The YouTube Files – Home Front.

A while ago, I did a second piece taking a look back at the rather remarkable career of Danielle Dax, who did a lot of interesting things in the 80s and 90s, although she was never that successful. I decided to put a list together of all of her TV appearances and releases because I thought this was worth chronicling, and I have been rather surprised by how popular this has been. You might remember that I said one thing that I really wanted to see was when she appeared on BBC2’s Home Front in 1997. Well the good news is that this has finally turned up on YouTube, and I am very pleased about that. But before then, here’s a quick update with a few other things that I have discovered about her since my last piece…

The earliest a picture of Danielle appeared in a music magazine as far as I know was in Sounds when she was still in Lemon Kittens in 1980. Yes, as long ago as that. In 1981, Lemon Kittens had a namecheck in Smash Hits. Well, it was only in a wordsearch puzzle with animal-related band names, but it’s still more than I expected. In 1984 Danielle appeared in horror film The Company Of Wolves, which in recent years has been repeated on London Live and TalkingPictures TV. I was disappointed that she never appeared on the cover of a music weekly, but then I was looking at some old Time Out covers, and is that who I think it is???

I think I neglected to say that in 1985 her debut single was “Yummer Yummer Man”, although there was no video for this, and this was followed in 1986 by “Bad Miss ‘M'” which again had no video. In 1987 she made some appearances on Japanese TV. In 1988 she was interviewed on Channel 4 music show APB by the two women in Voice Of The Beehive. In 1989 her Star Test interview was repeated in a late-night slot. In 1990 she did appear on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury when her single was reviewed. In 1992 her Star Test was repeated yet again. In 1994 her concert (first shown on ITV in 1987 and also released on VHS and DVD) was repeated on Cue The Music. In 1996 “Flashback” (which did have a video) was used as the theme to BBC2’s coverage of Crufts. And in 1997, she appeared in the Evening Standard in an article at her home. I think that’s everything, now on to the main piece…

Home Front (BBC2, 1997)

In the late-90s there was a boom in home makeover shows, with lots filling the schedule, Home Front being one of them. I am particularly interested in the edition shown on 28 May 1997, which featured the final of the Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year competition (this was shown at the same time as the Champions League Final was live on ITV, I hope this didn’t affect the ratings). The three finalists were Dax from Aberdeen, Victoria from Bristol… and some woman called Danielle.

Their challenge was to decorate an empty front room in a house on an estate in Nottingham. They have 48 hours, a budget of £300, and four of their favourite items that they can decorate the room with. A panel of judges must determine the winner, including Kevin McCloud and Anne McKevitt, who said “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas”. Well I think I know someone who can do that.

As they all had a teammate to help them, they all wore colour-coded shirts with name badges, and they were all competing against the clock to win a prize, I suppose that this is the closest that we will get to Danielle appearing on a game show! Who will have what it takes? Everyone is also given a sofa that they have to customise. So what is Danielle’s look going to be exactly?

Well of course it’s going to be Gardeners’ World meets outer space. We also get a lot of close-ups of tins of paint of rather garish colours being opened accompanied by some smooth jazz. It’s time to get the sludge green-coloured paint and felt tips out. And you won’t believe what she can do with a tree trunk either. But will there be enough time? With one day gone, there is still a lot to do…

But things eventually take shape. Comments from the judges included “totally different, like nothing I have ever seen before”, “it’s like a mint Aero”, “it’s totally outrageous”, and “I am knocked out by it in many ways”. Who will the trophy? It is a very close decision, but the winner is… Danielle! They were hugely impressed by her originality. She must’ve won more awards for her design work than her music. Two questions, I wonder if she went professional after this, and I wonder if she won the phone vote, where viewers were invited to choose their favourites?

I believe that Danielle has appeared on a few other home makeover shows since. And in more recent years, she has done a few other things. She now seems to have hair like Marge Simpson, and she contributed to a podcast where she spoke about her career, the documentary And You Thought You Were Normal about strange musician Nash The Slash, and she even released her first music for over 25 years. The only radio station where you’d hear any of her songs now is BBC 6 Music. I also had to get the book featuring lots of pictures of her on stage in the 80s. Anybody who has any more information to share is welcome.

More TV Memories – I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever.

