Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop’s Oldest Jokes

Ian Hislop’s Oldest Jokes

A BBC Radio 4 Series

Summary

Ian Hislop takes a hilarious look at some of Britain's oldest jokes

The British are rather proud of their sense of humour - but where has that pride come from and what makes it unique?

With the help of contemporary comedians, scholars and an appetite for enduring humour, Ian Hislop tracks down the earliest examples of enduring British comedy tropes and jokes, and guides us through some of the vital elements that make up that most curious thing: the British sense of humour.

Join Ian as he begins his quest in the dark ages, admittedly not known as a well-spring of comic opportunity. Nevertheless, in the pages of the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England, there is wordplay potent enough to have a part in the naming of a nation. How his fellow monks must have laughed. Travelling across the UK, Ian admires the Bishop's seat and discovers the filth hidden behind the Double entendre of the Exeter Book of Riddles. He looks for the earliest examples of visual humour under the seats of New College Oxford Chapel, and wooden carvings that suggest those who made them were never happier than when making people laugh. He discovers the set of a 15th century entertainer who performed for audiences in Nottinghamshire at the time of the Wars of the Roses, and the famous medieval Bestiary which describes the Bonnacon, a mythical beast that appears to have no biblical message beyond its capacity to make the reader laugh. Ian delves into Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th century humble-brag parody, the Tale of Sir Topaz, before arriving in the 17th century, when printing and changes in censorship laws ushered in a new and energetic form of comedy. Finally, Ian explores satirical cartoons and a collection of comic songs with hilarious consequences. This is a must listen for anyone who loves a good belly laugh.

Presenter and writer Ian Hislop is perhaps best known for his appearances on the satirical news quiz Have I Got News for You, and he has been the editor of Private Eye since 1986. He’s presented many shows on television and radio and is the author of several books. This series also features contributions from Nina Conti, Paul Whitehouse, comedy song writing duo Jo and Joan and parodist Craig Brown.

Written and presented by Ian Hislop

Produced by Tom Alban

First broadcast 22 January-2 February 2024

©2024 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd (P)2024 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd

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