Series Two, Episode Three: “Let’s all have a minute’s silence for Richard’s little joke.”

Originally Aired on 29th September 1997

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and welcome to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘I read the news today, oh boy, and they said I’d never make it with a name like Zeinab Badawi.’ Our team captains are two comedians who were both at the famous Stones orgy. Sean Hughes knows he was there because he can’t remember anything about it, and Phill Jupitus only remembers crying over the tragic waste of a Mars bar. Please welcome Phill and Sean!”

Guests

Richard Fairbrass – “Sean’s first guest is the one and only Richard Fairbrass. Formerly the singer with Right Said Fred, it was only when he got the job on BBC2’s Gaytime TV that Richard has to sit his parents down and confess that he’d become a TV presenter.”
You’re Grandma’s favourite, Richard pulls off his distinctive combination of quaint and utterly filthy once more. He’s settled into a nice rhythm – say something near to the knuckle, bicker with Mark, be the butt of a few jokes – and it’s handy for a fledgling show to have guests like that while it’s finding its identity.

Billy Bragg – “Sean’s second guest is Essex-born singer-songwriter, Billy Bragg. In his youth Billy joined the army, but bought himself out after only ninety days. Later we’ll be having a whip-round to see if we can buy him back in.”
Another return from the first series, Billy gets a couple of good jokes in and knows enough of the answers to keep us moving briskly along. A solid performance.

Sarah Blackwood – “Phill’s first guest is Sarah Blackwood, singer with glamorous Northern electro-popsters Dubstar. Sarah was once scolded by her Mum for saying the word ‘blimey’ on Richard and Judy. Quite right, too. The words ‘tosser’ and ‘irritating old hag’ would have been far more appropriate.”
Sarah’s chatty and warm but of the guests she’s the least memorable. To her credit, she ends up playing it straight for the most part, focussing less on humour and more on getting questions right, which she does well. Nevertheless, you can see why it’s a one-off booking.

Neil Morrissey – “Phill’s second guest is Neil Morrissey. He’s an actor who comes from Stoke, where remarkably, his hairstyle is still ahead of the times.”
I’ve often said that panel shows have a bad habit of confusing comedians and comedic actors, but Neil’s the exception to the rule. Nobody’s going to mistake him for Peter Cook, but his energy and enthusiasm – check out how much fun he seems to have singing along in Indecipherable Lyrics and performing in the Intros Round – is infectious and hard not to enjoy.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team get the party started with Public Image by Public Image Ltd. They think it’s mostly about insects, and Richard digresses into a discussion of ‘ear minges’. Everyone seems to have a good time singing along, before Richard tells us what he thinks the lyrics actually are. He’s… well, he’s about as close with his proper guess as when he was discussing ear minges, but at least what he proffers borders on plausible. One point.

Phill’s team must then tease meaning from Suzi Quatro’s Can the Can. Neil, quite rightly, takes his time appreciating her in her leather-clad 70s pomp. The actual lyrics bit, as per usual, isn’t so hot, but Neil in particular is enthusiastic enough to wring laughs from the strongly vaginal jokes. Luckily, Sarah’s able to set us straight and get a full complement of points.

Intros Round

Sean and Richard become the first double to work together twice on this round, having done so on the very first episode. They served up a mixed bag then, but there’s a good start here with a strong Jean Genie by David Bowie. Billy, a massive Bowie fan, gets it, complete with attempting to mime Aladdin Sane make-up with his fingers.

It was inevitable that at some point the show would come to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus, and while Richard starts off a little too uptempo, he soon gets on track, while Sean busies himself with performing Ms Birkin’s part. It never really reached a satisfying climax, but it hits enough of the spot for Billy to get it, and Mark gives him one (point).

Finally, we have Rock Lobster by the B-52s. It’s not a great version – you can see why Billy guesses Babylon’s Burning, in truth – but Phill’s on the ball.

