More TV Memories – SpongeBob SquarePants.

SpongeBob SquarePants (Nickelodeon, 1999-present)

Back in the On/ITV Digital days in the early-2000s, one of the channels that we could get was Nickelodeon. One of the cartoons that they showed was SpongeBob SquarePants. I must admit that I didn’t watch it that much so I didn’t realise at the time that a cartoon that would go on to be one of my favourites from that era was passing me by, and the way that I finally did get into the show was a little unusual.

I know that SpongeBob was also shown on CITV and various other channels but I never saw it there either. The way that I first really discovered SpongeBob was when it was shown rather late at night on Freeview music channel TMF in about 2004. I thought that it was a little odd that it would turn up on there, but because I vaguely remembered the name from the Nickelodeon days and there did seem to be something of a buzz around the show, I thought that I might as well have a watch, and after watching only one or two episodes I became hooked. vlcsnap-01095

It was a little odd to discover a great cartoon at an age when I’d stopped watching children’s TV, but SpongeBob contained just about everything that I like in a TV show, especially a cartoon, it was just so odd and silly, I wish that I had got into it earlier, and it definitely passed my “would I have liked this show if it had been around when I was eight years old” test, and soon I wanted to catch up on all the episodes that I could. vlcsnap-01092

The character of SpongeBob is rather odd, and, as the opening theme goes, he really does live in a pineapple under the sea. When I first saw the show one thing that struck me was that SpongeBob had a rather silly voice (including a bizarre laugh) and he was able to make a variety of rather unusual facial expressions. That was merely the start of it though, as I discovered all of the other characters and the roles that they play in the show. vlcsnap-01093

First of all, SpongeBob has a pet snail called Gary who can only say “meow”, and again, in this show this is seen as very straightforward. SpongeBob works at the hamburger restaurant the Krusty Krab, and his boss is Mr Krabs. His best friend is Patrick Star, and his neighbour is Squidward Tentacles, who is rather irritable and likes to play the clarinet. There were lots of other amusingly odd characters who turned up including Sandy Cheeks the squirrel, Plankton, and the superhero duo Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. vlcsnap-01100

I remember watching one episode on TMF at some late time which concluded with SpongeBob saying “meow” just like Gary does which even I thought was really odd and was the moment when I realised that there was something a little unusual but rather funny about this show, and it is now been a success for a long time, with a big fanbase and new episodes still being shown on Nickelodeon 18 years later. vlcsnap-01096

Since I became a fan of the show I have tried to collect some SpongeBob merchandise, and this includes little figurines, the comic, some books, computer games and plenty of other things. The show is also popular enough for there to have been two successful films, and there have also been several episodes released on DVD. I do enjoy the show, and I still find it terrifically silly after all these years.

The Comedy Vault – 2DTV.

2DTV (ITV1, 2001-2004)

The satirical comedy show Spitting Image was a huge success on ITV for about a decade. After that show ended in 1996, there was often speculation that it would return, or at the very least a similar show would be launched. In 2001, a new satirical show did finally appear, which featured the same production team as the final series of Spitting Image, and it was called 2DTVvlcsnap-01085

The difference between Spitting Image and 2DTV was that it didn’t feature puppetry, instead it was an animated show. Just about everyone who was in the public eye at the beginning of the 2000s decade was featured in the show, whether they be leading politicians, irritating TV presenters, dozy footballers, flashy pop stars, the Royals, or cast members of EastEndersvlcsnap-01088

A small group of comic actors provided the voices, most of which seemed to be performed by Jon Culshaw. He also contributed to the later editions of Spitting Image, and somewhat oddly, around the same time as 2DTV he was also a member of the BBC TV and radio comedy show Dead Ringers, so you could see and hear him doing impressions of the same people in two unrelated shows. Also among the voices was Dave Lamb. vlcsnap-01084

2DTV got off to a fairly quiet start, with the earliest editions only being ten minutes long. However, the show did get some good reviews, so later editions were extended to 25 minutes. Although it was good to have some late-night comedy with an edge on the TV, by the end ITV1 scheduled the show in an increasingly late slot, and the show began to run out of energy a little, so after about three years 2DTV came to an end. vlcsnap-01086

Some of the best sketches featured on 2DTV were released on DVD. I bought this, firstly because there was a free gift of a calendar, but also because there were some good sketches that I wanted to watch again, and the DVD also had some interesting bonus features including some extra sketches that hadn’t been shown on TV, plus a look behind the scenes including interviews with the impressionists and the frantic rush to put the show together as close to transmission as possible to keep the material topical. vlcsnap-01083

After 2DTV ended, the cycle went back round to the start, with viewers again saying that there’s a space for a topical comedy show on TV. There have been two more attempts by ITV in recent years to give the great and the good a ribbing, firstly with Head Cases (which featured computer-generated characters), and then with Newzoids (featuring a combination of puppetry and computer graphics). While these have done fairly well with viewers (and again feature some of the 2DTV team), I must admit that 2DTV is my favourite of the three and the only one that I think can compare with the impact that Spitting Image made.

