More TV Memories – Stressed Eric.

Stressed Eric (BBC2, 1998-2000)

The word “stressed” backwards is “desserts” – just think about that. Er, right… Something rather interesting happened on American TV in the 90s, when there was a big wave of animated sitcoms aimed at adults. Where The Simpsons led, many others followed, including King Of The Hill. It seemed a logical step to produce some of these for British TV too.

I’ve already looked back at Bob And Margaret, which is an example of one of these, and this is another one. The main character in Stressed Eric was voiced by Mark Heap, and as you could know by now, I’ll always consider this to be a good move, you can’t really go wrong if he is among your cast. Eric Feeble is a 40-year-old father-of-two who is divorced, and we often hear this thoughts.

Eric’s wife has long-since left him. The two children are his daughter Claire who is allergic to almost everything, along with his son Brian, who almost never speaks, and he likes to eat things that are supposedly inedible. To help out, he has Maria, a teenage Portuguese au pair (who has blue hair!!), but it she is rather useless, and even worse behaved than the children.

At work, Eric’s angry boss is rather demanding like the ones in various 80s pop songs, and he likes to say “arseburgers” all the time (and as far as invented expletives go, that’s got to be up there with “Burt Bacharach!”). When things inevitably go wrong, he likes to yell “Feeble!”, as if he’s in a 50s sitcom or something. Can you believe it.

And then there are the next-door neighbours Mr and Mrs Perfect, supposedly the finest example of a happy family. All of this eventually gets on top of him, and episodes conclude with his heart pumping and his head little short of exploding, it’s a rather bold move to essentially make your main character’s catchphrase “woooarrggh!”. Oh Eric, will you ever win?

Stressed Eric was an Absolutely production, meaning that Morwenna Banks and Gordon Kennedy were among the cast providing the voices, as were Alexander Armstrong and Rebecca Front. There were 13 episodes in two series, and there were plenty of changes for the second, including a switch to widescreen and digital animation, along with moving timeslot from 10pm to 6:45pm. There were also repeat runs on BBC Choice and UK Play.

Interestingly, Stressed Eric was sold to an American market, with Eric’s voice being redubbed by Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons fame), and about five minutes had to be edited out to fit the timeslot. This wasn’t really a success though, with many critics feeling that this didn’t have much to offer that could rival The Simpsons or any similar show.

More TV Memories – Bagpuss.

Bagpuss (BBC2, 1974)

I don’t usually like to review children’s TV shows from the 60s and 70s, as they were from long before I came along, but this one featured in repeat runs for such a long time that this has ended up meaning a lot to generations of younger viewers, not just the ones who were lucky enough to watch this first time round. This was a stop-motion animated show, from the same team behind The Clangers and Ivor The Engine.

This is the series that featured Bagpuss, the saggy old pink-and-white cloth cat, who lives in a shop seemingly a rather long time ago alongside several other characters. There were also Madeleine the doll, Gabriel the toad, along with several mice, and Professor Yaffle, the rather old and clever woodpecker. Every edition would follow the same format.

Bagpuss would do a big yawn, and all of the characters would suddenly come to life. None of the toys that I had on my shelf when I was younger ever came to life, well as far as I know. There would be in item that was broken. Professor Yaffle would determine what it was, and the mice would fix it while the toad performed a song, and Bagpuss looked on with wonder.

All of this would usually be accompanied by an animated sequence featuring a story. And when this was done, everybody went back to sleep. It’s surprise to realise that there were only 13 episodes of Bagpuss, as they were repeated frequently on the BBC into the mid-80s, and I’m fairly sure that they’ve also been repeated on Channel 4 and several other channels since.

I think that Bagpuss also appeared in an exhibition at a museum not too far from where I live, well I presume that it was the real one, everyone would’ve been starstruck. It has faded a little, and the legs have started to come loose… and I can’t imagine what Bagpuss looks like now (applause). I have a little toy one myself which is rather adorable.

All of the episodes have been released on VHS and DVD, there have been several books, and apparently this was also once voted the best children’s TV show in the world ever. When trying to find out more, I saw the phrase “there is much banter between the characters”, so I presume that in more recent years they have all gone on to host the breakfast show on a local radio station.

More TV Memories – Video Nation Shorts.

Video Nation Shorts (BBC2, 1994-2000)

This is a show that I thought I’d review because I always found it rather curious. With the advancements in technology, there were several shows in the 90s based around camcorders. Not only were there educational shows that explained how to get the best out of them, there were also lots of those “home video howlers”-type shows that captured the funniest moments.

And there were also the “video diary”-type documentary shows, where we were given access to people who wanted to show us their routine at home or work, or offer their opinions on things. I do remember that there was a series like this on CBBC called As Seen On TV (not to be confused with the later BBC1 game show), and there was also Video Nation.

