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.

Game Show Memories – Winning Lines.

Winning Lines (BBC1, 1999-2004)

When it was time for yet another game show tied-in with the National Lottery draw to launch on Saturday night BBC1, Celador seemingly stitched together two of their previous productions Everybody’s Equal and Talking Telephone Numbers (plus maybe a tiny bit of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire too) to create Winning Lines. It was originally hosted by Simon Mayo, better known for his radio work, but then Phillip Schofield took over which made the show resemble Talking Telephone Numbers even more. vlcsnap-00964

49 contestants, one for each ball that was used in the National Lottery draw, took part after qualifying to play by having matching numbers. A question with a numerical answer would be asked. If you think you know the answer then you enter it in, and if you are right in the quickest time you go through to the next round, but if you are wrong you are eliminated, although anyone else who answered correctly stays in, and this is done six times. vlcsnap-00968

In the second round, the six remaining contestants are asked questions where the answers are their assigned numbers. If they get it right they stay in the game, if they get the answer right that contained the number of an opponent they get knocked out. This continues until there is one contestant remaining who not only goes through to the final, but they also have the opportunity of pressing the button that starts the National Lottery draw. The runner-up also takes away a consolation prize of a holiday. vlcsnap-00965

The show didn’t really become known for these rounds though, the most memorable part which has been described by some critics at the time as one of the best endgames in a game show, was when the one remaining contestant had to face the Wonderwall. There are 49 answers on the screen and three minutes on the clock. A question is read out and the contestant has the give both the answer and its number after finding it on the wall. vlcsnap-00967

Contestants also had two pit stops where they could stop the clock and scan the wall for 15 seconds as a quick attempt to try and memorise some numbers and answers. Contestants would win a holiday, and with every answer they gave, the location became ever more distant, beginning at Spaghetti Junction for one correct answer, with anyone who got the maximum of 20 right answers in time winning a round-the-world trip. vlcsnap-00969

I do remember watching Winning Lines a little at the time and it is regarded by many people as the best of the National Lottery tie-ins, partly because of the well-designed final, and it could have easily run for more than five years. There was also an American version made, a couple of quiz books were published, and in more recent years repeats (with all the Lottery references snipped out) have been shown on Challenge.

Noel’s House Party – first and final series comparison.

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. nhp1

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. nhp2

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. nhp3

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. nhp5

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.   nhp6

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. nhp4

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. nhp0

The Comedy Vault – So What Now?

So What Now? (BBC1, 2001)

Lee Evans is a comedian whose stand-up routine became popular for his energetic delivery as much as it did for his amusing observations, and he ended up being one of those performers who would always be referred to as “the rubber-faced funnyman”. His career escalated to the point that he would often go on sell-out tours and he featured in many successful comedy films including There’s Something About Mary. Having enjoyed some of his work over the years, when I read that he was going to star in a sitcom I was very pleased.

So What Now? was a sitcom that was co-written by Evans and there were high hopes for it when it launched based on the quality of his previous work. In the first episode he is thrown out of the house by his wife Eileen, so he decides to move in with his old mate Stuart who is a double-glazing salesman, and then they move on to be joined by the landlady Heather, but of course, things slowly start to go wrong as Lee is the ultimate accident-prone man. vlcsnap-00853

However So What Now? wasn’t really about the characters and there wasn’t really much to the show in the way of various plots, most episodes were simply designed to lead up to a set-piece of outrageous physical comedy acted out by Evans, which made critics draw comparisons with the sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. It seems that Evans was always able to create Frank Spencer-style chaos wherever he went, and whether he was stuck in a radiator or trying to move a sofa for no particular reason it always got plenty of laughs. vlcsnap-00858

The DVD also has some interesting features, with a documentary that looked back at Evans’ career to that point which was shown on TV a few days before So What Now? launched, and there were also about half-an-hour’s worth of outtakes, I did think that a lot of these were very funny, especially when Lee seemed to completely forget what was happening and practically made up a new show on the spot. vlcsnap-00854

So What Now? only ran for eight episodes in one series. I did read that there were plans for another series, but this never happened, partly because it seems that Evans was disappointed with the direction of the show and wanted to return to stand-up. The show was also something that is now practically extinct in TV schedules – the pre-9pm sitcom, and I remember watching it regularly. The show only really existed to be as silly as possible, and even though the reviews were mixed, I really liked it and pleasingly Evans remains a big name in comedy to this day. vlcsnap-00855

The YouTube Files – Punt And Dennis.