The Comedy Vault – Men Behaving Badly.

Men Behaving Badly (ITV, 1992, BBC1, 1994-1999)

Men Behaving Badly was a sitcom that was written by Simon Nye. The show originally starred Martin Clunes (as Gary) and Harry Enfield (as Dermot) as two young flatmates who tried to get through life. Enfield had been a great success in sketch shows but looked a little more uncomfortable in a sitcom so he decided to leave after the first series, and he was replaced by Neil Morrissey (Tony) who along with Gary became the show’s best-known double act. Also appearing were Dorothy and Deborah who lived nearby. vlcsnap-01078

Gary works in an office alongside two very dull middle-aged colleagues which bores him greatly, so he often likes to spend his spare time partying with Tony, and they both have a rather laddish outlook on life. They could often be found in the local pub, and when they were at home, there was always a can of lager nearby. They also liked to flirt with the two ladies and just about any other woman they met but they often embarrassed themselves. Most episodes ended with Gary and Tony sat on their sofa in front of the TV thinking about what they had learned from what had happened to them in the episode (which wasn’t much). vlcsnap-01072

Men Behaving Badly got off to a fairly quiet start and its success almost didn’t happen. The first two series were shown on ITV in 1992 in a pre-9pm slot and they didn’t get a big response from viewers, so the show ended. A couple of years later, the production company thinking the characters still had potential decided to take the show to BBC1, where it returned for a third series in a post-9pm slot allowing for more bad behaviour from the men and it really began to make a big impact, and eventually it became one of the most successful British sitcoms of the 90s. vlcsnap-01074

Men Behaving Badly eventually ran for six series. It won many awards and also had a few Radio Times covers. Because of the popularity of the show, in 1998 they decided to bring it to an end by doing the same with what they did with Only Fools And Horses. When that show ended (for five years at least), there were three extra-length episodes shown in quick succession over Christmas which were a huge success. In the final trilogy of this show Deborah gave birth in the very last episode. vlcsnap-01071

Men Behaving Badly was released in the fairly early days of DVD, so unfortunately there aren’t that many extras included beyond a few funny out-takes that you have to press a few buttons to find. Another thing that I remember about Men Behaving Badly was that because it always did well in the ratings, some episodes (from around the series four or five point) seemed to be repeated frequently on BBC1 in the late-90s, but I always enjoyed watching them as they were among my favourite episodes and they are still really enjoyable now.

The Comedy Vault – Absolutely.

Absolutely (Channel 4, 1989-1993)

Absolutely was a comedy sketch show that starred a great sextet of performers (who were Pete Baikie, Morwenna Banks, Jack Docherty, Gordon Kennedy, Moray Hunter and John Sparkes). This was a show that I originally only remember seeing the fourth and final series of and I really enjoyed it. A while later, I read that critics thought that this was the worst series, so I could only imagine how good the others were. Thankfully, a while back the complete collection plus a nice bunch of extras were released on DVD so I could finally see the whole lot for myself. vlcsnap-01058

Absolutely contained a great variety of characters that were very memorable. Among these were the Nice family, the girl who tried to explain everything, the very dull Calum, the horrible old man Bert, and the residents of the small town of Stoneybridge. One of the best characters was the outrageous Frank Hovis (played by Sparkes) who often delivered his thoughts on life while on the toilet, and he had some rather bad flatulence problems. This character also appeared in BBC2’s sketch show Naked Video, a show on HTV Wales, and somewhat inexplicably, ITV’s variety game show 3-2-1vlcsnap-01059

Perhaps the oddest sketches were those featuring Don and George (played by Docherty and Hunter). After Absolutely ended they got their own spin-off sitcom in 1993 on Channel 4 called Mr Don And Mr George. I don’t remember watching it at the time but it seems to be available online so I shall have to take a look and review that one day too. vlcsnap-01064

My favourite character though has to be the man in the final series who laughed at everything, and he was especially fond of car stickers which had terrible jokes on them. I ended up nearly laughing as much as he did I thought it was so great. One interesting thing about Absolutely is that some editions were 45 minutes so there were more sketches than most shows, and also in the 90s a book and vido (yes, that is how it is spelt) were released containing some of the best sketches. vlcsnap-01061

Another good thing about Absolutely was that there were some musical sketches, and these were accompanied by some strange animated sequences that were created by the same company who made the original Have I Got News For You opening sequence. The DVD is a great package, it contains such features as the unaired pilot, interviews with all of the cast members, and also contributions from celebrity fans of the show including Paul Whitehouse who is definitely someone who knows a thing or two about how to create great comedy characters. vlcsnap-01063

Although Absolutely ended in 1993, the cast have gone on to further things including Jack Docherty’s Channel 5 chat show (which I have already discussed on here), and in more recent years some of the cast reunited for a radio version of the show, with most of the classic characters returning who all still sounded really good. I’m pleased to have now seen every edition of Absolutely and I can definitely say that it is one of the best comedy shows that has ever been on Channel 4.

