More TV Memories – The O Zone.

The O Zone (BBC2, 1989-2000)

The O Zone was a show all about pop music. It didn’t feature live performances, but it did feature interviews, music videos, and news about everything that was currently happening on the scene. Hey, it’s just like Smash Hits on the TV! Originally it was shown as part of CBBC, with the presenters mostly coming from that lineup, including Andy Crane, Andi Peters, Zoe Ball, and so on, and it would eventually run for over a decade. vlcsnap-00443

Every week there would be features on the show including a look behind the scenes of the latest music videos (I remember Andi Peters seemed to interview the Pet Shop Boys on the set of their latest innovative video every other week), and the hottest news, so you’ll never have to wonder when Ant And Dec’s next single is out again. As the years passed and genres changed just about every major group from this era was interviewed. vlcsnap-00448

In the mid-90s the show was relaunched with two presenters who were fairly new to TV, Jayne Middlemiss and Jamie Theakston (who would both go on to host Top Of The Pops). By this point the scheduling of the show was rather erratic. It was usually shown on BBC2 in the evenings but the timeslot changed frequently, and editions ranged from 10 to 20 minutes, although there were occasionally extended specials focusing on one group.

In later years the show had a couple of spin-offs, The Pop Zone, that was usually shown on CBBC (although I’m not really sure what the difference was), and The Phone Zone, a live show on great long-gone digital channel UK Play where viewers could phone in to request music videos (just like MTV’s Select), and presenters included Vernon Kay. However, by 2000 the format had become a little tired, so after 11 poptastic years The O Zone came to an end. phone0001


The YouTube Files – The Wolvis Family.

The Wolvis Family (BBC2, 1991)

I am always on the lookout for bizarre and long-forgotten shows to review on here, and this is a perfect example of one. This is how I discovered it. A while ago I was watching a BBC2 continuity clip on YouTube (well, when aren’t I), which featured a slide promoting something that appeared to be a game show. However, it turns out it that wasn’t a game show at all, but something called The Wolvis Family. What could this be? I wanted to discover more, and I found some episodes on YouTube.

It’s a comedy show with a rather unusual idea that is difficult to describe, but here goes. The Wolvises used to be a happy family. Indeed they used to be so close they once appeared together as a team on the long-running game show Ask The Family in the 80s (which explains what was happening in the BBC2 slide). But things have started to go rather wrong for them since then. vlcsnap-00400

The Wolvis family consists of the father Herbert, the mother Sylvia, and their two teenage children, the rather bratty daughter Wendy (who I couldn’t help but notice has something of a Strawberry Switchblade look about her, oh yes), and the son Stuart (played by a young Charlie Condou who in more recent years has appeared in various shows including Nathan Barley and Coronation Street). vlcsnap-00397

Now there’s a problem with Stuart, as he doesn’t talk to the rest of his family any more. He hasn’t left home or lost contact with them, he just simply doesn’t talk any more, not even to his friend Spencer. The children have transformed from being well-behaved into rebellious teenagers, and the Wolvises seem to have become something of a dysfunctional family that would make even the Simpsons or the Griffins blush. So they have decided to do something about it. vlcsnap-00405

They will air their problems with one another (or not in Stuart’s case)… on the TV. They have agreed to work with Dr Graham Wilcockson, and as the six episodes progress we see him use various techniques to try and help them out. Can they finally settle their differences? The set design is very basic, it’s just six chairs and a table. Oh, and a jug of water too. The show starts off in a fairly straightforward style but starts to get increasingly unusual, with the family eventually opening up and revealing bizarre things about themselves, and going a little “I will release my anger… through interpretive dance!” by the end. Come on don’t be shy, better out than in! vlcsnap-00408

The Wolvis Family really is a show that is rather unique in TV. It was a scripted comedy (it was written by Tom Lubbock and Roger Parsons), but not like any other that I’ve seen. What was it trying to achieve? It seems to be a satire of the “making troubled people sob on TV” genre before it even existed. It was shown once on BBC2 fairly late on Saturdays, never to be seen again. Did anyone watch it at the time? vlcsnap-00411

It pretty much goes without saying that The Wolvis Family doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry and there has been no DVD release, and there is very little about it online, but it was a great example of those shows that used to come and go around this time on BBC2 and Channel 4 that tried to do something a little different, and I definitely feel that it’s another lost curiosity that deserves some reappraisal.

The YouTube Files – It’s A Mad World World World World.

It’s A Mad World World World World (BBC2, 1993)

When the digital radio station BBC7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra) launched in 2002, it was an opportunity for me to hear some programmes from throughout the years that I didn’t remember from first time round. One that I rather enjoyed was the comedy sketch show And Now In Colour (that originally ran on BBC Radio 4 for two series from 1990-1991) which was often compared to BBC Radio 1’s The Mary Whitehouse Experience that ran around the same time.

