Rewinding Series One

The first series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks ended with a clip show, designed, according to the specially-filmed introduction, to help viewers who had missed the earlier shows of the series to catch up. I neglected to mention it when covering them, but the first six episode of the series were shown in 1996, before the show took a month off just before Christmas, coming back with the final three episodes, and the suggestion seems to be that the second run was the more successful of the two.

I had intended from the beginning to look back on each series when I got to the end of them, and the clip show for this series seemed as good a frame for one as any, but upon watching it again that turns out to not really be true. For a start, the clips come from only four episodes – the first three, plus episode five – so there isn’t a great deal of coverage of the show as a whole, and of course I’ve covered every clip used already anyway. I suppose it’s interesting to look at the shows they picked – apart from episode three, I was fairly dismissive of the episodes chosen – but that’s about it. They use both of the clips that involve people getting up on the desk and dancing, driving home the idea that that was one of the show’s trademarks at the time, and they use Bob Mortimer’s half of the Songs In One Sentence round, probably the funniest round the show’s done yet.

But to really get an idea of the show at this point we have to look at it as a whole. I’ve griped a lot about the show being too stiff at this point, or having too much of a focus on the questions at the expense of the comedy. All of the regulars have jokes at hand, but none of them seem interested in back-and-forth or repartee. The closest they come to interacting on a regular basis is Phill Jupitus’ boisterous and uproarious laughter at many of Mark Lamarr’s scripted lines. Most of the comedic guests follow a similar pattern, and the musical guests are generally too quiet or just not funny enough to turn it around. This isn’t to say that the show is bad at this point, necessarily, although a few episodes of this series are fairly duff; it just hasn’t found its feet yet and doesn’t have many of the qualities that would become its main selling points a few series down the line, namely the chemistry between its regulars and the playfulness and irreverence it showed not just to the world of music but also to the comedy quiz format itself.

The humour itself is fairly hit and miss. For a show that often seems to be selling itself on its edginess – we have a drum ‘n’ bass theme tune! Our guests dance on the desks! – the humour can be quite tepid at times, with a few jokes that seem more suited to a cosy Radio 4 show, about how workmen overcharge and tractors are slow and other such banal, hackneyed topics, and when the show does aim for edge it usually does so by dropping in phrases like ‘boob tube’ and ‘blow job’ that might have been shocking at the time, but in the cold light of 2013, when Frankie Boyle’s Blow Job Boob Tube Kick A Tramp To Death-a-Thon is the most watched show on CBeebies, these jokes seem especially light in actual humour content. Still, there’s a lot of good in there, most often when the show is more content to just be silly – I identified an especially good Sparks/On The Buses joke in episode seven that works because it avoids the obvious jokes about Ron Mael resembling Hitler in favour of something frothier and lighter, and Bob Mortimer’s appearance is of course very funny and very silly.

None of the regulars are really themselves yet. While a lot of people remember Mark Lamarr’s over-the-top aggression and disdain, he actually brought a lot of warmth to the show, often being knowledgable, playful and, as we’ll see, very clearly having a good time. None of that’s really visible here, where he’s still stuck playing his role of the stroppy near-mute from Shooting Stars, but actually having to talk. If anything he often looks frightened and nervous, determined to keep the show moving at a breakneck pace and not allowing for any room to breathe, and while he’ll relax a little more by the time the second series starts it’s still a little bit longer before he really becomes himself. Phill Jupitus isn’t particularly great here, going back to the same well a few times on certain jokes and not really showing any great invention – he’ll improve once he develops more of a bond with Mark – and interestingly, considering he’s often seen as the weak link on these early editions, at least if YouTube comments are anything to go by (Note: YouTube comments are nothing to go by in any circumstance), Sean Hughes is probably the funniest of the three at this point; at least he seems to be putting the comedy first, and he seems more invested here than he will a little later on, which is what I personally think hurts his reputation most.

As for the guests, there’s a fairly settled policy – three musicians, generally two of them contemporary artists, one of them a slightly older star on the comeback trail or on just because, and one comedian or broadcaster – and it works well enough, with twenty-two of the thirty-six guests reappearing at some point, fourteen of them during the next two series. Both Bob Mortimer and Lauren Laverne manage to dominate their episodes in a way that points toward the future of the show, and Richard Fairbrass, Jeff Green, Jonathan Ross, Tony Wright and Neil Hannon all put in good, solid performances.

The best way to describe this series is middle-of-the-road. Scanning down a list of Never Mind the Buzzcocks episodes you’ll usually be able to find one or two memorable episodes per series, because of a guest’s performance, or a specific moment or running joke that you’ve filed away in your memory. There really isn’t any of that here. No-one throws a strop. No-one is devastatingly funny. No-one does anything, really. It’s a perfectly agreeable and inoffensive way to spend your time, but that’s about it.

Best Episodes

If any episodes can claim to stand out in this series, it’s episodes three and nine, with a great showing from Bob Mortimer and a revelatory appearance by Lauren Laverene respectively. I’d also give a nod to episode six, which feels like a solid, enjoyable episode without necessarily hitting any great heights.

Worst Episodes

The first couple of episodes pretty much epitomise every complaint I’ve had about this series, and episodes seven and eight both suffer from a weak roster of guests.

In a Nutshell

It’s a first draft – rough around the edges and nothing special, but it’s necessary for the finished product to work.

Series One, Episode Nine: “Fascism, feminism and Slade.”

Originally Aired on 7th February 1997
Into your eyeholes like water down a glugger, ah, deep folly.

When I started this blog I had intended to write an introduction for each episode; this fell by the wayside after the first episode but I’ll start again here. This is probably the most notable episode of the first series, simply because it features a star-making turn for one of its guests, Lauren Laverne. There’s probably a fair few people today who don’t know or remember that she got her start as a musician, let alone as the lead singer of a spiky indie-punk band when she was in her teens; it was her strong performance here that pretty much led to her current career as a broadcaster. On a less tangible note we get further signs of the show starting to loosen up, as the Identity Parade actually goes off on a very small tangent. Baby steps.

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘Knights in white satin – not one of King Arthur’s best ideas’. The score stands at four games each; it’s nip and tuck, it’s neck and neck, it’s cheek by jowl, so please welcome the captains, cheeky Sean Hughes and jowly Phill Jupitus!”

Guests

Lauren Laverne – “Phill’s first guest is Lauren Laverne, the lead singer with Kenickie. The band are from Sunderland, and tonight the locals have made an extra effort and specially stolen a TV set to watch her on.”

Obviously I talked about Lauren in my introduction to the episode; what’s really notable about her in this episode is that she’s very funny in a bratty way that’s totally at odds with her current image as a respectable presenter of arts and culture-based shows. The show works hard early on to cultivate a ‘dangerous’ image – it’s the panel show whose opening credits evoke a gig and has a drum ‘n’ bass theme tune! – but too often in the first series feels fairly traditional in its format and humour. Lauren’s real success, much like fellow north-easterner Bob Mortimer a few episodes back, is in overcoming this.

