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…

More TV Memories – The 11 O’Clock Show.

The 11 O’Clock Show (Channel 4, 1998-2000)

Over the years, there have been several attempts at creating late-night topical comedy shows that are also durable in this country. Several of them haven’t really succeeded, mostly because of the demands of having to produce so much quality material, and so little time to do it in, but this show was a better attempt than others, and is also notable for boosting the careers of a lot of comic talent.

The 11 O’Clock Show was usually shown three times a week, and the original hosting line-up included Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan. Lee liked to do voxpop interviews with the public, usually asking them bizarre questions. Donovan often liked to do this too, but with politicians, and several ended up baffled. They would also reflect in the studio on what was happening in the day’s news, usually in a rather brash style.

Also occasionally featuring in some series were contributions from Mackenzie Crook and Ricky Gervais (taking some time off from shouting at people and laughing too much on his XFM radio show), offering their skewed views on the world, and they would work together later on The Office, the rather successful sitcom. But even they didn’t attract the biggest attention from viewers.

This came from Sasha Baron Cohen and his character Ali G, who was supposedly representing the youth of Britain, and once again, he asked the questions to prominent figures that others wouldn’t dream of. This became popular enough for there to be the spin-off comedy series Da Ali G Show, and there was a film too. It was great, innit. This character was left behind after this though.

By the fifth and final series though (which was always shown much later than 11 o’clock by this point), Lee and Donovan both departed, and a new hosting duo was quickly put together, consisting of Jon Holmes (who later became known for perfecting being sacked from various radio stations for his antics), and Sarah Alexander (best-known at the time for Coupling and Smack The Pony).

However, they ended up struggling somewhat as the idea had run out of steam by this point, with over 100 editions in just two years. After this, Lee has contributed to various TV shows, radio stations, and magazines, while Donovan made more shows for Channel 4 including the documentary series Daisy Daisy, and she also hosted the short-lived comedy panel game Does Doug Know?

More TV Memories – The Chart Show 1987 Special.

The Chart Show 1987 Special (Channel 4, 1987)

This is another The Chart Show end-of-year special, back in the days when this was shown on Channel 4. This was a longer than usual edition, featuring the Top Tens of the year in the five main charts that featured at the time, with a few awards as well. I’m not sure of the exact date that this was shown, but obviously it would be around December 1987/January 1988.

We begin with the Best New Act award, which goes to Wet Wet Wet, who narrowly beat Rick Astley. And then we have the Dance chart of the year. There is no video to “I Found Lovin'” by The Fatback Band, so the opening sequence to the Dance chart is shown again, but with an additional girl spinning on a ball whilst playing the cymbals, who was never seen before or since, how strange.

The videos that are played are by Living In A Box, Madonna, Levert, and Whitney Houston. The Number One is by Rick Astley, who isn’t played which gives a hint that we might be seeing some more of him later on. Then there is Best Foreign Video, which goes to Crowded House. Next is the Heavy Metal chart (which hadn’t been renamed Rock yet).

Played are Kiss, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, and the Number One by Heart. And then, almost half-an-hour into the show, we get the first advert break! Then we have The One That Got Away, which is by Inxs, although I get the feeling that they will have a big hit in this country eventually. Then we go on to the Albums chart. This was when compilations were still in the main chart, before being placed into a chart of its own.

Played are Terence Trent D’Arby (featured on the compilation “Hits 6”), Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and the Number One is “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Next is the Worst Video of the year, which goes to Anita Dobson with “Talking Of Love”. This really is rather rotten. The runners-up were Sheena Easton and Samantha Fox. Next we go on into the Indie chart.

Played are The Sugarcubes (a song in Icelandic by a band barely anybody had heard of at the time being shown on Channel 4 in primetime is rather remarkable), Erasure, Nina Simone, and the Number One by M/A/R/R/S. Then there’s a preview of some videos coming in 1988, and the next advert break. The Tip For 1988 is REM, just ahead of Big Pig and The La’s. Again, give them a few more years and they’ll reach the top.

Finally, there’s the Top Ten singles of the year. Played are The Bee Gees, Starship, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Bruce Willis, and the Number One is indeed Rick Astley. After another 1988 preview (including Bananarama), the Best Video of the year is revealed as “True Faith” by New Order, a worthy winner. The runners-up were “Faith” by George Michael, and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.

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.

More TV Memories – So Graham Norton.

