Noel’s House Party was a show which ran on BBC1 for 169 editions in eight series from November 1991 to March 1999. It changed a lot over the years and although once it was very popular by the time it ended it had fallen out of favour with viewers. How did the show go from being professional and entertaining to a past-it directionless mess? After tracking down the first and final editions on YouTube I decided to do a comparison of the main elements of the show to try and determine what exactly changed.
Opening sequence. First series. Noel’s House Party was the third part of Noel’s Saturday night trilogy, following from The Late Late Breakfast Show (1982-1986) and The Saturday Roadshow (1988-1990). It was fairly similar to The Saturday Roadshow, but instead of coming from a different location every week, it always came from the great house in the village of Crinkley Bottom, and it was also shown live. Noel was also very fond of wearing loud shirts. Final series. The opening theme was remixed after a few series and then changed altogether, and by this point only consisted of a short burst of “House Of Fun” by Madness. Noel also wore rather drab shirts by his standard, and it was starting to become clear that Noel’s 30-year career with the BBC was coming to an end, and he wouldn’t be seen regularly on TV again until 2005. One positive though was that this series was one of the earliest shows made in widescreen. The shrieking studio audience was something that remained constant throughout however.
Set design. First series. The house was laid out so that Noel could do a lot of running about which he seems to enjoy, with various segments of the show taking place in different parts. Final series. The design of the house was another thing that was totally changed by the end. For example, Noel had to go up a flight of stairs to meet his guests and it seemed less welcoming.
Celebrities. First series. Famous faces were very eager to take part at first, with Ronnie Corbett appearing regularly in comedy sketches among many others, it was definitely a good place to get yourself seen. Final series. I’m sure that Noel said that he was disappointed that by this point famous people would only appear on the show if they had something to promote such as their new single, and a character was introduced called Father Seamus Plug who would tell us what they were promoting. At least he was much less irritating than the “my brother Liam” character from a while earlier. Noel also famously walked out of an edition revealing his frustration at the lack of big names and good ideas on offer.
Games. First series. These included The Lyric Game, where contestants had to sing famous songs, What Till I Get You Home!, which made its debut on The Saturday Roadshow and was where parents had to guess what answers their child would give to win prizes, and Grab A Grand, where viewers could phone in and a celebrity could win up to £1,000 for them, and this was also a chance for Noel to indulge in his long-standing fondness for endlessly fiddling around with various telephones. Final series. Games became ever more overblown, with Grab A Grand spin-offs including the ridiculous Grab A Grand Piano. There were other ideas such as The Big Pork Pie, where people had to reveal an embarrassing story about themselves, the Number Cruncher, where you could play for a prize if a phone-box was in your area, Cash For Questions, which consisted of people spinning round on a wheel and then having to find bags of money in a dark room against the clock, and in this series Sofa Soccer, where viewers phoned in to try and direct footballs past a goalkeeper for money. What Til I Get You Home! was also revived for a celebrity special with Paul Ross and his family.
NTV. First series. This was the segment where the star of the show could be you! Using innovative technology for the time, a camera was secretly placed in a viewer’s house, and then they could cut to it and they would appear live on screen much to their surprise and talk to Noel. Final series. This was another feature that featured ever more complicated setups in the endless failed attempts to make the show bigger and better, trying to surprise people in ever more ambitious ways. I remember Noel in a later edition after one prank saying “that went really well”, as if he was surprised that it actually went to plan.
Gunge. First series. Another feature kept on from The Saturday Roadshow, this was where studio audience members would be surprised and end up in the tank, and occasionally two celebrities competed against one another, with a viewer phone vote determining who went in. Final series. Again this became increasingly complicated, with the tank being turned into a car wash, then a train ride, and even this always enjoyable feature began to feel stale.
Gotchas. First series. Another The Saturday Roadshow feature, Gotcha Oscars as they were called at the time was where a celebrity would be stitched-up. Henry Cooper received the first one. Mr Blobby started out as a parody of a children’s TV character in some setups, but he eventually became popular enough to have a number one single in 1993. Final series. After a name change to simply “Gotcha” and a redesign of the trophy, this was another area like NTV which featured ever more elaborate set-ups, such as trying to prank more than one person at a time. The one with Richard Whiteley was good though. Mr Blobby was also dropped from the show for this series, until his inevitable return at the end, but too many viewers had long-since turned off and that was that.