The YouTube Files – The Wolvis Family.

The Wolvis Family (BBC2, 1991)

I am always on the lookout for bizarre and long-forgotten shows to review on here, and this is a perfect example of one. This is how I discovered it. A while ago I was watching a BBC2 continuity clip on YouTube (well, when aren’t I), which featured a slide promoting something that appeared to be a game show. However, it turns out it that wasn’t a game show at all, but something called The Wolvis Family. What could this be? I wanted to discover more, and I found some episodes on YouTube.

It’s a comedy show with a rather unusual idea that is difficult to describe, but here goes. The Wolvises used to be a happy family. Indeed they used to be so close they once appeared together as a team on the long-running game show Ask The Family in the 80s (which explains what was happening in the BBC2 slide). But things have started to go rather wrong for them since then. vlcsnap-00400

The Wolvis family consists of the father Herbert, the mother Sylvia, and their two teenage children, the rather bratty daughter Wendy (who I couldn’t help but notice has something of a Strawberry Switchblade look about her, oh yes), and the son Stuart (played by a young Charlie Condou who in more recent years has appeared in various shows including Nathan Barley and Coronation Street). vlcsnap-00397

Now there’s a problem with Stuart, as he doesn’t talk to the rest of his family any more. He hasn’t left home or lost contact with them, he just simply doesn’t talk any more, not even to his friend Spencer. The children have transformed from being well-behaved into rebellious teenagers, and the Wolvises seem to have become something of a dysfunctional family that would make even the Simpsons or the Griffins blush. So they have decided to do something about it. vlcsnap-00405

They will air their problems with one another (or not in Stuart’s case)… on the TV. They have agreed to work with Dr Graham Wilcockson, and as the six episodes progress we see him use various techniques to try and help them out. Can they finally settle their differences? The set design is very basic, it’s just six chairs and a table. Oh, and a jug of water too. The show starts off in a fairly straightforward style but starts to get increasingly unusual, with the family eventually opening up and revealing bizarre things about themselves, and going a little “I will release my anger… through interpretive dance!” by the end. Come on don’t be shy, better out than in! vlcsnap-00408

The Wolvis Family really is a show that is rather unique in TV. It was a scripted comedy (it was written by Tom Lubbock and Roger Parsons), but not like any other that I’ve seen. What was it trying to achieve? It seems to be a satire of the “making troubled people sob on TV” genre before it even existed. It was shown once on BBC2 fairly late on Saturdays, never to be seen again. Did anyone watch it at the time? vlcsnap-00411

It pretty much goes without saying that The Wolvis Family doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry and there has been no DVD release, and there is very little about it online, but it was a great example of those shows that used to come and go around this time on BBC2 and Channel 4 that tried to do something a little different, and I definitely feel that it’s another lost curiosity that deserves some reappraisal.

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The YouTube Files – It’s A Mad World World World World.

It’s A Mad World World World World (BBC2, 1993)

When the digital radio station BBC7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra) launched in 2002, it was an opportunity for me to hear some programmes from throughout the years that I didn’t remember from first time round. One that I rather enjoyed was the comedy sketch show And Now In Colour (that originally ran on BBC Radio 4 for two series from 1990-1991) which was often compared to BBC Radio 1’s The Mary Whitehouse Experience that ran around the same time.

And Now In Colour was written by and starred a comedy quartet known as The Throbbs (Tim Firth, Tim de Jongh, Michael Rutger and William Vandyck), and the show had a regular feature where the cast would take the studio audience on an adventure with them. In 1993 there was an attempt to transfer the show to TV as It’s A Mad World World World World which was shown as part of BBC2’s Comic Asides series of comedy pilots. I have wanted to see this for a while so I was very pleased when it recently turned up on YouTube, and credit goes to the uploader “VHS Video Vault”. vlcsnap-00381

Although all four members of the And Now In Colour cast wrote the show, only de Jongh and Vandyck appeared in the sketches (and it was a great experience to finally put some faces to the familiar voices). Also in the cast was Flip Webster, and there were some early TV appearances for the soon to be big names in comedy Alistair McGowan and Caroline Aherne. vlcsnap-00394

Among the various sketches in the show were the strangest snooker match ever played, the invention of earthquakes, the reveal of the new James Bond theme, and a parody of The Open University. Another thing that I noticed was that most of the sketches were recycled from the radio version. Also, the way that some of the sketches played out made me think that one influence could’ve been Channel 4’s great comedy show Absolutelyvlcsnap-00396

It’s A Mad World World World World did not return for a full series, so we won’t ever know how many characters or catchphrases could’ve developed (BBC2 did finally find a successful sketch show format about a year later with the launch of The Fast Show). However, the cast did go on to have further success in more recent years, having written various award-winning plays and novels, and some of them also contributed to ITV1’s surreal comedy show Dare To Believe (although the less said about that the better really). vlcsnap-00367

The YouTube Files – The Hazel O’Connor Story.

