The Comedy Vault – Men Behaving Badly.

Men Behaving Badly (ITV, 1992, BBC1, 1994-1999)

Men Behaving Badly was a sitcom that was written by Simon Nye. The show originally starred Martin Clunes (as Gary) and Harry Enfield (as Dermot) as two young flatmates who tried to get through life. Enfield had been a great success in sketch shows but looked a little more uncomfortable in a sitcom so he decided to leave after the first series, and he was replaced by Neil Morrissey (Tony) who along with Gary became the show’s best-known double act. Also appearing were Dorothy and Deborah who lived nearby. vlcsnap-01078

Gary works in an office alongside two very dull middle-aged colleagues which bores him greatly, so he often likes to spend his spare time partying with Tony, and they both have a rather laddish outlook on life. They could often be found in the local pub, and when they were at home, there was always a can of lager nearby. They also liked to flirt with the two ladies and just about any other woman they met but they often embarrassed themselves. Most episodes ended with Gary and Tony sat on their sofa in front of the TV thinking about what they had learned from what had happened to them in the episode (which wasn’t much). vlcsnap-01072

Men Behaving Badly got off to a fairly quiet start and its success almost didn’t happen. The first two series were shown on ITV in 1992 in a pre-9pm slot and they didn’t get a big response from viewers, so the show ended. A couple of years later, the production company thinking the characters still had potential decided to take the show to BBC1, where it returned for a third series in a post-9pm slot allowing for more bad behaviour from the men and it really began to make a big impact, and eventually it became one of the most successful British sitcoms of the 90s. vlcsnap-01074

Men Behaving Badly eventually ran for six series. It won many awards and also had a few Radio Times covers. Because of the popularity of the show, in 1998 they decided to bring it to an end by doing the same with what they did with Only Fools And Horses. When that show ended (for five years at least), there were three extra-length episodes shown in quick succession over Christmas which were a huge success. In the final trilogy of this show Deborah gave birth in the very last episode. vlcsnap-01071

Men Behaving Badly was released in the fairly early days of DVD, so unfortunately there aren’t that many extras included beyond a few funny out-takes that you have to press a few buttons to find. Another thing that I remember about Men Behaving Badly was that because it always did well in the ratings, some episodes (from around the series four or five point) seemed to be repeated frequently on BBC1 in the late-90s, but I always enjoyed watching them as they were among my favourite episodes and they are still really enjoyable now.

The YouTube Files – A classic Stars In Their Eyes moment.

Stars In Their Eyes (ITV, 1994)

Recently I wrote a blog piece about when I discovered something about the pop group Bananarama that really blew my mind, if you haven’t read it yet, you should! Whilst putting the piece together I was reminiscing about Siobhan Fahey’s other group, top goth-rockers Shakespear’s Sister, and when trying to track down some more information, I had an odd thought: “were they ever done on Stars In Their Eyes?”. As far as I know, people could only take part individually, performing as solo artists or the frontman or woman from groups, I’m not aware of duos being able to appear, so I thought it was rather unlikely, oh well, it would’ve been good but it was just a thought, it doesn’t matter. vlcsnap-01020

I’ve already written about Stars In Their Eyes on here and I’m sure you remember how it all works, the main elements being Matthew Kelly and his waistcoats, people coming on stage to perform as their pop idol for five minutes of fame, an entertaining Saturday night show on ITV throughout the 90s. When I was fiddling about on Google recently, I noticed an image of a YouTube video thumbnail of what appeared to be Matthew welcoming two women to the stage. I thought that duos didn’t take part. Then I thought, well, two young women, performing as a duo, how many successful female pop duos were there in the early-90s… wait a moment, they’re not going to be… are they? You are kidding me. vlcsnap-01018

So I tracked down the video to watch on YouTube (in fuzzy YouTube-o-Vision, but it’s better than nothing for now), and Emma and Julie who both work in a pub in Oswestry, Shropshire (who can also do a great impression of Zig and Zag) went through those famous doors, and well shut my face, they only did come back out as Siobhan and Marcella didn’t they? I know that Stars In Their Eyes liked to feature a wide variety of pop acts, from 50s crooners to 90s indie blokes, but I never expected this, the show was about to get a little weird. And of course they go on to perform the 1992 chart-topping blockbuster “Stay”. The performance is also rather faithful to the famous award-winning video, there’s even a dead man (well probably) wheeled on to the stage to crank up the emotion. (I should also point out that this edition is from 1994 by which point Siobhan and Marcella had gone their separate ways.) vlcsnap-01050