I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever (BBC2, 2002)

When the third and final series of The Fast Show came to an end in 1997, it probably wasn’t thought that there would still be so much life left in this popular comedy sketch show. After this, there has been a theme night, a stage tour, various adverts, spin-offs (including Swiss Toni), and even a few more one-off specials. And there was this, which was an interesting way of recycling the archive.

I Love The 100 Best Top Ten Lists Of The Fast Show Ever was a parody of documentaries and lists about nostalgia. This was a genre that had only been going for a year or two by this point, but already seemed to be completely exhausted, and had lapsed into self-parody. This was hosted by Johnny Vegas, who often turned up on these type of shows, and was sending himself up somewhat.

But as well as the archive sketches, there was also a lot of new material, featuring yet another group of creative characters, the vast majority having not previously appeared, who shared their rather useless observations. Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson were clearly still coming up with good ideas, and must’ve been burning the midnight oil at both ends to complete this.

Do you think that The Fast Show was just a procession of people with wigs saying their catchphrases? Well it was really. Among my favourites of the new characters has to be the nice soldier, and the rather bizarre Count Rudolph Gesthaus, who was definitely good enough to have been a regular in the series, it was a shame that we never saw any more him.

And who could forget the catchphrase “this week I don’t know where I left my coat!”. Although this was 90 minutes long, they didn’t get to complete the Top Ten, so Johnny simply said that after all of the votes had been counted, and the points have been added, the Number One was “Imagine”, or probably “Bohemian Rhapsody”, because well it usually is isn’t it.

And I know that this is a weird thing to say, but this was shown on the first day of 2002. Now I remember when 2001 was supposed to be long in the future, and there was a time when I couldn’t really comprehend anything beyond that, but somehow 2001 was now in the past, and well, even this is over two decades ago now, how did that happen. How nice.

More TV Memories – Electric Circus.

Electric Circus (BBC2, 1996-1999)

Following on from Trevor And Simon’s Transmission Impossible and Hit, Miss Or Maybe, I thought that I might as well take a look at the third of the three spin-offs (although they were actually segments that were repeated in an evening slot on BBC2 to fill a 15 minute gap in the schedule) from CBBC’s long-running Saturday Morning excitement Live & Kicking.

Electric Circus started out in the first series, and was a combination of what was happening on the showbusiness scene and some gossip, which made this a sort-of cross between Movies Games And Videos and Liquid News. Some of the earliest editions were hosted by John Barrowman, who was part of the original Live & Kicking hosts line-up.

But by the second series, he only appeared in this pre-recorded segment, as he was unable to commit to appearing in the studio because his acting career was beginning to take off, and aren’t we lucky. Among the things that would be featured are films, including reviews, and interviews with all of the big names. There would also be reviews of computer games, and it was always good seeing them taken seriously on a mainstream show.

And of course there would also be plenty of pop music featured. Do you want to take a look behind the scenes at Ant And Dec’s latest video? Well of course you do. And if you thought that was exciting, add in some news about things that some celebrities that you have vaguely heard of might or might not have been up to, and you’ve got everything that you need to know.

It wasn’t until the third series in 1996 when Electric Circus was shown on BBC2 for the first time. There were also a lot of hosts over the years. I don’t think that there was a guest host format, but not many lasted for more than about a month or so. After Barrowman’s departure, Emma Forbes took over for a short while, before she departed herself.

Other hosts were Toby Anstis, Dannii Minogue (seemingly taking a day off from her pop career), Margherita Taylor, and many others, although the actual format stayed the same all the way through. Electric Circus came to an end on BBC2 in 1999, but carried on for a short while on Live & Kicking, before fizzling out, just as the show as a whole seemed to do around this time.

More TV Memories – Hit, Miss Or Maybe.

Hit, Miss Or Maybe (BBC2, 1997-1999)

Something that was a regular feature on CBBC Saturday Morning shows for many years (well during the time that I watched them anyway), was the record review. A rather unlikely combination of people would be put together as a panel. They would be shown a few videos of some songs that were about to be released, and then they would give various scores based on how much they liked them.

They were not likely to make or break many careers by doing this, and the verdicts weren’t usually as harsh as they were on shows like Juke Box Jury, but it did give a few groups a brief moment of fame as a debate about their songs took place. This carried on into the days of Live & Kicking in the 90s, although by this point the feature would be hosted by the comedy double-act Trevor And Simon.

