More TV Memories – It’s Kevin.

It’s Kevin (BBC2, 2013)

Kevin Eldon is a comic actor who has contributed to several comedy shows over the years, although he was never the main cast member as such. His long list of credits include Big Train, Fist Of Fun, and I’m Alan Partridge. He was definitely one of those people who fell into the “I know the face, but I don’t know the name” category. So a lot of people were pleased when he was finally given a comedy show of his own, and there was no doubt that he would be the star of this one.

What direction would It’s Kevin go in then? Well there was an indication that this would be something different from the opening sequence, which featured Kevin along with lots of puppet versions of himself performing the opening theme, and this seemed to get increasingly ridiculous with every passing edition (and I always like it when shows do that).

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Most of the sketches took place in a white void (there was a time when a lot of comedy shows seemed to do this). There was also a red sofa, where Kevin would give us his views on life, and sometimes he would be joined by other people, where things would end up taking a rather unusual turn. There were also plenty of sketches, such as parodies of adverts, songs, and also a few regular characters.

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Among these was Paul Hamilton the terrible poet, who Kevin had already played for many years before this show. But the amount of comedy talent that also featured and were happy to play second to Kevin for a change really was impressive. These included Bill Bailey, Harry Enfield, Peter Serafinowicz, and Paul Whitehouse. Imagine having all of those as your comedy mates that you could call on.

It’s Kevin really was an enjoyable show that featured the kind of quirky comedy that I think that BBC2 should be doing. However, it was also rather low-key, and shown in a late-night slot. So of course, there was only one series, although as he had now had his moment in the spotlight, maybe that was as far as Kevin wanted to take the idea. I don’t recall there being a DVD release or repeat run either. After this though, Kevin has continued to contribute to various TV and radio comedy sketch shows as only he can.

The YouTube Files – Jim Tavaré Pictures Presents…

Jim Tavaré Pictures Presents… (BBC2, 1995)

This isn’t the comedy show that I planned to review. I actually wanted to take a look back at The Jim Tavaré Show, because I do remember watching some episodes, and also because it’s a rather rare example of a home-made comedy show on Channel 5 in the late-90s. Unfortunately, there seems to be no trace of this online at the moment.

So instead I thought that I would review a different comedy show from his career. I don’t remember this one from the time, but once I came across the description, I just had to see some of this for myself, and thankfully there is some of this on YouTube. Tavaré started out in stand-up comedy, and eventually he perfected his routine, which usually featured him playing a double-bass as he told his jokes.

This was then turned into a TV show, which must have a unique idea. Jim Tavaré Pictures Presents… was another dialogue-free sitcom with fairly short episodes (just like Les Lives and Harry Hill’s Fruit Fancies that were on BBC2 around the same time). This was a variation on his stand-up act, as Tavaré lived in a world where romances with a double-bass were commonplace (his was credited as “Bassie”), and he ended up getting into all kinds of adventures.

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At a time when there were a lot of quirky comedy shows on TV, this one still managed to stand out. This was a very lavish and creatively put together show, and I definitely approve of what I saw. Also among the writers and cast was Al Murray, who was about to become a familiar comedy name himself. Another thing I couldn’t help but notice was that Tavaré had some hair, because I always thought that he was bald.

There was only one series of Jim Tavaré Pictures Presents…, and as far as I know, there was no repeat run or VHS release, it was just another one of those shows that came and went. Beyond this and his Channel 5 show, Tavaré is probably best-known to viewers for being among the cast of The Sketch Show, and anyone who has worked alongside Lee Mack and Tim Vine must have something going for him. As far as I know, he’s still out there touring to this day.

More TV Memories – 500 Bus Stops.

500 Bus Stops (BBC2, 1997)

This is another quirky comedy show that was shown in a late-night slot on BBC2, although this is yet another one that I didn’t come across until there was a repeat run on UK Play. I know I keep going about it, but this really was a great channel, and I can’t believe that this closed almost two decades ago now. Graham Fellows is a comedian and musician who first found fame in 1978 when he had a Top Ten hit single with “Jilted John”.

Not long after this, he briefly appeared in Coronation Street. By the mid-80s, he had created the character John Shuttleworth, the singer-songwriter from Sheffield, who performed a lot of his songs on his keyboard. He thinks that he is a talent, but he often has a lot of mishaps that lead to him having very little success. By the 90s, he had been established in various BBC radio comedy series, where he played his songs, and gave an insight into his fairly dull life.

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The other regulars were his grumpy wife Mary, and his neighbour and agent Ken (who were voiced by Fellows too). He would also be joined by musical guests and comedians. This became popular enough for there to be a TV series. In 500 Bus Stops, we join John and Ken (who never appears on screen because he is at the camera) as they plan a music tour of the country, and there is going to be a lot of travelling.