Neil Hannon – “Phill’s second guest, Neil Hannon, is the Divine Comedy. He’s the son of an Irish bishop so he presumably went into the music business to get away from the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”

While we’re praising Lauren to the high heavens we should also praise Neil, who puts in a performance that would dominate nine episodes out of ten. He’s exactly as you’d expect him to be from his music; dry, witty and urbane, with some genuinely funny jokes – a very solid showing.

Glenn Tilbrook – “Sean’s first guest is Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze. In 1977 Squeeze played a gig at a vet’s college where they had bits of dead animals thrown at them. And it got worse – the vets each put on one long rubber glove and stormed the stage.”

Glenn also comes across exactly the way you’d expect from listening to his music – very pleasant and agreeable. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much else to contribute all in all.

Mark Thomas – “Sean’s second guest is a comedian who was described by the NME as ‘a member of the comedy aristocracy’ and by David Steel as ‘a disgusting individual’. Well, you be the judge – it’s Mark Thomas.”

A disappointing performance by Mark T, who is of course something of a minor comedic legend in some circles (does that sound like very, very qualified praise to you? It’s not meant to be) but stays very quiet for almost the entire episode before suddenly piping up in the Next Lines round where he does well. It’s nice to see that he’s knowledgeable and tasteful when it comes to music, but that’s not enough on the whole.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team go first, with a clip of Shane MacGowan and the Popes performing the Donegal Express on the White Room. In a shocking turn of events, MacGowan is drunk and incoherent. There are a few jokes, but nothing of note, before we get shown the rest of the clip – Shane decides to kick James Fearnley, the band’s accordionist.

Phill’s team, meanwhile, get given a clip from the Julien Temple-directed short film used to promote David Bowie’s Blue Jean. Basically, the former David Jones does some dreadful acting while painting his face in a theatrical mirror. Neil and Lauren get some funny material from it, Phill provides the correct answer – a second David Bowie falls through the ceiling so we can get a second helping of embarrassing tomfoolery. Of course, I’m sure the broadsheets and the music press could find a way to pass his wooden acting off as a dazzling commentary on something or other, a post-modern critique of heaven knows what, rather than self-indulgent toss from a man so used to getting what he wants since half the country’s head is lodged up his back passage that no-one even tries to stop him.

Intros

Phill and Lauren kick us off with Rock & Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter. It’s a good version – good enough to get Neil joining in – and while Neil struggles on the title Mark gives them the point on the basis that Neil seemed to know what song it was.

The second song in line is Common People by Pulp. It’s another good version, even if they do trail off a bit as they realise they’ve gone on for too long. Neil recognises a fellow mid 90s pop star and wry social commentator, and gets it right.

Pressing on, the next song is Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, or George Newman’s the Ballad of Jed Clampett, if you prefer, and I do. It’s an OK version, although Phill maybe renders the bass a little too bouncy. Neil again struggles on the title, but Mark again goes easy on him.

They finish with Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, and while it’s a pretty good rendition Neil doesn’t get it, so it’s passed over to Mark T, who gets it right.

It’s over to Sean and Glenn, who start with My Sweet Lord by George Harrison. They make it sound a bit too much like an up-tempo rock stomper, truthfully, but they get enough of the song over for Mark T to get it.

Against Sean’s will the next song is The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Glenn does a pretty much perfect version – Sean busies himself with shouting “We’re crap!” in the background. Mark T is lost; Lauren picks up the points.

Next, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by ABBA. It’s a solid enough version, but Mark T can’t work out what it is. Neil guesses but gets the title wrong, guessing only the parenthetical statement; Mark initially seems set to deny them the point but relents.

Finally, a decent version of Fun Boy Three and Bananarama’s cover of It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It), during which Sean shouts out that ‘we’re all having fun!’ Mark counts this as too much of a clue, chastising Sean for using the name of one of the bands; Mark T, having not apparently realised that Sean was giving a hint, suddenly realises what song it is and guesses it. Mark lets him off with it.

Indecipherable Lyrics

We’re still contractually obliged to go through with this toss, clearly, so Sean’s team get given Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. They give us a load of stuff about food, none of which makes sense or is especially funny. It’s basically like “Weird Al” Yankovic, if he had lost all faith in humanity and was unable to mask his contempt for his audience, but instead of become darker or more nihilistic he just went “Oh fuck it, this’ll do”.

Still, occasionally this round comes good, usually through someone’s delivery, sometimes through the joke lyrics actually being funny, and Phill’s team fires on both fronts in this episode. They get the Dickies’ majestic version of Banana Splits (Tra La La Song). Neil starts strongly with a very funny version about the banana trade that sounds more like something from the pen of Mark T, before Lauren gives us some funny stuff too. To top it all off, Phill knows the correct lyrics, so they get two points to boot.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team go first and get Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners fame. The line-up is “number one, the seventies sitcom actor, number two, liposuction up fatty, surely, number three, it’s got to be a weave, number four, hello big boy, and I think we’ve given the game away somewhat slightly there, or number five, Charles Bronson’s brother”. They make a valiant effort to disguise him by giving all the line-up members wigs, but you could dress him up as Boy George and he’d still be recognisable, especially after Mark T asks them all to stick their tongues out. Sean’s team go for number four, and of course it’s him.

Phill’s team, meanwhile, get Lulu Oliver & Patti Hammond from Legs & Co, both clearly having a sense of humour about some of the jokes at their expense during the sporadic outings for the Dance Craze/Hell round, or possibly having never seen the show. The line-up is “number one, more top of the Mums than Top of the Pops, number two, cool now but what about then, number three, legs and, according to rumour, plenty of company, number four, a Pan’s Person, surely, or number five, little tonight, but was she big with your Dad?” This round feels a lot like what the show will be in a couple of years, as time is taken out from the guessing games for Lauren and Mark to ‘banter’, as the kids say. Anyway, Phill recognises them easily, identifying them as three and five; he is bang on the money.

Next Lines

Nothing much note, really – both teams take it seriously and Glenn and Mark T in particular make for an effective duo, but they’re unable to make up the gap, with Phill’s team winning 21-18.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: There’s a good joke about the origins of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, and Mark tells any children watching that if they see an accordionist they are to follow Shane MacGowan’s lead.
  • The Bad: There’s a fairly duff joke about Bananarama.
  • Overall: Pretty good, all round, no real gems but not too much to object to. A solid, competent set of jokes.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Lauren being introduced as the lead singer of Kenickie is a blast from the past – she was eighteen when the episode was filmed and perhaps unsurprisingly more than anyone else to have appeared this series she looks frighteningly young. Elsewhere, while Neil continues to perform and maintains a strong cult following and a good critical reputation, it was around this time that he was at his commercial peak and was a bona fide pop star, and while Mark similarly remains active and well-respected he was at his most visible at this time.
  • Mark T wears the same ‘Support the Liverpool dockers’ t-shirt Sean wore in the last episode.
  • As with the first episode in this series, there’s a Gary Glitter song in the Intros round, this coming a few months before his initial arrest.
  • There’s a bit of a discussion of the late, great Richard Whiteley who was, of course, still alive at the time of this episode. Mark, incidentally, claims to know him, most likely from when Whiteley appeared on Shooting Stars.
  • Sean makes a reference to Dave Gahan’s then-recent drug overdose during the Next Lines round.

