The Comedy Vault – Time Trumpet.

Time Trumpet (BBC2, 2006)

A while ago, I reviewed 2004: The Stupid Version, a look back at some of the news events of the year that happened, and some that actually didn’t. Because of the rather surreal but still somewhat satirical style, it was no surprise to learn that Armando Iannucci was behind this, who also contributed to the likes of The Day Today and The Friday Night Armistice.

After this was well received, it was decided to do a full series, and to twist the idea even further, the result was little like any other comedy show around. Time Trumpet was supposedly set in the year 2031 (25 years on from when this was actually made), and various people reminisced about famous news events that were in years that actually hadn’t happened yet.

In every edition, Armando would interview various comedians, although they preferred to be known as important cultural commentators, and they included Richard Ayoade and Adam Buxton, who definitely had a lot to say. Also featuring would be various politicians, TV hosts, and so on, but they are all now much older, and they reflected on the time when they were in the news.

Are they all now rather bitter that their moment of fame has practically become a footnote in history? Well of course. There were also various clips that had been manipulated in some way, along with a look at what happened at the Olympics, and some popular TV shows that had some rather odd ideas. But the icing on the cream really did have to be an appearance by Andy Hodgson off the award-winning Bid TV.

He played the host of a shopping channel that only sold bacon all day. That’s a bargain, just grab it. They should’ve given Andy a comedy show of his own on BBC2. There was only one series of Time Trumpet, which has been released on DVD. This didn’t seem to be as well received as 2004: The Stupid Version was by some critics, but this was still an intriguingly odd take on the world.

More TV Memories – The Dave Gorman Collection.

The Dave Gorman Collection (BBC2, 2001)/Dave Gorman’s Important Astrology Experiment (BBC2, 2002)

Dave Gorman is a comedian whose style isn’t like many others. While most simply perform their stand-up routine on-stage and offer their jokes and observations on life, Gorman liked to tell stories about the bizarre ideas that he went to extreme lengths to achieve. He had already been on the comedy scene for about a decade, when found fame with his show.

One day, he discovered that there was someone else who was called Dave Gorman, who was a football assistant manager in Scotland. After going to meet him, he thought that there could be other namesakes, and as there seem to be a rather large amount of people who have the first name Dave, maybe this couldn’t be too difficult. He then decided to take the challenge to meet 54 other people called Dave Gorman, wherever they may be in the world.

He featured his story of how this all happened in the book Are You Dave Gorman?, and a successful stage show, along with the TV show The Dave Gorman Collection. There was also a time when he lived not too far away from where I do in London, but I imagine that he wasn’t there that often, and for all I know, there was probably a sign often on his front door that said “I’ve gone off to America for a day or two to meet a namesake!”.

Indeed, he does end up meeting a huge amount of people called Dave Gorman, who had various jobs, and all have a story to tell. And he has documented how he achieved all of this. He must’ve realised that this was going to dilute his feeling of individuality somewhat, but he remained committed to the task. Following this success, he decided to take on more unusual ideas.

A year on, he had a new TV series called Dave Gorman’s Important Astrology Experiment. In this, he followed his daily horoscope in the newspaper, and did what was recommended to the word, meaning once again he ended up getting into lots of bizarre situations. He then went on to do further stage shows including his Googlewhack Adventure (that I reviewed a while back), and hosted comedy panel game Genius.

And in more recent years, he has continued to perform. Rather suitably, he joined the channel Dave, and he hosted further comedy series including Modern Life Is Goodish and Terms And Conditions Apply, where in his now familiar style, he used graphs and pictures to explain his thoughts, as he tried to make some more sense of the world around him.

More TV Memories – The death of the Queen.

It is always a sombre moment for this country when we lose our monarch and head of state, but somehow, this one seemed to hurt more than most. This is a look at of some of the TV and radio coverage of the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, which will be remembered for years to come. There has always been an unusual thing that has hung over British TV. The moment when the picture would fade away for the important news report that announces the death of a monarch. Could it happen during a primetime sitcom? Could it happen during a daytime game show? Could it even happen at about 3am when barely anyone is watching?