The YouTube Files – A classic Stars In Their Eyes moment.

Stars In Their Eyes (ITV, 1994)

Recently I wrote a blog piece about when I discovered something about the pop group Bananarama that really blew my mind, if you haven’t read it yet, you should! Whilst putting the piece together I was reminiscing about Siobhan Fahey’s other group, top goth-rockers Shakespear’s Sister, and when trying to track down some more information, I had an odd thought: “were they ever done on Stars In Their Eyes?”. As far as I know, people could only take part individually, performing as solo artists or the frontman or woman from groups, I’m not aware of duos being able to appear, so I thought it was rather unlikely, oh well, it would’ve been good but it was just a thought, it doesn’t matter. vlcsnap-01020

I’ve already written about Stars In Their Eyes on here and I’m sure you remember how it all works, the main elements being Matthew Kelly and his waistcoats, people coming on stage to perform as their pop idol for five minutes of fame, an entertaining Saturday night show on ITV throughout the 90s. When I was fiddling about on Google recently, I noticed an image of a YouTube video thumbnail of what appeared to be Matthew welcoming two women to the stage. I thought that duos didn’t take part. Then I thought, well, two young women, performing as a duo, how many successful female pop duos were there in the early-90s… wait a moment, they’re not going to be… are they? You are kidding me. vlcsnap-01018

So I tracked down the video to watch on YouTube (in fuzzy YouTube-o-Vision, but it’s better than nothing for now), and Emma and Julie who both work in a pub in Oswestry, Shropshire (who can also do a great impression of Zig and Zag) went through those famous doors, and well shut my face, they only did come back out as Siobhan and Marcella didn’t they? I know that Stars In Their Eyes liked to feature a wide variety of pop acts, from 50s crooners to 90s indie blokes, but I never expected this, the show was about to get a little weird. And of course they go on to perform the 1992 chart-topping blockbuster “Stay”. The performance is also rather faithful to the famous award-winning video, there’s even a dead man (well probably) wheeled on to the stage to crank up the emotion. (I should also point out that this edition is from 1994 by which point Siobhan and Marcella had gone their separate ways.) vlcsnap-01050

How did they do? Well they definitely didn’t do too badly at imitating them, as if there could ever be another, and then at the end Matthew kindly congratulated the ladies on their performance, the experience really had been a dream come true for them. They didn’t win though however, they were beaten by Jim Reeves who went into the final. I am so thrilled to discover that it actually happened though, two ladies wanting to do that on ITV prime-time in what must be the most bizarre moment in the 16-year history of Stars In Their Eyes, I can only wonder what viewers made of it. I’ll try and stop going on about Shakespear’s Sister now, I really should buy their album one day… 

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EXTRA! They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so along with Stars In Their Eyes, here are three other occasions that I’m aware of where people donned the old make-up to imitate Shakespear’s Sister in various TV shows in the early-90s. First, the most famous one is by French and Saunders (with Dawn French as Siobhan and Jennifer Saunders as Marcella), who memorably parodied their videos “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Stay”, and “I Don’t Care”. (In 1989 French and Saunders did a parody of Bananarama for Comic Relief as Lananeeneenoonoo, With Dawn French as Keren, Jennifer Saunders as Sara and Kathy Burke as Jacquie. Also, Marcella Detroit appeared in two episodes of Jennifer Saunders’s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous). Second, in the sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience, there was a parody by Robert Newman (as Marcella) and David Baddiel (as Siobhan), who were introduced as “that equally talented vocal partnership”, the joke being that Siobhan literally honked her way through the songs and was outshone by Marcella. Best of all, proof that they had become a cultural reference was when the video for the 1993 Christmas Number One by Noel Edmonds’s mate Mr Blobby also featured a parody of the “Stay” video. Now there’s a legacy to be proud of! vlcsnap-01057

The Comedy Vault – The Day Today.

