The YouTube Files – Up Your Arts.

Up Your Arts (Channel 4, 1989?)

Following “Ted Heath” (as he probably would’ve put it himself) of Victor Lewis-Smith late last year, I thought that I would take a look at another of his shows that I found online. He was best-known for being a TV critic in the London Evening Standard on weekdays for many years, and for a short while he had a column in the national Daily Mirror at the weekend too (I often read both of these).

He became known for making rather bad taste jokes, and barely liking any of the shows that he reviewed, often despairing at the state of the industry. I would quote some more of his famous jokes, but you know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of being an unoriginal thieving bastard (oh no, I’ve done it again!). He also once managed to get on to the cover of Radio Times.

And it could be said that there were some people who didn’t consider the style of humour in his TV and radio comedy shows (including Ads Infinitum and TV Offal) to be the funniest of its era, although even they would have to concede that they were some of the weirdest. This was a one-off that was a spin-off from Club X, a late-night Channel 4 culture show that was so badly received even The Word looked classy by comparison (if you can believe such a thing).

I’m not even sure when this was shown though (possibly around 1989?), maybe in typical VLS style this just randomly turned up in the schedule one night where an episode of Cheers or some such show was expected to be. Now, despite working in the business for so long, he clearly made a very basic mistake. This show was called Up Your Arts, which sounds a lot like “up your arse”, do you think that nobody noticed, how embarrassing!

This was a parody of arts shows, that looked at various subjects, including, opera, the BBC, showbiz, and foreign films. This led to all kinds of unusual moments, including out-of-context interviews with various industry figures, revealing the difference between Bruce Forsyth and Ben Elton, and the idea that Ceefax took a very long time to reach the page that you wanted to look at.

I also noticed that among the cast taking part in the sketches was Denise Black, who would later go on to find fame as Denise Osbourne in Coronation Street, which is a rather big career swerve. I don’t know if Up Your Arts managed to break the barriers of television as was the possible intention, and this was probably watched by about nine people at the time, but it is proof of how VLS really was a one-off.

The YouTube Files – The Comedy Store.

The Comedy Store (ITV, 1989-1990)

I am always on the lookout for comedy shows that I might not remember from the time, along with the ones that I do remember, so when I come across something interesting on YouTube, it’s always good. The Comedy Store in Leicester Square, London was a venue where a huge amount of comedy talent performed, many of them taking the first steps to becoming rather famous.

Although stand-up isn’t really my favourite style of comedy, this caught my interest because of the way that this was put together, along with the scheduling. The first edition was a special shown shortly before Christmas 1989 in a late-night slot, possibly only in the Thames/LWT region. The host was Chris Tarrant, who introduced the various acts in his usual quirky style.

He wasn’t at the actual club though, just in some empty void. Would we be ready for what these people were about to offer us. And then, there were ten more editions, that were only ten minutes long, and turned up rather erratically in the schedule, giving us only a quick insight into the scene. Well it was something to do whilst waiting for the usual America’s Top Ten and the like.

Among those who featured were double-act Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, along with grumpy Arthur Smith (or Arfur Smif as he now seems to be known). I’m sure that people were soon rolling around! I’ve no idea how well this all went down with viewers, but any possible TV exposure in this era would come in useful. And this was also a Mike Mansfield production, which is always of course a guarantee of quality…

Many years later, there was an unrelated show that took another look at the happenings in The Comedy Store. This was a part of Channel 5’s launch schedule in a late-night slot (indeed, the first edition was shown on the first night on air in 1997). As well as performers from across the country, and across the world taking part, Arfur Smif (er, yes) returned to interview various comedians who performed at the club’s early days including Ben Elton, Bob “MeDinner” Mills, Alexei Sayle, and Frank Skinner.

There were also special editions given over to one performer, including Richard Morton, Phill Jupitus, Rich Hall, and Peter Kay (this was in 1999, and was repeated about 50 times following his subsequent fame). There were 70 editions in six series, ending in 2001, which is a decent amount preserved for the archive, and I think that they were eventually repeated on the Paramount Comedy Channel.

The YouTube Files – Malcolm.

Malcolm (NBC, 1983)

I don’t usually review American game shows, but when I came across this one on YouTube recently, I thought that this was a rather bizarre idea, and it seems that there was only an unaired pilot made. The host was Alex Trebek, who would host many other game shows over the years. But there’s no doubt who the star of this show was. It’s Malcolm!

Malcolm? Seriously though, Malcolm? I did wonder how the character of Malcolm worked at first, because 1983 would be too early for computer-generated images to be rather advanced, and it couldn’t have been a cartoon either. It turned out that this was created using a technique called Aniforms, where a puppet was controlled, but a special effect was used to smooth out the picture, so he did resemble a cartoon.