So Graham Norton (Channel 4, 1998-2002)/V Graham Norton (Channel 4, 2002-2003)

Graham Norton is the Irish-born comedian and TV host who first found fame when he appeared in a few shows rather late at night in the mid-90s. He then went on to stand in for Jack Docherty on his Channel 5 show, and he made such an impression that he won an award ahead of Docherty, which is something that will never not be rather amusing.

And then, Channel 4 decided to give him his own chat show. So Graham Norton would usually feature one or two guests in every edition, and this would also be the opportunity for Graham to show off his rather outrageous style of humour. He would often phone people, and what they liked to get up to was rather a surprise, or visit websites that were rather unusual.

But Graham was never embarrassed by this, well most of the time. There would also be games and sketches. This did well enough for there to be several specials, and he was even chosen to bring in the new century/millennium etc. on Channel 4 with a live spectacular. Some of the highlights were also released on VHS. After about three or four years of this, he had grown in popularity.

The decision was made to extend his show to five nights a week, and be renamed V Graham Norton. There were plenty more fun moments, but this did seem to exhaust what remaining fresh energy there was in the idea, and there were also stories that they were struggling to get enough guests to fill the days, and so on. And then, Graham was poached by the BBC.

He has gone on to host several entertainment-type formats on Saturday nights, proving that he can alter his style to be suitable to a more mainstream audience, but hardly any of these went on to be a success (who remembers Any Dream Will Do now?), with the exception of becoming the commentator of the TV coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest.

He then launched The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, and after the demise of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, this show became the first pick for A-list Hollywood stars to appear (although they usually had a film to plug). Maybe this wasn’t as naughty as the Channel 4 show, but he still managed to get plenty of value out of his guests (and that joke with the chair), and this has now ran for several years.

More TV Memories – Phil Kay Feels…

Phil Kay Feels… (Channel 4, 1997)

There used to be a time (and maybe there still is) when Channel 4 would give a comedy show to any comedian who happened to be vaguely in fashion. One example is when a lot of the people who took part in the early editions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? were given their own series to show off more of their skills. And this is someone else who got their moment of fame.

Phil Kay (no relation to Peter I imagine) is a Scottish comedian who had been on the scene since the late-80s. His rather distinctive style meant that he was given his own series, shown rather late at night on Fridays. Every week in Phil Kay Feels… he would take a look at a different subject, and the editions were suffixed Natural, Technical, Lovely, Entertaining, Sporty, and Wet.

He would come on stage and improvise his material, going off into all kinds of bizarre areas, and hopefully the studio audience had realised that they might end up having to participate too. A few pre-recorded sketches were included as well. There are a few amusing moments that I remember. The first was the opening sequence, where Phil would draw a picture based on that week’s subject.

And there was also a show where he had a sausage, and he suddenly made a Grange Hill joke which was amusing, before this idea had become a rather worn-out and cliched nostalgic reference. A lot of the audience participation was memorable too. But there was also the time when in the Natural edition, he came on stage in the nude, which is definitely a way to get people’s attention.

There was only one series of Phil Kay Feels…, but he has made a few TV appearances since. He was in the one-off sitcom Lust For Glorious, he starred in the UK Play show Next Stop Phil Kay where he toured the country, and he was also a panellist in some of the early editions of QI. He has continued to perform on the stand-up circuit, and he is now something of a veteran.

The YouTube Files – Never Mind The Horrocks.

Never Mind The Horrocks (Channel 4, 1996)

This is another comedy show that I have read about and been interested in seeing for a while, and once again YouTube has delivered for me. Jane Horrocks is someone who caused a stir with her performances as the rather dotty Bubble in sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, so it was decided to give her a show of her own, to show off some more of her talent.

Never Mind The Horrocks was a 50-minute show that featured a combination of comedy sketches and music. It does have to be said that there really was a terrific support cast, who were Alexander Armstrong, Martin Clunes, Rebecca Front, Mel Giedroyc, David Haig, and Philip Pope, while TV host Angela Rippon also made a guest appearance.

Indeed, such was the talent on display that they all threatened to overshadow Jane to some extent, as this show was intended to mainly be a showcase for her. Some of the characters who she did play were rather memorable though. These included an old-fashioned children’s TV host, and a rather frazzled rock singer, who only appeared briefly.

She also took the opportunity to do some impressions, including Cilla Black, and perform some songs, which she was definitely rather good at, including one in the style of Marlene Dietrich. And she proved herself to be someone who would go to any length for a laugh, and well, French And Saunders couldn’t have done any better themselves really.