How did they do? Well they definitely didn’t do too badly at imitating them, as if there could ever be another, and then at the end Matthew kindly congratulated the ladies on their performance, the experience really had been a dream come true for them. They didn’t win though however, they were beaten by Jim Reeves who went into the final. I am so thrilled to discover that it actually happened though, two ladies wanting to do that on ITV prime-time in what must be the most bizarre moment in the 16-year history of Stars In Their Eyes, I can only wonder what viewers made of it. I’ll try and stop going on about Shakespear’s Sister now, I really should buy their album one day… 

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EXTRA! They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so along with Stars In Their Eyes, here are three other occasions that I’m aware of where people donned the old make-up to imitate Shakespear’s Sister in various TV shows in the early-90s. First, the most famous one is by French and Saunders (with Dawn French as Siobhan and Jennifer Saunders as Marcella), who memorably parodied their videos “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Stay”, and “I Don’t Care”. (In 1989 French and Saunders did a parody of Bananarama for Comic Relief as Lananeeneenoonoo, With Dawn French as Keren, Jennifer Saunders as Sara and Kathy Burke as Jacquie. Also, Marcella Detroit appeared in two episodes of Jennifer Saunders’s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous). Second, in the sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience, there was a parody by Robert Newman (as Marcella) and David Baddiel (as Siobhan), who were introduced as “that equally talented vocal partnership”, the joke being that Siobhan literally honked her way through the songs and was outshone by Marcella. Best of all, proof that they had become a cultural reference was when the video for the 1993 Christmas Number One by Noel Edmonds’s mate Mr Blobby also featured a parody of the “Stay” video. Now there’s a legacy to be proud of! vlcsnap-01057

The YouTube Files – An Evening With LWT.

An Evening With LWT (ITV, 1987)

After writing a piece about an old continuity clip from the Thames region that I enjoyed watching on YouTube, I wanted to do the equivalent for LWT, the other ITV region that we could get in London. Recently I did come across an old LWT continuity clip and I liked it so much that I “liked” it if that makes sense, and I decided that it was worth reviewing here. It was shown on 18 July 1987 (just after my 4th birthday) and features adverts and continuity around the late film 9 To 5. It was uploaded to YouTube by a user called “thesearethedays” so credit goes to them. vlcsnap-00988

Just before the film, there are the LWT News Headlines. LWT still didn’t have a proper news service at this point, the continuity announcer appeared in-vision to read the news, it wasn’t until the start of 1988 that their regular news programme launched. Then there’s the famous LWT ident which was introduced in 1986 and was used for a few years which I am just about old enough to remember. I also wanted to highlight some of my favourite adverts that appear in the clip. vlcsnap-00989

One notable one is for Budweiser where some men sing “The Tracks Of My Tears”. One of them looks a little like a young Jerome Flynn. I’m not sure if it is him or not, but I do know that he had three Number One singles in the 90s with his mate Robson Green so seemingly all that singing in adverts came in useful eventually. There is also an advert for the Five Alive drink that came in cartons. Without wishing to sound too cliched, I’m not sure if they still make this drink, whatever happened to it? I definitely remember it. vlcsnap-00992

There is also a rather odd advert for the Cadbury’s Double Decker chocolate bar, it’s “crunchy and chewy”. Also featuring are adverts for Diet Pepsi (with NutraSweet!) and Miller Lite with the “it ain’t heavy” slogan, which about a year later would lead to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by The Hollies becoming a Number One single after it was used as part of this campaign. We then come to my favourite advert in the whole clip… vlcsnap-00994

It’s Cadbury’s Crunchie! I’ve always liked this advert, it’s rather hard to describe it though. It features someone with a horrid suit and big bow-tie saying that Crunchie bars give him “that Friday feeling”, and it also seems to use a lot of creative stop-motion effects, none of the advert seems to be computer generated. The “thank Crunchie it’s Friday” slogan was used for a long time and I still remember it. It’s just a shame that I actually don’t like Crunchies… vlcsnap-00996

Then there’s an advert for radio station LBC influenced by TV show The Prisoner. I don’t think that the current LBC on-air is related to this version of LBC, but there have been so many owners and relaunches it’s difficult to keep track of the history. Then that’s it. Following the weather, there’s a look at the programmes that are coming on Sunday evening, including game show Tarby’s Frame Game and an episode from the first series of sitcom Watching. This is followed by the National Anthem (Thames never played it) and what has to be one of the final closedowns on LWT before they went 24-hours. It was really great to watch this clip and be able to go back in time nearly three decades. After all this time I still really enjoy old continuity clips, and this is definitely one of the best that I’ve seen from the LWT region. vlcsnap-00997

The YouTube Files – The Great Bong.

The Great Bong (ITV/Channel 4, 1993-1994-ish)

Recently I bought some old editions of TV Times online, hoping to bring back some memories of various shows that I watched. One of them was from 1994 and covered the HTV region. Even though I’ve never been there myself, I still thought that it would be interesting to look at. I started by looking at Saturday’s schedule on ITV which reminded me of when I used to watch the CITV Saturday Morning show, which was followed by another favourite of mine The Chart Show.

