A tip for Tony Blair: don't listen to the Huddlines

David Lister attends a recording of radio's longest-running comedy and finds its star has fallen out with the Prime Minister

Roy Hudd has not supplied any gags for any of Tony Blair's speeches to mark his first anniversary in power.

The veteran comic was one of the Prime Minister's favourite comedians. He and his team from The News Huddlines, a unique combination of topical satire and music-hall variety sketches, have scripted jokes for both Blair and Prescott when in opposition. No longer.

When I went "backstage" after watching Hudd record an episode of the world's longest-running radio comedy in front of an audience, he told me his love affair was over. One of Britain's best-loved comics had sent one of Britain's least-loved spin doctors away with a flea in his ear. "Alastair Campbell has rang us up," said Hudd, "and asked for more jokes. But I told him, 'I'm sorry, but our writers don't like your government.' They haven't asked again."

At one Labour conference in opposition Hudd gave Blair a topical joke about Eric Cantona kicking a football supporter, with Blair saying, "Doesn't he know it's the Conservative government's job to kick people in the teeth? Blair's delivery left Hudd unimpressed. "He even buggered that one up," Hudd recalls forlornly.

But then few Prime Ministers could impress a man who is an expert on music hall, and in his early days performed with members of The Crazy Gang. And Blair might have been less than comfortable if he had attended this recording of The News Huddlines, which included a sketch about Rupert Murdoch's marriage breaking up because Mrs Murdoch found Rupert in bed with ... Tony Blair.

The audience may be older and less irreverent than their equivalent on Have I Got News For You (one gentleman, sporting a British Music Hall Society badge, who has been coming since the programme started in 1976, told me he attended every show "except when I'm in hospital") and the gags are more gentle, but the target of many of the jokes is the Government, and the aim is sure.

The evergreen June Whitfield does a simpering, lisping, Harriet Harman which deserves a wider audience. Health minister Frank Dobson's line of "I'm very, very sorry" for refusing to give the nurses a pay rise is turned back on him in a sketch when doctors are "very, very sorry" they do not have money to complete his operation.

And for music-hall lovers in the regular audience, there are constant allusions to the genre by the talented team of writers.

The six of them gather a couple of days before the recording. Each has two hours to come up with a sketch based on the week's news. One writer, Glenn Mitchell, who has written books on Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, came up with a limerick about the woman who had a Teletubby tattooed on her breast to encourage her baby to be breastfed. She didn't have room for the cast of Blue Peter, was the gist of the limerick. But a few in the audience recognised it was written in the style of the old music-hall star Billy Bennett.

The show is an odd hybrid: conventional gags (a news item about honeymoons on the moon: "You can seen the earth move even if you can't feel it"), mixed with dollops of political incorrectness (Hudd does Trevor McDonald with an exaggerated West Indian accent performing a news calypso).

A further unique aspect of the show is that it is the one remaining broadcast comedy to which aspiring gag writers among the public can contribute. And if your joke or sketch is used, your name is read out at the end. The News Huddlines has been a training ground for the best comedy writers and producers.

They may have even got material from studying the Huddlines' regular audience. Hudd's press agent, Laurie Bellew, who has represented Peter Sellers and Ken Dodd and is a walking encyclopaedia on comedy, recalls deadpan that for years three civil servants, two men and a woman, would come to the recordings. For the first half of the show, the lady would snog one of the gents; for the second half, she would snog the other. At the end, the three would pick up their briefcases and proceed respectably back to Whitehall.

Back in the studio for the latest recording, Hudd and the team have to re-do one gag where the sound was slightly wrong. It was a joke based on a news item about AA and RAC "passion patrols" finding courting couples when they attended breakdowns. "How did you know it was us who needed you?" ask the couple. "Because yours is the only car with the windscreen all steamed up," says Hudd's patrolman. A pretty average joke. And it seems Hudd knows it.

They do a re-take. "How did you know it was us?" "Because yours is the only car with footprints on the inside of the windscreen."

The ad-lib sends the rest of the cast and the audience into delights of laughter, and it is included in the eventual broadcast.

That's the mark of a genuine veteran comic. But I doubt Tony Blair will be using the joke.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes