Rewinding the Buzzcocks: The Triumphant Return

If you’re reading this, then congratulations! You’re approximately ten seconds away from saying “A blog reviewing twenty-year-old episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks? Fucking hell” and closing the tab. OK, all self-deprecation aside, if you’re reading this you may notice that it’s four years since I last posted on this blog. So what happened? Well, uh, I basically had a very similar thought to the one I ascribed to you just now.

In the meantime a lot has happened. I’ve found regular work (it may shock you, but I was struggling to find work back in the days when starting this blog seemed like an attractive prospect). I’ve grown as a person, largely in the waistband. I’ve probably not watched an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks since. In fact, I only came back to this blog when I was considering starting another blog.

As it happens, though, I had been thinking about Never Mind the Buzzcocks recently, so I decided to reread my old blogs. What do you know, I actually enjoyed my rambling, non-proofread analysis. So I’ve decided, for the three or so people who might have cared four years ago, to bring it back. So here we are: back.

Two things: first, it appears that the BBC have decided to get into the act of uploading the show to YouTube. Great! Except not great. This means they’ve taken almost every full episode online down, replaced them with clips of ‘moments’ and put only a small few episodes on in full (the first series, but not the second, for example). I’m a bit weary, for a start, of anything uploaded by the Beeb themselves, considering the edits they foisted on the Fist of Fun DVD, for example. Since one of my pleasures in reviewing old episodes was in flagging up things that seem different with time, and since they don’t like to acknowledge that things could ever be different with time, I don’t feel I can trust them to give a full, unvarnished account of the show’s early years. Fortunately I have managed to find the Lamarr years for download online (and Christ, it took a while), but this does mean I’ll no longer be linking to the episodes in my reviews.

Secondly, as a working man, I can’t really be expected to do these on a regular schedule. So really, it may be an occasional project I come to whenever I feel like it. But isn’t that better than nothing? Probably not.

So there you go. I’m back, but the shows are gone, and I might not be back often. Champagne?

Series One, Episode Five: “You’re better than this.” “You’re not.”

Originally Aired on 10th December 1996
Red hot Buzzcock-on-Buzzcock action this way

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘The lady in red – obviously not as shaggable as the nanny, is she?’ Our team captains are two comedians who like to snap their fingers, tap their feet, hold their groin and have a host of other annoying habits besides, it’s Sean Hughes and Phill Jupitus, ladies and gentlemen.”

Guests

Marcella Detroit – “Sean’s first guest is Marcella Detroit, who, as half of Shakespear’s Sister, spent eight weeks at number one with Stay. She takes her name from the American motor city where she was born, the bustling Michigan town of Marcella.”
I might be biased, since Stay terrified me as a child (NO MUMMY TURN IT OFF THE LADY SCARES ME) but Marcella doesn’t do too well on the show. She tries to pitch in with jokes, but the problem is that she’s not especially funny so it just feels uncomfortable when she tries. She’s hardly the worst example of this, though.

Nick Heyward – “Just mentioning the name of Sean’s other guest still brings an ‘ahh’ to the lips of normally rational women. He used to lead Haircut 100 but now he’s an established solo artist, Nick Heyward!”
I once knew a woman who looked like Nick Heyward, so it’s a good thing he has a little facial hair here to prevent me from getting confused. As for how he does, he does OK. He does come out with a couple of dry, funny lines, although for the most part he’s quiet. No reason he couldn’t have been invited back, but then no reason he really should have been.

Martin Rossiter – “Phill’s first guest Martin Rossiter is the lead singer with Gene. He’s sold more records than all our other panellists put together, but then he did used to work in Our Price.”
If I had to use one word to describe Martin on the show it’d be ‘laconic’. In truth it’s hard to tell if he’s just very deadpan or didn’t particularly enjoy himself – either way he mostly stays quiet, except for a very funny opening line.