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John plans to do this in his car (which he is so fond of, that he has even made a song about that, and his performance of this is one of the highlights for me). Unfortunately, his once trusty car breaks down, meaning that he will have to do the rest of the tour travelling on buses and coaches. We often see John between gigs, thinking about life, and in various shops and cafes, even the thought of having some pie, chips and gravy can’t distract him from wondering what is going to happen next.

Due to various misfortunes, he often ends up performing to very small crowds in unlikely places. There were only four episodes of 500 Bus Stops, but they were an enjoyable variation on what the radio series had to offer. Not long after this, John was seen again in Europigeon, where he attempted to have one of his songs chosen to represent a country at the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course he failed, but maybe he could still be in with a chance nowadays, on the basis that the UK couldn’t do any worse than this year, really.

Since then, John and his other characters have featured in more acclaimed radio series (his next comedy character music historian Brian Appleton wasn’t a big success though). He continues to get a lot out of John all these years on, he has also gone on stage several tours, released several CDs, and he turned up in an episode of the TV version of Count Arthur Strong. Hopefully he will tootle his keyboard for a long time to come yet.

The YouTube Files – Les Lives.

Les Lives (BBC2, 1993)

This is a comedy show that I don’t remember watching at the time, but the description intrigued me enough to look for more on YouTube. In the early-90s, Vic Reeves Big Night Out became a success with viewers, and made a big comedy star of the host, along with Bob Mortimer. But they weren’t the only ones who took part. Another regular was Les (Fred Aylward), their mute assistant who was bald and always wore big glasses.

And as it turns out, after Vic and Bob went off to BBC2 to launch a new comedy show, so did Les. It’s no surprise really to discover that this was a show that was rather unusual. Les Lives (which was shown as part of the DEF II strand) was a dialogue-free comedy which had five-minute episodes. I have noticed that some of the more curious comedy shows that I have reviewed over the years have either been dialogue-free or very short, so what would it be possible for Les to get up to in this time?

Before this, little was known about Les beyond the fact that he is rather fond of spirit levels. And we discover that Les lives in a rather unusual world, where trying to do the simple things is rather difficult for him. He always tries to fill the time somehow though. He can do whatever takes his fancy, whether it’s having a haircut (even though he’s bald, ha-ha), or maybe one day he’ll go to the moon, he’s not busy. And you thought that Mr Bean could be odd.

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Needless to say, everybody that he encounters ended up being caught in his chaos. I can definitely say that this lived up to my expectation that this was going to be something rather weird, Vic and Bob themselves couldn’t have done any better. Les Lives only ran for one series, and didn’t have a repeat run (and I don’t recall seeing the Les character on TV again either), but it seems that there was a VHS release.

Game Show Memories – Two Tribes.

Two Tribes (BBC2, 2014-2015)

This has certainly got to be the best game show that shares its title with a chart-topping single from the 80s. Richard Osman is someone who had worked behind the scenes in TV for many years, being a format devisor, producer, comedy writer, and so on, before becoming the co-host of Pointless. He wouldn’t have been too familiar to many viewers at the time, but after showing off his knowledge and wit, he did definitely become popular enough to go it alone.

Two Tribes (not to be confused with The Tribe of course) featured seven contestants (on a studio set that had a lot of greens and pinks in a rather nasty colour clash). They have had to answer a lot of personality questions beforehand, such as “I like football” or “I’m a daydreamer”. One of the questions is picked, and based on their answer, either “yes” or “no”, they are split into two teams, or “tribes” as they are called for this show.

Richard talks to one or two of them about their choice. There are then 60 seconds of general knowledge questions, with one point for a correct answer. If they give a wrong answer though, it is passed down to the next contestant, until a right answer is given, and then everybody is back in play. But if everyone gives a wrong answer, the round ends immediately. The highest-scoring tribe all go into the next round, whilst someone from the lowest-scorers is eliminated.

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This is then done again with the six remaining contestants, with a new personality question chosen. This means that someone in the “yes” tribe in the previous round could now be in the “no” tribe for this one. This is then done once again with five contestants. When four contestants are remaining, this changes to a buzzer round, with the first tribe to score five points making the final.

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There are 60 seconds on the clock for the two remaining contestants who are asked questions alternately, using the chess clock format. When a contestant runs out of time, the winner is declared, and they win £1,000 in vouchers of various things. There was a format change from the second series. The final was reduced to 45 seconds, with the winner going through to play an additional round.

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In this, they had to put four famous people into into tribes. If they do this successfully, they win £1,000. But if not, the money rolls over to the next edition, and a few contestants won over £5,000. Two Tribes was a well-received show where we found out more about the contestants than most, and this was also helped along by Richard’s wit. This replaced Eggheads which usually appeared in this evening slot, but this was much better than that one, although for me just about every game show ever made is.