Punt And Dennis (BBC1, 1994-1995)

Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis have worked together as a comedy double-act since the mid-80s. Some of their earliest TV work included BBC1’s Carrott Confidential, and the popular Radio 1 show The Mary Whitehouse Experience alongside Robert Newman and David Baddiel which later moved to BBC2. When this show ended, the double-acts went their separate ways, with Newman and Baddiel going on to BBC2’s In Pieces, while Punt and Dennis got their own sketch show on BBC1 which they also wrote the majority of. vlcsnap-00748

There were two series of Punt And Dennis, the first was actually called The Imaginatively-Titled Punt And Dennis Show. There has been a DVD release but it is rather disappointing, consisting of only a compilation of the first series, and nothing at all of the second series, so I decided to look for more on YouTube, and I came across a full edition from the second series which was uploaded by the team at the great website http://www.curiousbritishtelly.com which like this one reviews various famous and not-so famous TV shows from years gone by and is well worth a visit. vlcsnap-00758

Various regular sketches in Punt And Dennis included the Gullible family who believed everything that they were told, the tiny horse racing jockeys, an irritating news presenter, and Mr Strange who had viewers saying his “milky-milky” catchphrase up and down the country for about five minutes. There were also lots of parodies of TV shows that were big at the time including Baywatch, Bugs and The X Files. And bonus points for doing a parody of the Grandstand Vidiprinter. vlcsnap-00747

Watching an edition of Punt And Dennis from the second series online again brought back lots of memories. Firstly, I remember that the show was on BBC1 during the hot summer of 1995 which is now over 20 years ago. I also remember the rather scary title sequence which features some horrible Plasticine versions of Punt and Dennis. Unfortunately it seems that this series didn’t do very well in the ratings because the final edition was moved from 8pm to the much later 10:45pm. I tried to watch it but I nearly nodded off before the end, a third series wasn’t forthcoming and it was a shame seeing the show end on a low. vlcsnap-00753

Perhaps one of the oddest things about the second series was that every show had a musical interlude, with songs being performed by successful bands such as Abba or The Beatles, which sounds impressive until you realise that they were actually tribute bands. In the first show the performance was accompanied with some facts about the band that were presented in exactly the same style as the Amiga graphics that were still being used on The Chart Show at the time, right down to the film camera/truck/pair of lips symbols and arrow pointer and so on, and I just thought that this was such an unexpected thing for the show to reference. (I can’t find a clip of this edition online unfortunately). However, this was changed in the next edition to general pop-up boxes, I wonder if they had a miffed Video Visuals productions on the phone? vlcsnap-00755

Punt and Dennis still work together to this day, having had more success in recent years on BBC radio with their comedy shows, Radio 2’s It’s Been A Bad Week, and Radio 4’s The Now Show which is currently in its 50th series (not an exaggeration), and they have also toured the country performing sketches live on stage. Dennis has also appeared in various acclaimed TV comedy shows including BBC1 sitcoms Outnumbered and Not Going Out, BBC2’s satire show Mock The Week, and he also recently appeared in Dictionary Corner on Countdown. Maybe we’ll seem them on TV together again soon.

Game Show Memories – Pets Win Prizes.

Pets Win Prizes (BBC1, 1994-1996)

Having enjoyed the TV work of Danny Baker over the years, when I saw that he was going to host a new Saturday night game show, I was very pleased, and it was one of the oddest that I can remember seeing in the 90s. Pets Win Prizes turned out to be something of an unusual show where the skills of a wide variety of animals would be tested in return for the possibility of some big prizes. Animal expert Terry Nutkins of The Really Wild Show fame was also on hand to make sure that no contestants or hamsters were harmed in the making of the show. vlcsnap-00745

Contestants would come on with their pets, and they would play various daft games, so we would see dogs playing snooker, the excitement of “That’s My Stick Insect!”, or on one memorable occasion, shirehorses pulling pints of beer, and Baker seemed to be so overcome that his vision of what prime-time TV should be was released that his commentary on the game was simply saying “it’s shirehorses pulling pints of beer!” over and over again in a disbelieving voice. vlcsnap-00738