This was where people from all over the country showed us their life, and then this was all put together to try and create a capture of Britain on a particular day or subject. Then the decision was made to take some of these videos and show them individually, in the spin-off series Video Nation Shorts. Following a brief introduction, we would discover what they were up to, and a lot of ideas were tried out.

But it was the scheduling of these that was rather curious too. The majority of these were shown before Newsnight, usually after a comedy show had ended, or whatever was in the 10pm slot. Because for some reason it seems that Newsnight has to begin at 10:32. This did mean though that a lot of people got their two minutes of fame (and these really were about two minutes long) on TV.

This seemed to end up running for longer than the original series it was based on. There would often be shows around this time that were only about five or ten minutes long that had a creative idea, but this one was so short that it was practically considered to be between the shows rather than one itself. And well, the people of Britain, what characters they clearly all are.

The number of editions of Video Nation Shorts eventually ran into the hundreds, maybe there were even over a thousand shown. But this come to an end after a while, and you wouldn’t really need a show like this on TV now. This is because something like this is much easier to do, people can put every single moment of their life online to share with people, and everyone will be hugely interested I’m sure.

More TV Memories – Des O’Connor Tonight.

Des O’Connor Tonight (BBC2, 1977-1982, ITV, 1983-2002)

Des O’Connor is someone whose career in showbusiness lasted for over five decades, he was the lad from Stepney done good. As well as being a chart-topping crooner, he was also a comedian and TV host, was there anything he couldn’t do? Morecambe and Wise were always keen to mock his music, but he didn’t mind that much really because this meant that he got to appear on their show on several occasions.

His main show Des O’Connor Tonight launched on BBC2 in the 70s, and moved to ITV in the 80s, and this is the version that I remember. This always seemed to be shown on Wednesdays at 8pm, year after year, without fail. This was essentially a chat show crossed with a variety showcase. And cue the orchestra! This show is well-remembered for featuring comedians.

They could be up-and-coming ones, veterans, or even visiting from America. Either way, this was a good chance to raise your profile. This wouldn’t be an interview as such though, as Des would play the straightman to let them do as much of their routine as they could. And well, the noisy, cackling audiences seemed to appreciate this. Lots of people have said that Des deserves more credit for championing comedy. Where would Bradley Walsh and Joe Pasquale be now without him?

And there was also the musical element. Various singers were keen to take part too, and Des might even join in if you’re lucky. Along with this, there were several specials and compilations. By the 90s, Des was also hosting game shows Take Your Pick and Pot Of Gold. Des O’Connor Tonight was a long-running show that never really ended as such, but did seem to become more occasional.

The final editions were mostly half-hour specials featuring only one guest being interviewed. Then, just like most shows on ITV1 at this time, it seemed to end with little ceremony. But Des would be back. In the mid-2000s he co-hosted the live daytime show Today With Des And Mel, and he also hosted Countdown for two years, meaning that by this point he was actually appearing on TV more than ever, and remained as popular.

More TV Memories – Ed Stone Is Dead.

Ed Stone Is Dead (BBC Choice, 2002-2003)

This is a sitcom from the later days of BBC Choice, refreshing TV for the digital age. There seem to be no clips of this show online, and only one picture of the cast together, but as I do remember watching this, I might as well do a review. Richard Blackwood is someone who was a host on MTV in the late-90s, before going on to his own late-night stand-up comedy show on Channel 4.

He was often claimed to be the next big thing, and after a while he became popular enough to even have some hit singles (“who da man” and all that). About a year or two on from this, he was a host of Top Of The Pops, and he had the lead role in this sitcom which had an unusual idea. Ed Stone (which sounds like “headstone”, do you see, ha-ha) is fatally hit by a bus one day, which is rather disappointing for him.

But there has been a miscalculation by the Grim Reaper, and his time isn’t up just yet. So it is decided that Ed sort-of becomes half-dead, meaning that he can continue his life, although he can now not do things like taste what he eats or drinks, feel pain, and so on. Ed tries to take advantage of this, and often talks to Nigel, a Grim Reaper-type representative, who is a big Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan.

Ed’s flatmates soon realise that there is something different about him, and what a crazy bunch they are! There’s Adam and Scotty, along with Kate (who is fond of Ed, and it must’ve been an interesting moment when he explained to her that strictly speaking he isn’t alive) and Beth, the quirky American one, because you’ve got to have one of them, haven’t you.

There was only one 13-episode series of Ed Stone Is Dead, which seemed to do well for BBC Choice, and I was a regular viewer. There has been no DVD release though. Among the writers were Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, who would go on to work on Channel 4’s Peep Show, and plenty of other comedy talent turned up, including Johnny Vegas, Catherine Tate, and Robert Webb.

