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The Sunday Post: What's in a name?

Andrew Martin

BBC Genome

Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life - too clever a title by half?

In a previous look at titles mentioning days of the week, we included the 1970 chat show If It’s Saturday It Must Be Nimmo as an example of the weird titles that sometimes emerge in the constant battle not to just call something The Fred Bloggs Show.

Tempting though it is to compile a list of the latter type of title, we thought it would be more entertaining to scout around for a few of the more peculiar examples that have been used in radio and television. Sometimes these are the series titles, though the fact that these will by their nature be used a number of times means that they are less likely to be gratuitously odd.

Though of course the need to stand out and draw attention to the show makes the quirky more attractive – though make it too offbeat and you will probably put people off – it’s probably a valuable lesson that really weirdly-titled shows tend not to last for very long.

Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer (a wartime show for crews of anti-aircraft and barrage balloon units, and employing the old British phonetic alphabet)

Gadzooks, it’s all Happening (repeating myself as this was mentioned last week…) 

Celebrity Mantelpiece (which sounds like something invented by Alan Partridge) 

Dance While You Dust (another wartime series, aimed at housewives, it just consisted of records of danceable music)

Not So Much a Programme More a Way of Life (David Frost-helmed satire show, successor to That Was the Week That Was, quirkily shown three times a week over the weekend, with threes an on-going theme throughout the show) 

Tennis Elbow Foot Game (a radio panel show, later briefly also a tv version, devised by Norman Hackforth – the aim being to think of a word connected to a given word, and keep going as long as possible).

Dixon of Dock Green has had its fair share of odd episode titles

And not forgetting the long-running children’s series Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?, which was originally abbreviated to Wdyjsoytsagadslbi?, before it began to be billed (and commonly referred to for obvious reasons) as Why Don’t You? 

As well as series titles, there are some nice examples of odd and unusually episode titles. Dixon of Dock Green had a plethora of strange episode titles such as The Vanishing Bummaree, There’s Your Story: There’s My Story – and There’s the Truth and File No.7/948732/462, but as a series it seems to specialise in these, and part of the storytelling is explaining what the title signifies.

Similarly, oil industry drama The Troubleshooters had episodes including The Minister of the Crown… and the Very Compromising Photograph, while Adam Adamant Lives! included a story called The League of Uncharitable Ladies. Many series, especially in the 60s, had a habit of using odd titles, influenced by American shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

One title we came across is perhaps the longest episode title in the history of broadcasting. It is from the surreal 1970s/80s Radio 4 comedy series The Burkiss Way. It’s for the episode transmitted 1st November 1980, and the complete title in the Radio Times billing is: “The Burkiss Way: Lesson 45: Write 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 Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy The Burkiss Way”.

Sadly, this is so long that the Genome system can’t cope with it, so we have had to compromise with “Write extremely long titles… The Burkiss Way”, and left the complete text in the synopsis. In case you were wondering about the reference to Hitch-Hiker, there was a running joke in The Burkiss Way about Douglas Adams, who had contributed material to some of its early episodes – though he doesn’t appear to be credited in Radio Times…

However, I’m sure this is all just scratching the surface of the weird and wonderful title – if anyone has any favourite oddities they have come across, please share them with us and we will share them.

So it's over to you...

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