There was only one edition of Never Mind The Horrocks, and maybe this was intended to be a one-off, but the combination of all this was promising enough that a full series could’ve been made. But after this, Jane has gone on to further success, including more series of Absolutely Fabulous, the film Little Voice, the sitcom Trollied, and, er, that Tesco advert.

More TV Memories – An Audience With…

An Audience With… (ITV/Channel 4, 1980-present)

This is possibly the ultimate LWT light entertainment studio audience laughter turned up too loud show, being unashamedly showbiz, and this unsurprisingly ended up being very popular with viewers. An Audience With… is an occasional series, usually consisting of editions that are an hour long, that originally only featured comedians.

They would perform some of their most famous material to a specially invited audiences of friends and celebrities. There was also the opportunity for some of them to ask questions, although these exchanges were usually scripted in advance. This also results in there being too many shots of audience members, usually conveniently caught in hysterics.

There are some significant moments in this show’s history. In 1980, there was the first edition with Dame Edna Everage. And in 1988, Dame Edna became the first and to date only personality to have had three shows. In 1993, Les Dawson died shortly before he was due to feature. Curiously, about two decades later, this show actually went ahead as The An Audience With That Never Was.

Relatives and friends reflected on his career, and then they attended a show featuring archive footage of Dawson’s jokes. In 1994, Bob Monkhouse featured, and this gave his career something of a boost, as he reminded viewers of his skills as a comedian. In 1995, shows starring musicians featured for the first time. And in 1996, Carlton launched the almost identical An Evening With… which ran for just two editions.

As the years went by though, the celebrity audiences seemed to mostly consist of only Coronation Street and Emmerdale cast members, along with the contestants from the most recent series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, and An Audience With Coronation Street wasn’t a highpoint really, but this was where ITV happened to be at this time.

There have also been best-ofs and documentaries that looked back at some of the highlights, at least one edition has been shown live, and several have also been frequently repeated. There have now been over 50 editions of An Audience With… and although there has only been about one in the past decade, I’m fairly sure that this is still an active show, so there could be more chances to almost burst with laughter one day.

Game Show Memories – The Countdown Top 50 (Part 5).

And now… here are the ten people who have made the most appearances in dictionary corner over the past four decades…

10th: Jan Harvey (134 appearances, 1992-2002) Jan is an actress who has appeared in Howards’ Way… and… er, lots of other things I’m sure.

9th: Paul Zenon (145 appearances, 2004-2021) Paul is a magician. In the 90s, he showed off his skills on some CBBC shows including Tricky Business and Tricks And Tracks. So unsurprisingly he often takes the chance to dazzle and show off his crazy tricks. You won’t believe what he can do with a pack of cards. His mate Arbie The Robot would be proud I’m sure.

8th: Martin Jarvis (152 appearances, 1990-2008) Martin is another successful actor, who has a very nice voice and cosy presence, which is probably why he turned up so often.

7th: Geoffrey Durham (164 appearances, 1995-2006) Geoffrey is a magician. In the 80s, he was known as “The Great Soprendo”, and he was also married to the much-missed Victoria Wood. By the 90s though, he had lost a lot of weight, and was a rather regular presence in the corner. As well as tricks, he would also set puzzles that viewers could ponder during the break, and then reveal the solution.

6th: Phil Hammond (170 appearances, 2006-2021) Phil has a double career as a doctor and a comedian. He used to be in a comedy group called Struck Off And Die (ha-ha), and as well as making jokes about healthcare, he would make lots of serious points as well. He has also written books, and made documentaries.

5th: Richard Digance (173 appearances, 1996-2020) Richard is a comedian and musician, who became known as “The West Ham Warbler”. He had several TV series in the 80s and 90s, where he would tell jokes in a rather dour style, and he would play his guitar and perform his comedy songs. This means that he always had a rather bizarre anecdote or two to tell.

4th: Philip Franks (176 appearances, 1992-2006) Philip is an actor, who is best-known for appearing in The Darling Buds Of May, which was one of the most successful TV dramas of its era, and also Heartbeat. He is one of the more cultured guests, he set puzzles that were usually based around lists, and he would go on about famous writers and poets. He was also in the corner for Richard Whiteley’s final edition.