There was also a rather corny opening sequence where Trebek and Malcolm looked at each other as if they were a comedy double-act, and hopefully they were best buddies too. I suppose that Trebek played the straightman role, as he set up all of the jokes with Malcolm. There were plenty of nice early-80s computer game-style sound effects as well.

Three contestants took part. They would be asked a question, which had a two-word answer. Whoever buzzed in first would have to give the first word to the answer, and whoever buzzed in second gave the second. If they got it right, they both score 10 points. If they get it wrong though, the third contestant is joined by Malcolm to have a go at answering.

When first asked, Malcolm will give a joke answer, in the style of Celebrity Squares. But he will always give the right answer too, the contestant will have to be right to get the points. The first player to score 50 points goes into the bonus round. In this, they are paired with Malcolm. There are eight categories, that contain various prizes, including money and holidays. There are 90 seconds.

Again, they have to give the correct answer together, and if they do, the prize is revealed. Give a second correct answer to win the prize. There isn’t much chance that they’ll get to play all of the categories though, so they have to choose carefully. When time is up, they take what they won, and then the game begins again. They can play again, along with a new contestant. This carried on until time ran out, so I presume that games would’ve straddled.

And this ended with Malcolm commenting on the people in the credits. This was definitely one of the more unusual game show ideas that I have seen. There must’ve been hope that Malcolm would’ve become popular with viewers, or he just could’ve been rather weird and annoying. Trebek probably wasn’t too disappointed though, because not long after, he hosted a pilot of a revival of Jeopardy!, and he never looked back.

The YouTube Files – The Rudy Coby Show.

The Rudy Coby Show (BBC1, 1994)

A while ago, I reviewed The Magic Comedy Strip, an ITV show from the early-90s which was part of the last-gasp of old-school variety. Among the regulars was Joe Pasquale, this is where I remember seeing him on TV for the first time, and he went on to further success with his mix of magic and comedy. There were also some American magicians who often took part.

One of them was Rudy Coby, who had a rather unusual act. He would perform various tricks, and he would usually wear a big white coat, along with having spiky hair. I have wondered if he went on to make any more TV appearances beyond The Magic Comedy Strip, and it seems that he was on BBC1’s The Paul Daniels Show a few times in the late-80s/early-90s.

But I was rather surprised to discover that he did once have a TV show of his own, which I recently spotted on YouTube. However, this was only a one-off that was shown on BBC1 on a Bank Holiday Monday in August, which is a rather quiet time of the year, but it was still more than I expected. The description for this show was rather interesting too.

This insisted that Rudy was something of “a human cartoon”, and deep in his secret laboratory, he goes on a magical journey through a cartoon world. We were also informed that he was a science-fiction hero, and with his range of tricks and optical illusions, we wouldn’t believe our eyes. He even had his own studio band (well, there was some guy at the back with a keyboard).

And barely two minutes in, he was doing his most famous trick with his arm (well it does make sense if you see it). He also pulled a few people out of the excitable audience to take part in some of the spectacular stunts. Curiously, The Rudy Coby Show was repeated on BBC1 a year later in 1995, this time in a Saturday Night slot (although again this was in August), as this was the BBC’s entry for that year’s Montreux Festival.

This is where TV channels from across Europe and beyond submit one of their entertainment shows in the hope that they could win the coveted “Rose D’Or” at the annual festival. This wasn’t a success though, the main winner that year was Channel 4’s game show Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. But it was good to know that he had one more moment of fame.

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.

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.

The YouTube Files – You Again?

You Again? (NBC, 1986-1987)

This is the American version of the British sitcom Home To Roost, which is definitely one of the better ITV sitcoms of its era, and I was pleased to find some clips of this on YouTube. You Again? starred Jack Klugman (best remembered by viewers in Quincy) as Henry Willows (in the British version he was called, er, Henry Willows, and played by John Thaw).

John Stamos was Matthew (Reece Dinsdale was Matthew in the British version), who about a year or two after this would go on to appear in the more successful American sitcom Full House, which I do remember was shown on Sky One for a while, and he had a terrific mullet too. And rather curiously, Enid was played by Elizabeth Bennett, who also played Enid in the British version.

This seems to be the only occasion when someone has played the same character in both British and American versions of a sitcom. The premise was the same though. Henry is a businessman who gets a divorce, and does enjoy the single life without the rest of his family. But then his son returns home unexpectedly, and this is of course where the comedy comes in.

Some British episodes were recycled. The very first one in America was “All You Need Is Love”, a remake of the one that I was particularly amused by as this featured the 80s punk-type character who only ever seemed to appear in sitcoms, and it was interesting to see the American equivalent of this (although I could only find a trail online for now). They clearly peaked too soon.

