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.

The YouTube Files – Scrabble USA.

Scrabble (NBC, 1984-1990, 1993)

I thought that it was about time for me to review another American game show, because they’re just so great aren’t they. This one caught my attention because this is based around Scrabble, the word game that people enjoy playing around the world, although this TV version was somewhat different from the traditional board game format.

The host was Chuck Woolery (a veteran who has hosted many game shows over the years). This began with people shouting the name of the show in a similar style to Wheel Of Fortune, and there were also plenty of flashing lights and podiums that turned around for no reason, which is always nice. The format did change, but mostly was something of a cross between Cross Wits and All Clued Up.

Two contestants took part. They were given a cryptic clue to a word that was between five and nine letters long, with only one letter revealed. This would either be horizontal on vertical on the board. They can take two tiles from a choice which is always two more than the letters in the word. They place them in a slot, and then these letters are revealed. They then pick one to put into the word, and they can guess if they like (and there were various bonuses on offer).

But they should beware, because if they pick a letter that isn’t in the word, it is a “stopper” (similar to what would be called a whammy or a stinger in similar shows), and they lose their turn. How annoying. If all three stoppers are played, and the word still hasn’t been guessed, the remaining letters (except one) are revealed. They buzz in if they know, and whoever gets it right wins that round (games would straddle if they ran out of time).

Another round is then played, with the next word connecting with wherever the previous one is on the board. The first to win three rounds, goes through to the bonus game which was the Scrabble Sprint, to play the defending champion. Again, a clue was given to a word with a particular number of letters in it, and after the clock started, they picked various letters (no stoppers at this stage). Buzz in and get it right, and the clock stops.

If their opponent can guess the same amount of words in a shorter time, they win, but if not, there’s a new champion. Contestants could return several times, and some won five-figure sums. There were also special themed weeks, including college students taking part, and even on one occasion, other game shows hosts. Scrabble ran for almost a decade, and confusingly, a board game of this version was released.

The YouTube Files – Club MTV.

Club MTV (MTV, 1987-1992)

This is another example of a show that I discovered on YouTube, whilst trying to find something else. Club MTV is a show that was made at the rather happening Palladium nightclub in New York. The first thing I noticed about this show was that the host had an English accent. And it seems that Downtown Julie Brown had been a host on British TV for a few years before going off to America.

She was a member of Top Of The Pops dance troupe Zoo, along with being one of the hostesses on some of the later editions of CBBC’s Crackerjack (“CRACKERJACK“). And she also hosted TV-am’s Saturday Morning show for younger viewers Are You Awake Yet? (or AYAY as this became known to the hardcore fans), which along with Data Run was one of the predecessors of The Wide Awake Club, and was co-hosted by a puppet who looked like Ed Sheeran apparently.

Club MTV mostly consisted of what appeared to be the sultriest teenagers around doing a dance to all of the latest hits. The reasons that I enjoyed this are because I liked a lot of the music featured, and this reminded me of how editions of Top Of The Pops in the early-80s would end (and it’s proof that people can still have a good time even if the singer isn’t actually there in person). There were also plenty of flashing lights, along with screens that had the videos shown on them as the crowd went crazy.

There would also be regular dancers at the club, who would tell us what their favourite songs of the moment were. A lot of British acts were featured too (during the second, or was it third British invasion?), including Bananarama, Swing Out Sister, and perhaps more unexpectedly, Siouxsie And The Banshees, and Squeeze. Sometimes acts would perform live at the club, and to have had the opportunity of seeing acts like Salt-N-Pepa or Deee-Lite doing their thing, it must’ve been great.

Suddenly the long-running American Bandstand looked rather old-fashioned by comparison, and couldn’t compete. Other memorable moments (from what I’ve seen so far) include a performance from Nia Peeples, who hosted the short-lived American version of Top Of The Pops, and rather oddly, there were two VJs on MTV called Julie Brown at the time, with one performing her song, and then being interviewed by the other, but the world didn’t fold in on itself.

There was also a special edition with formal dress, so it was bowties time, along with some best-ofs. However, because of changes in musical tastes, after five years and over 1,200 editions, Julie said her catchphrase “wubba wubba wubba” for the final time, and Club MTV was replaced by the similar The Grind. Some editions were later repeated on VH1 Classic though.

The YouTube Files – Throb.

Throb (1986-1988)

I am not usually that interested in American sitcoms, but when I read the description of this one, I decided that I must find out more, because this is a syndicated sitcom that was made in the mid-80s about the music industry. So I thought that there might a chance that Throb could feature a lot of big-haired pop stars, and after I went on YouTube, I discovered that to some extent this was right.

The main character in Throb is Sandy Beatty (Diana Canova, who was also in sitcom Soap). Sandy is a 33-year-old divorcee from New York who gets a job at an independent New Wave record label. As the music of her childhood was from the 60s, seeing all the trendy people from a younger generation hanging around the office makes her feel older than she is and out of touch.

It was rather odd seeing all these pop stars come and go and also perform their songs in the office while the staff tried to work (and there were no computers!). Maybe with some work they could end up on the cover of Billboard or Cash Box. Sandy’s boss is Zachary Armstrong, and his look and mannerisms were based on Michael J Fox, who was increasing in popularity at the time.

Other characters include Sandy’s colleague Phil, along with her friend and neighbour Meredith, and her son Jeremy (Paul Walker, who would become better known for appearing in the Fast And Furious film franchise). Among the real pop stars making guest appearances were Donny Osmond and Frankie Valli, and a young George Clooney played an aspiring singer in an early episode.

But what really interested me about Throb was that there was a character called Blue, but it turns out that she didn’t have blue hair though. Her real name was Prudence, she was rather mouthy and trendy, and she was played by the English-born Jane Leeves. Now it is always rather strange to hear London accents turn up in American shows. There is something of a personality clash between her and the more reserved Sandy.

Blue did have some rather spectacular 80s hair though, and her dress sense was remarkable too. I would bet that even the cast of Jem wouldn’t want to wear half of the costumes that she did. Blue later moves in with Sandy. Leeves would eventually become a big name when she was in sitcom Frasier in the 90s, and in this she would have a Manchester accent instead of a London one, but Leeves is actually from East Sussex.

There were 48 episodes of Throb in two series. Some early episodes were shown in some ITV regions in a late-night slot in the late-80s. And all of the episodes were shown on Channel 5 in the late-90s, in the not very coveted timeslot of 4:40am, seemingly when they had run out of editions of Move On Up to repeat. But I was pleased to have seen this, what times they were.