As it turned out, this sort-of happened before the actual death. On BBC1, at about 12:40pm, Bargain Hunt faded away, and viewers joined the News channel, after Buckingham Palace had taken the unprecedented step of announcing that doctors had become concerned for Her Majesty’s wellbeing. She had most recently been seen just two days earlier, welcoming the 15th Prime Minister of her reign. It was a reminder of last year when the Palace constantly insisted that Prince Philip was “in good spirits” when he was actually on his deathbed, meaning that the announcement of his death was more of a shock than it should’ve been, and you got the feeling that the public weren’t going to be fooled again.

The coverage remained on BBC1 for the rest of the afternoon, by which point Huw Edwards had taken over as host. There was a constant eye on happenings at Balmoral, where Her Majesty was residing, and family members were spotted making their arrivals, to say their goodbyes as it turned out. And just as it looked like all of the speculation about what exactly was happening had been exhausted, and the coverage was going to end, it was noticed that the flag on the top of Buckingham Palace was being lowered to half-mast. And then, at just after 6:30pm, and many hours after shows were initially interrupted, the moment that so many had dreaded had come.

As far as the BBC was concerned, this moment was always going to be delivered by Edwards. He had been a reporter since the late-80s, and he slowly worked his way up, becoming their main host by the early-2000s, and he was often seen on The 10 O’Clock News. Unlike what happened with Diana in 1997, it was fairly obvious that this moment had long since been prepared for and much rehearsed. Edwards began his announcement, but then there was a brief pause as BBC2 viewers joined. And then, the national anthem was played, and it was at this point that TV essentially went into sombre mode for the days to come.

Alongside Edwards in the studio was royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell (my mum once had a dream that he had died…), who seems to be a much derided figure for some reason. Edwards had to achieve the difficult task of hosting whilst being poignant and respectful, but without crossing the line into being “a bower and a scraper” (an accusation that has been thrown at Witchell). It was clear that both of them had been moved by the occasion, and they both spoke well as they reflected on the end of the longest reign in British history. It was a relief to many that this was all well received by viewers, and seemed to strike the right tone.

I very much doubt that Edwards was angling for a honour by doing all this, but other hosts including Alistair Burnet and Trevor McDonald have been recognised for their news work, so it could be possible. It also reminds you of the famous time when news host Walter Cronkite had to announce the assassination of President Kennedy, and he pretty much became one of the most revered and trusted figures in American broadcasting for years. His handling of this event should only strengthen the idea that Edwards is the leading host on the BBC.

As for the other channels, ITV started a news special at 5pm, meaning that viewers had to go without The Chase (and I imagine that they were NOT happy), but tough luck. Mary Nightingale was the host, although the announcement wasn’t as slick as on the BBC, mostly because Nightingale didn’t seem to know where her glasses were, but again, overall this was well handled. Channel 4 pulled the episode of Hollyoaks that had started only a minute or two earlier to go to Cathy Newman, while Channel 5 extended their news, and Dan Walker (who had recently been poached from the BBC) announced for them. There was also the unusual situation of there being no advert breaks on ITV, Channel 4, or Channel 5 for the next day or two.

And on Sky News, Dermot Murnaghan (who also announced the news about Diana when he worked for ITN) was stood outside Buckingham Palace, and he seemed to be rather dazed and lost for words about the whole experience. Various non-news channels pulled their shows and their advert breaks for a short while too. National and local radio stations also carried the announcement, and they went into sombre mode for a while. But they didn’t play any downbeat classical music, as they might’ve done not so long ago, instead they played a few pop songs, and ended up sounding like Smooth FM in a bad mood.

I think that this was all rather different to what happened with Diana 25 years ago. That news came out of nowhere, and channels had very little planned. There also seemed to be an undertone of anger from the public. While they mourned, a “this shouldn’t have happened” feeling was never far from the surface of the sadness. But that wasn’t the case this time. And as for myself, I was surprised because I was moved more than I thought I would be. And, like many other people, I took a moment to think about some of my much-missed relatives. These included a great-granddad who lived to 96 years old, the same age that Her Majesty did, although he had long since been stricken. It is remarkable to think that she reigned for so long, and was able to fulfil her duty to just about the very end.

