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On 25th August 1975, BBC Radio 3 made one of its rare excursions into the world of comedy with a show called The Half Open University. This was a send up of the BBC's Open University broadcasts and the subjects ranged from physics to chemistry and biology. It starred Nigel Rees, Chris Emmett, Timothy Davies and Christine Ozan. The script writers were Andrew Marshall, David Renwick and John Mason. The Producer was Simon Brett.

The show was quite successful, but it had a limited audience. Chris Emmett was originally a physicist and he would have understood the occasional highbrow jokes such as the one about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, but jokes like these probably went over the heads of much of the audience, so subsequent shows were aimed at a more general audience.

This show was followed by a second Half Open University show on Radio 3 with the same cast as the first show. The show was about history from prehistoric man to Samuel Pepys. Barry Took claims in his book Laughter in the Air that Professor Burkiss appeared in The Half Open University. In fact the first show starred Professor Jim Einstein and the second show starred Professor Edward the Confessor.

The shows were quite successful and the script writers revamped it as The Burkiss Way (To Dynamic Living) A series of six shows were broadcast weekly from 27th August 1976 on Radio 4 and starred Denise Coffey, Nigel Rees, Chris Emmett and Fred Harris. The Producer was Simon Brett. The shows, or lessons as they were called, took the form of a radio correspondence course run by a Professor Burkiss. It was a slightly faster moving show than its Radio 3 predecessor.

The Burkiss Way returned on 15th December 1976 for a further series of 13 shows with Jo Kendall (of ISIRTA fame) replacing Denise Coffey. The format was much as before with lessons on How to become a rock star the Burkiss way, Skive off school the Burkiss way and many others. This series saw the debut of Eric Pode of Croydon played by Chris Emmett. Pode was a rather seedy and revolting character, similar in many ways to J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock in Round The Horne. His appearances in the show were greeted by loud cheers from the audience. He was usually interviewed by Fred Harris and their conversations introduced one of the shows main catchphrases - "Isn't he a panic" spoken by Harris. This catchphrase is described by Eric Partridge in his book A Dictionary Of Catchphrases as a submerged catchphrase - one known only to the cast and the writers. There were one or two other submerged catchphrases such as There now follows a short intermission. The writers also seemed unable to spell third which always came out as thrid and the surnames Jones and Smith always came out as Jobes and Smoth.

The third series ran for eleven and a half weeks from 15th November 1977, this time produced by John Lloyd. The last show in this series, lesson 31, was combined with the first show in the fourth series to make one half hour show.

The fourth series continued where the third had left off and ended on 14th February 1978. The Burkiss Way returned for another series of 7 weekly shows starting on 2nd April 1979, produced by David Hatch (As were all the later shows). Previous shows had been numbered sequentially with a slight hiccup with lessons 31 and 32, but in this series the system went a bit astray. To start with lessons 37 and 38 formed a two-parter Is Britain going the Burkiss Way which split in the middle of a sentence. Then there were two different lesson 39s Repeat Yourself the Burkiss Way. The second version of lesson 39 started with a few minutes of the first, but the rest of the show is completely different. Tim Brook Taylor made a guest appearance as Lady Constance (His famous character from ISIRTA) in lesson 40 - Avoid like the plague the Burkiss Way. Eric Pode of Croydon's Easter Special (lesson 41) was broadcast on Boxing Day 1979 and this was followed by the final series of 6 shows, broadcast weekly from 11th October 1980.

After the show finished, the cast moved on to other things. Nigel Rees found fame with his books on graffiti and catchphrases as well as frequent appearances on panel games, Fred Harris starred in Micro Live and Chris Emmett starred in (seemingly) the majority of BBC radio comedy shows, namely the News Huddlines and the Undiscovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. In lesson 19 there was a sketch about the impossibility of having a radio comedy show without Deryck Guyler, maybe this should read Chris Emmett.


1)  25/8/75

A Radio 3 pause / Half Open University opening music / Hydrostatics with Professor Jim Einstein / Yesterdays world from Ancient Greece - Archimedes principle / The late student / Heisenberg's uncertainty principle / Gravity / Taking out the appendix of a biology book / Common frog - This is your life / Info for non-members / Human biology - Anaesthetics - Testing your intestines for leaks - Germ warfare in the blood / News of publications / Acoustics - Bell rings the speaking clock / How to miss broadcasts / SETI / Heat / Investigating the properties of fire / Chemistry / Baron Frankenstein creates his monster

2)  1/12/75

An announcement for people without radios / Joke recital from Max Bygraves wallet / Half Open University opening music / Primitive historical patterns with Professor Edward the Confessor / British pre-history paleontology etc. with a caveman / Ancient world of sport - Scottish monarch reports - Cricket of Kings - Chickenitsa Knockout / Publications / Britain before the Norman conquest / Battle of Hastings / Some important dates / The wars of the roses - The professor collects his students from Radio 4 / Caxton is visited by the porn squad / The great frost of London / Practical history - Dr. Clifford Gannett on the guillotine / Shakespear's plays / Samuel Pepys diary / Charles in the oak tree / King Ethelred is ready at last

The cast include Nigel Rees, Chris Emmett, Timothy Davies, and Christine Ozan, the shows were produced by Simon Brett, and the scripts were written by Andrew Marshall, John Mason, and David Renwick

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