A while ago I did a series on here where I told the stories of some of my favourite quirky 80s pop stars. There was some good feedback, including one comment asking if I would look back at the career of Hazel O’Connor. I must admit that I wasn’t really familiar with her work, so I decided I would have a look online to find out more about her, and I was won over. Hazel was born in Coventry in 1955 and she has had success as both an actress and singer. This will be a look back at Hazel’s hit singles and some of her TV appearances throughout the 80s on YouTube, including how she (sort of) had a Number One single. After entering the music business in the mid-70s, Hazel had her breakthrough in 1980… hazel2

In March 1980 the album “Sons And Lovers” was released which wasn’t a hit. In August 1980 “Eighth Day” was released which reached no. 5, and was Hazel’s first Top Ten hit single. It featured in the film Breaking Glass where she starred as a singer called Kate which made her name and earned her a Bafta nomination. Also among the cast were Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett (who would later go on to further success in The Bill), and Mark “Zaphod Beeblebrox” Wing-Davey). It seems that Hazel also unintentionally invented Tron during the film. vlcsnap-00019

Hazel also appeared on BBC1’s Film ’80, and performed “Eighth Day” in the first of her four appearances on BBC1’s Top Of The Pops, and she also made the first of her three Record Mirror cover appearances. Well done Hazel that looks like! Also in August 1980 the Breaking Glass soundtrack album was released which reached no. 5. It has also been released on DVD and it really is a fascinating watch. vlcsnap-00023

In October 1980 “Give Me An Inch” was released which reached no. 41, another single from the Breaking Glass soundtrack. Also around this time Hazel appeared on BBC2’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. In March 1981 “D-Days” was released which reached no. 10. This led to a rather energetic performance on Top Of The Pops. In April 1981 Hazel appeared on the cover of Record Mirror again and Smash Hits for the first and only time. vlcsnap-00015

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Hazel appears on the cover of Smash Hits in April 1981

In May 1981 “Will You” was released which reached no. 8, and it was Hazel’s third and final UK Top Ten hit single. It would also turn out to be her final Top 40 single too, leading to her final Top Of The Pops appearance, along with BBC2’s Six Fifty-Five Special. Although it wasn’t Hazel’s biggest hit, it seems to be the one that has endured the most, and it is the most likely to be played on the radio nowadays, mostly because of its famous saxophone solo. June 1981 saw her third and final Record Mirror cover. vlcsnap-00020

In August 1981 “(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up” was released which reached no. 41. I’ve found a couple of performances of this song online that I thought were rather enjoyable. And as ever, it’s tough to choose a favourite single, but this one is definitely among them. Also in this month Hazel also appeared on BBC1’s Get Set For Summer and made the first of three appearances as a panellist on BBC1’s Pop Quiz. In September 1981 the album “Cover Plus” was released which reached no. 32, and it was Hazel’s final UK hit album. vlcsnap-00007

In October 1981 “Hanging Around” was released which reached no. 45. This was a cover of a song by The Stranglers. In January 1982 “Calls The Tune” was released which reached no. 60, and this turned out to be Hazel’s final UK hit single. Also around this time Hazel appeared on the CITV shows No. 73 and Razzmatazz. Although Hazel would have no more hits, she would continue to have some success in the 80s with her acting career and contributions to charity records. vlcsnap-00010

In 1982 Hazel starred in ITV’s Jangles (which I reviewed on here recently) where she played a schoolgirl called Joanne (even though she was about 26 at the time) who dreamed of being a pop star. Sue “Audrey off Coronation Street” Nicholls played her mum. I thought it was great and the character of Herald is my new favourite thing. During the series she performed some of her own songs including “(Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up”, along with covers of “School’s Out” and “Anything Goes”. vlcsnap-00028

In 1983 Hazel appeared in the video for “Who’s That Girl” by the Eurythmics and was on Pop Quiz again. In February 1984 “Don’t Touch Me” was released which reached a disappointing no. 81. George Michael appears in the video for this one. The album “Smile” also failed to chart. Also around this time Hazel was interviewed on Channel 4’s The Tube. In June 1984 Hazel made her third and final Pop Quiz appearance. In September 1984 Hazel contributed to the Channel 4 series Ladybirds and was interviewed in TV Timesvlcsnap-00026