Jonathan Ross – “Phill’s other guest is a man who’s recently hosted a contest for showbiz wannabes called The Big Big Talent Show. It caused a bit of a sensation when the host came last.”
The only guest to reappear, this is a pre-chat show Jonathan Ross, and it’s interesting to see his slightly different persona then compared to now. The main difference is the lack of suaveness and authority – when he’s not cool and in charge, as he is on his own show, he instead plays the irritant and, to his credit, he plays it well and funnily. He can be a polarising figure but for me he does a good job in this episode, keeping it lively and generally being the funniest thing about it.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team kick us off with Dave Lee Roth’s video for Just a Gigolo. As you’d expect from a Dave Lee Roth video it’s all sorts of coked-up wackiness, with Dave dancing around a Richard Simmons parody, and then we hit pause just as we get to a Billy Idol lookalike. Sean and Nick are on the ball, correctly predicting that Dave will knock said Idol lookalike back into some machinery, electrocuting him.

Phill’s team then get the Style Council’s short film JerUSAlem. As you’d expect from a short film made by the Style Council it’s all sorts of half-baked nonsense, with Paul and co riding motorbikes about a quaint village before stopping as a woman reads William Blake’s Jerusalem. Martin gets a good line in, suggesting that Ocean Colour Scene come in and take notes – although oddly enough, Gene’s Wikipedia page lists the Style Council as an influence. Jonathan guesses pretty much the correct answer – the woman reading the verse is revealed to be a black woman dressed as the queen, because symbolism, man.

Intros Round

Sean and Marcella start us off with Dexys Midnight Runners’ Geno. See what I’ve said for almost every song done so far – it’s well done, but so simple and recognisable that it’d be hard not to do it well. Nick gets it, either way.

Next we get Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder, done pretty well, although Sean’s impression of the baby crying on the track is perhaps a little distracting – until Marcella gets to the meat of the song Nick seems a little lost. Her performance of the standard issue Stevie Wonder impression helps move things along, too.

After a brief discussion of said impression, we get Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure. It’s not an especially great version – it starts to fall apart a little, but Nick gets it nevertheless.

Finally, it’s the mid 90s so there has to be some Oasis eventually – Roll With It, in this case. Marcella does it on her own – Sean sticks to a Liam Gallagher impression – and possibly cheats a little by going beyond the intro, but considering the verse is far more distinctive and memorable than the intro itself it seems fair enough, as it helps Nick get the right answer.

Phill and Martin take over, and start with Rebel, Rebel by David Bowie. It’s a very good performance, but Jonathan is unable to hear anything but the intro to Summer Holiday – Sean’s team guess Diamond Dogs but apparently get the point anyway.

From one extravagantly-dressed pop star to another, we get Adam Ant’s Goody Two Shoes. Another strong version, this time guessed correctly.

Phill and Martin make for a good pair, continuing as they do with a strong Country House by Blur. Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn’t make for a good guesser, and it’s passed over to Sean.

To wrap everything up, it’s another good rendition, this time of West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys. Jonathan is nothing if not consistent – it’s up to Nick to guess it and get the points for Sean’s team.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team start us up with the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar. There’s a bit of faffing around with joke lyrics – actually, Nick’s contribution isn’t bad, as at least it’s coherent. Marcella knows the correct lyrics but when she’s asked to sing them, Sean butts in with some jokes about Mick Jagger dressing as a jockey – which he does appear to be doing in the video – and the performance degenerates into a shouting farce.

I suppose the segue should be ‘speaking of shouting farces, Phill’s team get Napalm Death’, but I like Napalm Death, so sod you for expecting me to make that joke. Actually, no, I shouldn’t be so precious, I will. Speaking of shouting farces, Phill’s team get Napalm Death performing Scum, sadly not from the Live Corruption video, recorded, as every schoolboy knows, on the same day and at the same venue as Cardiacs’ All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest. Anyway, having something utterly unintelligible (and I’m saying that as someone who can occasionally work out what the Locust are singing, for pity’s sake) moves us away from forced, jokey lyrics, and Phill’s contribution to this round is the funniest thing he’s done on the show thus far.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team are tasked with identifying Rick Driscoll, who once fronted 70s bumpsters Kenny. Keith Chegwin apparently claims to have been in Kenny, although we only have his word to take for it. Anyway, they have to choose from “number one, with the positive eyebrows, number two, who dyes his hair, number three, more lump than bump, number four, with the centre parting, or number five, who needs a shave”. They guess number four, but it turns out to have been unkempt number five.

