All That Jazz was an inventive seven-part radio comedy serial written by Craig Robins, which was noteable for being extremely dark and savagely politically incorrect. It was intended as an antidote to the safe, bland, middle-class, sitcoms that abounded, or as Craig so succintly put it, "a million miles from twee bollocks like Terry & June or No Place Like Home". It tells the tale of one-man walking disaster area, Jim Jasmine, or Jazz to his friends (Steven Pacey), who fires off one-liners like there's no tomorrow, rather than face up to his responsibilities. He is recently married to the long-suffering Annette (Sally Baxter) but why or how she puts up with him is something of a mystery. Perhaps it's because he's a bit of a loveable rogue?
As the story begins, they have just moved into their first house and life should be rosy, but Jazz, a cynic and a pessimist, is looking on the black side from the outset, as his opening dialogue reveals: "What have I done......What have I done....? Members of the jury, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of marriage?" Just as well he doesn't know what life has in store for him, or he'd be really depressed!
Episode one is preceeded by a scripted, tongue-in cheek link, read by John Leeson, who was a genuine continuity announcer for Channel 4 at the time, and also played the part of Jazz's best friend, Mike: "This is the tragic tale of a man, who, through no fault of his own (or so he tells me), finds himself trapped in an impossible situation because of an act of love." As we soon discover, this is patently untrue. Jazz, with his misguided attitude, is largely the architect of his own misfortune, but he blames women for all his problems. At the time, men were being told from all sides that they had to metamorphose into 'New Men' - to be helpful, supportive and in touch with their feminine side - but Jazz clearly wasn't listening!
The series starts off surprisingly gently and at first we don't know where it's going, mimicking the way Jazz must be feeling. In order to find a house that's even vaguely affordable, he's moved to some God-forsaken backwater, and it soon becomes horrifically apparent to Jazz that he and his wife are the only normal people there. The discussion with Mike in the pub about women and the introduction of the highly controversial Harry (Daniel Peacock), a wonderfully scheming, sacriligious priest, hint at the true nature of the show that later develops, but the plot initially meanders as seemingly aimlessly as the central character.
However, once things get going, boy do they get going! Jazz's life turns into a breathless roller-coaster ride of one body blow after another. He doesn't know what's hit him. Like the listener, Jazz hasn't got a clue what's coming next, as his entire world is turned completely upside down in one huge, disastrous chain-reaction. Just when you think life can't crap on him any more, it does. Even when fate decides to give him a bit of a break, Jazz manages to screw things up all on his own. The gags come thick and fast and on various levels, and you'll definitely need more than one listen to get it all.
All That Jazz won't be to everyone's liking, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. It is very quirky and extremely black, and in places plumbs the depths of bad taste. It undoubtedly would have upset some people at the time and I'm glad to say it hasn't mellowed with age. It would have the Guardianistas choking on their muesli, which is no bad thing.
ALSO ON THIS SITE:
- The writer's original character outlines
- Some snatches of dialogue from the original scripts
- An exclusive interview with the writer, giving us a fascinating insight into the show's background
- The full cast list