In August 1986 Hazel starred in a BBC1 drama series called Fighting Back where she played a struggling mother called Viv which earned her a Radio Times cover. And yes, she also performed the theme music which was released as a single. Also in 1986, Hazel appeared in BBC2’s Alas Smith And Jones, Channel 4’s Prospects, and the film Car Trouble which starred Julie Walters. vlcsnap-00002

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Hazel appears in Radio Times in August 1986

In April 1987 Hazel was one of the many contributors to “Let It Be”, a cover of the Beatles song for the charity Ferry Aid, which reached no. 1. Also in this month Breaking Glass was shown on Channel 4 and Hazel was interviewed in TV Times again. In November 1987 Hazel contributed to “Wishing Well”, another charity single this time as a part of the group GOSH which reached no. 22. In more recent years, Hazel has released many more albums and continues to tour the country and perform all her famous hits.

UPDATE! Shortly after completing this piece, the woman herself retweeted the link to it, and she also replied to me, saying that she thought it was “lovely”. I was so thrilled, I never expected a response from any of the pop stars that I have written about on here so a big thank you to Hazel for doing that.

The YouTube Files – The Office (ITV).

The Office (ITV, 1996)

Time for another edition of my “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. Now this one is rather interesting because it is called The Office, but it has no connection with the much-praised BBC series that launched in 2001. This seems to be an attempt at a “look at how crazy our office is”-style sitcom five years before Ricky Gervais came along, so it was good to finally track it down on YouTube and discover what it was all about.

The Office was written by Steven Moffat who worked on some other comedy shows around this time, before going on to become the executive producer of Doctor Who of course. Robert Lindsay (someone who I have a very vague connection to, as my mum went to school with his ex-wife, I’ve explained more about that story in my review of Lucky Feller) starred as Norman, who worked at a company called Trans Atlas International. vlcsnap-00836

Norman is someone who will go to rather extraordinary lengths to impress his boss Hillary. After getting the wrong idea following one of her comments, he happily decides to take most of his clothes off and lie on her desk hoping for her approval. After he then realises what she actually meant, he can’t get his clothes back and he is left in a rather embarrassing situation (cue laughter). vlcsnap-00833

However, his scatterbrained temporary secretary Pru (played by Rebecca Front of The Day Today fame among other things) is of no help to him. How will he get out of this one? Norman has to make a very important speech, all the top people are going to be there including the CEO and he mustn’t let them down. He can’t exactly do it in the nude can he! vlcsnap-00837

He initially tries to dress as one of the company’s dispatch riders but is caught out by Nigel (played by Stefan Dennis, of Neighbours fame). By this point Hillary has no idea what Norman is up to. As a last resort at trying to get dressed in time he ends up doing his speech whilst wearing women’s clothes, but everyone applauds him anyway for his effort, much to his relief (cue even more laughter). vlcsnap-00840

It seems that The Office was designed to be an intentional one-off, with no plans for a series however well it did, and the episode was played out as something of a farce. It was shown on ITV in July 1996 and unlike its BBC namesake is now rather forgotten and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. It was also nominated for an award that it didn’t win. I suppose it made the most of its good cast though and played the absurd situation for all the laughs it could get.

The YouTube Files – Supermarket Sweep USA.

Supermarket Sweep (1990-1995, 2000-2003)

Recently we had to say goodbye to Dale Winton. He will be much missed, so I thought that it would be a good idea to look back at the original American version of the game show that made his name, Supermarket Sweep. It is something of a surprise to discover that the history of this show goes as far back as 1965 when it was shown on ABC, but this piece will concentrate on the revival that began on Lifetime in 1990.

This version was hosted by David Ruprecht, and it didn’t really have too many differences to the UK version, with the basic idea of going wild in the aisles being the same. Three teams of two took part. They begin by being given 1:30 on their clock (in the UK it was 1:00) and then they have to answer various questions about things that are on offer in the supermarket, with ten seconds of time available for every correct answer (and the occasional bonus). vlcsnap-00745

There would be rounds where the teams played individually, and also by taking it in turns to play. Questions included such things as trying to guess the correct price of an item and solving those not-so difficult anagrams of vegetables and the like. By the end, the teams have hopefully amassed a lot of time because they will need it for the centrepiece of the show! vlcsnap-00743

This is of course the sweep. The teams have now put on their colour-coded sweaters and are ready to fill their trolley (or indeed their “cart”) as high as they can (although only one of the two team members does this), and shop till they drop (accompanied by some excitable commentary). They also have to look out for the bonuses on offer which could be worth up to $250. When time is up, the total of the items are added together, and the team that made the most money go into the final! vlcsnap-00754

Again, this is just about the same as the UK version, only there is a lot more money at stake. The finalists have 60 seconds to find three items hidden in the supermarket that are described with a cryptic clue. If they find the third item in time, they win the star prize of $5,000 (£2,000 in the UK version) on top of the money that they made in the sweep, meaning some teams could go away with about $6,000. vlcsnap-00707

And I was surprised to note that Ruprecht does end the show with the famous “next time you’re at the checkout and you hear the beep” catchphrase, I thought that was Dale’s own work. Supermarket Sweep was revived again in America in the early-2000s on PAX, and eventually over 1,000 editions were made, and the UK was one of several countries that produced their own version.