There was some difficulty determining who exactly the audience was for this though, whether this was aimed at teenagers, or older adults. There was a repeat run on teenage channel Trouble, and presumably edits had to be made. Some episodes were also repeated in the unlikely slot of Sunday Morning on BBC2. And a few years on, there was another repeat run, on Freeview channel FTN.

More TV Memories – Transmission Impossible.

Transmission Impossible (BBC2, 1996-1997)

The comedy double-act Trevor And Simon first found fame when they appeared on the first series of CBBC Saturday Morning show Going Live! in 1987, where they created and played a rather bizarre group of characters that earned plenty of laughs. Among their most popular characters were the folk musicians The Singing Corner, who in 1990 even got as far as releasing a single that was a minor hit, and appearing on the cover of NME (yes, really).

They left Going Live! after the fourth series in 1991, to be replaced by another double-act. It was around this point that they went on tour across the country, and some tapes were released that featured highlights of their silliest sketches. I never had these myself, but those that did seemed to be really fond of them, watching them so frequently, that they could practically recite them word for word (and probably still can to this day).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00019-12.jpg

They returned for the sixth and final series of Going Live! in 1992, and stayed on for the launch of the successor Live & Kicking in 1993. This gave them an opportunity to introduce even more characters. In 1995, they were given their own summer special on BBC1. And a year after this, Transmission Impossible was launched, in an evening slot on BBC2.

This was essentially all of their sketches from the previous week’s Live & Kicking put into one 15-minute show (the features Electric Circus and Hit, Miss Or Maybe were also shown as standalone shows on BBC2 around this time). The characters who featured included the art critics, Picklin’ Jeff who would try to pickle anything, a look at various things in How It Works, and an investigation into the paranormal.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00021-7.jpg

And any celebrities who happened to be around in the studio would be encouraged to take part in a sketch with them, and it was always good seeing who would be game enough to be mildly embarrassed by their antics. After the second series of Transmission Impossible ended in 1997, Trevor And Simon left Live & Kicking (having done this for almost a decade by this point).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00022-6.jpg

In the years since, although they haven’t appeared on TV a huge amount, they have contributed to a few other CBBC shows as writers, along with working on various other comedy projects (and they seem to be rather good at Pointless too which is terrific). A lot of people who are around my age still think fondly of them, and it’s rather clear to see why.

The Comedy Vault – Porridge.

Porridge (BBC2, 1973, BBC1, 1974-1977)

As I have said before, I have never really been a huge fan of 70s sitcoms, mostly because I wasn’t there to watch them at the time, although I am definitely familiar with this one because it is one of the successful sitcoms that this country has produced, and it is also one of the few from this era that is still in the repeats loop, and is probably on Gold right now.

Porridge started out as a pilot episode called Prisoner And Escort. The writers had hoped to develop this into a series, but when the BBC were unsure, they took the idea to ITV, which became the sitcom Thick As Thieves. But this only lasted for one series, by which time the BBC had finally decided to give this one a full series, which turned out to be a very good idea.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00022-5.jpg

The thing that really made Porridge stand out for many was that this was set in a prison, which didn’t seem like it was a suitable place for a sitcom at first. But mostly, it’s because the main character was played by Ronnie Barker. Now I personally have always preferred Open All Hours, as this is a sitcom with a much harder edge than that one.

But it really is remarkable to think that the smart-talking Fletcher and stingy shopkeeper Arkwright were played by the same person (or indeed the same person who was in The Two Ronnies), and that really is a tribute to Barker’s ability to portray his characters. Fletcher is a criminal who is in prison once again, although he insists that this will be the final time.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00023-3.jpg

Over the years, he has certainly learned how to hold his own and deal with things, always hoping to talk his way out of situations and get one up on his fellow inmates and wardens. But then he is joined by the younger Godber, who is in prison for the first time, and Fletcher soon realises that he has to somewhat steer him through this difficult period.

There were also lots of other memorable characters, including an appearance by David Jason as an elderly prisoner, it turned out that there were indeed plenty of laughs to be had, and a Bafta for best comedy was deservedly won. There were three series of Porridge, including two specials, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD.

There was then the spin-off series Going Straight, where Fletcher adjusted to life after prison, although this was less successful with viewers, and I plan to review that one soon too. After this there was a film, and then for some reason, in more recent years the format of Porridge was revived, and it clearly runs in the family as this time Fletcher’s grandson was in prison, but this was a one-series wonder.

Game Show Memories – House Of Games.

House Of Games (BBC2, 2017-present)

Recently I reviewed Two Tribes, a game show that was hosted by Richard Osman (after his appearances as co-host on Pointless raised his profile, although he had been working behind the scenes in TV since the 90s). That didn’t do too badly, but then he went on to host another game show in the same timeslot that has gone on to do even better.

I must admit that I didn’t see much of the earliest editions of House Of Games, but then I did eventually get into it and realise why this has become popular with viewers. Four celebrities take part, who appear in five editions throughout the week, and they play various rounds that are a little more creative than the usual general knowledge questions.