3rd: Nigel Rees (184 appearances, 1984-2001) Nigel is a writer who is best-known for hosting the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game Quote… Unquote, and compiling books about humorous graffiti. Which is great news for people who find phrases like “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure” amusing. He is also something of a Richard Whiteley lookalike. And when he made his 100th appearance in the corner, he was given a bottle of champagne to mark the occasion.

2nd: Richard Stilgoe (240 appearances, 1985-2006) Richard’s talents are rather hard to define. He has been a songwriter and musician, he became known for performing songs that reflected on what was happening in the news, although he always liked to look on the brighter side, on shows including That’s Life! He has also worked in musicals, and has done a lot of charitable work. He is best-known for making anagrams of the contestants’ names, which are sometimes rather bizarre. He has also received a knighthood, presumably for his contribution to charity, not anagrams.

1st: Gyles Brandreth (333 appearances, 1983-2017) As if it could’ve been anyone else! The ultimate dictionary dweller, Gyles is just about the quintessential Countdown guest. Even people who aren’t too familiar with this show would know that throughout the 80s and 90s, Gyles could often be found making his observations, usually whilst wearing some horrid knitwear. He has had a remarkable career, there really is little that he hasn’t attempted to do, he is also a keen Scrabble fan, and he seemingly has an amusing anecdote for every occasion. Nobody else really does it like Gyles. Congratulations!

Well I hope that you found this interesting, why not tell me your favourite. Next, I might as well do a list of the other important element of Countdown, the hosts, co-hosts, and lexicographers. That’ll be soon…

Game Show Memories – The Countdown Top 50 (Part 4).

More excitement (possibly) as positions 20-11 are revealed of most appearances in Dictionary Corner…

=19th: Ned Sherrin (87 appearances, 1983-2000) Ned was someone who had a rather varied career. He was a satirist, who contributed to That Was The Week That Was. He was also the host of long-running radio series Counterpoint and Loose Ends. And he was an author as well.

=19th: Rick Wakeman (87 appearances, 1997-2008) Rick is a musician, who is best-known for being a member of the group Yes. He can play ten keyboards at the same time apparently. And he is also someone who insisted he won’t appear again, still bitter about how Carol Vorderman’s departure was handled.

18th: Gloria Hunniford (88 appearances, 1998-2021) Gloria is a TV and radio host. Her TV work includes hosting chat shows, and she also had a rather long association with BBC Radio 2. Her daughter was a successful TV host too.

17th: Ken Bruce (89 appearances, 1986-2013) Ken has had a rather long career in radio. He joined BBC Radio 2 in the 80s, and he briefly hosted the Breakfast Show, before moving to the mid-morning slot, where he has remained ever since. His what always has to be called a “Celtic twang” has been enjoyed by listeners for many years. He also hosts PopMaster, and is the radio commentator on the Eurovision Song Contest.

16th: Jon Culshaw (98 appearances, 2011-2022) Jon is a comedian who is best-known for being an impressionist. He was a regular on the radio and TV versions of Dead Ringers, before going on to other comedy shows where he has shown off his range of voices. He also likes to do prank phone calls, usually as the voice of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who to tell them that there is about to be an alien invasion or something.

15th: Keith Barron (99 appearances, 1999-2008) Keith was an actor who appeared in lots of TV shows throughout his long career. Among the most popular was the 80s sitcom Duty Free.

14th: Jo Brand (100 appearances, 1998-2022) Jo first became known as the comedian who had something of a deadpan style, and took no nonsense from anyone. Some were surprised when Jo was revealed to be a fan of this show, but she has appeared regularly, and she also took part as a contestant in the first celebrity series, and the 18th anniversary special.

13th: Tim Rice (115 appearances, 1989-2020) Tim is best-known as a songwriter and composer, being behind several successful musicals and films. He has even won an Oscar. But best of all, he was on the team that put together the early editions of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles, how terrific.

12th: Bill Tidy (116 appearances, 1985-1993) Bill is a cartoonist, and some of his strips have appeared in magazines including Private Eye, and newspapers including the Daily Mirror. He often used to whip his pen out and draw a quick picture, and then reveal what the joke was, which was always enjoyable. He was also among the contestants in a special game for the 500th edition.

11th: Tom O’Connor (121 appearances, 1996-2008) Tom started out as a teacher, before becoming famous as a comedian. He used to tell stories in a rather easy-going style that steered clear of vulgarity. He also hosted a few game shows, including Name That Tune and Cross Wits.

The Top Ten is coming soon…