There were also some episodes that were specially written for this version, including one where The Beach Boys (or what passed for them by that point) turned up for no particular reason. And as for the episode with uncle Randy? Hey… that guy! You Again? did just well enough with viewers to earn a second series, but this was also the last, and there were 26 episodes (compared with 29 for the British version).

Viewers did find it hard to believe that Klugman and Stamos were father and son, when the age gap between them was over 40 years (more than twice the age gap between Thaw and Dinsdale), but there were still some good moments. Every episode of You Again? has been shown in this country, on Channel 5 in the late-90s at about 5am, presumably when they had run out of episodes of Throb.

The YouTube Files – The Paul Merton Show.

The Paul Merton Show (BBC2, 1996)

This is another one of those comedy shows that I don’t remember from the time, but I have been interested in seeing, and this has turned up online. I have already done pieces looking back at the career of Paul Merton, and how he started out on shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Just A Minute, and Have I Got News For You, and soon become popular with deadpan improvised jokes.

And his Channel 4 sketch show was released on DVD recently, but this ended up being botched, so it’s not really worth buying. But by the mid-90s, when he had established himself as a big comedy name, he decided to try and do something a little different. This included his ITV series where he performed some famous Galton And Simpson scripts, but this wasn’t very well received.

And then, he was given a comedy show of his own on BBC2. Now this could’ve been more of an opportunity to show off some of this improvisational skills, but this was actually an attempt at doing something more mainstream, in an entertainment format. This included Paul coming on to the big stage to tell some jokes, which were followed by some sketches.

But once again, this exposed the fact that he wasn’t that much of an actor, and he isn’t at his best when he has to perform scripted material either. He played a few characters, but he ended up being overshadowed by some of the guests who were invited to take part in the sketches alongside him, including Leslie Ash. Overall the ideas didn’t really gel together though.

What was considered by some to be the highlight of the show was when some fluffy glove puppets performed a famous film scene, meaning that the most surreal moment was the best, which probably wasn’t the plan. I don’t know if The Paul Merton Show was planned to be a one-off, or if there was going to be a full series, but this turned out to be the only edition.

Despite this disappointment, Paul must’ve been pleased that his mum Mrs Merton also had a comedy show on TV around this time though (probably). But about a year on from this, he would return with another one-off comedy show that was an attempt to try something new, would this fare any better? Find out when I’ll review that soon too.

The YouTube Files – The Smiths.

The Smiths (ITV, 1995)

This is another very short-lived ITV sitcom that I noticed was on YouTube recently (credit goes to the uploader “Appropriated Subdiffusion”). In 1993, ITV launched a series called Comedy Playhouse, where eight sitcom pilot episodes were tried out (The 10%ers and Brighton Belles went to a full series that weren’t hugely acclaimed, but Once In A Lifetime, one of the highlights for me, went no further).

Then two years later in 1995, ITV launched a similar series called Comedy Firsts, featuring six more pilot episodes, five being sitcoms, and one a sketch show (Barbara went to a full series and ran for almost eight years, being fairly successful, although Sometime, Never ran for only one series). But this one got no further than its pilot.

This is a sitcom that featured some of that Merseyside humour. The Smiths (nothing to do with the 80s band of course) featured a family consisting of parents Clive and Carol, and their teenage children Wayne and Debbie. The episode began with them in their car and their rather tuneless performance of “Swords Of A Thousand Men” by Tenpole Tudor.

Along with the main cast members, who were played by Kevin McNally and Rebecca Lacey, there were a few other familiar names in the cast. One was Geoffrey Hughes, who appeared in lots of other shows including Coronation Street, Keeping Up Appearances, and The Royle Family. I also remember being told about an odd moment from when he was a on a celebrity special of Telly Addicts.

When he was asked something like “what is the name of this children’s TV character?”, he said “scraggy doll”, even though no such thing seemingly exists, what was he thinking. Also appearing was Sonia Evans, who was a chart-topping pop star in the 80s, and was now an actress, going on to appear in BBC1’s The Lily Savage Show, and she describes her personality as “Liverpool” (oh no, that was a parody sketch in French And Saunders).

Oh, and Rowland Rivron was in this too. As for the actual plot, Clive and Carol like to have their intimate moments in their car, but after being repaired, it is bought by a passer-by, so now they have to use their garden shed instead. Would The Smiths become the latest zany family TV comedy stars? No, not really, there was only one episode, and they were never seen again.

This style of humour had already been well explored in sitcoms including The Liver Birds, Bread, and Watching. And this also had one of the harshest reviews in the Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy book. Although this could apply to other shows, we were informed that this unusually was produced “without an audience (either this or there was one but they found nothing to laugh at)”. And people wonder why ITV were falling so far behind the BBC at making decent sitcoms.