It was written by Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Steven Wells, Andrew Glover, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and David Quantick and starred Morris as the overzealous and self-important principal anchor (for which he used his own full name). He was aided and abetted by a regular cast of Steve Coogan, Patrick Marber, David Schneider, Doon Mackichan and Rebecca Front as news reporters, presenters, interviewees, etc. It also featured the very first appearance of Coogan's character Alan Partridge as the Sportsdesk reporter.
Surrealism was an important part of the programme, especially since every drop of pure nonsense ("De-frocked cleric eats car park", "Borrowed dog finds Scotland", etc) was delivered in an accurate rendition of the straight-faced manner in which contemporary news stories are dealt, and it has often been quoted that Morris' initial intention was indeed to show how the public would believe anything if it was delivered with a straight-face. And it did fool many people, with some listeners ringing in to complain about how the anchor treated his guests.
However, the satirical edge was equally significant. Not just in commenting on how news programmes can spend an awful lot of time informing you that they're reporting the news ("THIS IS THE NEWS!") and repeating the show's title but also on newsspeak, media-manipulation, exploitation of tragedies, patronising mistreatment of the general public, not checking the facts - personified by Marber's Peter O'Hanraha-hanrahan - and generally viewing itself as infallible ("On the Hour — Towards a New Eden"). There was also time to satirise party political broadcasts, chummy yet vacuous radio DJs in the form of Morris' Wayne Carr, religious broadcasting, glossy magazines, 'fun' local events, local radio, youth information shows, Radio Four plays, Royal ceremonies and even satirical comedies that don't hit the mark - as well as the basic absurdity of life.
The programme also utilised editing of out-of-context sound-clips in order to cement its illogicality into some reality and Morris' prank phone calls.
Twelve episodes were made (including a Christmas special, of which two versions exist) and broadcast in 1991 and 1992. At the end of the series, the inevitable happened and On the Hour became a rolling 24-hour newszenith of an information-station - letting people know exactly what was happening forever and ever. The team, (minus Lee and Herring due to creative/legal disputes, who were replaced by Peter Baynham and Father Ted writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews) subsequently made a television series loosely based on it called The Day Today.
The final programme closed with Morris introducing a set of headlines with the line "And there is still just time to part the beef curtains on tomorrow's news".
Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned dispute with Lee and Herring, the show is only commercially available as a two-hour audio compilation (edited down from the seven hours of both series and specials) which removed all traces of their writing.
Like many BBC Radio comedies, On the Hour has been repeated on BBC 7 although most of these deviate from the original broadcast versions. Two episodes from series one are regularly aired in their 30-minute form, being extended repeats from 1991, whilst series two transmissions are based on the edited repeats for BBC Radio 4. The penultimate episode of series two has not been repeated on BBC7. Restored versions are available illegally on torrent sites.