Other Observations

  • While he comes across as very dry in his own delivery, Neil laughs at Lauren a lot. Presumably they got on well, since she later performed guest vocals on a Divine Comedy song.
  • David Steel’s low opinion of Mark T was also mentioned in his introductory joke when he appeared on Have I Got News For You, although it packed a little more punch then as Steel was on the other team.
  • The members of the Legs & Co line-up seem distinctly unimpressed by some of their descriptions when being introduced, but then seem to have a great time after that.
  • There’s a particularly egregious example here of Mark taking a joke that didn’t need to be explained – Phill claiming to be ‘awash with guilt’ upon seeing Legs & Co in the flesh – and, well, explaining it, essentially. He’ll learn to trust the audience in later episodes but at this point he still does this fairly often.
  • Mark’s impression of Richard Whiteley is actually pretty good – not necessarily the accent, since he doesn’t bother with one, but he captures his mannerisms and vocal inflections very well.

Final Verdict
A very strong way to finish the series. There’s been a sense throughout the first series of grasping about, trying to discover good guests; much like buses in the old cliché, two come along at once here. It might not be up to the heights the show will later reach – none of the regulars are especially good at this point – but with very little wriggle room to work comedy in two funny guests is enough to carry an episode.

Series One, Episode Eight: “You’ve got a lot of nerve to come over me.”

Originally Aired on 31st January 1997
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends, and by ‘be my lover’ I mean ‘read my blog’ and by ‘get with my friends’ I mean ‘watch the relevant episodes otherwise it’s all just bollocks’.

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘If I were a carpenter and you were a lady, I’d double the estimate and bugger off with the work half-done’. Our team captains are two comedians who between them have all the musical talents of Lennon and McCartney. Sadly, Julian Lennon and Linda McCartney, it’s Phill Jupitus and Sean Hughes.”

Guests

Adam Ant – “Phill’s first guest is Adam Ant. He’s had ten top ten hits, he’s a film and television actor, and in the eighties Adam’s pirate image earned him an absolute fortune. Sadly, he can’t remember where he buried it.”

It’s not really a great performance from Adam, who mostly looks like he doesn’t want to be there. He’s got a dry enough wit to get a couple of jokes over but for the most part it doesn’t work.

Crispin Hunt – “Phill’s second guest is Crispin Hunt. His band the Longpigs takes its name from the cannibal term for human meat, which apparently tastes like pork. Phill Jupitus is known to cannibals as ‘long banquet’.”

Crispin has a dry enough wit to get by on the show without ever being outright hilarious. He does alright – probably enough that he could have been invited back – but nothing much special.

Jo Whiley – “Sean’s first guest is Jo Whiley. She’s a disc jockey who hosts Radio 1’s Evening Session and has something Chris Evans can never have – a show that goes out Monday to Thursday, and friends.”

A decent show from Jo who mostly focuses on getting questions right rather than trying to compete in the humour stakes. She does that well enough, although as I’ve said with a couple of other guests that works well enough at this point but wouldn’t have been great on later episodes where the comedy dominates.

John Thomson – “Sean’s second guest is one of the stars of the Fast Show, and also played Sgt. Dunne in Soldier, Soldier. So he’s been in a room with Robson and Jerome with a gun, and for some reason didn’t use it. It’s John Thomson!”

A decent showing from John, who doesn’t tend to do panel shows too often. He’s fun and cheeky, but not devastatingly funny.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team start off with the Stranglers and No Mercy, the video for which features Hugh Cornwell submitting to hypnosis before a cotton bud is shoved into a giant mock-up of his ear, at which point the show pauses it. A few quick jokes before Jo guesses that the cotton bud produces some small men, similar to the Numbskulls. We are then shown what happens next – the cotton bud produces a small Hugh Cornwell. Oddly enough, Mark doesn’t consider Jo’s answer, which is fairly close to what actually happens, to be good enough even for one point.

Phill’s team get Robbie Nevil and his video for Wot’s It To Ya. Robbie, looking disturbingly like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, dances around a bit, and then we see a cat, which the video pauses on. Again, a few jokes, a little riffery, and then the real answer, which is that the cat dies, and then turns into Groucho Marx. Of course!

Intros

Phill and Adam to start with, performing Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. It’s a very good version, too, and Crispin gets it.

Next up is T. Rex’s Get It On. They do a good job, but nobody gets it – indeed, when Mark plays it in, Crispin mistakes it for Oasis’ Roll With It which, in his defence, probably says more about Oasis’ not always inspired approach to songwriting than it does about him, although it draws glares of disbelief and derision from his fellow panellists.

Third, Madonna with Papa Don’t Preach. Another good performance, but again Crispin doesn’t get it. John does, though.

Phill and Adam finish off with Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie – they make for a good team, turning in another good performance, and this time Crispin’s on the money.

Sean and Jo then take their turn, starting with Pigbag’s Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag. It’s good, albeit a hugely recognisable song to begin with, and John gets it right.

Their second song is Status Quo’s Roll Over Lay Down – it’s not the greatest performance, with Jo doing the lead guitar and Sean seeming a bit lost before doing the same bit as Jo, which makes the song sound a bit like a stop-start blues number. Still, Phill gets it, even if John doesn’t.

After that malarkey, we get Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. It’s a good enough rendition, but, as Mark puts it, no human has ever looked as vacant as John does trying to guess it, so it’s passed over and a bored-looking Adam gets it.

Finally, the Beatles and a Hard Day’s Night. Sean does a countdown in a Ringo Starr voice, Jo does the opening chord, John furnishes us with the correct answer.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Phill’s team are tasked with translating Dead Ringer For Love by noted thespians Meat Loaf and Cher into English. They don’t make much of it, really, but Crispin does get in a funny line in ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve to come over me’, delivered with just the right amount of detachment to not oversell the joke. They don’t have the correct answer, so Mark fills us all in.

Sean’s team, meanwhile, get the hot sound of 1997, the Manic Street Preachers with Kevin Carter. It’s the usual japes – some incongruous but dull combinations of words that don’t really sound like the song. Jo gets the first two lines right, which is enough to earn one point.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team start us off, tasked with identifying Kajagoogoo’s Jez Strode and Stuart Neale from a line-up that consists of “number one, cheekbone Charlie, number two, simply oozing star quality, number three, who’s wisely decided to lose the hair, number four, the betting shop manager, or number five, who’s too shy, too shy”. After a few jokes – including John comparing number five to Lurch from the Addams Family, which seems innocuous to me but draws oohs from the audience – Sean guesses number one and number four who, hey presto, were indeed in Kajagoogoo.

Phill’s team get the Beatles – or the Bandit Beatles, anyway. They have to identify the Lennon and McCartney of the group. The line-up is ”number one, as Scouse as you like, number two, Ringo surely, number three, the Maharishi’s minder, number four, Big Issue, or number five, Peter Stringfellow’s hair double”. Phill and co guess number two – not too hard considering he looks a fair bit like John Lennon – and number four; it is in fact two and three, who are, as we learn, Ian Walters and Colin Smith.