Depending on what series it was, this would be known as the Video Garden, the Video Galleon, the Video Grand Prix, and so on. Although the scoring system had gone by this point, panellists were still encouraged to be rather opinionated, and this was usually rather enjoyable to watch. After Trevor And Simon’s departure, for the fifth series, the decision was made to change the format.

This led to the launch of Hit, Miss Or Maybe, which was one of three segments from Live & Kicking that would be subsequently repeated in an evening slot on BBC2 to try and attract some teenage viewers (the others being Transmission Impossible and Electric Circus). The host was Zoe Ball, who by this point was also the host of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, which is a rather coveted slot.

Zoe knew plenty about pop music though, and at this time she was usually carrying on with the drummer from a different Britpop group every week. Three panellists took part, and it was always interesting seeing pop stars offering their view on other groups, and finding out what they really think about each other. This was not a game show as such, but there was definitely a competitive element to be right.

Three videos would be shown, and this time the panel would predict the success of them with some comedy oversized hands that had the thumb sticking out. This meant that if they pointed the thumb up, they were sure that this was going to be a “hit”, pointing down meant that this would be a “miss”, and pointing sideways meant they weren’t sure and this was a “maybe”.

I don’t know how accurate their decisions would go on to be, but the rather nice disembodied voice of “Showbiz Mitch” (as he called himself) would be available to help Zoe and try and keep track of the results. After a couple of years, Hit, Miss Or Maybe came to an end after Zoe departed Live & Kicking at the end of the sixth series (let’s not think about the series after that).

More TV Memories – If I Ruled The World.

If I Ruled The World (BBC2, 1998-1999)

This is yet another comedy panel game, from the time when there were rather a lot of them around. If I Ruled The World was not a spin-off from Have I Got News For You as such, but this centred around the world of politics, which is amusing (sometimes). The host was Clive Anderson, who had recently been poached by the BBC, and he brought his chat show from Channel 4 along with him.

He also hosted this in a style rather similar to what he had perfected on Whose Line Is It Anyway? The devisor and producer was Richard Osman, who worked behind the scenes in TV for many years before Pointless started, I bet he didn’t realise at this time that he would become rather well-known for congratulating people on scoring only two points. And coincidentally this month is the 25th anniversary of the launch.

Two teams of two took part. The regular team captains were Graeme Garden (he used to be in The Goodies) and Jeremy Hardy (who I presume wasn’t related to Stuart N Hardy, the king of the mess-ups). Each week they would be joined by a comedian on their team, the Reds and the Blues (not to be confused with the red car and the blue car from the Milky Way advert).

There would be various rounds played in every edition. These included trying to defend policies that were indefensible, answering questions without saying “yes” or “no”, and stating that you disagree with various statements, however absurd they are. It really was a real opportunity to get on your soapbox, take your loudhailer out and waffle endlessly about everything.

There wasn’t a scoring system in place as such though. The studio audience all had keypads, and they could vote for which team they thought was doing the best. The final round usually consisted of shouting somewhat crowd-pleasing or maybe just mildly desperate policies that they hoped would swing the audience voters right at the end.

Maybe there was a chance that some of the voters could indeed defect (now there’s an idea of a game show). After the final vote was taken, the winning team was declared, and there were some rather close finishes. There were no prizes as such, just the pleasure of knowing you were the winner (if there are any winners in politics). If I Ruled The World ran for a couple of well-received series, and the format has done well in other countries too.

The Comedy Vault – The Goodies.

The Goodies (BBC2, 1970-1980, ITV, 1981-1982)

This is one of the longest-running TV sitcoms of its era, and there really has almost been nothing else like it since. The trio that make up The Goodies had previously worked on other comedy shows going back to the mid-60s, including Broaden Your Mind. But it was decided that they should stay together and try doing a new show of their own.

These super chaps three would became affectionately known to viewers as Timmy, Billy, and, er, Graemey. When they weren’t falling off their bike, they were at their HQ and made themselves available to help anyone at any time, whatever the challenge was. It really is difficult to describe most of what happened in the episodes, but this must be the closest that a sitcom has ever come to resembling a cartoon, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen next.

Eventually, this did well enough for there to be an impressive amount of high-profile celebrities who wanted to take part, however embarrassed they might end up looking, and the guest list became something that even Morecambe and Wise would’ve been proud of. This led to the trio doing other things together outside of this sitcom, including books and comics being released, and they also went on to have five hit singles.

