Down the Line
The Complete First Series

Starring: Rhys Thomas, Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Simon Day and Lucy Montgomery
BBC Audio
RRP: 15.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 67740 0
Available 01 October 2007

When it was launched in the Spring of 2006, Down the Line was such an accurate parody of an inane phone-in show that many Radio 4 listeners (and radio critics) thought it was the real thing and launched a storm of protest. What on earth was Radio 4 coming to? Seasoned comedy listeners, however, soon detected the presence of several well-known voices including members of The Fast Show team...

Down the Line was an attempt to spoof something that doesn't really need spoofing, tacky phone-in radio shows with dumb hosts. I regularly listen to Radio 4 and caught the first episode when it was originally broadcast. As soon as it started I thought: "Hang on! A chat show on Radio 4? I don't think so." And pretty quickly it was obvious that it was a spoof show where the gag was supposed to be at the audience's expense.

Once the listeners realise that it's a spoof show, then the joke is over. And as within ten seconds of the very first show's opening (despite being a new show with callers having no idea what the phone number is or what tonight's topic is going to be) the first caller is already on air asking a question, it's not difficult to work out that the whole thing is a spoof.

The idea would have worked a lot better if it had been broadcast on Radio 1, but I seriously doubt (despite the BBC's claims that listener's complaints were aplenty) that many Radio 4 listeners were really sucked into believing it was legit. To start with it was broadcast in a comedy slot and then there's the fact that the first spoof caller is obviously Paul Whitehouse. While Whitehouse (and Charlie Higson for that matter) may be great comedy writers and performers, they both have very limited vocal ranges.

When I tuned in the following week for the second episode I was surprised at how quickly the gags were wearing thin. As a long running series it just doesn't work. This is an idea that would have maybe worked as a quick sketch in The Fast Show, but there's not enough in the idea to have it run for 30 minutes for six weeks.

Having said that, in amongst the many gags that don't work there are some pretty funny elements to this show, host Gary Bellamy (played by Rhys Thomas) gets funnier as the episodes progress. I particularly loved the fact that he allowed a sexist caller to rant on for a lot longer than he would have normally as he he was black; and the fact that he keeps harping on about knowing what it's like working abroad as he had a show in Canada - therefore he thinks he is an expert in all things that have a foreign slant.

The only call that really had me laughing out loud was the caller in episode six who tries to put across the point that homosexuals are more like women than men. The host gets impatient with him and finally reveals that his brother is gay, but that you'd never know it. To which the caller says: "You would if he tried to put his hand down your pants." Believe me, it's funny on the recording.

While it has it's moments, Down the Line is more miss than hit.

Darren Rea

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