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Denis Norden and the narrative secret


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Denis Norden and the narrative secret

3 Feb 2022 3:53AM   Views : 550 Unique : 305


I grew up with BBC radio comedy: and Denis Norden and Frank Muir we among my favourite performers, in a very literary quiz called My Word. They were already – had I but known it – legendary as writers.
Late in his rather long life, DN took part in one of the 3-hour interview/compilation programmes that are the delight of Saturday morning on Radio 4 Extra, with his thoughts on radio comedy interspersed with examples, including an edition of My Word. Far more than most participants in the programmes, he talked about the thinking behind his humour.

Those older than me will remember the Glums… And that led to one of the gems of the piece, which I offer to you today. And that is that there is usually one unarticulated fact underlying a sitcom – and with the Glums, it was that Eth was ‘about as horny as it was possible to be’. Eth was the sensible fiancée of Ron, who never seemed to be playing with a full deck of cards: a predecessor of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

Back in the days of the Glums, premarital sex was uncommon. To quote Norden, ‘[engaged couples didn’t do it. They knew they were going to do it, but they didn’t do it.’ If you listen to the recordings, these two facts power the whole of Ron and Eth’s relationship…

This may sound very intellectual for a writer of comedy: but, as Norden put it of the work he and Muir produced ‘we gave credit for intelligence’. And it makes me wonder if the same is true of a narrative photograph… Not just on Silly Sunday, but at any time when the image is consciously telling a story.
Answers on a postcard, please!

And I offer you a comedic treat from the programme (you may have gathered that I recorded it) – Florence Desmond was a respected and respectable music hall performer when World War Two came along, but The Deepest Shelter in Town is a remarkably risqué song that raised morale in early Forties Britain.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
3 Feb 2022 3:54AM
This blog results from insomnia, so that I have shamelessly reused two previous blog-illustrating pictures, both not my copyright.
kaybee Avatar
kaybee 19 8.7k 28 Scotland
3 Feb 2022 8:11AM
'Intelligence' is something that is not generally attributed to audiences these days and comedy writers of the quality of Norden and Muir and Galton & Simpson just don't exist any more.
The 'dumbing down' of audiences is all too apparent when you watch the vast majority of quiz and comedy shows.
bluesandtwos Avatar
bluesandtwos 13 544 1 England
3 Feb 2022 8:40AM
I often play 'The deepest shelter in town' as part of a Forties playlist I have and you can, if you choose, read all manner of things! Grin
Imageryonly Avatar
Imageryonly Plus
3 203 11 United Kingdom
3 Feb 2022 9:16AM
Being a Radio listener all my life, these elder statesmen of comedy gave me many, many hours of enjoyment,
most of which stemed from my own imagination, I have to admit, and I still prefer to listen to those old repeats
rather than modern entertianers who only seem to love the sound of their own voices.
You will note I use entertainers and NOT comedians as they fail to make me smile, let alone laugh out loud .
PaulCox Avatar
3 Feb 2022 10:17AM
I still have a box of Cassette Tapes which I get out and listen too when I need cheering up, The Navy Lark, The Goons, and a few others, some of them I can almost recite from beginning to the end. Denis Norden was one of the greats, used also to like him on TV as well, he had a very dry sense of Humour. Paul.
altitude50 Avatar
altitude50 19 23.9k United Kingdom
3 Feb 2022 11:59AM
I used to like listening to The Glums. It is strange how one exchange sticks in the brain over all those years. I think it was set on a bus and the conversation went something like 'Ere Eth, I can get this bus ticket right up my nose!'
I also liked 'Round the Horne.'
I do not watch stand up comedy on TV it seems to consist mainly of running or strutting around the stage and screaming.
cooky Avatar
cooky Plus
19 7 11 United Kingdom
3 Feb 2022 4:37PM
We grew up with all the BBC radio shows, Goons, Navy Lark, Round the Horne. Still have some decent radio programmes now but that humour from the 50s and 60s lives on. Comedy wasn't sarcasm and put downs, it was humour.

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
3 Feb 2022 7:39PM
My own favourite comedy show remains I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again - David Hatch, Bill Oddie and Jo Kendall making big contributions along with their better-known colleagues. Hatch rose in the BBC ranks, and was also chair of the Parole Board later in life. I believe he was a sone of the manse, as I am...

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