And Now In Colour was written by and starred a comedy quartet known as The Throbbs (Tim Firth, Tim de Jongh, Michael Rutger and William Vandyck), and the show had a regular feature where the cast would take the studio audience on an adventure with them. In 1993 there was an attempt to transfer the show to TV as It’s A Mad World World World World which was shown as part of BBC2’s Comic Asides series of comedy pilots. I have wanted to see this for a while so I was very pleased when it recently turned up on YouTube, and credit goes to the uploader “VHS Video Vault”. vlcsnap-00381

Although all four members of the And Now In Colour cast wrote the show, only de Jongh and Vandyck appeared in the sketches (and it was a great experience to finally put some faces to the familiar voices). Also in the cast was Flip Webster, and there were some early TV appearances for the soon to be big names in comedy Alistair McGowan and Caroline Aherne. vlcsnap-00394

Among the various sketches in the show were the strangest snooker match ever played, the invention of earthquakes, the reveal of the new James Bond theme, and a parody of The Open University. Another thing that I noticed was that most of the sketches were recycled from the radio version. Also, the way that some of the sketches played out made me think that one influence could’ve been Channel 4’s great comedy show Absolutelyvlcsnap-00396

It’s A Mad World World World World did not return for a full series, so we won’t ever know how many characters or catchphrases could’ve developed (BBC2 did finally find a successful sketch show format about a year later with the launch of The Fast Show). However, the cast did go on to have further success in more recent years, having written various award-winning plays and novels, and some of them also contributed to ITV1’s surreal comedy show Dare To Believe (although the less said about that the better really). vlcsnap-00367

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).

More TV Memories – The death of Diana.

The death of Diana (BBC1/BBC2/ITV/Channel 4/Channel 5 etc., 1997)

I wanted to do a piece on here about UK news presentation, so I’ve decided to review this, because it was an historic TV moment. This piece isn’t going to analyse the politics of the event, such as the role that the monarchy plays in this country or attitudes to grief, it’s just going to concentrate on the TV coverage on various channels on 31 August 1997, and I’ll also reveal for anyone interested where I was when it all happened.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about it really was its timing. It was at the end of August early on a Sunday morning, a time when not much is usually happening, and it’s when lots of people are usually away. If there really is a time of year when news departments can deal with having fewer people around because it’s quiet, it’s this. What’s the worst that can happen?

The first report about the crash interrupted a film on BBC1 at about 1:15am. It was hosted by Martyn Lewis as it seems that he was the presenter who lived closest to the studio and they needed to get someone on air as quickly as possible. There was another news report interruption before the film ended at around 2:30am (which was rather late for a BBC1 closedown in those days, I wonder what would’ve happened if they had gone off air around 12:30am that night?). There was also a news report on BBC2. vlcsnap-00683

When it was time for the planned closedown, BBC1 actually stayed on air, and for the first time they handed over to BBC World News for continued coverage (the BBC’s own rolling news channel didn’t launch until November 1997). Having watched the story develop all night, it must have been a remarkable moment for people when it hit them that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending, the moment when you realise that something has gone horribly wrong. vlcsnap-00729

BBC1 returned at about 6:30am with Martyn Lewis presenting again. It was clear that this was an occasion where they had to get the balance right as unlike most news programmes it could be repeated for years after. It’s reported that channels do rehearsals of royal deaths coverage so that when the time comes everything is carefully planned and scripted. But they really did seem to have nothing ready for Diana, it was just so unexpected. vlcsnap-00723

Because of this news, coverage was also shown on BBC2, meaning that for the first and only time a special generic “BBC” ident was used, along with a rather alarming announcement that regular programming had been suspended, bad luck for people waiting to watch the EastEnders omnibus. Another thing about news is that presenters mustn’t get too emotionally involved in a story, but it was clear that it was difficult in this case, you could really sense the disbelief coming through. vlcsnap-00721

Watching some coverage again, one thing that strikes me now is just how straightforward and sombre it is, there are no oversized captions or tickers on the screen, and little use of that increasingly devalued phrase “breaking news”, and the whole presenting team weren’t all bussed out to stand outside Buckingham Palace or some such place all day, and it does still pack an emotional punch. vlcsnap-00730

For the rest of the day on the BBC, Peter Sissons took over as presenter at around 1pm, and joint coverage ended around 3pm when BBC2 showed some sport. There were also some special programmes on BBC1 including documentaries, and the day seemed to turn into an endless edition of The Nine O’Clock News. What had started out as a quiet summer Sunday ended as the biggest operation in the history of BBC News. vlcsnap-00714