Next Lines

Another fairly textbook playing, with few jokes, although there is a little fun in some rather salty Marc Almond lyrics being given to Phill’s team, probably the best jokes the show manages to milk from that urban legend. Phill’s team lap up victory with 16 points, and Sean’s team are left with the bitter taste of defeat with 13.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: There’s a joke referring to Jimmy Nail as a twat which is delivered very well – there actually seems to be some genuine venom behind it…
  • The Bad: …however, it’s followed by a joke about David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs that feels very, very hacky.
  • Overall: Nothing outstanding, really, and a couple of duff jokes.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • The Longpigs had released their debut album the year before, and were seen as ‘the next big thing’ at this time – although they maintain a cult following they never quite had the expected commercial breakthrough. I suppose Jo being referred to as a Radio 1 DJ is dated now, and while he’s still working John was very much at the peak of his fame around this time.
  • Sean wears a ‘Support the Liverpool dockers’ t-shirt, as made famous by Robbie Fowler around this time, while Crispin’s shirt is very much of the time. I’d like to make a similar argument for Phill’s shirt, but I’d be being generous – that shirt has never been in fashion.
  • The references to Soldier, Soldier and Robson and Jerome in John’s introduction date the show a fair bit.
  • There could almost be a sub-section to this feature, which would be for jokes or remarks where the references aren’t necessarily dated but the attitude towards them is. For example, the joke about Chris Evans in Jo’s introduction is a reflection of a time when Chris Evans was a national hate figure in a way that, even if some people still dislike him, he simply isn’t now, similar to the Take That jokes I mentioned in the previous episode. Similarly, there’s a joke about Peter Andre which seems harsher now that his public image is that of a slightly bumbling, loveable nice bloke.
  • Phill makes a joke about Madonna having recently given birth, and Sean makes a reference to the controversy when Radio 1 refused to playlist a Status Quo single in 1996.
  • Jez from Kajagoogoo is sporting a ponytail that would have been just about acceptable at this time.

Other Observations

  • Even by his own standards, Mark’s quiff is ridiculous in this episode.
  • Unless I’m mistaken I believe Adam was undergoing a bit of a critical revaluation and revival around this time due to the patronage and praise of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who’d covered his song (You’re So) Physical. Possibly as a result of this Adam seems to be going for a gothic image here, and also mentions Reznor in a joke which gets a fairly muted response from the audience.
  • This is the first episode to feature more than one non-musician as a guest, and similarly Jo becomes the first non-musician to perform in the Intros round – compared to some later non-musical guests, and indeed some musical ones too, she does a pretty good job.
  • Sean makes a joke about not wanting to make fun of the Stranglers in case they beat him up; at some point jokes about Sean getting beaten up for his jokes, usually by insulted Identity Parade members, become a bit of a recurring feature. Incidentally, despite not wanting to make any jokes about them he does refer to them as ‘three fat blokes and a karate expert’, so it’s probably for the best that the show waits until he’s left before booking any Stranglers.
  • Mark incorrectly refers to Kevin Carter as a Vietnam photographer; Carter was active in Africa and his most famous work was from Sudan. My guess is Mark was mixing him up with Sean Flynn, the actor-cum-photographer best known for his work in Vietnam who went missing in Cambodia and was later sung about by the Clash. Failing that, he may have been thinking of Coventry City and Derby County midfielder Sean Flynn.
  • There’s laughter from the audience when they’re shown a clip of the Bandit Beatles after their Identity Parade, but other than the fact some of them are a little middle-aged and pudgy they’re pretty good. Maybe the audience are laughing because they’re assuming that if a clip is shown they should be?

Final Verdict
Not a particularly good episode. It’s no disgrace, but it’s hard to think of many highlights and with a fairly uninspiring panel and team captains still yet to find their feet there really isn’t any real reason to give your time over to it.

Series One, Episode Seven: “Disco music never relied on sucking poo.”

Originally Aired on the 24th January 1997
Shove it down your eyeholes, mister.

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr and this Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘It only takes a minute, girl, and I can only apologise’. Our team captains are two men who, in the spirit of true sportsmanship, have already exchanged good wishes, souvenir pennants, and for all I know, bodily fluids. It’s Sean Hughes and Phill Jupitus!”

Yeah, try and get that image out of your head.

Guests

Peter Hook – “Phill’s first guest is Peter Hook. He’s the bassist from New Order, so by rights this introduction should go on for three minutes before anything interesting happens.”

Yep, it’s everyone’s favourite Mancunian musical knobhead, so long as you disregard the Gallagher brothers, Ian Brown, Mick Hucknall, Morrissey, Jay Kay, Mark E. Smith and the shitting Gallagher brothers. Truthfully, for someone with a reputation for being, to put it euphemistically, forthright and outspoken, Peter keeps pretty quiet, although he does seem to have a good time.

Clare Grogan – “Phill’s second guest is Clare Grogan, who used to front Altered Images, and now presents her own show on VH1. She once said that her bottom accounted for 90% of her body weight. I think Phill might be able to top that, actually, Clare.”

The first of two appearances for Clare, who seems very giggly and bubbly but doesn’t contribute a great deal of humour. Still, like Peter, she seems to enjoy herself, and seems to get on well with Phill.

Ace – “Sean’s first guest is Ace, the guitarist from Skunk Anansie. The band is named after skunk, a type of extra strong marijuana, and Anansie, a Jamaican cartoon spider who sings and talks. Well, it does if you smoke lots of skunk, anyway.”

Best known for his work producing King Prawn – OK, best known to me – Ace has a couple of funny lines but for the most part keeps quiet and just enjoys himself.

Alan Davies – “Sean’s other guest is a Perrier-nominated comedian who’s given us all a good laugh, especially when Company magazine named him one of the fifty most eligible men in the country. Alan Davies!”

Looking very young and still best known as a stand-up, Alan doesn’t disgrace himself but isn’t really at his best here. He’s got a lot of charm but in this episode not much in the way of jokes to back it up.

Freeze Frame

Phill’s team go first, and must extract comedic gold from the video for Take That’s cover of How Deep Is Your Love, with Paula Hamilton meandering about a bit as the remaining members of Take That sing their song while tied up on a cliff. The video pauses just as she starts to loom over Gary Barlow. There’s some wacky jokes about genital dismemberment before Clare correctly informs us that Hamilton pushes Barlow over the cliff.

Anyway, Sean’s team get Alice Cooper’s Elected, with Cooper and bandmates unwinding after a gig and being joined by a chimpanzee with a wheelbarrow full of cash. Alan has a number of suggestions involving the monkey furnishing the former Mr Furnier with various items – they eventually settle on cigarettes and that is, of course, correct.

Intros Round

Sean and Ace get us started with Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love, complete with Sean demonstrating the correct way to mime drinking a pint of semen – wasn’t that a scene in the Aristocrats? – and although it’s a good version Alan seems to have it confused with the Boy From New York City, so Peter gets it.