More TV Memories – The Bubble.

The Bubble (BBC2, 2010)

A huge amount of comedy panel games have come and gone over the years, but this one had a more interesting idea than most, and it was rather a shame that there was only one series. The Bubble was hosted by David Mitchell. Each week, three celebrities took part, and for four days they have to live in a house together that is cut off from the outside world, with no access to any sources of information whatsoever.

This means that they have no TV, radio, newspapers, or internet, and just like Big Brother, they have to pass the time with each other, and hopefully none of them will end up doing a runner. This is because the idea of the show is that they will be given news stories, and they will have to work out which ones really were reported throughout the week while they were locked away, but as fact can be stranger than fiction, this won’t be as easy as it seems.

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After re-entering the world, they had various rounds, including one where they were shown three news reports. As some of them would be on things that hadn’t really happened, they would have to be faked especially for the show. While ITN and Sky took part in these, rather oddly the BBC wouldn’t let any of their reporters take part. This was then turned into a story itself, and none of the panellists guessed that this was true.

There is another round that is rather similar, featuring three newspaper articles, and again having to guess the one that was really featured. Mitchell hosts this show in his usual style, and it was rather amusing when he started to pick apart the format. I know that in radio comedy panel game The Unbelievable Truth, which he also hosted, he occasionally liked to discuss the flaws in the rules, and it was rather unusual to hear a host do that.

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Between rounds, we also saw some brief highlights of what the panellists had got up to while they were in the house, and this was always seemed to deliberately be the most boring thing that they did, whether it was something like playing a board game, or reading a book. There was also an amusing edition when Mitchell’s old mate Robert Webb was a panellist, and he teased him in an “I know something you don’t” style.

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The Bubble is a format that has been sold around the world, and I thought that this was good enough for there to be a second series, but rather surprisingly there wasn’t one. It turned out that BBC2 were keen to continue, but the rather busy Mitchell was unavailable, as he was working on another project, and that was the end of that really. Not long after the end though, there was a short repeat run on Dave.

More TV Memories – What The Papers Say.

What The Papers Say (ITV, 1956-1982, 1989-1990, Channel 4, 1982-1988, BBC2, 1990-2008)

This is a show that I always thought was rather curious, as it seemed to have come from a different era of TV, and eventually ran for over half a century. What The Papers Say is one of the earliest productions by Granada, even pre-dating the likes of the long-running Coronation Street, University Challenge, and World In Action. The format never really changed much over the years though.

Every week a journalist from a national newspaper or magazine who was sat in an empty void would offer their views on the week’s news as it was covered. The opening voiceover always said that this was “discussed by” rather than “hosted by”. They would usually only have about ten minutes to reflect on everything. Of course, the different newspapers would take different angles on events, depending on their readership.

Various things would be quoted (once they’d been cut out of the page with some scissors), and this would lead to what is probably the most famous element of the show. The broadsheet coverage that was mostly read by retired colonels was read by the voiceovers in a rather posh voice, while the tabloids, who liked to express everything using words that contained no more than two syllables, had their coverage read in a rather common voice, trying to capture the “cor blimey shock horror!” tone.

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Honestly, these people went to RADA, is this what they’ve been reduced to? In addition to this, there was The What The Papers Say Awards, an annual ceremony where the best journalism over the past year was rewarded. This is also part of a very small group of shows that have been on three different TV channels. Having started on ITV, when Channel 4 launched, there was a move there, followed by a brief move back to ITV, and then off to BBC2.

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This is where I remember seeing the show, although this seemed to be on in a different timeslot every week, as if it was something that they had lost interest in, and it got to the point where this only seemed to be on because it always had been on, and even though people hadn’t watched regularly for decades (and they never changed the theme music either), it always had to be there in the schedule, although if you ever asked anyone if they saw it they would simply say “is that still going?” – I suppose you could call it Top Of The Pops syndrome.

By the end of the long run, the idea was somewhat outmoded, and a move to BBC Radio 4 to try and attempt to breathe some new life into things didn’t really work. This was because every night on news channels there was a newspaper review, so this kind of thing was now available to watch every day, and none of them have to put on any silly accents either. Cor blimey!

The Comedy Vault – Cambridge Footlights Revue.

Cambridge Footlights Revue (BBC2, 1982)

This is yet another comedy show that features the talents of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, so I want to review this one, and then I promise I’ll stop going on about them (for a week or two at least). This is a show that was included as an extra on the DVD of the second series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, and it’s rather significant as I’m fairly sure that it’s just about the first thing that they did together on TV.

This wasn’t their first TV appearance though. I think that Laurie’s was when he was part of a team that performed some sketches on BBC2’s Saturday Night Sunday Morning in 1979, and the following year of course he participated in The Boat Race. I presume that Fry’s TV debut was when he appeared as a contestant on University Challenge in 1980, so they already both had a few years’ experience of fame.

