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The creepiest radio show in history

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In anticipation of making new posts here I’m sharing some posts from my old “PaBlog” that until now have been lost to posterity. This one is from March of 2011.

In a forum I take part in about British television and radio, there have been veritable paroxysms of joy about reruns of a particular “old time” radio show (although the BBC produces the genre we like to call “old time radio” to this day) that I think has to be the absolute creepiest thing ever broadcast. It’s called The Clitheroe Kid. Your typical smart-ass-kid family sitcom, the type that’s usually a dime a dozen, the Clitheroe Kid ran from 1957 until 1972.

You read that right. The star, Jimmy Clitheroe, played a mealy-mouthed smart-assed punk kid for 15 years. And if Clitheroe hadn’t killed himself on the day of his mother’s funeral he probably would have kept on playing it even longer.

You see, Jimmy Clitheroe had a thyroid condition. As a result, he never grew taller than 4-foot-3 and his voice never broke. This allowed him to keep playing the kid role long after he became an adult.

Creepy so far? Yes, but as the Ginzu Knife man says “wait, there’s more.” You see, the radio show started in 1957, but Clitheroe was born in 1921.

That’s right. Jimmy Clitheroe started starring in this ridiculously long running radio show, as a punk wise-ass kid, at the age of 36.

Before you go bringing up Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis, two other actors with medical conditions that kept them short and relatively childlike, remember that both of them actually were children when they achieved fame on television; Coleman was 10 when Diff’rent Strokes debuted and Lewis was 12 when Webster came along. They actually were child stars. Clitheroe was a very short man with a high pitched voice (which became even higher through affectation) playing a kid all his life.

If you want a comparison, let’s use Gary Coleman as an example. If he had pursued the same career path that Clitheroe did, Diff’rent Strokes would have debuted in 2004, with Coleman still playing 10 year old Arnold Drummond. And (presuming he didn’t die as he did last year) he would keep playing 10 year old Arnold Drummond until 2019. Everyone else on the show would move on or die as the case may be, but Coleman would still be shuckin’ and jivin’ with “what you talkin’ ’bout…” lines playing a middle-aged 10 year old into his 50′s.

What little I’ve listened to The Clitheroe Kid, it strikes me as pretty much run of the mill fare for a 1950-something radio sitcom. The jokes are very much music-hall in delivery and the plots are formulaic. The character of Jimmy is one of the most annoying brats in broadcast history and you just want to haul back and smack him. If I didn’t know Clitheroe’s story, I would just find the show lackluster and irritating. Knowing that all those nasty remarks are coming from a guy who was right around my age when he was making them is like shoving two fingers down the throat of my good taste, hoping to purge the program (excuse me, this is the BBC we’re talking about, so programme) from my memory.

And that, my friends, is the creepiest thing in broadcast history.

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