Something for the Weakened

WITNESS SUPERIORITAY

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 by Alastair

The earliest mention on this site I can find of my search for recordings of the 1997 Radio 1 series The League Against Tedium is from 2008. I can assure you that that search had been going on for a few years before that. The only link to an obvious download of the whole series I’ve found in my seven or eight years of occasional Googling was a long dead link on the cook’dandbomb’d forum. The series never appeared on streaming sites. League listings would occasionally pop up on torrent sites, but would always turn out to be episodes of Attention Scum that had been labelled incorrectly (not that I actually use torrents, but such was my obsession I would have happily signed up just to obtain the object of my quest). I could have given up hope, but with the vastness of the internet it seemed inevitable that one day the show would be uploaded somewhere. So I continued my regular search engine scouring every couple of months, only to be dashed on the rocks of opportunity each time. Until now.

The idea that Auntie Beeb might ever rebroadcast it seemed highly unlikely. The ending of their relationship with the Magnificent Mister Munnery (League creator, in case that was in any doubt) following his League based TV series Attention Scum was far from rosy and, from reports I’ve read, included the statement that that series will never, ever be repeated on television. A crying shame, as it’s still a favourite of mine, in spite of my not having watched it since first broadcast. I even pinched its name for the first post on this very site. A repeat of the radio series seemed even less likely. I had not factored in the fact that the radio and television arms of the BBC are entirely independent things. More significantly, I had forgotten about the voracious need for content that BBC 7 (formerly 4Extra) has. The fact that they had recently started raiding programmes from back in the days when Radio 1 broadcast comedy had caught my eye, but didn’t prick up my ears. A few months back I noticed when they started repeating the Radio 1 shows Munnery did as his Alan Parker character, yet there was still no suggestion in my mind that anything else would follow (and I’d already sourced those shows from the sadly defunct fist of fun dot net). Then last week, the unthinkable happened. 4Extra broadcast the first episode of The League Against Tedium.

Here it is.

I listened to it for the first time this morning, after almost a decade of hoping to hear it. I was not disappointed. In spite of my somewhat fragile mental state (we’ll get onto that at a later date), I was reduced to a crumpled heap of hilarity on more than one occasion. There is so little written about the show online, that I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect. Having been exposed to a number of comedy shows from Radio 1 from that time (the aforementioned Parker, Lee & Herring’s stuff, Armando Iannucci’s shows, Chris Morris’s run), I was expecting the hour long format to feature sketches interspersed with late ’90s indie pop (or some beaty early hip hop, like what Morris used to do to magnificent effect). There is a bit of that, but with the character of the League at the helm, unsurprisingly things are shaken up a bit. I only detected two bona fide pop songs over the duration, only one of which where I could identify the band (it’s Pulp, fact fans – couldn’t tell you the song, as I’m not much of a fan and the songs are essentially ignored by everything around them, unlike all the other 1FM shows I’ve experienced). The fact that the rest of the show’s musical content is taken up by strange ’70s muzak came as a bit of an affront to me at first. On a first listen I only identified a weird sitar led version of I Can See For Miles and something that sounded a bit like ELP for elevators, but I’m guessing that much of the backing could be songs that you and I should recognise, but don’t. Having only really heard Wagner around the League before, this seemed more than a little apposite, but as the show goes on it seems to become more appropriate. The contrariness of playing these mangled covers at 9PM on the nation’s top pop station is very in keeping with the League’s misguided belief in his own superiority, as if he found one of those old Top of the Pops LPs in a skip and now believes this to be all that pop music is and could ever be. Speculation on my part of course, but it sounds like the actions of the malfunctioning superego that the character is.

It’s very funny as well. Did I mention that? There were a few gags that I was reasonably familiar with (Munnery’s tendency to regularly reuse material is a criticism many have levelled at him and sadly has a grain of truth to it, though apparently his new show is almost entirely new stuff, which I do plan to see if it tours past these parts any time soon) and I think some of the sketches turned up in Attention Scum, but as I say, I haven’t watched that since broadcast (what is a YouTube, Mother?) so I couldn’t say for certain. There were no credits on the tape that was broadcast, or given by Isy Suttie (who, I warn you, does some cringe inducing link work at the top and tail of the iPlayer version – I generally really like Suttie, but the few seconds of continuity here were like rusty nails down a blackboard on my eardrum), so I can’t give you a definitive list of the supporting players. In this episode there is an unmistakable appearance by The Actor Kevin Eldon, but the other roles are harder to place. Radiohaha and epguides both list the other supporting males as Stewart Lee, whose voice I did not hear, so assume will turn up in later episodes, and Roger Mann, another member of Cluub Zarathustra, but one who pretty much gave up performing before the stroke of the millenium, leaving my ability to identify his voice sparse at best. I assume that it is he who does the traditional League introduction (“You are nothing, absolutely nothing, etc”), which sounded wrong coming from the mouth of anyone other than Munnery, but it was a decent enough stab, I suppose. There does appear to be a female performer in there too, which radiohaha suggests is The Lovely Sally Phillips (though epguides doesn’t reckon any women were involved in the endeavour). It definitely sounded like a woman’s voice and Phillips was another Zarathustra alumnus, implying they have their facts straight. It’s obviously someone ‘doing a ‘comedy’ voice’, but it just didn’t sound like her to my ears. Perhaps epguides are correct and Mann is in fact one of the finest female impersonators that we will now never see on our screens or hear on our radios.

All of this of course occurs two or three months after dear old Auntie Beeb put pay to the excellent radiodownloader service leeching off the iPlayer. I can understand some of their logic in doing so, as it had the potential to decrease some of the revenue stream they need to pay for all that middle management. Yet I feel it’s unlikely that they’re going to stick up this series in their iTunes store anytime soon. Not that that would be of any use to me as I can’t and won’t use iTunes. A CD release would be ideal for me and my Luddist ways, but that’s clearly not going to happen. The plans to make all of the BBC’s back catalogue available at all times that were mooted a few years back seem to have vanished back up the fundament from which they once emanated. Having spent as long as I have trying to obtain this series, am I now to just let it slip from my grasp again, until BBC 7 (formerly 4 Extra) tire of the fifty-eighth repeat of series three of Round the Horne and decide to play it again in 2025? Or am I going to have to hold my tape deck up to my computer’s speakers and try and get episode one before it falls off iPlayer, then video episodes 2 – 6? If anyone has any tips on how one might rip things from iPlayer, or indeed is able and prepared to do so for me, it would be greatly appreciated.

Wrapping things up then, I highly recommend giving this first episode a listen. I can’t say anything about the ones that follow, except to register my excitement at the opportunity to finally hear them after these oh so many years. Thank you the BBC. I take back everything else I might have said about you in this diatribe. Well, some of it. But do listen to it. You. Yes, you. Then tell your friends to listen to it. Then make them. Google currently lists 25 results for uses of “league against tedium” over the past month. That’s really not enough. Get excited people. Truly we are witnessing superioritay.

http://www.simonmunnery.com/

3 Responses to “WITNESS SUPERIORITAY”

  1. Egon says:

    I used to tape stuff off my computer by plugging the output cable directly into the input of the tape deck. It never caused total protonic reversal, but maybe I was just lucky.

  2. Egon says:

    Also – WAAAAAA! MUNNERY!

  3. Kes says:

    How do. Top tip – Rather than using a tape deck, you could always use the fantastic freeware programme ‘Audacity’ to record streaming audio on your computer. It’s surprisingly easy to do, (instructions are freely available on that net they have now), and it means you can record radio shows from iPlayer – this is the method I’ve been using for the last several years, anyway. Works like a charm.

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