Episodes also featured plenty of spoof adverts, which is a thing that always gets my approval. They also continued to work on other projects, including Bill’s CITV show Saturday Banana (did I ever tell you about the Saturday Banana indecent? Maybe I should do that one day). After about a decade of this, it seems that they were eager for a new challenge, so like many other talents before them, they jumped to ITV.

But by this point the idea had started to run out of energy somewhat, and the first series on ITV (and ninth in total) was also the last. Since then they have gone on to work on more projects, who remembers Superted and Beat The Nation now? There were 76 episodes of The Goodies, and about a decade after the end, there was a repeat run on satellite channel UK Gold, although some episodes had been lost in the archive by the point, while some that remained were rather tatty.

There was some frustration at the lack of repeats on BBC2 though, a whole generation had now never seen this. Why don’t those old fuddy-duddy pompous executives give the people what they want? Eventually a few episodes were shown, and a much-heralded DVD release followed. The Goodies is a show that has been documented and celebrated more than most, and holds a unique place in British comedy history.

Game Show Memories – Brainbox Challenge.

Brainbox Challenge (BBC2, 2008)

Over the years, BBC2 have tried out a huge amount of game shows in daytime and early-evening slots. Just about all of them, with the exception of the long-running Eggheads, have ended up doing fairly badly. This is an example of another one that ended up coming and going fairly quickly, although I do remember coming across this one day and thinking that this was an interesting idea (although for me anything is better than Eggheads).

The host of Brainbox Challenge was Clive Anderson. Around this time there were a lot of “brain training” games, where people had to solve various puzzles involving letters, numbers, shapes, and so on. This idea was expanded on for this show, which was a little like the Mental Agility round in The Krypton Factor too. The aim is for a contestant to play various challenges and test their skills against an opponent, and every time they succeed, they go up the money ladder.

Before the next game, they are shown who their new opponent would be, in a similar style to Playing For Time. A little information was revealed about them, but not necessarily what their best skills were. They can leave at this point, and take the money that they have won, or they could play them, knowing that if they were to lose, they would drop back to their previous safe level.

The scoring system was similar to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with questions being played for increasing amounts of money, and dropping back to your last safe level when you are defeated. Five games are played in every edition, and whoever the current champion is at the end gets the opportunity to play the bonus round, where a sequence of shapes have to be memorised and then recalled for extra money.

The maximum amount on offer is £13,000, if they reach the top of the money ladder, and get every answer right in the bonus rounds too. Brainbox Challenge (not to be confused with Brain Box, one of those short-lived call-and-lose live shows that was also around at this time) only ran for four weeks, and ending up doing so badly in the evening slot, that the final week was shown at 1pm, which was rather disappointing.

Viewers could also play some of the games themselves on the website (but not for money). I personally would’ve liked to see more editions, but it wasn’t to be. And curiously, there was a game show with a similar idea on the CBBC Channel around the same time called Brain-Jitsu, which seemed to be a little better received, and presented this style of challenge in a much more exciting and creative way.

The Comedy Vault – Malcolm In The Middle.

Malcolm In The Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)

This is another American sitcom that I must admit I haven’t watched a huge amount over the years, but I am definitely aware that this is considered to be one of the most popular (and indeed funniest) of its era. The main character is Malcolm (not to be confused with that weird puppet thing on that game show that I reviewed recently).

He is “in the middle” because he lives with his parents Hal and Lois, and two of his brothers, Reece is older than him, and Dewey is younger (his other older brother Francis is away). Malcolm is a rather bright boy, with an IQ that is well above-average, but he doesn’t always find school to be an easy experience. His only real friend is Stevie, who helps him along the way.

But despite is supposed cleverness, when he is at home, he squabbles with his brothers just as much as any other family does. His parents often have trouble keeping everything under control, including his short-tempered mother who works at a department store. Malcolm sometimes can’t help but wonder what life is all about, and reflects on his situations in pieces straight to camera.

As the series progressed, more attention is made to the aging of the children than there is in most sitcoms. Malcolm entered his teenage years, Francis got married, and Lois eventually gave birth once again, bringing a fifth son into the family. Malcolm didn’t consider his parents to be fairly odd though, because that was another show. This was definitely a step above the “everybody in my family is crazy”-type sitcoms that there have been so many of.

There were 151 episodes of Malcolm In The Middle in seven series, and they have all been released on DVD. This was first shown in this country on Sky One, but really took off when episodes were shown on BBC2, often shown after The Simpsons, to create a rather satisfying double-bill. In more recent years, there have been repeat runs on various other channels.