The Cambridge Footlights has been a famous breeding ground for up-and-coming comedy talent since the 19th century. Many big names started out here. Occasionally the shows that were put together for the stage were adapted for TV, and this one was a performance of 1981’s The Cellar Tapes. As well as Fry and Laurie, also taking part were Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery (who also went on to much more success), Paul Shearer (who appeared in a few other comedy shows), and Penny Dwyer (who was just about never heard of again).

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Cambridge Footlights Revue was written by the cast, and was a one-off special that was 45 minutes long. There were several sketches, along with some musical numbers. Among the highlights were Fry and Laurie as actors trying to perfect their trade, and Thompson as an actress making a gushing speech whilst accepting a prestigious award, which turned out to be rather prophetic. She didn’t turn into a robot at any point though.

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Whoever did watch this at the time would be lucky enough to see the beginnings of a remarkably rich crop of talent. Not long after this, some of the cast went on to There’s Nothing To Worry About and Alfresco, and they never looked back really. This show is almost four decades old now, and little did they realise how many TV shows, films, adverts, and so on, they would go on to appear in, along with the large amount of awards that have been won between them.

The Comedy Vault – Stella Street.

Stella Street (BBC2, 1997-2001)

This is another comedy show that I didn’t see too much of at the time, although that is because this was usually shown in the post-Newsnight slot. There was then a repeat run on good old UK Play. I did see some episodes when this was repeated on the London Live channel, as have a few other sitcoms from the 90s in the past year or two. I didn’t think that channel was set up to do such things, and it is rather odd seeing these shows turn up on TV again after a long time in a slot where original programming should be.

Stella Street had a rather large cast, but the majority of them were played by only two people, Phil Cornwell (who also contributed to impressionism show Dead Ringers, along with many other quirky comedy shows), and John Sessions. The idea is that there is a street in Surrey that looks rather quiet and straightforward, but there is a big difference. Lots of famous people live there, including actors, pop stars, and many more.

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This is a place where for example pop stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards run the corner shop together, or award-winning actors lived next door to each other, with Cornwell and Sessions both playing about a dozen characters each. One of the non-famous regulars is Mrs Huggett, a long-suffering cleaner who has to deal with all of their showbiz antics.

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One of the highlights of this show was Cornwell’s chance to show off his Michael Caine impression again. Caine is one of those people who has such a distinctive voice that everybody likes to try and attempt an impression, but his was better than most. Another notable thing is that this didn’t seem to be a big-budget show, with some of the episodes looking like they were made with camcorders, judging by the rather fuzzy picture quality (although this could be down to watching London Live on Freeview).

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There were four series of Stella Street, and the majority of the episodes were only ten minutes long, but a lot was packed into them, and as the series progressed, further famous characters were added, it got to the point where some viewers seemed to think that this was becoming more like a soap than a sitcom. This was expanded on further in a film, released in 2004. This was a show that made the best of its creative idea, and plenty of episodes have been released on DVD too.

The Comedy Vault – Smith And Jones In Small Doses.

Smith And Jones In Small Doses (BBC2, 1989)

Just before their comedy sketch show moved to BBC1, comedy double-act Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones decided to try and do something a little different. They had often been praised for the naturalistic acting style that they had applied to their sketches, and this show (which was included as a extra on the DVD that wasn’t supposed to be released, it’s a long story) was an opportunity to expand on that.

Smith And Jones In Small Doses consisted of four individual comedy-dramas that were all about 20 minutes long, these were made on location with no laughter track. The majority of these were two-handers (the final part was the only one to feature an additional cast member), that were by various acclaimed writers, including Graeme Garden, and Griff himself. This is a brief analysis of the stories.

In “The Whole Hog”, a businessman is rather shocked to run into his ex-wife, who he hasn’t seen for a rather long time. But he can’t determine if he’s more shocked by the fact that she has had a sex change, or is now the boss of his children’s dolls company! In “The Boat People”, two men spend a rather uncomfortable weekend on a yacht. The mood becomes miserable as it becomes clear that one of them enjoys being on the sea much more than the other one.

In “Second Thoughts”, two men argue about who has had it worst, as they both want to be the first to throw themselves off a new bridge. And in “The Waiting Room”, two priests with rather differing attitudes to their religion try to fill the time with a discussion as they wait. But what is it that they are both waiting for exactly? This one definitely took an unexpected turn.

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The good thing about Smith And Jones In Small Doses was that this was definitely up to the usual standard, and must’ve increased anticipation by viewers for their next sketch series (and there was a repeat run in 1990 to precede that year’s new series too). I don’t know if this series won plenty of awards like much of their other work together did, but it wouldn’t surprise me.