The Day Today (BBC2, 1994)

This is a 90s comedy show that needs no introduction really. When I started my blog I planned to write about this show, but I left it because I felt that there really wasn’t anything more that I could add, so many people think that The Day Today is a classic and are familiar with the highlights, with every element of TV from travel reporters to music channel presenters expertly parodied, so I decided instead that rather than focusing on the six main editions, I’ll look at what the DVD extras contain and explain a little about what the show means to me.

The Day Today launched on the radio in 1991 as On The Hour, I didn’t hear it first time round, but I have enjoyed the repeat runs in more recent years on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra. I’m not sure when I first saw The Day Today, probably in the mid-90s, but I remember seeing a trail when the show launched in 1994 which featured the opening sequence with the spinning worlds graphics which change again and again and the pompous music that goes on too long which I did find rather odd and definitely caught my attention. I also think that the show was repeated a few times on BBC2, and it also turned up on the great digital channel UK Play. vlcsnap-01032

So when a two-disc DVD set was released for the 10th anniversary of The Day Today I had no hesitation in buying it. As well as containing all six editions, the second disc featured lots of extras, including about 40 minutes worth of an unaired TV pilot from 1993. I really looked forward to this, just when I thought that I had seen everything, it was great to discover something new. One of my favourite moments has to be “Debate 2000”, where five people are in a room discussing every cultural event of the past millennium and its significance. vlcsnap-01035

I also enjoyed the Mini News, six segments about three minutes long that were shown as extended trails on BBC2 and are definitely up to standard. There are also extended versions of the documentaries The Pool and The Office. What’s good about these is that they sent up “docusoaps” where a camera was simply pointed at a group of people and they would all go on to be big stars and achieve huge ratings, about three years before the genre actually existed and dominated TV schedules. vlcsnap-01033

Although it is described on the menu as “Po-Faced Analysis”, one of the most interesting features is an Open University documentary from 1995 about “the language of news”, contained on the disc because it includes a behind the scenes look at The Day Today, including an interview with cast member Rebecca Front talking about how various accents and looks were chosen for the characters, such as her American reporter Barbara Wintergreen, and look at how some of the graphics were made for the show. What’s also interesting is a look at BBC News, this is good partly because at one point you can see Going For Gold on the TV behind them, and also because it gives an explanation of how words are used in news to communicate information with people (which The Day Today took to the extreme), and how the initial newsgathering process works. vlcsnap-01046

There are also some bonus features on the DVD, such as a newly-recorded interview with Chris Morris and Alan Partridge, which you have to press lots of various buttons to be able to access, and I also noticed on one edition that if you press a button there is some in-vision audio description which is provided by Andy Hodgson. Now he was a presenter on Bid-Up, a channel which I watched very regularly at the time as I thought he was a great presenter, and seeing him suddenly appear on the disc unexpectedly made me think that he was vaguely beginning to haunt me and gave me a huge fright (in a good way). And don’t forget the most important thing that we all learned from watching The Day Today: “Buttress is a significant word”. vlcsnap-01045

More TV Memories – Top Banana.

Top Banana (TV-am, 1990-1992)

Here’s another look at the world of children’s programming on breakfast franchise TV-am. Along with TV Mayhem (which I still insist is one of the best things that Chris Evans ever did), another show that I looked forward to that was shown early on Saturday mornings in the early-90s was Top Banana, and I enjoyed it as much as anything that CBBC or CITV could offer. vlcsnap-01014

Top Banana was a children’s entertainment show that was hosted by the Australian Mike Brosnan (who also hosted the other TV-am show Hey Hey It’s Saturday! around the same time) that was supposed to be set in a jungle. He was joined by a wide variety of unusual puppets and guests, and he also had a couple of co-hosts who were Captain Keyboards who provided the music and some woman who was called P-Nut I think? vlcsnap-01013

There was also a game show element to Top Banana. Contestants would have to answer questions on various categories when a wheel was spun, and the one that it landed on would also be followed by an appropriate sound effect such as someone shouting “ping-pong!” when the question was about sport. They could also ask for “a piece of cake”, a question that is much easier but they would have to eat some cake while answering, and there were plenty of prizes on offer for everyone. vlcsnap-01009

Another thing that I remember about Top Banana was that every chaotic edition ended with everyone in the studio jumping around (accompanied by myself watching at home) to a version of the old pop song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”, meaning that by the time CITV’s Motormouth or some such show came along I had already been watching for hours and was vaguely exhausted. vlcsnap-01011

I think that Top Banana lasted until 1992, but by this point it had been announced that TV-am had lost their licence and I thought that most of their children’s programming had been dropped, although there is a chance that it could have been a repeat run, but either way the show definitely made an impact on me in the early-90s, and watching a few clips again on YouTube reminded me of the way that I can’t remember much about what I did yesterday, yet I’ve never forgotten the “ping-pong!” sound effect from this show. Isn’t life strange.