The YouTube Files – The Office (ITV).

The Office (ITV, 1996)

Time for another edition of my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. Now this one is rather interesting because it is called The Office, but it has no connection with the much-praised BBC series that launched in 2001. This seems to be an attempt at a “look at how crazy our office is”-style sitcom five years before Ricky Gervais came along, so it was good to finally track it down on YouTube and discover what it was all about.

The Office was written by Steven Moffat who worked on some other comedy shows around this time, before going on to become the executive producer of Doctor Who of course. Robert Lindsay (someone who I have a very vague connection to, as my mum went to school with his ex-wife, I’ve explained more about that story in my review of Lucky Feller) starred as Norman, who worked at a company called Trans Atlas International. vlcsnap-00836

Norman is someone who will go to rather extraordinary lengths to impress his boss Hillary. After getting the wrong idea following one of her comments, he happily decides to take most of his clothes off and lie on her desk hoping for her approval. After he then realises what she actually meant, he can’t get his clothes back and he is left in a rather embarrassing situation (cue laughter). vlcsnap-00833

However, his scatterbrained temporary secretary Pru (played by Rebecca Front of The Day Today fame among other things) is of no help to him. How will he get out of this one? Norman has to make a very important speech, all the top people are going to be there including the CEO and he mustn’t let them down. He can’t exactly do it in the nude can he! vlcsnap-00837

He initially tries to dress as one of the company’s dispatch riders but is caught out by Nigel (played by Stefan Dennis, of Neighbours fame). By this point Hillary has no idea what Norman is up to. As a last resort at trying to get dressed in time he ends up doing his speech whilst wearing women’s clothes, but everyone applauds him anyway for his effort, much to his relief (cue even more laughter). vlcsnap-00840

It seems that The Office was designed to be an intentional one-off, with no plans for a series however well it did, and the episode was played out as something of a farce. It was shown on ITV in July 1996 and unlike its BBC namesake is now rather forgotten and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. It was also nominated for an award that it didn’t win. I suppose it made the most of its good cast though and played the absurd situation for all the laughs it could get.

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Game Show Memories – Masterchef.

Masterchef (BBC1, 1990-2000)

As I have said before, I am not really interested in cookery shows, but I do remember regularly watching this one, it may have something to do with the timeslot. Masterchef always seemed to be shown on Sunday afternoons when there weren’t really many alternatives. Well, we only had four channels in those days. This was the show that described itself as the “grand prix for amateur chefs”, which was odd because I never noticed any cars.

Masterchef was hosted by Loyd Grossman, taking a day off from poking his nose around people’s homes on Through The Keyhole. Every week three contestants would take part. They would be given a budget of £10 to create a three-course meal in 2½ hours. Loyd would be joined by two guests, a chef and a celebrity, and they would also be the judging panel and talk to the contestants about what they were making. vlcsnap-00819

When time was running out, a big “10” would appear on the screen, indicating that there wasn’t long left. When time was up, the judges would taste the food. Mmm, tastes nice. They would then go off to a big empty room to determine the winner. The winner progresses to the next round, and the three best chefs in the series compete against one another in the final for the overall series trophy. A lot of talented people took part over the years. vlcsnap-00820

Masterchef isn’t really a show where you would expect anything odd to happen, but I remember one series where the series trophy was being held by a mannequin of Loyd at the back of the studio, so it was rather strange when Loyd was talking to the contestants and you could also see him stood there in the background if that makes sense. It also survived the wonderfully peculiar parody by Reeves And Mortimer on their comedy show. vlcsnap-00825

Masterchef did well enough for there to be a spin-off series for younger contestants called Junior Masterchef which ran from 1994-1999. Indeed, it seemed to return year after year (with the exception of 1998) and there were almost no changes to the format at all, I remember one critic saying something like “it got to the point where you knew what camera angle was coming next”, and you could practically recite Loyd’s script along with him, including his famous “we’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested” catchphrase. vlcsnap-00821

By 2000 the show had been running for a decade and had become rather stale, it was stuck in a timewarp while the TV landscape had changed around it. So in 2001 Loyd was pensioned off and the format was relaunched on BBC2 as Masterchef Goes Large. I must admit that I never really watched this version, and I don’t really have any interest in the current version on BBC1 where apparently it gets no tougher than this (along with its additional celebrity series), I will always prefer the original.

