You won’t find Icklewick on any map but it’s a place you’ll recognise easily enough: the local radio station is run from a taxi rank, the locals get up to all sorts for charitable causes, they’re a bit too quick to act like a mob, and the mayor is a strange and dodgy character. We’ve all been to little Northern towns like it, except for the fact that this one doesn’t really exist.

Icklewick FM is a new BBC Radio 4 comedy show which marks the broadcasting debut of The Delightful Sausage, aka Chris Cantrill and Amy Gledhill. Having established themselves as a remarkable live act, this drags their decidedly twisted view of the world kicking and screaming into a whole new medium.

“It was so exciting,” Cantrill says of the making of the show. “I don’t think I’ve laughed as much during the process of making anything that I’ve done with this.”

The story of The Delightful Sausage can be traced back to around 2016 when Cantrill (from Bradford) and Gledhill (from Hull) both happened to decamp to Manchester. They were doing live comedy, Gledhill in an embryonic double-act with Cantrill’s girlfriend (now wife) Nicola Redman.

“I don’t think I look great in this,” Cantrill says, “but basically we moved to Manchester at the same time and didn’t know anyone. We put on a night in [Oldham St pub] The Castle in the Northern Quarter. Originally it was going to be our way of getting us feet under the table and meeting people. We were co-hosting it and we agreed that one of us would be dressed as a butcher and the other would be dressed as a hot dog, but very quickly that turned into Amy dressed up as a hot dog and me wearing my nicest clothes.”

Then, when Redman became a mother and moved away from comedy, Cantrill and Gledhill forged their own double-act and the name of their comedy night at The Castle – The Delightful Sausage – morphed into being the name of the act. Over time, they developed a distinctive style through acclaimed live shows including Cold Hard Cache, Ginster’s Paradise and Nowt But Sea – simultaneously disturbing and charming, earthy and deeply surreal in equal amounts.

Clearly, the pair share the same wayward sense of humour.

Photo by Ed Moore

“Very, very much so,” Cantrill says. “We’ve learned so much off each other and worked together for so long now. It’s been a really rewarding professional relationship, as friends, because we basically just get to laugh all the time. Also, it is us laughing and laughing and laughing, but it’s writing it down. It’s revising it, it’s discussing plot twists and turns. Everything we’ve always written has been with a view to making something like we’re making now, a narrative thing. We’ve always been storytelling, so we’ve been learning how to do that over the past seven years. It’s a lot of fun, but also, we’re very grubby. I don’t think there’s loads of that knocking around at the minute – very dirty comedy really, in a lot of ways. Yeah, a lot of cackling goes on.”

Comedy in lockdown

The Delightful Sausage was very much in the ascendancy in early 2020 when the pandemic struck and the whole live comedy industry was put on pause. They’d already begun appearing on TV shows such as Harry Hill’s Clubnite and Late Night Mash, and they launched Tiredness Kills, their own magazine-style ‘anti-sleep’ podcast festooned with guest characters – effectively an early prototype for what’s now become Icklewick FM.

“It was our big lockdown project. Each episode was something like 30 hours of sound design and stuff. Me and Amy played around with the format then, but it was so complicated. We were basically like, how do we make it a bit simpler? For years we’ve been trying to find the sweet spot between scripted and improvised, and what we do on the radio is what we do on stage. We write detailed scripts that are devised – I thought we’d invented this, but Amy went ‘no, it’s just called devising’. I was like ‘we’ve created a new type of thing’ and she was like ‘no, no, we haven’t’. But we mess around on stage and that’s how we work out the script. Then the script gets written down and formalised, but we still leave gaps to improvise. This one feels the closest thing to doing what we’ve done on stage but in another medium. It’s chaotic and it’s wild, but it’s very meticulously planned. I don’t know many UK podcasts that do that.”

One exception that Cantrill notes here is the Beef and Dairy Network podcast, which makes a cameo crossover with Icklewick FM. In fact, the show boasts a long (and occasionally surprising) guest list, taking in regular appearances from fine fellow comics including Mark Silcox, Colin Hoult, Phil Ellis, Jen Brister, Shivani Thussu, Lucy Beaumont, and Tom Burgess, plus a host of others popping up throughout. Even in their own series, The Delightful Sausage haven’t exactly hogged the limelight.

“Well, originally the commission was that Radio 4 were looking for ideas that showed off a range of characters,” says Cantrill. “The reference was [Charlie Higson/Paul Whitehouse Radio 4 phone-in spoof] Down the Line. They wanted a new version of that, so when we pitched it, we were like ‘oh, we want to do a new version of Down the Line‘. But actually I’ve purposefully never listened to it. The idea of a community radio station has been done before, so I stayed away from anything that was like that, just to keep us pure, to make our thing ours. But yeah, we wanted to get in as many people as we could. It’s this improvisation hybrid thing which gives it momentum. It moves at a pace, it’s snappy.”

On the radio

It’s still a mighty undertaking, though. Cantrill reckons that more than 24 hours of semi-improvised audio was recorded in the making of the show.

“That’s then edited, crunched and crunched and crunched down to two and a half hours for the series, which gives it this breathless quality.” Like Tiredness Kills before it, the epic task of editing Icklewick FM fell to sound designer (and comedian) Jack Lewis Evans. “Jack’s been putting so much extra stuff into it – like, every scene has a little background story playing under it. We didn’t know, but he told us recently he’s put secret Morse code in every episode.”

Hopefully, all that effort has been worth it. Certainly, the show has begun generating plenty of interest.

Photo by Ed Moore

“I’ve had people message me saying how much they’re enjoying it and that’s a really nice feeling,” says Cantrill. “I’ve said to Amy, I think it’s a show for nerdy boys. It unlocks the nerds, or the slightly odd blokes. There’s enough stuff in it that gets your brain going.”

Whether together as The Delightful Sausage or separately, Cantrill and Gledhill are highly prolific. They’ve developed a strong working relationship with Grub’s venue Cultplex in Manchester, soon to be joined by nearby sister venue Fairfield Social Club, performing or promoting comedy shows under the banner A Lovely Time (also the title of Gledhill’s own podcast). This year the pair will both be working up their own individual stand-up shows, as well as a new Delightful Sausage show that’s essentially Icklewick FM live on stage.

“We still need to figure it out, but we’re doing a work-in-progress version of it at the Machynlleth Comedy Festival in May and we’ve a plan to do a few nights of it live in December, giving it a Christmas theme. It’s all to be talked about, how we do it. We can’t have a massive extended cast, so it’s working out how we bring people in and stuff. Really we’re just at the very, very start of that.”

There’s also Cantrill’s new solo stand-up show entitled Easily Swayed, which he’ll be taking to the Edinburgh Festival.

“I’m just trying to book in shows to get it polished, but it’s basically about how I moved to the middle of nowhere during the pandemic and started wearing a cape to feel a bit better about myself. I think it’s about male friendships, how to keep in touch as you grow older and get into your 40s. It’s just about hitting a weird little speed bump in your life. And mostly wearing in a cape.”

The march of The Delightful Sausage is far from over. In fact, Icklewick FM has been commissioned as part of a specific BBC scheme to develop shows for radio to potentially transfer over to television.

“It’s early days and what the next step is, we don’t know,” Cantrill says. “We’ll just have to see how it goes, see what the reaction is and then ask a question a little bit further down the line. As we get more into the radio series, the world of the place gets bigger and bigger and stranger and stranger. But yeah, we’ve got everything crossed for it. We think in some form it could be a really fun TV show.”

By Andy Murray

Photos by Ed Moore

 

Listen to Icklewick FM here; The Delightful Sausage is here; A Lovely Time is here