Sean’s team, meanwhile, must seek out former Mungo Jerry frontman and world’s hairiest and toothiest man Ray Dorset. The line up is “number one, the resting security guard, number two, with the winning smile, number three, with the manly features, number four, your friendly local mobster, and number five, something for the ladies”. We get a bit of chatter – Sean introduces a joke about Haircut 100’s Love Plus One, which Nick doesn’t seem to get, and there’s an awkward moment where Marcella makes a joke that doesn’t quite seem to get the big laugh she was expecting and there’s an uncomfortable silence. Anyway, Nick identifies number two as the right man, on the basis that he’s Ray Dorset – hard to fault his logic – and of course he’s right, since it clearly is him.

Dance Hell

Sean’s team get Legs & Co dancing in a car wash. OH I FUCKING WONDER WHAT THIS COULD BE? Yes, of course it’s Car Wash by Rose Royce. Seriously, come on now.

Still, you can’t say Phill’s team get an especially hard one in return, since they get several monsters dancing, or, you might say, mashing. Hmm, what could this be? Well, Phill’s team think it’s the Funky Gibbon, so Mark passes it over and Marcella guesses the Monster Mash. Mark, apparently without a trace of irony, says “I can’t believe you got that”, which I can only assume is meant as a slight against Marcella rather than it being a suggestion that the question was difficult, being as there are subspecies of worms that could have guessed Monster Mash, given the time and resources to construct a rudimentary means of communicating with humans.

Next Lines

Another round played at full pelt with little in the way of jokes. Sean’s team are so far in the lead that it’s a foregone conclusion anyway, with winning 22-9, although there is one moment of interest when Sean, dragging out his not especially great Love Plus One joke, splashes water over Nick, who looks fairly annoyed. It’s a good thing Nick seems like a nice, friendly bloke – I’d have twatted the faux-Irish funster, who doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s done anything.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: Uh, not much, really. Not that it’s dreadful but there aren’t any stand-out lines. If I have to choose one there’s a fairly funny Bill Wyman-Mandy Smith joke.
  • The Bad: Is there anyone who wouldn’t have assumed, after the Monster Mash clip, that the line “Legs & Co there, with the stiff, lifeless movement of the undead” could be taken as referring both to the song they were dancing to and their perceived lack of dancing ability? To me it seems obvious and yet there’s another line tacked on the end to hammer it home and make it far too obvious.
  • Overall: Not very good; nothing crashingly awful, but then nothing to write home about, either.

Proof That It’s 1996

  • Chris de Burgh’s affair with his nanny was a fairly recent news story at the time, hence the reference to it in the introduction.
  • While Marcella and Nick still maintain solo careers neither are as prominent as they would have been at the time of this episode; Gene, meanwhile, were very much at the peak of their powers at this point.
  • Martin’s joke about Ocean Colour Scene has a lovely 1996 flavour to it.
  • Marcella makes a joke about Jonathan’s extravagant dressing – it was his trademark at the time, although he’s toned it down a bit in subsequent years and I don’t think it’s something he’s been associated with for a good ten years or so now. For that matter, there’s nothing over-the-top about his suit in this episode, really.
  • Phill makes a reference to the X-Files, which I think had just started in Britain.

Other Observations

  • I know that quite a few people don’t like Sean Hughes on the show, and while I don’t mind him, this episode does display some of his worst qualities, as he tries to turn jokes that didn’t get a laugh the first time round into running jokes and interrupts his teammates in the Indecipherable Lyrics round.
  • Sean pulls a fairly unimpressed face upon hearing the mention of Mungo Jerry. Maybe he was expecting someone better?
  • There seems to be a slightly special effort to help Sean’s team here – despite them guessing the wrong answer for Rebel, Rebel Mark gives them a point, the question about Napalm Death is, of course, particularly difficult and during the next lines round Mark gives them an answer.

Final Verdict
This isn’t the best of episodes, truthfully. Three fairly uninspiring guests, Jonathan being quieter than usual and none of the regulars really stepping up to the plate doesn’t make for the best of shows. There are a couple of good moments – the Napalm Death question is fun, and for all my complaining the Monster Mash question does provoke a funny tantrum from Jonathan – but on the whole this is pretty mediocre.