More TV Memories – Fantasy Football League.

Fantasy Football League (BBC2, 1994-1996)

While everyone’s got World Cup fever at the moment (?), I thought that it would be a good idea to look back at a show that combined football and comedy. Like Room 101 that I reviewed a while back, Fantasy Football League started out on BBC Radio 5 around the time of the launch of the Premier League in 1992 before it transferred to BBC2 in 1994. It was hosted by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner from their flat who offered their amusing observations about what was currently happening on the football scene. Let’s say a big hello to them! vlcsnap-00809

Creating teams of players who scored points based on their performances was a rather popular thing around this time. Newspapers set up Fantasy Football competitions and whoever topped their league would win a big cash prize. Every week Skinner and Baddiel would be joined by two celebrity guests who would tell us what they like about the game and who they picked for their team, and “Statto” would keep us up to date with the current results. vlcsnap-00811

Another feature on the show was Phoenix From The Flames, where a classic footballing moment was reenacted. Most shows would end with West Bromwich Albion fan Skinner’s favourite player the pie-loving Jeff Astle performing a song that everyone enjoyed. There was also a memorable running gag about pineapples. I guess you had to be there. Although the show was usually shown on Friday evenings, it was also repeated on Sunday afternoons for a short while. Suddenly football was back in fashion again. vlcsnap-00816

Guests who appeared on the show included Danny Baker and along with Danny Kelly he has made some very amusing shows about football on the TV and radio over the years. Another thing that I noticed about Fantasy Football League was that Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs were among the production team, who went on to host a programme together on radio station TalkSport which also features lots of funny moments. vlcsnap-00810

Fantasy Football League became so popular that in 1996 Skinner and Baddiel teamed up with Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds to inform us that football was coming home in their song “Three Lions” to promote the European Championships, the first major football tournament to be held in England since the 1966 World Cup. It became an anthem and went on to be a Number One single twice over (both in 1996 and 1998 with amended lyrics reflecting on the penalty shoot-out sadness). vlcsnap-00817

After Euro ’96 the show came to an end, the but format was revived for the 1998 World Cup in France (as Fantasy World Cup which was shown live) after Skinner and Baddiel had transferred to ITV, and then again for the 2004 European Championship (also around this time they had another comedy show called Unplanned, where they discussed everything apart from football).

Game Show Memories – Countdown 3000 And Counting.

Countdown 3000 And Counting (Channel 4, 2001)

In 2001 Channel 4’s long-running game show Countdown reached its 3,000th edition, which was something that they were very proud about. There was a special show to mark this occasion called 3000 And Counting. This was somewhat different to the special for the 2,000th show that I reviewed recently that was in front of a live studio audience, as it was done in the style of a documentary (narrated by Sue Perkins). vlcsnap-00801

This included a look behind the scenes and contributions from Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman who had worked together for almost 20 years by this point (it is a surprise to realise that Carol left the show almost a decade ago now). There were also contributions from celebrity fans of the show, and everyone from Chris Moyles to Terry Wogan told us why when the time hits 4:30pm they always like to regularly watch. vlcsnap-00805

We saw some classic archive clips (although they were mostly the same as the ones that featured in the 2,000th edition special). We also saw some of ITV Yorkshire’s Calendar Countdown series, which wasn’t that great really, but it was still much better than the unaired pilot from 1981, that really was a shambles. At least there were no ferrets in the studio. We should be grateful that Channel 4 saw the potential in the idea when they needed a daytime game show for their launch schedule. vlcsnap-00796

The contributors felt that the secret of the show’s success is simply that it is so easy to play along with at home, everyone likes to try and outperform the contestants. There was also the appeal of Richard’s terrible puns, and various other things like the way that some words rather unusually seem to turn up rather frequently, so if you meet a Countdown fan, shout “LEOTARDS” at them, they’ll know what you mean. vlcsnap-00792

Although there have been a few more special documentaries about Countdown, I am fairly sure that this is the last one that was made to celebrate an anniversary. But for the 5,000th edition in 2010 Des Lynam appeared, making him the only one to have completed the hat-trick of being the host of Countdown (from 2005-2006), a contestant (on the celebrity version in 1998), and a Dictionary Corner guest (although only for this edition). vlcsnap-00804

This special was shown shortly before Countdown was extended to 45 minutes, and it’s clear why many people consider the show to be an institution, and it is remarkable how much it has changed over the past 35 years. Deal Or No Deal is the only other UK game show that has passed the 3,000 edition landmark, but Countdown is now not far off its 7,000th edition. It looks like the end could still be a long time away.