As for what happened on ITV, they also had a few news reports throughout the night, before at around 5am The Chart Show was famously interrupted to begin the coverage from ITN that was hosted by Dermot Murnaghan and Nicholas Owen, before at 6am they had to join GMTV. When that ended at 9:25am, it was back to ITN for most of the day. The only scheduled programmes I remember surviving on LWT were Coronation Street (minus its Cadbury’s sponsorship) and Heartbeat, which was followed by a special programme hosted by Trevor McDonald. vlcsnap-00712

Also, it seems that Channel 4 showed some news reports throughout the day along with The Art Of Landscape, but I think most of their schedule stayed the same, although there was an hour-long special edition of Channel 4 News in the evening with Jon Snow. Channel 5 eventually pulled their programming to be replaced by Kirsty Young and Rob Butler in the studio with a desk and everything. vlcsnap-00728

As for where I was when this all happened… I was in bed. Well I was, no-one knocked on my door overnight to tell me what had happened or anything like that, this was how I found out. The summer of ’97 was really the only time that I regularly listened to Capital FM, and it meant that I must have heard the biggest hits of that time including “D’You Know What I Mean?” and “Freed From Desire” hundreds of times on that station.

It was a Sunday morning and I was going back to school a couple of days later so I thought that I would have one last chance for a lie-in. I decided to put Capital on at about 10am but instead of music I heard a news presenter talking about Diana. I wasn’t really sure why, I didn’t know why they were talking about her yet again, then I wondered suddenly… had something happened?

So I went downstairs and saw the BBC News coverage along with newspapers such as the News Of The World and I was rather shocked. It was so unexpected, my first thought was “she won’t be in the newspapers or on the TV any more”, although that wasn’t really how it turned out of course. There had been so much constant speculation (maybe too much) around this time about Diana’s next move that for all of it to end so suddenly really was the most unusual and unforgettable experience.

Game Show Memories – Robot Wars.

Robot Wars (BBC2, 1998-2003, 2016-2018, Five, 2003-2004)

This is the show where a wide variety of robots battled it out to determine a champion. The first series was presented by Jeremy Clarkson (and we wouldn’t see him interacting with game show contestants again for another two decades), along with Phillipa Forrester (who by this point had left Children’s BBC and was also presenting Tomorrow’s World around the same time) who would usually talk to the teams backstage as they prepared for their big moment. vlcsnap-00751

Various teams who had built a robot would see it battle against a rival in the arena. But beware, because the house robots could interfere, and if they weren’t lucky, they would receive a good crushing from the likes of Sir Killalot! It was always rather awkward watching someone’s hard work that must have taken months to prepare go up in smoke in just seconds, it was an unforgiving experience. vlcsnap-00753

One thing that attracted me to watching Robot Wars was the somewhat breathless commentary provided by Jonathan Pearce. I remember listening to his football commentaries on radio station Capital Gold in the 90s, and I was rather amused that he used the same style for this show and would greet a robot exploding in the same way that he would a Crystal Palace equaliser. Unbelievable!


BBC2: the channel that brings you exploding robots

Robot Wars began to be something of a ratings success for BBC2. After a while the presenting line-up changed to Craig Charles (along with his poems) and Julia Reed, the editions were extended to 45 minutes, and the series got longer too, as there seemed to suddenly be about 17 qualifying heats with more and more teams wanting their robots to take part. There was also a big trophy on offer for the overall series winner. vlcsnap-00752

By the early-2000s Robot Wars had become popular enough with viewers for there to be a spin-off series on digital channel BBC Choice, special editions featuring tournaments including robots from around the world, regular repeats, and merchandise including DVDs of highlights, books, and much more. Then, something rather unexpected happened. vlcsnap-00747

Having exhausted the format somewhat, it was still something of a surprise when BBC2 cancelled Robot Wars after six series. In 2003, Five, not wanting to miss an opportunity to have a successful show, decided to poach Robot Wars, seemingly due to popular demand. Charles and Pearce stayed on, joined by new co-host Jayne Middlemiss, and it was now an hour long. However, Five didn’t treat the show very well, and it moved further back in the schedule, with some editions being shown at 1pm, before it was cancelled again. Maybe viewers really had tired of the destruction by this point. vlcsnap-00748

In 2016 after a break of almost 15 years BBC2 decided to revive the show again with yet another new pair of presenters, maybe as an attempt to win over a new generation of viewers, but I never really watched this version. And then recently it was announced that after three more series it had been cancelled for a third time. It seems that the robots have now been deactivated for good.