The YouTube Files – Fun House USA.

Fun House (1988-1991)

Fun House is another game show that launched in America before it came to the UK on CITV where it would achieve great success with viewers and run for a decade. The original version launched in 1988 which was syndicated and hosted by JD Roth. Once again, I was watching some editions on YouTube and thought I would give it a review. Would it be as wacky and outrageous as the UK? vlcsnap-00721

Two teams of two take part, the reds and the yellows. They are accompanied by twin cheerleaders, Jackie and Sammi (I didn’t realise that this idea was also used in the original version). They play three messy games, one for the boys, one for the girls, and one for all four (not all of them are against the clock). Winning the game scores 25 points (both teams scored 25 points if there was a tie), with a 25 points bonus on offer for answering a question on the buzzer (there was no key game in this version). vlcsnap-00728

Then it was time for the Grand Prix. There was rather a major difference to this round as it usually didn’t feature go-karts. Instead the teams had to run round two laps of the track trying to avoid the obstacles whilst usually wearing a rather daft costume. They also had to collect the tokens that were worth 10 and 25 points, but in this version there were more than four of each available. vlcsnap-00729

The scores would then be added together, and the highest scoring team goes into the Fun House! I imagine that this must have been very exciting, everybody who watched the show whatever country they were in wanted to have a go I’m sure. The losing team take away some consolation prizes. In the event of a tie, one more question on the buzzer is asked. vlcsnap-00730

In the final, there was one notable difference. The team had two minutes to go into the Fun House individually and collect three tags from the obstacles, before swapping over with their teammate. However, in this version, there were prize tags and money tags on offer, the child contestants couldn’t play for money in the UK version, but in the US they could win up to $5,000 worth of money and prizes. vlcsnap-00731

Also on offer was the Power Prize, which if they found it they would win right away, in the UK an against the clock bonus question would be asked. The American version of Fun House ran eventually ran for three years and 375 editions and there was even a board game version made. Well done to whoever it was who made the decision to bring this show to the UK as it was always one of my favourites on CITV.

The YouTube Files – Finders Keepers USA.

Finders Keepers (1987-1989)

Recently I have been reviewing the original American versions of UK game shows. Now let’s have a variation on that by looking at an American children’s game show. Finders Keepers launched on Nickelodeon in 1987 (although it had become syndicated by the time it ended in 1989), and it would go on to be a big success when it came to CITV in the UK in 1991, so I was pleased to find (if you’ll pardon the pun) the original version on YouTube. vlcsnap-00707

Finders Keepers was originally hosted by Wesley Eure. Again, there were some differences to the UK version. Two teams of two took part, the reds and blues (not the yellows and greens). The first round was rather different. There was a picture, and a clue to an item hidden in it. If they can see it the teams have to buzz in and circle it on the screen. If they get it right, they win $25 and the chance to raid one room. vlcsnap-00510

Once four rooms have been won, the set cleverly opens to reveal the eight-room house. This part is rather more familiar. The teams are given a clue and have to find a hidden item in 30 seconds, with can often be rather chaotic with silly string going everywhere (and no arrow to give viewers a clue either). If they find it, they win $50, but if not, the money goes to the other team. vlcsnap-00708

They then go back to play the first game again for the other four rooms on offer, only this time a correct answer is worth $75, and finding an item is worth $100. There would also be a room where a mystery bonus prize could be won. The team with the highest score goes through to the final, although if the scores are tied at this point another round of the first game is played as a tiebreaker. vlcsnap-00714

The winning team play the Room-To-Room Romp (not the Super Search), which again is slightly different. The finalists have to find six items in 90 seconds (in the UK it was eight items in three minutes). Once they find the item, it has a tag that tells them what room to go to next. The clue also appears on the screen in this round. The more items they find, the more prizes they win, and they could soon end up with a lot of calculators, what a delight! vlcsnap-00710

As ever, it was good to see the original version of a show that I very much enjoyed in the 90s. I suppose the only criticism I have of this version was the constantly shrieking studio audience, but I suppose I can’t blame them for being so excited as, well, there was a calculator at stake as a prize! Other CBBC and CITV game shows that started out in America include Double Dare and Fun House and I’ll review those soon too.