Phill and Neil then take their turn, which, unsurprisingly, makes up for a lack of polish with plenty of energy. They start with You’re the One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Both are performing the bassline, which is a touch distracting, but with a few subtle clues – dancing behind Mark, performing the Saturday Night Fever dance while shouting “different film!” – they reveal enough for Richard to mop up (are we still doing the orgasm jokes?) once Sarah falls short.

Secondly, there’s a funny and actually not-that-bad version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Sarah gets it right, and we move on.

Lastly, we’re treated – well, by certain definitions of the word ‘treat’ – to Phill and Neil’s interpretation of the Spice Girls’ Say You’ll Be There. For the most part they focus on impressions of the girls’ nicknames and kung fu kicks, a la the video – when they do perform the actual song they’re really just humming the vocal melody more than doing the actual intro. It’s very funny, though, and Sarah furnishes us with the correct answer.

Connected Round

Sean’s team must connect Ozzy Osbourne and Guns N’ Roses. We move swiftly into a discussion of rock n’ roll excess, with Sean getting in a funny joke about Monopoly and Richard going perhaps a little too in depth with his theories on ‘abusing the Toblerone’. The truth, it transpires, is that both Ozzy Osbourne and former Gun N’ Rose Izzy Stradlin have been arrested for public urination, as anyone who read any copy of Kerrang! ever published would be able to tell you – Ozzy on the Alamo, Izzy in the aisle of a plane. Predicting that two acts famed for debauchery would be linked by debauchery is enough for a point, apparently.

Phill’s team, meanwhile, get the Smiths and the Bay City Rollers. Between them, Neil and Sarah are able to swiftly lead us to the connection, Neil knowing that Derek Longmuir of the Bay City Rollers now works as a nurse (or did in 1997 anyway), while Sarah is sufficiently familiar with Morrissey’s pre-fame life to note that he was once a hospital porter.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team are up first, and their mission is to identify Lindsey Danvers and Anita Chellamah of Toto Coelo, or as they are redubbed tonight, “number one, Posh Coelo, number two, Sporty Coelo, number three, Baby Coelo, number four, Ginger Coelo, or number five, Scary Coelo”. After some conferring but little consensus, Phill settles on two and five; alas, he’s only half-right, with the correct answer being three and five.

Sean’s team must then tease out Black Lace’s Colin Gibb from a line-up that consists of “number one, the holidaying estate agent, number two, Stan from On the Buses, number three, plenty of room on top, number four, Nik Kershaw, or number five, more Black Sabbath than Black Lace”. Sean initially reckons number four – albeit because he’s short and he thinks he can beat him up – but Billy intervenes, insisting on number three, over Richard’s objections. They should have listened to Richard – or at least gone with Sean’s gut instinct – as it is indeed number four. Recriminations all round!

Next Lines

Mark introduces the round by telling us that the guests will give him the next line, “or failing that, look vacant and repeat what I’ve just said,” so it was inevitable he’d cock this up, managing to read both question and answer when it comes to the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time. Pride cometh before the fall, and all that. Phill’s team go into the round in the lead but a combination of some dithering over a Madonna lyric and some good work from Billy in particular means that Sean’s team is able to catch up and force a 15-15 draw.

Tie-Breaker

Still not allowing for a draw, our sudden death penalty shoot-out task is to identify the one gay member of the Village People. As Sean’s team “have a slight advantage” (Mark’s words, not mine), Phill’s team go first, but their tame Panenka drops into the keeper’s hands, as it turns out construction worker David Hodo is not the man they’re looking for. Sean’s team get it right, but confounding stereotypes, it’s Billy who can identify the Indian – or Felipe Rose, as his mother knows him – as the gay Village Person. Next time round we can look forward to Richard knowing the intimate minutiae of the career of 80s soul-punk upstarts the Redskins, right?

In Closing

Guitar chord, announcer, etc. “I’ve been MC Lamarr, good night.”

