted of Alan Francis, Debbie Stephenson and Bill Bailey.  Several others appeared in one or more shows, notably Caroline Quentin, who went on to star with Davies in the BBC1 comic mystery series, Jonathan Creek, in 1997.  The third series featured an altered and rather strained format, with the ‘real’ presence of the actors being announced by Davies at the start of the show; they were periodically required to give their (comic) opinions on various subjects, according to the established ‘zoo radio’ format, and then immediately heard in character performing the sketches as usual.

© JB Sumner 1998