And it was weird to think that this had finally happened, and for the first time in seven decades, there was a King on the throne. There had always been reports in Private Eye magazine that Charles was increasingly bored and frustrated with being heir, being one step away from his destiny for so long, giving the impression that he desperately craved being monarch, although I don’t think that was ever the case. There were also various documentaries and obituaries in the days leading up to the state funeral, which was an occasion where barely a foot was put wrong (and the BBC should be grateful that the biggest stir in coverage with viewers was caused on ITV by This Morning). I get the feeling that things will never be the same again…

The Comedy Vault – Marion And Geoff.

Marion And Geoff (BBC2, 2000-2003)

This is a sitcom that starred Rob Brydon, and this was the one that really helped to make his name as a comic actor, long before Gavin And Stacey (although he had already been on TV for about a decade even at this point as a host on some little-seen satellite channels late at night). One notable thing about Marion And Geoff is that these people actually don’t feature.

The only regular cast member was Keith. He is a taxi driver who is going through a divorce, after Marion left him for her work colleague Geoff. In the first series, every episode was only ten minutes long, and consisted of Keith in his car reflecting on life. Far from being downbeat about the whole situation, he always tries to be optimistic, feeling that somehow it could be worse.

He is constantly talking about his now estranged wife and his two sons, even though they have no more interest in seeing him. Looking on the bright side of life is definitely a help to him, as he slowly realises that his marriage and career are falling apart. This soon did well enough with viewers for there to be a DVD release and win some awards, and further shows expanded on the idea.

After the first series, there was the one-off A Small Summer Party, where for the first time we see Marion and Geoff, and this is the point where the marriage reaches the end. And then there was a second series, this time the episodes were half-an-hour long. Keith has now moved on in his life somewhat, but he still misses his wife and the two children, without ever really realising that the feeling isn’t mutual.

After this, Brydon went on tour to perform on stage as Keith. And finally, there was The Keith Barrat Show, which was a comedy chat show. Brydon in character would interview real-life celebrity couples, hoping to discover their secrets of a long and happy marriage, whilst offering plenty of advice of his own. He does believe that life can’t be anything but “nice”, however you feel.

The Comedy Vault – The Mrs Merton Show.

The Mrs Merton Show (BBC2, 1995, BBC1, 1996-1998)/Mrs Merton And Malcolm (BBC1, 1999)

Following on from The Kumars At No. 42, this is another comedy chat show. The character of Mrs Merton (no relation to Paul) was created and played by the late Caroline Aherne (who was credited as Caroline Hook during her brief marriage to musician Peter Hook), and first appeared on TV in the early-90s. And by the mid-90s, Aherne had become famous after contributing to the first series of The Fast Show.

Then her character was given a show on BBC2. Mrs Merton is a pensioner who comes across as rather reserved at first, but then comes out with some unexpectedly bizarre or rude questions. All of her guests were celebrities, some of them willingly played along (yes, Paul Daniels and all that), while rather oddly some of them didn’t seem to realise that she was a fictional character and they couldn’t believe how crude this old lady was being.

She would often be joined by a studio audience of pensioners, and they would be encouraged to have a “heated debate” about various topics, and occasionally her son Malcolm (Craig Cash) would appear too. This did well enough with viewers to be promoted to BBC1 after a couple of series (and Mrs Merton was even making the cover of Radio Times by this point).

This led to there being a few specials made in America. But by the fifth and final series, it was decided that the idea had worn a little thin, but Mrs Merton had long since by this point become one of the most popular TV comedy characters of this era, and there has been a DVD release. But she would be seen one last time (let’s not think about those British Gas adverts for now though).

This time the format was a sitcom. In 1999, Mrs Merton And Malcolm launched on BBC1, and this was where we saw their life at home in the north west of England. The only other regular cast member is neighbour Arthur (played by Brian Murphy, who recently had his 90th birthday), who often visits. This did have a rather old-fashioned and downbeat feel though, and wasn’t a big success.

However, this ended up being completely overshadowed by the first series of sitcom The Royle Family (also written by and starring Aherne and Cash), which had been shown a few months earlier, to the point that this has just about been totally forgotten by comparison. There hasn’t been a repeat run in recent years though, and the character of Mrs Merton was retired after this.

More TV Memories – The Kumars At No. 42.

The Kumars At No. 42 (BBC2, 2001-2004, BBC1, 2005-2006)/The Kumars (Sky One, 2014)

This is a comedy show with a difference, that features many of the people who contributed to sketch show Goodness Gracious Me. The Kumars At No. 42 was a comedy chat show, in a style similar to The Mrs Merton Show. The idea is that they are a family who live in London, and we see them at their home, which is rather unusual, because this contains a TV studio, and there’s plenty of room to fit in an audience too.

