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Room 101
Radio 5
Series One 1992 (six programmes)
Series Two 1992 (eight programmes)
Christmas Special 1992
Series Three 1993 (eight programmes)
Series Four 1994 (four programmes?  Run apparently curtailed by axing of Radio 5, 27/3/94)
Plus: repeat run of eight selected programmes, Radio 1, 1994
Sporadic fill-in repeats on Radio 1

The new network's sparky take on the Desert Island Discs principle: each week's guest was invited to select the eight (or so) records he or she hated the most, not to take to a desert island, but to have consigned in perpetuity to the Room of the title -- a repository of all the most appalling items, individuals and pieces of music in existence, which takes its name from the ultimate torture chamber in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four ("The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world").  The guests were chosen less for their celebrity value than for their ability to be funny in this kind of situation, and were mostly young television comedians, stand-ups and writers inclined to vent their spleens on areas of popular culture the target audience could relate to. 

The humour lay sometimes in the deliberately disproportionate heaping of abuse on manifestly innocuous entities ('most hated place' and 'most hated thing' were discussed alongside the music), and sometimes in the deeply satisfying nailing of talentless, excruciating acts.  The host was Nick Hancock, a comedian from the Mary Whitehouse generation, who sympathised or remonstrated with the guests, made occasional comments unintelligible to anyone from outside the Stoke-on-Trent area ("What's the point in writing a song about the Mull of Kintyre anyway?  It's just Biddulph Moor with sea!") and, crucially, gave the final decision as to whether each selection would be consigned to Room 101 or not.  This decision was supposedly based entirely on his own prejudice and caprice, although it was cheerfully admitted that exactly four selections went in every week because "that's the number of doors the producer can be bothered to do".  The "doors" were sound clips representing the wailing souls (usually annoying celebrities) that could be heard from within Room 101 as the portals opened. 

The show transferred to BBC2, again with Hancock in the chair, but a great deal was lost in translation: the musical element disappeared, as did the simple 'two blokes in a room slagging things off' premise. The 'celebrity' factor of the guests increased (the opening programme featured Bob Monkhouse, who selected 'the French' as one of his hates).  The strongest episodes were those which featured reliable, bread-and-butter stand-ups (David Baddiel, Frank Skinner), but the producers didn't seem to realise this and 'kitsch' guests like Terry Wogan and Jeremy Clarkson littered the latter shows.  The series has, however, been recommissioned repeatedly: for the fourth series, broadcast in 1999, Paul Merton (the radio series' first guest) replaced Hancock as presenter.


© JB Sumner/Mike Scott 1998-2000. Last modified 19/2/00