The theme music “Boss Of Me” was provided by They Might Be Giants, and this also became a hit single, making this the first time that they had been on the UK chart for over a decade. There was also a memorable parody in Family Guy, even accounting for the fact that they have now parodied just about every other show on TV, this one still managed to stand out. I’m talking to you!

More TV Memories – Comic Relief.

Comic Relief (BBC1/BBC2, 1986-present)

It wasn’t really until the mid-80s when singles were realised to support charities that would become chart-toppers and sell in ludicrous amounts, along with endless telethons too. After the groundbreaking success of Live Aid, it was realised that these were ways to raise amounts of money like never before. So the decision was made to host a special show where the biggest comic talent around could perform.

The first edition of Comic Relief was actually a pre-recorded stage show at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, and some of the highlights were then shown on TV. This all seemed to go down rather well, and when the first Comic Relief single topped the chart for a long time itself not long after, it was realised that this idea could have a big future.

Two years later, this was turned into a live telethon show, that took up the majority of the night. And of course, there was the opportunity to buy a red nose, a tradition that has continued ever since, and people across the country were encouraged to do some rather silly things to help raise some money as well. The earliest editions seemed to consist of plenty of fun sketches, featuring some unlikely combinations taking part.

The hosts included the likes of Lenny Henry and Griff Rhys Jones, who rather entertainingly were barely able to hold everything together, and would end up overrunning by about three hours. By the early-90s, this was an event that took place every other year. The variety of red nose designs on offer increased, and the “we don’t know what’ll happen next” air continued to hover over the TV show. There were also further treats like The Great Big Stupid Celebrity Sketch Show (that was the actual title).

There were often special editions of popular sitcoms like Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley too. By the 2000s though, something had changed, and things started to become a little more settled, with several non-comedians hosting, constantly going on about how much we needed to donate right now. The air of unpredictability had gone, and the comedy acts who did perform died rather badly on stage (Mitchell and Webb being one example).

This was rather disappointing, as many felt that there was now little difference between this and Children In Need. Seriously, who cares who the winner of Celebrity Fame Academy is? There have been some innovations in more recent years, including an edition that came live from the O2, where nobody could see or hear anything. Comic Relief is still going and undoubtedly has helped many people around the world, but doesn’t seem to be that much of an event nowadays really.

The Comedy Vault – Goodness Gracious Me.

Goodness Gracious Me (BBC2, 1998-2001, 2014-2015)

This is the sketch show that was one of the more successful comedy shows of its era. Goodness Gracious Me was the show that took a look at life with an Asian twist. The first editions were actually on BBC Radio 4 in 1996, although I didn’t hear them first-time round, but like with many other shows, they have constantly been repeated on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra.

This was well received, and led to the transfer to TV in 1998. And once again, this is a comedy show where I saw the majority of the editions for the first time on UK Play, or PlayUK, or whatever it was called that week (why isn’t this great channel still going?). Their range of regular characters managed to strike a chord with plenty of viewers from various backgrounds.

These included the gossip reporter, the man who thought that everything was Indian, a Bollywood film star, and a rather rude kangaroo. If you were a viewer, you would know why people were starting to say “cheque, please”. Some of the sketches were performed in the studio with a rather basic set design, but the ideas always managed to get across. And whilst maybe not hitting the heights of The Fast Show, this still turned out to be a decent-sized success.

Among the cast members was Dave Lamb, who is better known nowadays for being the rather booming voiceover on a lot of shows, where he has managed to take sarcasm to extraordinarily new levels. By the time of the second series, Goodness Gracious Me was popular enough to be winning awards, and for there to be a stage tour featuring a lot of the now rather familiar characters.

There was also a special theme night, and among the shows was a look behind the scenes (and by this point I think that some editions were repeated on BBC1 in a late-night slot too). Following the third and final series, there was a one-off special featuring sketches made on location in India. And after this, some of the cast stayed together to work on comedy chat show The Kumars At No. 42. The majority of the episodes have been released on DVD.

In more recent years, Goodness Gracious Me was occasionally revived, firstly with a special that was part of BBC2’s 50th anniversary celebrations, meaning that for the first time in about 15 years, the cast got together to go through some of the best-remembered characters again. Further specials were as part of a season about India, and another celebrated 20 years of the TV version.