Ooh, this next one’s hard – Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas. Yeah, a distinctive intro, coupled with Sean and Ace doing pulling kung fu poses. Hmm, yeah. Alan gets it easily.

Sticking on the theme of songs made easy by the accompanying poses, we get the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. Ace does a good version, coupled with Sean doing his John Travolta impression, including taking off his jacket to reveal an alarmingly-high waste. Bloody hell, Sean, you were only 31 at the time! Anyway, Alan’s on the ball.

To cap it all off they do Elton John’s Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting. It’s a little sloppy but they get the song over – Alan recognises the song but can’t think what it is, after taking time to mull it over Phill furnishes us with the correct answer.

Phill and Clare then take the stage to perform Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. It’s actually a decent performance, but neither Peter nor anyone on Sean’s team gets it.

Pressing on, time is money; we get David Essex and Gonna Make You a Star. It’s a bit of a slow start but once the main keyboard line kicks in it’s pretty recognisable. Well, it is unless you’re on the show itself, as no-one gets it.

Whiskey In The Jar by Thin Lizzy next – Clare nearly says the title out loud (all she gets out is “Whis-“), and then can’t remember how the song goes, so sits it out. I’d assume she forgot the solo at the beginning, but once Phill gets to the main riff she remembers and joins in. It’s passable, and Peter gets it.

We finish off with Holidays in the Sun by the Sex Pistols – it’s a good and very energetic version, and although Peter can’t remember the title Mark accepts his offer of it being ‘the one about the Berlin Wall’ as being close enough.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team are up first, with Labelle’s Lady Marmalade. I’m sure you’re all tired of me complaining about this round by now, or you would be if you were real and not a figment of my imagination, but this feels especially contrived. Some shit about horses. Ace has a rough idea of the real lyrics, enough for one point.

Phill’s team get one of the greatest groups of all time, and future NMTB legends Sparks, with This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us. They at least put a little effort in, rendering the entire lyric as a list of TV shows. It’s not hilarious but you can see they worked on it. Is that better or worse? Is it better to write a load of boring shit but really put your back into it, or to just half-arse it and not give a toss? As the writer of a blog reviewing every Never Mind the Buzzcocks episode from the beginning, I’ll throw my hat in with the former. Anyway, Phill has the right answer.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team has to identify Kelly Marie, shown singing Feels Like I’m In Love, written by former Identity Parade guest Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry, fact fans. It is either “number one, with the kindly face, number two, the power dresser, number three, at last, a real woman, number four, supermum, or number five, glamour itself”. The team are instantly drawn to number four who is, indeed, Kelly Marie.

Phill’s team, on the other hand, get Stella Barker and Clare Hurst of the Belle Stars, with the parade billed as “number one, Clare Grogan’s sister, number two, the English teacher, number three, Calamity Jane, number four, surely too young, or is she, or number five, I recommend the ribs”. Phill recognises number three as Barker from her time in the Bodysnatchers, they correctly pair her with number two.

Next Lines

Not much to mention, really, other than Peter showing off his knowledge of Benny Hill records and, for once, Sean’s team taking this round fairly seriously, with both Ace and Alan proving pretty good at it, good enough at least for them to come from behind and win 18-16.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: There’s a very good On the Buses joke after the Sparks round, possibly the best joke the script has thrown up by this point, and Peter’s introductory joke is pretty good.
  • The Bad: After the Take That question, “Thankfully the video does have a happy ending, as Take That split up immediately afterwards” – it feels a bit tepid and obvious. In fact, there’s a general air of spitefulness in that round that feels a little silly in hindsight, in the same way that all those YouTube comments about Justin Bieber will look silly in ten years time when he’s miles out of the limelight – you’ll wonder why anyone cared at all.
  • Overall: It’s pretty good, and probably the highlight of the show, although that maybe says more about the quality of the rest of the show.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Skunk Anansie were at their peak around this time, on the brink of having their two highest-charting hits. While none of the other guests are especially representative of 1997, the reference to Clare hosting a show on VH1 is of course dated, and Alan’s appearance pre-dates the two things he’s best known for now, Jonathan Creek and QI, so neither of them is mentioned (if I was feeling especially cruel, I’d point out that you can tell this is pre-QI because Alan hasn’t developed his trademark of interrupting other people’s jokes to mime them loudly, but I’m not feeling especially cruel so I won’t bring it up).
  • Phill makes a joke about Eternal during the Take That question. Additionally, Sean does a bit about the flailing solo careers of Gary Barlow and Mark Owen – I think I previously mentioned that that’s a bit of a running theme in the early series.
  • Phill makes a reference to Pets Win Prizes, which had ended a few months earlier.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but Kelly Marie and her Identity Parade cohorts are displaying some very 90s fashion.

Other Observations

  • At the time of this episode New Order had split, and Peter was busying himself with Monaco. Curiously, neither of these facts are mentioned.
  • Mark switches back and forth between referring to Peter as Peter and Hooky during his links, while Clare is listed as Clare P. Grogan in the credits.
  • While performing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Sean lifts up Ace’s cap and points at his shaved head to give a hint. Afterwards, Alan can be heard asking what that clue was meant to mean. Oh, Alan, so naive.
  • I seem to remember reading an internet post somewhere dated from around the late 90s – it may have been on Some of the Corpses Are Amusing – accusing Phill of making a lot of sexist/misogynistic jokes. I can’t say I’ve really gotten that impression myself, but he does affect a tone of (presumably) mock exasperation with Clare during the Intros round that could be taken that way, I suppose. Am I alone on this? In fact, am I alone in general? Am I the only being on this big empty planet, a flyspeck on the face of a cruel uncaring orb floating through endless space, doomed to die alone, unloved? Also, Clare looks tiny next to Phill.
  • Although Mark labels number one in the Belle Stars’ Identity Parade as looking like Clare Grogan’s sister, number two (Clare Hurst) looks a lot more like her to me.

Final Verdict
Nothing to really write home about – in theory this should be a strong episode, with a warm, talkative comedian, a musician with a reputation for shooting his mouth off, a singer with plenty of experience in comedy and, uh, the guitarist from Skunk Anansie, but no-one really stands out, and with none of the regulars firing on all cylinders yet it never really comes together. The script is pretty decent, and there’s the odd good bit, but I can’t imagine this being anyone’s favourite episode.

Series One, Episode Six: “Bryan Ferry’s obsessed by biscuits.”

Originally Aired on 17th January 1997
After all the time and effort I put into this fucking review, the least you could do is watch this video

Introduction
“Aww, you’re lovely! Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball. Terrible juggler, though.’ Our two team captains are comedians who both regret the demise of vinyl. They love the way it sounds and the way it looks, but most of all they love the way it fits round the crotch. It’s Sean Hughes and Phill Jupitus.”

Mark actually goes off script here, with his compliment to the audience, an early sign of him starting to loosen up.