I can only imagine what their neighbours thought of all of this. Sanjeev invites various celebrities into his home, where they meet the rest of his family. He then goes on to conduct an interview, and asks various questions. But the fun comes in from his parents and gran who are watching on, and they like to interrupt and ask the guests much more outrageous questions.

And of course, this causes lots of amusing moments. Hopefully the celebrities have realised what they are letting themselves in for. But the decent line-ups that they managed to attract to take part (and get the joke) definitely enhanced this show. The Kumars At No. 42 ended up doing rather well for BBC2, appearing in a Monday evening slot for several series, winning awards, and then being promoted to BBC1 for the later series.

They ended up becoming popular enough to be chosen in 2003 to perform the single released in aid of that year’s Comic Relief. Their version of “Spirit In The Sky” went on to be a chart-topper (the third time that song has been Number One in this country), and they were even brave enough to collaborate with Gareth Gates on this. Well it might be no “The Stonk”, but it was still rather good fun.

There were some repeat runs on BBC Choice, but I don’t recall seeing this much in recent years though. But then, curiously, about a decade after the original version ended, Sky One briefly revived the idea, with the title being shortened to The Kumars, and the family picking up where they left off. Yet more celebrity guests took part, but this had run out of steam by this point and wasn’t as successful.

The Comedy Vault – 3rd Rock From The Sun.

3rd Rock From The Sun (NBC, 1996-2001)

This is one of the few American sitcoms to have caught my interest over the years. 3rd Rock From The Sun had a science-fiction twist, and took the opportunity to go off in some unusual areas that most other sitcoms couldn’t. The idea is that four aliens assume human form and arrive on Earth, a planet and its people that they are keen to learn more about, and they realise how strange things can be.

This consists of Dick, along with Tommy, Harry, and Sally, known as the Solomons. They soon enter regular human life, and Dick decides to become a professor at a university. Of course, none of them must give away that they are aliens, but it is likely that most people wouldn’t believe them anyway, and their superior is always keeping a keen eye on them from their home planet.

But what is clear to people that they meet including Dr Albright who works at the university with Dick is that they soon realise that there is something a little different about how they respond to various situations. Dick was prone to some unexpected outbursts, Harry would often receive incoming transmissions, Tommy struggled to deal with his changing teenage body, and Sally liked to flirt boldly with everyone and everything.

Most episodes would end with the Solomons sat on their roof trying to make sense of the latest things that they have learned about life. 3rd Rock From The Sun was fairly well received in this country, all of the episodes in the six series have been shown on BBC2 (they all contain “Dick” somewhere in the episode title too). I got into this a little later though when there was a repeat run on the Paramount Comedy Channel.

I do remember watching the special episode where some parts were in 3D, which was very ambitious and enjoyable, and little like anything else that I have seen in a sitcom. In the final episode, they finally returned to their home planet. This has gone on to be repeated on even more channels since, including ITV2, and episodes can be seen on Channel 4 to this day. All of the episodes have been released on DVD too.

Game Show Memories – Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job (BBC2, 1995)

This is another example of coming across a game show that had an interesting description, and unexpectedly finding an edition online. Don’t Give Up Your Day Job was the talent show with a difference. This was shown late on Friday nights, in the slot that was usually occupied by Fantasy Football League at this time, and this was an attempt at doing something for a similar type of audience.

The host was Paul Brophy. A couple of years before this show, he was known for working on CBBC. He provided the voice for the short-lived computer-generated floating cat head thing Ratz, who appeared in the first series of Live & Kicking, and also the last days of the Broom Cupboard, but viewers didn’t take to him as fondly as Edd The Duck that’s for sure.

He was also one of the hosts of the early series of Fully Booked, playing characters like Alistair McAlistair or whatever his name was, and he hosted The End Of The Show Show, so this could be considered to be something of a surprise career change. His catchphrase was “I’m Paul Brophy”, and that really got the studio audience suitably excited.