Then following this was the 12:30pm timeslot where I remember various shows were tried out including Movies Games And Videos, rotten sitcom The Munsters Today, some game show that was hosted by Dominik Diamond, and many others. On this day I noticed that in this slot there was a show called The Great Bong. I don’t ever remember seeing this myself, I don’t think that it was ever shown on CITV or in my region LWT, and the description made me rather curious as to what the show was all about, so I asked on Twitter if anyone knew anything more about it. 

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What’s going on here?

I was told that it was a children’s show which contained puppets, and after seeing a picture I thought that they looked a little like the cast of The Winjin’ Pom, a show that I really enjoyed in the early-90s and it was one of the first that I wrote about on here, but I don’t think that it’s made by the same people. I was also told that the voices were provided by Stanley Unwin (who voiced Bong), Michael Bentine (Spudley), Spike Milligan (Ogmore) and Barbara Windsor (Mabel), which is a rather impressive cast. So I began to think to myself, this sounds good, I would like to see some of this, is there any on YouTube? vlcsnap-00979

So I had a look and discovered that there was, although it comes to about two minutes worth, only the opening and closing sequences. It seems that the main character was a magician called Bong who lived in an old oak tree who was always creating crazy spells and they all have various adventures. It also seems that 26 episodes were made and they were shown on Channel 4 on early Sunday mornings, and also on HTV as well because they co-produced the show. vlcsnap-00980

The Great Bong seems to be a rather odd show, I probably would have become a fan and watched it regularly if I had ever seen it in the early-90s. However, there isn’t a huge amount about the show online and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but it is always good to track down something curious almost 25 years after it first appeared on TV because just when I think I’ve come across them all I still get surprised. vlcsnap-00987

More TV Memories – Bob’s Fab Ads.

Bob’s Fab Ads (ITV, 1996)

As I’m sure you have realised if you are a regular to this blog and my Twitter and YouTube channel, I am a fan of old adverts. A while ago I wrote a piece on a VHS compilation of classic adverts hosted by John Peel called Ad Fab which has been one of my favourite blog pieces to put together, but the world of TV advertising has been celebrated and analysed much beyond this of course.

There have been several comedy programmes on BBC1 throughout the years which have looked back at funny adverts in the Commercial Breakdown series which has been hosted by comedians including Jasper Carrott and many others, Clive James and Chris Tarrant have hosted equivalent shows on ITV, and Channel 4 also revealed what viewers thought were the 100 greatest TV adverts during the period when list programmes were very popular.

I remember there was another programme that looked back at funny British TV adverts which was called Bob’s Fab Ads and was hosted by the great Bob Monkhouse. This was a one-off hour long show where Bob looked back at famous adverts and he also spoke to a couple of guests who worked in the advertising industry. After discovering that my sister recorded this show I hoped to review it here but we’ve been unable to track down the tape, so I was very pleased when the show was recently uploaded to YouTube by Neil Miles and thanks goes to him for saving some time going through dusty old cupboards. vlcsnap-00784

After Bob had parked his car at the top of the ramp in the studio, he introduced various adverts, and it was clear that he was a fan of what he called mini masterpieces. Most TV adverts only last for 30 seconds, so they have to grab viewers’ attention right away, and many different methods are used. Celebrities might appear, jingles might be made, or there might be a memorable slogan. Humour is of course one way of doing it, and making people laugh will definitely help them remember what you were selling and hopefully they’ll end up buying your brand of dog food even if they don’t have a dog. vlcsnap-00792

When Bob’s Fab Ads was shown, ITV had been running for just over 40 years, and among the classics from the archive shown were famous campaigns for Heineken, PG Tips, John Smith’s and Carling Black Label. There was also a look at some adverts that were now rather old-fashioned or unintentionally humorous including those ones for absurd products such as the “thumb waiter”, a plate which you could stick your thumb through to help grip it which Bob enjoyed mocking. vlcsnap-00791

We also saw adverts for such memorable campaigns as R White’s “secret lemonade drinker”, Maxell’s “me ears are alight”, and Pepsi, and adverts starring the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Leonard Rossiter and Frankie Howerd. Bob also rather gamely admitted that he’d starred in an advert or two looking for laughs as well as sales over the years, and we were shown an advert from 1959 where Bob got a little too overexcited whilst selling a Mars bar. vlcsnap-00801

Bob’s Fab Ads was a great show, it was always enjoyable to watch Bob, and around the time that the show was made in the mid-90s his career was back on the up after he had won over a new generation of fans with his comedy talent. If I ever track down any more similar shows about adverts I’ll review those here too, but until then why not take a look at the show yourself using the video down below! 