Five rounds are played in every edition, and Richard presses the button to reveal what they will be. These have included What’s In A Name, The Answer’s In The Question, and there have now been dozens of variations. There are also rounds where the celebrities have to play as a team, or write their answers on a screen. The final round is usually Answer Smash.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00018-4.jpg

There are lots of points awarded (or deducted), and unusually for a game show with celebrities taking part, there are some prizes on offer, but they are amusingly small, such as maybe an umbrella, or some binoculars, but they really do want to play for them. The maximum score is 24 points, and the highest-scorer at the end of the week also receives a special trophy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00020-5.jpg

A lot of people have become fond of House Of Games, and it is rather clear to me why. Even though there is a competitive element to some extent, there is also a warm atmosphere with plenty of amusing moments, viewers can play along, and it is interesting seeing the celebrities showing off some of the more unusual areas of their knowledge thanks to the creative questions and challenges.

This has done well enough for there to be a spin-off series on primetime BBC1 called House Of Games Night, which features more rounds, and a band in the studio and everything! There have also been specials where weekly champions have played against each other, there has been a book released, and there have been lots of repeat runs on Dave.

More TV Memories – Is It Bill Bailey.

Is It Bill Bailey (BBC2, 1998)

This is yet another show that falls into the category of “something that I only vaguely remember from the time that deserves to be featured here”. Bill Bailey is a comedian who first came on the scene in the 90s, and soon he was winning awards, and making several TV appearances. This is because his style of being a surreal musical comedian could be classed as unique.

He also has a rather distinctive look, with his long hair and beard, and there is a general oddball air around what he does. After proving that he has what it takes to perform, in the late-90s he was given a TV show of his own in a late-night slot (it’s a shame that new comedy shows aren’t tried out in this slot on BBC2 now) which was Is It Bill Bailey.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00015-2.jpg

Whether it was with his guitar, or even at the piano, he would perform some amusing songs. He also had the ability to perform unusual versions of various TV themes, and what songs would sound like if they were performed by groups in various genres. Inbetween all of this, he also liked to go on some rather bizarre flights of fancy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00016-1.jpg

And along with what was happening the studio, there were also various sketches on location, among the people appearing in these was Simon Pegg, who was about to become a big name in comedy too. There was only one series of Is It Bill Bailey, and it hasn’t been seen since, with no repeat run or DVD release, which is rather disappointing, because this was very enjoyable.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00019-2.jpg

We should be pleased that this definitely wasn’t the last that we would see of him on TV though. He has gone on to appear in various sitcoms including Spaced and Black Books (Pegg appeared in both of these too), along with films including Hot Fuzz, and he also managed the difficult task of appearing several times on Never Mind The Buzzcocks whilst managing to retain his dignity.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00017-2.jpg

He has also been on several tours where he has performed his mix of music and comedy across the country, and these have been successful, because plenty of people have realised that nobody else really does it like he does. And recently he endeared himself to a more mainstream audience by winning Strictly Come Dancing, which has led to further acclaim.

More TV Memories – I ❤️ The 1990s.

I ❤️ The 1990s (BBC2, 2001)

Following the I ❤️ The 1970s and I ❤️ The 1980s series that were a success with viewers, it made sense to have a look back at yet another decade of pop culture highlights. I ❤️ The 1990s featured references to all of the big trends of the time, including TV shows, pop groups (all of those boy bands), films, toys, adverts, and lots more. Beavis And Butt-Head, The Simpsons, Mr Blobby, what remarkable times they were.

As I was old enough to remember this decade, there’s no doubt that a lot of memories came flashing back for me, and it was a rather strange experience. You don’t realise at the time that there will come a point where it was all rather a long time ago really. As ever, there were plenty of contributions from people who were a part of this, along with plenty of others who also had their memories to share.

However, as this followed on so quickly from the previous two series, it did feel like there was some fatigue beginning to creep into the format, and was even beginning to border on self-parody. I do remember being particularly amused by some of Johnny Vegas’s comments on old adverts and various other things, but it seemed that the joke has been stretched as far as it could be really.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00017-1.jpg

Every edition was an hour long, when the previous series had ran to 90 minutes every week. And another thing that was said by many viewers about this show at the time was “why is I ❤️ 1999 made in 2001 when it was only two years ago?”. Maybe it would’ve been a better idea to have waited a while and made this in more recent years.

But this does remind me that there has never been a I ❤️ The 2000s or even I ❤️ The 2010s equivalent, maybe that could be done one day. And rather curiously, a few years ago, some editions were repeated for no particular reason in a random order, and they had been condensed to 30 minutes. The weird thing is that you can almost get nostalgic about this genre of TV in itself now. I wonder if Stuart Maconie has anything amusing to say about that