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job aimed to give new talent a go, whether they were comedians, singers, dancers, and so on. They would send in their tapes of their performances, and they would range from awesome to awful. There would also be a panel of three celebrities who judged them. I presume that these changed every week, but you could end up with unlikely combinations like Jim Bowen and Craig Charles on the panel.

As well as all this, there was also a band, and all of the acts eagerly watching on and waiting for their verdict, I don’t know how they managed to fit everyone in. Tapes would be put into the video recorder, their day job would be revealed, along with what their act was, and the panel had to press the button on their remote control when they’d had enough (accompanied by a comedy “honk” noise).

When all three had pressed their button, the tape stopped immediately (there was a similar idea to this on ITV’s Night Network when they reviewed music videos). There were usually six acts in every edition, and viewers had the chance to vote for their favourite. The weekly winner received the terrible trophy of a golden tape on a stand thing (Paul Brophy, terrible trophy, you’ve gotta have a system).

The worst act of the week though was hit with a hammer (their tape that is, not the actual person). I don’t think that there was a final with an overall series winner though. And Paul also liked to take the opportunity to randomly burst into song. There was only one series of Don’t Give Up Your Day Job, and none of the acts, or indeed Paul, were ever seen on TV again.

The YouTube Files – The Honeymoon’s Over.

The Honeymoon’s Over (BBC2, 1994)

This is another case of “find the description of a show that I don’t remember watching at the time interesting, succeed in finding it online, and decide to do a review”. The Honeymoon’s Over was a one-off pilot episode that was part of the second Comic Asides series (which rather curiously came almost five years after the first). What attracted me to this were the writers and producers.

They were Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse, who definitely know how to put a good comedy together. This one centred around the couple Phil and Helen, who have recently got married, but they seem to argue about everything. If it can be argued about, they will give it a go, to the point where it could be hugely irritating. Most of the other characters were bizarre to the point that they almost didn’t fit into a sitcom at all.

These included Martin, who was Phil’s work colleague at the post office, and he seemed to be mildly obsessed with stamps. And there was also Billy (or “Whizz” as he was known in the dressing room), a bicycle messenger who lived downstairs and liked to shout a lot, and was played by Whitehouse. Phil and Helen like to get away from their troubles by going to the pub, but this doesn’t help.

This is because usually there is Ginger (played by Vic Reeves and credited by his real name), who managed to overshadow everyone else with his rather bizarre turn. He came across more as one of those characters in The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer, or maybe Monkey Trousers, the crazy sketch show that was watched by about three people.

This was almost like two shows in one. Was this trying to be a straightforward sitcom, or a surreal sketch show? Well whatever the idea was, there would only be one episode of The Honeymoon’s Over. But Higson and Whitehouse wouldn’t have to worry, because not long after The Fast Show launched, which was a success on a scale that this flop by their standards was soon forgotten.

The YouTube Files – Does China Exist?

Does China Exist? (BBC2, 1997)

Around the mid-90s, comedian Paul Merton had become well-known for combining his improvisational skills with his ability to create rather surreal images. And at this point he had a go at making a few shows that were pre-scripted and a little more mainstream. As we now know, his ITV sitcom was something of a flop, and his BBC2 one-off sketch show didn’t seem like the right format either.

But once again, he decided to try something a little different. After being interested in how this one fared, I did track this down on YouTube. In Does China Exist?, Paul played the host of a TV show, which seemed to be a parody of both those shows that aimed to explore things like the unexplained, and the ones where the studio audience are invited to debate and just end up all arguing with each other.

There was also an interactive element, where everyone could vote, and the results that really revealed nothing were supposedly very important. As well as looking at the paranormal and conspiracy theories, the idea was to finally decide what the answers were. Is everything really as it seems? Paul was determined to get to the bottom in the studio and reveal the secrets.

Viewers might’ve found it rather difficult to believe their eyes as preconceptions were shattered or something. One thing that appeared to be wrong with Does China Exist? was that as his recent comedy shows had exposed some of his acting shortcomings, this one revealed that Paul wasn’t that much of a TV host either (which wasn’t a good sign, as he would go on to host about 43 series of Room 101).

I don’t know if this was intended to be a one-off, but there were no further editions. A lot of ideas were tried out, but it seems that the jokes were possibly abducted by aliens themselves. And after this, Paul seemingly decided that it would be a better idea to stay in his more comfortable areas of contributing to Just A Minute and Have I Got News For You.