The Comedy Vault – Alfresco.

Alfresco (ITV, 1983-1984)

Having enjoyed such various comedy shows as A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, I was interested in seeing an earlier sketch show which featured Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie called Alfresco, so when it was released on DVD by Network I was very pleased. Alfresco was so-called because the majority of sketches were shot on location using the latest technology, and the cast also featured Ben Elton (who wrote the majority of the sketches), Robbie Coltrane, Siobhan Redmond and Emma Thompson, who all went on to bigger things, including winning an Oscar. vlcsnap-00678

Before Alfresco launched, a three-part series called There’s Nothing To Worry About! was shown only in the Granada region in 1982 which featured almost the same cast, and this features on the DVD too. Alfresco was another show which featured only a small amount of regular characters, and there were no catchphrases as such, but a lot of ideas were tried out, such as Fry and Laurie playing the characters Alan and Bernard who enjoyed fiddling around with their fancy new video recorder. vlcsnap-00684

Some sketches that I enjoyed in the first series included a parody of University Challenge which featured Fry as the host, not long after he had appeared on the show for real as a contestant, the rather bizarre Airplane!-style exchanges between Mr Butcher and Mr Baker, and a sketch where Elton played an aspiring footballer which featured a guest appearance from Elton Welsby as the host of Granadaland show Kick Off before he became ITV’s football presenter. vlcsnap-00688

There was a change of format to the second series, which was set in a pretend pub, with Coltrane playing the pretend landlord, Redmond playing a pretend barmaid, and the others also taking part as various regulars. Fry and Laurie also contributed some sketches which featured zingers like “I suppose you think it’s somehow amusing to go around saying things that are funny”. Also, most sketches were introduced as if they were an individual panel in a comic strip, now where have I seen that idea before? I did enjoy Fry and Laurie’s contributions to Alfresco, and in the decade or so that they performed comedy together, from Jeeves And Wooster to Alliance And Leicester, they were a class act. vlcsnap-00689

It turns out that Alfresco actually wasn’t a very successful show with viewers at the time, being shown rather late at night, and the only time it’s been seen on TV since was when a few editions were repeated on Granada Plus. I did enjoy watching it though because it was great seeing a lot of promising comedy talent blossoming as the shows went by, as if discovering a secret bonus series of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie.

The YouTube Files – Press Your Luck.

Press Your Luck (CBS, 1983-1986)

I am a big fan of game shows, you might have noticed, but I don’t know much about the history of American ones. So when I was having a look on YouTube, I wondered what American game shows I might like that might be something of an institution in America, but not very well known over here, and one that I came across a while ago that I thought was interesting was an 80s show called Press Your Luck which was hosted by Peter Tomarken. vlcsnap-00474

Three contestants took part and they had to answer general knowledge questions to earn spins. They then used those spins to play on the big board. This had 18 squares on it which had pictures of various prizes on them such as cash values or bonus spins that rotated, and one of the squares would be illuminated. When they pressed their button, the sequence would stop and they would win whatever they landed on, but there was something that added tension and made winning a little more difficult. vlcsnap-00472

There were also what were called Whammies that would appear on the board, and if a contestant landed on one of those, their earnings from their previous spins would be wiped out so they had to beware. If a contestant landed on four Whammies throughout the game, they would be eliminated. At the end of the show, the highest scoring contestant kept the prizes that they had won, and they could return the next day as the reigning champion. But it really was just all about luck as to what you’d win… wasn’t it? vlcsnap-00476

Press Your Luck is known nowadays for a remarkable scandal, it’s been well documented but I was really surprised when I found out about it. In 1984, Michael Larson, who had watched the show regularly appeared as a contestant and he exploited two flaws with the technology. He had noticed that two screens never had a Whammy appear in them, and he also noticed that the order in which the screens flashed was a predetermined sequence rather than random, so if he remembered the pattern and always landed on those two squares he could make lots of money.
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His spin ended up taking so long that it had to be shown over two editions, and by the end he had made so much money that it could just about be displayed on his scoreboard in full. At some point people must have realised that his making 45 consecutive spins without hitting a Whammy was far too much of a coincidence to only be luck, and there was a debate as to whether he had cheated or not, but they let him keep the massive $110,000 that he had won. In 2003 there was also an interesting documentary made about this story called Big Bucks.

It seems that there was a British version of Press Your Luck made, but it was only shown in the HTV West region in the early-90s, and it was hosted by Paul Coia of Catchword fame. I haven’t seen any of it for myself, but I do know that contestants played for points, and the overall star prize for the winner was just £200. It wasn’t a big success, but I do think that a new version with big money on offer could be successful in this country. I’ll have a look at some more American game shows soon.