The satire of the radio series especially was so cutting as to make you wonder what's happened to this form of humour in the subsequent two decades. No one was safe from their acerbic wit, be it the royal family, the government, the police or even the institution they were working for, Radio 1, and its stalwart DJs; there were some blatant and what, at the time, must have been pretty risky insinuations about Jimmy Savile's distasteful, disgraceful predilections, and Rob Newman's cruel but hilarious impersonation of the insipid Gary Davies was absolutely priceless.
As well as the aforementioned protagonists, the radio series was at times augmented by, among others, Mark Thomas, Jo Brand, Donna McPhail, Jack Dee, Mark Hurst and Nick Hancock, but Newman & Baddiel and Punt & Dennis were always the backbone of the series, and it seemed fair enough that if only four performers were to survive the move onto TV, it would be these two double acts. Although, having said that, Nick Hancock was also very good in his sporadic radio appearances and even shone in his one and only skit of the TV series, which involved the "other" ones from Sparks, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Soft Cell performing a song together on Top of the Pops. That clip also features Newman's Gary Davies impersonation, by the way! Get it watched!
Not much of the Radio 1 series survives on You Tube but you can download and listen to the entire fourth series (the best of the lot, in my opinion) here if the mood takes you. Which it should. Dullards will tell you that a lot of the topical references from these episodes seem hopelessly dated now - as if it's going to be anything else after twenty-three years - but those gripes entirely miss the point. It's the humour and the sheer iconoclastic spirit of these shows that make them special; and, really, who gives a stuff if many of the famous and the infamous of the day have come and gone? We're pretty much where we were then politically and societally now anyway.
Coincidentally, and thrillingly, Radio 4 Extra have just started repeating the radio series again from the very beginning on Friday nights, so now everyone can listen to some no-longer-topical but still eminently invigorating and top-notch radio comedy at their leisure. Knocks any of yer so-called panel shows, or whatever else passes for topical satire these days, into a cocked hat.
As for the TV series, I found series one to be hugely enjoyable, and it all still seemed very collaborative. TMWE may have been comprised of two separate double acts but you got the impression they were still all very much in it together at this point. By series two, however, although still very strong in its content, the cracks were beginning to show, and there was far less of a fluid feel about the whole thing; Newman and Baddiel would do their thing and Punt & Dennis theirs and their styles of comedy suddenly seemed very distinct from each other: N&B's more self-consciously student-friendly and cutting-edge, and P&D's more family-friendly and, well, mainstream. In fact it seems that both partnerships lurched too far in these respective directions at this point, whereas previously there had been far more common ground.
I think the main problem had been - and this may be grossly unfair on the bloke, but it's my perception - that Rob - Robert! - Newman had started taking himself a bit too seriously by series two, as his profile and popularity increased. All of a sudden he'd grown his hair long, started dressing all in black every week and replaced the Shaw Taylor, Ronnie Corbett, Ben Elton and Gary Davies impressions with ones of Robert Smith and Edward Scissorhands and skits about Mark Gardener from Ride and Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. Talk about self-consciously getting down with ver kids. Don't get me wrong, his comedy was still the best thing about the show, for me, but these changes were symptomatic of his increasingly introspective demeanour.
Series two also saw a departure down the catchphrase route: "See that Peter Beardsley? That's you that is", "It's all getting a bit tricky!", Milky Milky!", "Oh no! What a personal disaster!", "What's this? It's got a good beat!" etc - which they'd never done before. Again, still funny, but the increasing reliance on the same characters, scenarios and catchphrases as the series went on did, in hindsight, point to the fact that perhaps, after three years, the Mary Whitehouse Experience had gone as far as it could.
Sure enough both groups subsequently went their separate ways. Punt & Dennis to two series of The Imaginatively Titled Punt & Dennis Show for BBC1 and seven hundred series of The Now Show for Radio 4. Newman & Baddiel, meanwhile, made one series of the prophetically-titled Newman & Baddiel In Pieces for BBC2 and sold out Wembley Arena - in the process inspiring a thousand articles about comedy being the new rock 'n' roll - but their relationship quickly descended into acrimony and the dissolution of their partnership. It was fun while it lasted though.
Here are some of my favourite bits from the TV series - which is available to watch in its entirety on You Tube, by the way.
Newman & Baddiel send up Shaun Ryder and Bez. Short, but sweet!
Punt and Dennis deconstruct a Natwest advert that was doing the rounds at the time, in which a youthful emloyee of said bank goes on about how much he loves his life. "It's not all work work work you know!". Fantastically, the person who uploaded this clip precedes it with the actual advert P&D were lampooning, so you get to put it in perfect context.
This Crystal Maze spoof is very good as well.
A recurring character, Ray: a man afflicted with a sarcastic tone of voice.
And last but not least, Rob's fantastic, much-missed (by me anyway) Shaw Taylor impersonation.