More TV Memories – Light Lunch/Late Lunch.

Light Lunch (Channel 4, 1997-1998)

Light Lunch was shown live on Channel 4 on weekday afternoons for about a year. It was was essentially a combination of a cookery show, a comedy show, and a chat show. It was one of the first shows to be hosted by the comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, before they ended up hosting just about every show on TV either together or individually. From this to The Generation Game in 20 years! There was also a live band in the studio whose name seemed to change in every edition who would play various songs throughout the show. vlcsnap-00788

Every day Mel and Sue would be joined by a guest chef who would create a meal for them, and there was a always a cryptic message spelled out in magnetic letters in the background. Now this was around the time when celebrity chefs were popular on TV, and everyone seemed to have their favourite. One contributor to the show was Ross Burden, but of course he’s no longer with us. Remember that all the featured recipes are available on 4-Tel. The studio audience would also be asked at this point what they’re having for lunch. vlcsnap-00789

When it was time for the meal, Mel and Sue would be joined by some celebrity guests and they would be interviewed while they all had their lunch, and they seemed to have some rather decent guests take part. For example Terry Wogan turned up once, although his son Mark did happen to be the guest chef that day. Various comedians, actors, singers and so on also guested, and watching it back now Light Lunch turned out to be a good time capsule of late-90s celebrity. vlcsnap-00790

Then afterwards the guests would then be asked questions by the studio audience, and viewers could also interact by faxing a question or talking to them live on the phone. No tweets in those days! Everyone would also be introduced with some funny captions. There would also be a few comedy sketches and music performances thrown in too. Light Lunch did rather well for Channel 4 and raised Mel and Sue’s profile to the point that the show then returned as… vlcsnap-00791

Late Lunch (Channel 4, 1998-1999)

It’s back! But now it’s in an evening timeslot where it ran for another year in a similar style, although it was now half-an-hour instead of an hour. Along with The Big Breakfast and Late Lunch, you get the feeling that Channel 4 should’ve continued this theme all day and commissioned a late-night live show called something like The Super Supper. Or maybe I just have an odd imagination. This was an enjoyably quirky show that was always good to watch.

Game Show Memories – The Crystal Maze the revival.

The Crystal Maze (Channel 4, 2016-present)

The Crystal Maze originally ran for six series on Channel 4 in the 90s. It was widely regarded by viewers as one of the all-time great UK game shows, especially when Richard O’Brien was the host. Long after it ended, it was still fondly remembered by many people including myself, it frequently topped greatest TV show lists, and maybe more than any other game show in UK TV history it was the one that viewers hoped would return to the screen one day.

A few years ago The Crystal Maze Experience opened where people could play games in a replica of the maze. After this did well, in 2016 it was announced that The Crystal Maze would finally return to the screen, but only as a one-off special for charity. However, this was successful enough for there to be a full series announced, the first for 22 years. Who could possibly fill the shoes of Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole and become the new maze master? Although hopefully they would be given their own shoes…

The choice was Richard Ayoade. He would be best known to viewers for appearing in various comedy shows including Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and The IT Crowd, and I remember watching him in all of them. As the structure of TV had changed rather a lot since the last series, there were several changes to the format, including a remix of the famous theme music. vlcsnap-00011

Firstly, a team of five would take part instead of six, and they would all know one another beforehand instead of being put together. The four time zones were back, with the return of the Industrial zone replacing Ocean, along with Aztec, Medieval, and Futuristic. Also, fewer games were played, simply because there are more advert breaks in an hour nowadays. Maybe the show would’ve benefited from being extended to 75 or even 90 minutes however inconvenient that might be. vlcsnap-00182

Ayoade tried to make his mark on the show by using some quirky terminology, such as describing the length of games as “mins” instead of minutes, and “ALIS” for an automatic lock-in game. Another one of his gimmicks is a fake hand thing on a stick which he uses to guide the contestants to their next game. He also wore a lot of brightly coloured suits. vlcsnap-00780