Guests

Richie Wermerling – “Phill’s first guest is Richie Wermerling from Let Loose. Before he became a pop star he was a milkman, and old habits die hard – he still insists his record company leaves his royalties behind the flowerpot outside his front door.”
NOTE: I’m writing this bit four years after the original blog entry, because I apparently forgot to write up Richie’s performance when I originally reviewed this episode. That might be a commentary on his appearance – it’s not really the most memorable – but it’s almost certainly an oversight on my part. So, how is he? Well, as I say, unmemorable. He might be a victim of overly-tight editing – he doesn’t really contribute many jokes or answers, and seems liveliest when he’s being argumentative, the sort of thing that would have got more airtime in later years. As it is, though, it’s not hard to see why this is a one-off appearance.

Jake Burns – “Phill’s second guest is Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns. The Fingers are one of Ulster’s most political bands, and recently only just avoided having all their songs revoiced by an actor.”
It’s a decent enough performance from Jake, who comes across as warm, chirpy and clued-up, but not quite the funniest guest ever. He probably works better here, with the show still more quiz-orientated, than he would have done on a later episode, and it’s hard to believe that the pleasant, amiable chap here is also the raging voice of one of punk’s finest singles.

Tony Wright – “Sean’s first guest is Tony Wright from the country’s leading Britrock band, Terrorvision. Rumour has it they wanted to be called Television but unfortunately they had a Japanese manager.”
The first of many appearances for Tony, who has an odd appeal – he’s not the funniest guest, although he does come out with some good lines, but what he really brings is a wide-eyed, puppy-dog charm. He’s one of the few guests that makes the Indecipherable Lyrics round work, grinning and giggling his way through it, and it’s just hard not to love him.

Bob Mills – “Sean’s second guest is a comedian who’s presented shows like In Bed With Medinner and Win, Lose or Draw, and these days on VH1 he brings pleasure to literally dozens. Bob Mills!”
Britain’s very own answer to Garry Shandling, and the man about whom my Mum is always saying “Ooh, Bob Mills, I used to like him”, this is the first of two appearances for Bob, who’s likeable and witty but sometimes seems a bit keener to play the quiz than to tell jokes.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team first, and they get Samantha Fox with Hurt Me, Hurt Me. It’s a typically modest video, cutting between Ms Fox in a vaguely Eastern get-up cavorting on a bed and her grinding up against a man who looks strangely like Tom Waits, not that anyone who looks like Tom Waits wouldn’t look a bit strange to begin with. Anyway, we pause just after she slaps her arse. There’s quite a lot of funny guessing, but even with Mark’s clue that they’re looking for what she says rather than what she does no-one really knows and we find out that she completes the earlier line “You can work my body all night long…” with “…but the pants stay on”.

Phill’s team get Suedehead by Morrissey, with everyone’s favourite Walter Softy tribute act riding a tractor about in the snow. The jokes aren’t as funny here, although Richie does manage to refer to Keith Moon as ‘James Dean from the Moon’, which is… something, that’s for sure. Anyway, no-one gets it, so Mark plays the video, revealing the visual non sequitur of Morrissey playing a bongo drum for the benefit of a herd of cows.

Intros Round

Sean and Tony start off, imitating Money, Money, Money by ABBA for Bob’s benefit. They do it well, and with a few good mimes to boot (and a few dodgy ones). Bob is on the ball.

Having had Suggs on a couple of episodes prior, Sean and Tony now treat us to their rendition of House of Fun. It’s pretty good, lengthy pause between Tony doing the drum intro and Sean actually starting up with the rest of the song aside, and Bob gets it right.

Finally, they finish with Lone Ranger by Quantum Jump. They do a good job of imitating the ‘speaking in tongues’ intro, although they don’t actually go into the song beyond that. It’s no use anyway, as Bob has never heard the song, and, amidst protests from Phill, Mark elects not to pass it over, instead preferring just to play it in, because the two were mutually exclusive at this time.

Phill and Richie are up, with E.L.O.’s version of Roll Over Beethoven. It’s a good performance and Jake, punk credibility ebbing away with every second, gets it easy.

Next, Lou Reed, and Walk on the Wild Side. Apart from Richie’s rather suspect idea of what a guitar sounds and indeed looks like, it’s a decent performance, and Jake gets it.

Taking a break from the hits of the early 70s, we get Bon Jovi and Livin’ on a Prayer. It’s not fantastic – Richie does the bassline well, but Phill seems to do the same line when impersonating the talkbox. Still, can’t complain – Jake knows it once again.

Finally, after starting with E.L.O. we bookend with ELP and their Fanfare for the Common Man. Phill does the fanfare itself well, although Richie’s bassline is suspect – Jake isn’t fooled though, and a misspent youth comes in handy as he once again gets it right.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Phill’s team get Nirvana and Smells Like Teen Spirit. Sadly nobody quotes Weird Al’s Smells Like Nirvana. Phill’s flails about with some particularly bad joke lyrics – is it just me that hates this round? – although evidently one woman in the audience is amused enough to laugh hysterically. Jake has pretty much the right answers to put us out of our misery.

Sean’s team get Roxy Music and Virginia Plain, and the guitar in the intro doesn’t give you goosebumps then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. For all my complaining about this round, as I said in his introduction Tony is pretty good at selling it, and it helps that for this one he, Sean and Bob actually have some funny lyrics that for once make sense. Still, Bob’s a massive Roxy Music fan, as all goodhearted people are, and knows the lyrics off by heart, and gives us a good impression of Bryan Ferry’s donkey to boot, which earns his team an extra point.

Identity Parade

We had Nick Heyward in the last episode, and now Sean’s team must identify two of his former Haircut 100 colleagues, Les Nemes and Graham Jones. The line-up consists of “number one, with the cheekbones, number two, no haircut there, surely, number three, no haircut needed, number four, too young by half, and number five, steady girls”. After some solid jokey banter, as the kids say these days, Sean guesses one and three, and by jove, he’s got it.

Phill’s team are given M’s Robin Scott, and it could well be “number one, the doorman, number two, your bank manager, number three, don’t mess with him, number four, insurance can be arranged, or number five, fit as you like”. There’s a ‘classic’ early moment when Phill adopts the mannerisms of a teacher to ask the line-up, all of whom are chewing gum, to spit it out into some paper. They guess number five; correctly, as it turns out, although the wags in the line-up all collectively prepare to step forward together, before pulling back to allow Mr Scott to reveal himself. Oh, the japes!

