Focus North (Channel 4, 1999)
I always like to stumble across unusual comedy shows, even I don’t remember watching them at the time, and I recently saw this on YouTube (credit goes to the uploader Charlie Bowser). The 4Later strand used to feature some rather bizarre shows in the early hours of the morning, and this one (that was usually shown around 1am) definitely fits that description.
There have been many comedy shows that have parodied news presentation over the years, with The Day Today being among the best-known of them, but this one was different enough to manage to get some original ideas out of the genre. Focus North was a parody of regional TV news, and it’s rather clear what the influences were. The show was supposedly produced by Pennine Television, whose ident was suspiciously similar to the one used by Yorkshire on ITV at the time.
And the opening sequence gave me something of a “Channel 3 North East” vibe (the rebranding shambles of Tyne Tees in the mid-90s). The aim was to cover all of the things that were important to viewers. The hosts who were sat on the sofa were Tom Whitelam (Tom Adams, who also around the same time was appearing in those famous “the DFS sale is now on!” adverts), and Shona Lincoln.
Various stories were covered in the regional roundup of the latest happenings, with the hosts seemingly not realising how strange everything was. One item that really stood out to me was about someone who had Clegghead Syndrome, where they are born with an old head that gets younger as the rest of the body gets older, what a strange idea.
There were also some spoof adverts, a look at what was happening around the region, and various technical errors. Tom would also occasionally have some rather odd outbursts, such as turning into the Hulk. Well Fred Dinenage never carried on like this. The show also had a rather large support cast who helped out in the reports, everything was written and directed by a team of three, and it was produced a company that I’ve not seen on TV before or since. Not being from Yorkshire, I wonder if that area is really like this?
There were ten episodes of Focus North in one series, it must’ve been little-seen at the time, but the few that watched did seem to enjoy it, and I can’t really imagine Channel 4 commissioning an original comedy show in such a timeslot now. The style did also remind a little of the type of comedy shows that were being made by UK Play at the time, one of my favourite channels from the early days of digital TV.