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: Apparently in Mexico Grease was renamed Vaselina. Richard Fairbrass is on the panel. Just because you can see where this is going, doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.
  • The Bad: On the other hand, a joke about the Spice Girls and four-letter words is predictable in a bad way.
  • Overall: Not great, but there’s an interesting development: a running joke about the Spice Girls’ nicknames. It’s not really that funny, other than how silly and contrived it becomes, but it points towards a direction the show will increasingly take with greater success in the future.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Zeinab Badawi is still working, I suppose, but isn’t as prominent as she would have been in 1997.
  • Richard’s appearances on the show will eventually outlast his time in the spotlight, so in a lot of ways he should be immune to appearing under this heading. References to his presenting Gaytime TV are of the time, though. Sarah’s kept working but hasn’t been big for some time, while Neil’s still very laddish here, something he’s dialled back since Men Behaving Badly ended.
  • I’m both too young and too heterosexual to be sure, but if any veterans of the 90s gay scene with access to this episode are reading this – I’m aware the intersection of that Venn diagram’s pretty narrow – would you mind telling me whether Richard’s outfit is a 1997 thing or just a Richard thing?
  • Richard makes a joke about Princess Diana’s death – well, more specifically Elton John’s subsequent re-recording of Candle in the Wind, but still – that draws winces and audible shock from the audience, considering her death was only weeks earlier.
  • Spicemania was truly in swing, with a running joke in the script plus an appearance in the Intros Round.
  • There’s a reference to Hetty Wainthropp Investigates prior to Next Lines – the British Murder She Wrote ran from 1996 to 1998, placing this episode squarely in the middle of the Wainthropp Fever that gripped the nation as the Major era gave way to the days of Blair.

Other Observations

  • Sean seems to enjoy Public Image, but in a few series time will have an unsavoury encounter with Jah Wobble. I wonder if that sort of thing affects your enjoyment of their music?
  • On a related note, Sean’s famously a fan of the Smiths, and looks distinctly unimpressed by some of the jokes about them.
  • While it’s understandable that Richard’s Princess Diana joke shocks the audience, Sarah makes a relatively innocuous joke about Suzi Quatro now being the Mastermind chair that draws an undeservedly shocked response from the audience.
  • Somebody in the writer’s room must have been proud of the Suzi Quatro/quattro formaggio that follows the Indecipherable Lyrics round, because I think it gets used just about every time she appears or is mentioned on the show.
  • After last week’s YMCA shenanigans, Mark makes a point of telling Phill not to give away the title before the Intros Round.
  • I only know Toto Coelo from this episode. A few weeks back I was in the pub and it came on, prompting my friends to wonder what on Earth it was. Worryingly, having not seen this episode in years, I was immediately able to blurt out “It’s Toto Coelo!” I kept secret that I remembered it from a 20-year-old episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
  • After Mark made a point of emphasising the fact that the guests don’t see the Identity Parade artists before they take to the stage last week, Neil makes a joke to that effect.
  • Billy nearly does an actual spit-take when Black Lace are announced as the artist featured in the Identity Parade, and Mark has to tell the audience not to boo before the song is even played. Personally, my chief Black Lace memory is of being around a friend’s house in my early teens and him playing a song from his Mum’s Black Lace Greatest Hits(!) because he thought it was hilarious. The song in question was Gang Bang, and said friend ‘performed’ to the song by starting to lisp, mince about and grind up against me. Oddly, he was deeply homophobic – in one R.E. lesson we had to draw up our own personal Ten Commandments, and his first was ‘No gays except for fit lezzers’ – but, tying us back to the episode, when Right Said Fred made a comeback with You’re My Mate he thought they were the greatest band in the world. So make of all that what you will.
  • It’s probably a safe bet that they gave Sean’s team “I’m every woman” in Next Lines so that Richard could respond with “It’s all in me”. He doesn’t rise to the bait, or recognise the song, or whatever.

Final Verdict
One of the better early episodes. Getting Richard and Billy back makes sense, as they’re among the funnier musical guests the show has in its arsenal, and Neil brings a puppy dog enthusiasm that gives the show a different quality. None of the regulars are doing anything special yet but they have their moments, and the only real black mark against the episode is that the scripted linking jokes are pretty weak.

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.