Next Lines

We’re starting to loosen up a little here, although it’s still fairly rapid. Bob is hilariously competitive, pounding the desk with his fists after what he thinks is a poor round, and Jake continues his tour of unhip music of the early 70s by showing his knowledge of Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, managing to hit Richie in the head in the process. It’s a close-run thing, but it finishes with 16 points for Phill but 17 for Sean.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: It’s not really a joke per se, but the description of Samantha Fox as alternately ‘the singing mutton’ and ‘the pneumatic chanteuse’ amuses me.
  • The Bad: There’s a joke after the Lou Reed question in the Intros round that really isn’t that funny but gets a big laugh, possibly because it hinges on the word ‘blowjob’ – maybe it was still shocking at the time? There’s a better joke soon after that uses the word ‘muff’ that, while good, gets something of an overreaction too, so maybe it’s that.
  • Overall: It’s not the best, with a few stale gags, but you’re not likely to kick your television screen in and send Mark the bill.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • The joke in Jake’s introduction is, of course, a reference to the redubbing of Irish Republican leaders, but most famously Gerry Adams, by the BBC during the late 80s and early 90s – the practice had actually ended by the time of this episode but it was clearly fresh enough in the memory that the joke works. There’s also a BSE joke after the Morrissey video, and a joke about a post EST-Lou Reed releasing Lou Reed Unplugged, although considering I saw a stand-up do a Steven Hawking Unplugged joke a couple of weeks ago I might be alone in thinking Unplugged jokes are dated.
  • Let Loose had had a couple of hits a year or two prior to this episode, but according to Wikipedia were in ‘difficult second album’ country by this point and split soon after. Bob was just about to start the third series of In Bed With Medinner, so it’s possible that his appearance was to promote that, although considering it was on ITV I’m not so sure. I think people forget just how many hits Terrorvision had, or at least how long they were around for, so Tony’s appearance is more of a sign that it’s the 90s in general.
  • Phill makes a joke about the legal battles between Morrissey and his former Smiths bandmate Mike Joyce, which I think had finally come to an end shortly before this episode.

Other Observations

  • Richie also appeared on the first series of Shooting Stars, but I have to admit to having very little memory of Let Loose whatsoever, even as a kid who watched Top of the Pops at this time. Was he a bit of a pin-up or a media personality in the mid 90s? I could understand both – he’s handsome and comes across as a little outspoken.
  • Although Tony will appear five more times, this is the only time he doesn’t sit to Phill’s right, and the only time he performs in the Intros round.
  • Tony appears to have fans/friends/family/bandmates/well-wishers in the audience, judging by the whoops and cheers during his introduction and some of his jokes.
  • There is a little irony in Mark making a joke about Bob entertaining dozens on VH1 when the YouTube video is taken from a VH1 repeat. (Is that the correct use of irony? I’m normally a pedant myself but I can never be arsed to get that one right.)
  • In the last episode Phill made a joke during Freeze Frame about ‘the other blokes from the Jam’ appearing during a Style Council video; in this episode he makes a joke about ‘the drummer from the Smiths’ appearing during the Morrissey video.
  • As you’ve most likely noticed, Sean and Tony only perform three intros, whereas Phill and Richie do four. Mark does say “here are your four” when passing them their envelope, so presumably this is down to sloppy editing.
  • Mark mentions listening to Gary Crowley on Radio 1, although according to Wikipedia Crowley has never had a show on Radio 1, and although he infers that Mum is a British deodorant it’s actually American (see, I told you I was a pedant).
  • Mark prompts Bob’s impression of Bryan Ferry’s donkey with the offer of a bonus point, the start of a trend of Mark fucking around with points, although it’s a couple more series before he really starts to do it in earnest.
  • I was a little critical of Sean in the last episode, but he’s a lot better here, and in particular looks more relaxed with Tony and Bob.

Final Verdict
Quite a good episode, with a rowdy audience, perhaps bolstered by Tony’s fans/friends/family/doctor/long-lost twin brother, keeping the energy levels high. It’s not perfect – there’s the odd duff round, and Phill seems a little below par at times – but it’s good, with Sean’s team particularly doing well humour-wise.

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.

Series One, Episode Four: “At Thickth, Thethilia by Thugth.”

Originally aired 3rd December 1996
Feast your eyes on this bad boy!

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘Wake up, Maggie, I think I’ve got something to say to you. My name’s Keith Chegwin and I’m an alcoholic’. Our team captains are two men who claim to know about as much about pop music as they do about comedy. So we’re in deep doo-doo already. Please welcome Phill Jupitus and Sean Hughes!”

Phill and Sean now get a joint intro, in what is possibly an effort to pick the pace of the show up.

Guests

Sarah Cracknell – “Phill’s first guest is Sarah Cracknell. She’s a solo artist and the lead singer with Saint-Etienne. She spent her youth hanging around James Bond film sets with her father who worked there. His job was to check Roger Moore for woodworm.”
One of the quieter guests, I’ll admit that I’m struggling to think of much to write for Sarah, who is chirpy and seems to have a good time but says very little.

Billy Bragg – “Phill’s second guest is an Essex-born singer-songwriter. He’s a confirmed socialist and co-founder of Red Wedge, and so he really is a leading member of the Barking left. Billy Bragg!”
The first of a number of appearances for Billy, who’s above average in terms of funny musical guests, although not quite outstanding. Still, he’s usually good for a laugh or two per episode, and he is of course good friends with Phill, so there’s a warmth and chemistry there.

Suggs – “Sean’s first guest is Suggs! Suggs is a man who hasn’t let many years of stardom with Madness go to his head. When we called him recently, and this is absolutely true, we were told he was unable to come because he was on a songwriting course.”
Another friend of Phill’s and another member of Red Wedge – it’s a wonder the Daily Mail didn’t incite its readers to burn their licenses in disgust. Anyway, Suggs appears a handful of times and is generally good value although, curiously for someone who’s quite a seasoned television personality away from his music, he often seems a little uncomfortable and maybe nervous on the show.

Jeff Green – “Sean’s second guest has just finished supporting Jo Brand for two months so he’s now eight inches shorter than he was in the summer, Jeff Green!”
A regular early on, Jeff does very well on the show, with a lot of good jokes and even if he never really knocks your socks off he improves every episode he’s on.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team get ‘metal monsters’ – Mark’s words, not mine – Aerosmith and their video for Living on the Edge. A nude Steven Tyler, hand covering his cock, sings some platitudes over a vaguely Eastern arrangement, with an undone zip running down to his navel, basically leaving him with a massive gaping hole for the right side of his body. Honestly, watch the video if you want to know what I’m on about. There’s a few jokes but with no serious answer forthcoming we get the rest of the clip – a green man comes out of Steven’s hole.

A slight change of pace for Phill’s team, as they get the chart rundown from a then-recent edition of Top of the Pops, hosted by Chris Eubank. It doesn’t take a genius to predict the general direction it takes, but the rundown pauses after number seven. Billy and Phill both know the answer – number six was Suggs, with Cecilia, or, in Eubankese, number thickth wath Thuggth, with Thethelia. It’s a little obvious but still a fantastically funny clip, and as a little extra we get a brief clip of Phill hosting the show himself dressed as the Easter bunny.

Intros Round

Sean and Suggs are up first with a strong version of Free’s All Right Now. Jeff has a good joke – tossing a coin to the performing duo – but not the correct answer, so it’s over to Billy.

They continue – under duress – with the Frog Chorus, and We All Stand Together. It’s good, to the extent that the Frog Chorus can be considered good, but Jeff makes the same schoolboy error that I made playing along at home, thinking that the Frog Chorus was in fact the title of the song. We’re not alone, as Phill was under the same impression, so the points go begging.

Do you remember Larry Mullin and Adam Clayton’s cover of the Mission Impossible theme? I do, because it was on Now 34 or something like that and that was one of the first CDs I ever owned. Sean and Suggs do a good version although even if that particular version’s a bit of a half-remembered oddity these days it’s such a distinctive song anyway that you’d be worried for Jeff if he didn’t get it. No need to worry – he gets it.