As ever, the teams play the various games to try and win the crystal for five seconds of time inside the Crystal Dome. One of the games features the severed head of Adam Buxton which was a nice touch. There was also one game which had no time limit which was an interesting move. Some games were also edited down, it seems with fewer games played they still couldn’t fit them all into the available time. The Dome looked very impressive though, and there were plenty of great prizes on offer for winning teams. vlcsnap-00784

Viewers had plenty of opinions about the revival. Firstly, although some of Ayoade’s asides were rather amusing, they seemed to be the same in every show, and his attempts of indifference and sarcasm at the team’s performances made it seem like he didn’t really care whether they won or lost. Intentional or otherwise, he came across as a little too distant. vlcsnap-00785

Also, there was the standard of contestants. I remember watching a video online a while ago featuring some funny unseen moments from the original series, including one where you can hear the production team despair at a contestant’s failure, leading to some “where do we find them?”-type comments. vlcsnap-00781

Some of the performances in the revival were so bad you get the feeling that they were only chosen so their games could be turned into videos with “check out this failure!”-type descriptions to try and gain some easy laughs and publicity. Indeed, in one edition, a team who won some crystals but bought out their locked-in teammates ended up being the first team to go to the Dome with no crystals, making their show a waste of time and some viewers were surprised that it aired at all. vlcsnap-00787

Another problem was the scheduling. Sometimes it was shown on Fridays, sometimes on Sundays, and the running order was all over the place, with some editions credited as from series three being shown before ones from series two. The show then began to be propped up with endless celebrity specials. I very much hope the final editions don’t end up being burned off at around midnight on E4, it deserves better than that. There was also a book released featuring various challenges to play along with.

The Crystal Maze revival has ended up falling between the two areas of younger viewers who don’t remember the original version not being won over, and older viewers remaining unconvinced about the whole thing. After the initial excitement, the ratings slumped and it’s unclear whether there will be any more series. I will continue to watch though, even if overall it can be classed as something of a disappointment.

CITV Memories – Mega Mania.

Mega Mania (CITV, 1992)

Back in the early-90s I recorded various shows on CITV. One of them was Mega Mania, but it was incomplete, indeed, it only came to about one or two minutes. I was never really sure why there was such a short amount on the tape, but I must have had some interest to have recorded any of it at all. I couldn’t really remember much about it though, so I was very pleased to discover that every edition is in full on YouTube.

What was Mega Mania? I would say that it was a game show. It has teams competing in various games against one another to score points and win prizes, but it isn’t listed on the UK Game Shows website which is a surprise as they are usually the authority on these things. If even they don’t remember this one then it really has been lost in the mists of time, so here’s what it was about.

Mega Mania (a Thames production for ITV) was hosted by Joe Greco (who also appeared in some other CITV shows around this time including the sitcom Spatz) who represented the red team, and Lucy Alexander (who 26 years later is still on TV as one of the hosts of BBC1’s daytime show Hammers Under The Home or whatever it’s called, I’ve never seen it myself, and more impressively, appeared in an advert for Burger King) who represented the blue team. vlcsnap-00743

Mega Mania toured the country and every week came from a different location such as a hospital, a supermarket, or a farm. Two teams of four took part and there were five rounds, which included some messy and rather silly games, making the show draw comparisons with Fun HouseThere were 20 points for the team that won the round, and 10 points for the losers, Joe and Lucy did their best to encourage them all the way through as they wanted their team to win, and it usually all to play for going into the final round. vlcsnap-00745

Prizes on offer included a pair of trainers, a camera, a board game, and a NES console. Fantastic. Having now watched some editions of Mega Mania again, a lot of the games were rather well put together and enjoyable, and there were some funny moments, but the show ended after just five editions, never to been seen again (it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry). vlcsnap-00777

However, the similar CITV shows Finders Keepers and Fun House were much more successful, maybe the market for wacky game shows (along with the likes of Double Dare and Get Your Own Back on CBBC) was already too overcrowded at the time for Mega Mania to stand out. Tommy Boyd thought that it was great though, and there can’t be much better endorsement than that.