At the end of the games, the owner of the winning pet had a random choice of two envelopes, one containing a prize for them, and the other containing a prize for their pet. The five winners all then went through to the final, where they were asked animal-related questions on the buzzer. For every correct answer, they took one step forward on the track, and whoever crossed the line first or had progressed the most when time was up could then play for the star prize. vlcsnap-00729

In this, there was a podium which had six different prizes on it. Then, a cat called The Professor would be dropped into it, and 30 seconds on the clock would start. Whatever prize The Professor’s front paws were on when the clock stopped was what the finalist won, and this could be things such as a cash prize or a holiday. They could also encourage the cat to sit on the prize that they wanted the most, but this of course almost always didn’t happen, and this turned out to actually be something of a tense endgame. vlcsnap-00728

Another memory that I have of Pets Win Prizes was that the first edition was shown on my 11th birthday, my first one after we had moved house, and I remember just as everything was being organised and I was about to be given my cake to blow the candles out on, this show was on in the background, and suddenly everyone was turning to look at it as it was so unusual. A lot of critics didn’t like the show, and made “well at least Saturday night TV can’t get any worse than this”-type comments, but this was top-class entertainment as I as I was concerned. vlcsnap-00743

However, as always seems to happen with shows where Baker is involved, what happened in the first series was considered to be probably a little too odd for a prime-time audience, so when Pets Win Prizes returned for a second series, although there wasn’t much change to the format, it was announced that Dale Winton would be the new host, and he hosted the show in a much more straightforward and serious style, and I began to lose interest by that point, but the first series really was something.

The Comedy Vault – After You’ve Gone.

After You’ve Gone (BBC1, 2007-2008)

After You’ve Gone is a sitcom that starred Nicholas Lyndhurst as Jimmy, someone who has had a divorce and whose ex-wife now works in Africa, so he has to raise his two teenage children Molly (Dani “Tracy Beaker” Harmer) and Alex (Ryan Sampson) by himself, although his widowed teacher mother-in-law (Celia Imrie) is still around and they often clash on just about everything. vlcsnap-00691

Jimmy works as a painter and decorator alongside his colleague Kev (Lee Oakes, who was great as Munch in Two Pints Of Lager), although they are more likely to both be found at the pub The Leek And Shepherd trying to drown their sorrows and pondering life with the landlord Bobby (Vincent Ebrahim). Jimmy then gets a new girlfriend, hairdresser and barmaid Siobhan (Amanda Abbington, she was in Sherlock you know), although there are a couple of episodes which feature his ex-wife Ann (Samantha Spiro) who briefly returns and now has a new man in her life called Dr Howard (Alexander Armstrong). vlcsnap-00690

To pick out a few memorable moments that happened throughout the 25 episodes, there was an episode where Jimmy takes part in a pub quiz and tries very hard to succeed, but he has some trouble with the answers, and there was also an episode where Alex decides to try and look his best for the school photograph. There was also an episode which featured a lot of bickering about who owned a ping-pong table. It was funnier than it sounds. vlcsnap-00693

After You’ve Gone wasn’t the greatest sitcom that Nicholas Lyndhurst has ever appeared in of course, but I do feel that he is a great comic actor and you can’t go wrong with him on board. However, I thought that he only gave the third-funniest performance in the show. Again, I enjoyed seeing Lee Oakes who was great as Kev, but I was most impressed by newcomer Ryan Sampson as Alex, and I hoped that he would go on to further success in TV. In more recent years he has featured in Tennant-era Doctor Who, and he is also one of the main characters in ITV2 sitcom Plebs (ITV2 in half-decent show alert!) where again he is very funny. vlcsnap-00695

After You’ve Gone ran for three series and a couple of Christmas specials, rather curiously it was announced that a fourth series had gone into production, which was quickly followed by the news that the show had been cancelled. Although it wasn’t a huge hit with viewers, as far as mainstream domestic sitcoms go I’d watch this over My Family any day, a show that I’ve never really been a fan of. All three series have been released on DVD, including extras such as a look behind the scenes, outtakes, and deleted scenes.