Which band did Tiger Feet? If you’re thinking Mud, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right (sorry). They do it well enough although the biggest clue is of course the dance – Jeff doesn’t get it but Sarah does.

Over to Phill and Sarah who get started with a pretty good version of the Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), although those of you with nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox may wish to shy away from Phill’s rather suspect falsetto. Neither Billy nor anyone on Sean’s team can get it, although there’s a funny moment when Mark plays it in and Sean, Jeff and Suggs all groan in unison.

Continuing on the theme of hearts, we then get Elton John and Kiki Dee with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. It’s a good effort, but Billy can’t get it, so it’s up to Suggs to take the points for his team.

It’s time to stand for the Irish national anthem – Phill and Sarah give us Ghost Town by the Specials. Sarah does a very good job, although curiously for a renowned ska fan Phill does the beat a bit too loud and uptempo. It matters not a jot, though, as this is more up Billy’s alley than the Eurythmics or Elton John and Kiki Dee, and he guesses correctly.

Keith Flint was everywhere in 1996, and he sneaks into this round with a rendition of Firestarter. It doesn’t start well, but once the drums kick in it’s recognisable, and once the ‘hey, hey, hey’ has been deployed Billy’s on board.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team first, and they have to decipher Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. After not contributing any for the last three weeks Sean’s team finally contributes some joke lyrics, although Sean notably keeps schtum throughout. While you have to admire their cheek in keeping up the pretence that Wuthering Heights isn’t about, you know, Wuthering Heights, it’s only Jeff’s charm that stops it from being tedious.

Phill’s team then set about the finest Giorgio Moroder cover to ever become a terrace chant, Chicory Tip’s Son of My Father. Again, it’s all a bit silly, but it doesn’t take too long.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team go first again, and must identify the Rubettes’ Alan Williams. We get the first introductory jokes for each line-up member – “Is it one, smaller than you thought, is it two, with the twinkle in his eyes, Is it three, with the luxuriant mane, four with the ears, or five, who wears that cap like a natural?” – although as you can see they’re not quite the elaborate lattices that the show would later construct. Suggs recognises number two as being him virtually straight away, and it’s no surprise – he’s barely changed at all.

Phill’s team get the first of an occasional trend in which an artist featured in an earlier round is brought back for the identity parade, in this case Chicory Tip frontman Peter Hewson. The line-up of potential Hewsons consists of “number one, curly to his mates, number two, Mr. Handsome, number three, with the kindly wrinkles, number four, the affluent ex-model, [and] five, the city gent”, and Mark takes the opportunity to remind Phill’s team of some of the jokes they made about their guest’s haircut earlier in the show. They guess number one, but instead it is revealed to be number four, a jolly Joe Kinnear lookalike.

The Mark Lamarrs Bar Round

Apparently renamed on legal advice, this round begins with Sean’s team, who must connect Pink Floyd with an afghan hound, a wok or a pig’s testicles. Suggs knows the correct answer – after Roger Waters left they added a pair of testicles to their trademark inflatable pig to prevent legal difficulties.

Phill’s team must then work out the connection between everyone’s favourite urophile, Chuck Berry, and a lady’s toilet, a glass table or a Barbie doll. Billy hints at the classic glass table urban legend that has been attached to many down the years, with Sarah connecting it to Hitler, oddly enough. Billy knows what our Chuck’s been up to, though, and gives us the correct answer that he got in legal trouble for videoing women using the toilets in his restaurant.

Next Lines

Again, a pretty textbook playing of the round, lots of questions, no huge laughs, over and done with. Phill’s team win with 21, Sean’s team lagging behind on 16.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: I’m a sucker for contrived puns, so the list of songs originally written in German – Heil Ho Silver Lining, Goering Underground and Is She Really Going Out With Himmler? – hits the spot for me, and there’s a good joke about Pink Floyd releasing the aforementioned bollocks as a concept album.
  • The Bad: Nothing too dreadful, although the other Pink Floyd joke, about the quality of festival food, is aptly enough not especially fresh.
  • Overall: So-so, really. It’s never hilarious but then it’s never jarringly bad. It works, basically.

Proof That It’s 1996

  • Keith Chegwin’s alcoholism was a fairly recent news story at the time, I believe, hence the joke about it in Mark’s introduction.
  • Sarah was about to release her first and, to date, only solo album, so I’d assume her appearance is to promote it. While they’re both big names to this day, Suggs and Billy had both just released albums too, with Suggs in particular enjoying some chart success, and while Jeff is still performing he was a much more ubiquitous figure at this point.
  • I suppose any episode with the phrase “from Top of the Pops, earlier this year” is going to be a little dated, but the clips of Chris Eubank and Phill hosting the show dates it to the mid 90s, when the show experimented with celebrity guest hosts.
  • As previously mentioned, the Larry Mullin and Adam Clayton cover of the Mission Impossible theme is one of those songs that I can’t imagine we’d have seen performed even a year or two later.

Other Observations

  • It occurred to me that while I’ve been complaining about how the show focuses more on its quiz aspect than the comedy in these early episodes it does probably benefit the show in the long run. I’ve cited examples of other shows, like Have I Got News For You and QI, that have had similarly tight starts, and it seems that stuffing the early episodes with as many questions as possible basically serves like a pair of stabilisers while the regular participants get to know each other and develop some chemistry. Even on NMTB, where I seem to recall Mark, Phill and Sean all knew each other beforehand they have to get used to performing together and there’s every chance that if these early episodes had been as laid-back and chatty as later episodes that they would have been more awkward and less funny. Meanwhile there’ve been countless panel shows that haven’t lasted beyond a series or two because they’ve expected, say, David Mitchell, Alexander Armstrong and Johnny Vaughan to be able to bounce off each other perfectly from the off.
  • During the very first round, after Suggs makes a joke about Steven Tyler’s testicles exploding, Mark remarks “What a beautiful thought to end the show on” – something of a peculiar statement to make with only three minutes gone. It’s hard to say whether Mark misspoke or it’s the product of peculiar editing.
  • Peter Hewson from Chicory Tip looks very different in the identity parade from how he did in the clip shown, and yet they’ve taken the effort to find four other men who look a lot like him as he does now – e.g. heavier, with a mullet. This happens a couple more times in this series, I think, but later on they’ll just get any four ringers who broadly look like they could have been the person in question.
  • After we all had a good laugh at Chris Eubank earlier, Mark manages to call Suggs ‘Shuggsh’ at the end of the show. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why I transcribed the end of the first episode but haven’t done it for any since, that’s because they’ve been identical ever since. When the show starts adding in jokes and the like at the end, I’ll let you know.

Final Verdict
Credit where credit’s due, the show seems to be loosening up at this point. It probably helps that you have Phill, Billy and Suggs, who all know each other, but there’s just a general feeling that everyone’s a bit more relaxed than they had been before, and while the little comedic interplays don’t last for too long the fact that they’re there at all shows that we’re getting to a point where the show is about a collection of people being funny together, rather than various individuals just getting their jokes in. It’s nothing special, but it’s enjoyable.