Series Two, Episode Four: “You’re aiming for losing tonight, are you Phill?”

Originally Aired on 6th October 1997

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and welcome to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘Don’t know much about history, but then I’m only a history teacher in a Hackney comprehensive.’ Our two team captains, it can truly be said, eat, drink and sleep rock and roll. Sean Hughes does the sleeping and Phill Jupitus does the eating and the drinking. Please welcome Phill and Sean, ladies and gentlemen!”

Guests

Shelly Poole – “Sean’s first guest is Shelly Poole, from platinum album sellers Alisha’s Attic. Shelly’s Dad Brian was a rock star in the sixties, so he would shout things like ‘Turn that bloody music up!’, ‘What time do I call this?’ and ‘Get upstairs and trash your bedroom!’”
A pretty quiet episode for Shelly, who does some good work in the Intros round but otherwise doesn’t say too much.

Math Priest – “Sean’s second guest is Math Priest from top five stars and Britpop heroes Dodgy. Dodgy recently went on a tour of Sarajevo, where they argued so much that the Bosnian-Serbs offered to mediate at band meetings.”
Math returns for his second episode, and brings a blokey charm and a couple of quick lines, as per usual. It’s nothing spectacular, but you can see why the show held onto his number throughout the first few series.

Midge Ure – “Phill’s first guest is legendary singer-songwriter, Midge Ure. Midge has sung vocals on three number ones by different artists, and what an enjoyable evening’s karaoke that turned out to be.”
Midge has a bit of a hard task, with two teammates who seem to be getting on very well and are on good form. Unsurprisingly he keeps relatively quiet, providing answers where necessary but keeping jokes to a minimum. He’ll come back a few years later and be dryly funny, but there’s not much evidence of that here.

Graham Norton – “Phill’s second guest is comedian Graham Norton. Since Graham took over the nightly chat show on Channel 5 he’s become famous wherever he goes – inside the Channel 5 building.”
Graham plays the episode perfectly, I’d say – he knows absolutely nothing about any of the music he’s asked about, so he makes that lack of knowledge into the big joke of his appearance. It’s a very good performance. The audience loves him, and it’s easy to see, watching this, why he went on to become such a big star.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Phill’s team must decipher the aural hieroglyphics of the Human League’s Sound of the Crowd. It’s absolute nonsense, frankly – usually in this round there’s an effort to at least concoct some story as to what the false lyrics mean, but all that’s proffered here is a string of nonsense phrases. Fortunately Graham’s on good enough form to at least keep the discussion lively. Midge has something close to the real lyrics – although, as he points out, they make about as much sense as the gag lyrics – and earns his team a point.

Sean’s team get the ‘I can’t believe it’s not a sketch show parody of Manc indie bands’ sounds of How High by the Charlatans. They give us a lot of stuff about monkeys and Courtney Love, and then Shelly gives us a close enough approximation of the truth to earn a point.

Intros Round

Sean and Shelley start with Madness’ Driving in My Car. It rightly draws praise from Mark, with Shelly in particular making what could have been a terrible mess sound exactly like the original record. No surprises that Math gets it.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of their rendition of She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals. Actually, Shelly does a good job with the music again, but blots her copybook by apparently getting Fine Young Cannibals confused with Cameo and miming a codpiece. Sean can’t get the riff right either. Math is, understandably, stumped, while Phill follows the Cameo route. No points for anyone.

Finally we get You Showed Me, as covered by the Lightning Seeds. I could quibble about Sean’s bit being a bit too fast, but he gets the essence of the song enough for Math to recognise it, so it’d be churlish of me to complain, and I’m no churl.

Phill and Midge start their turn with one of the most recognisable intros possible, The Final Countdown by Europe. To be fair, as easy a task as it is, they do it very well anyhow. There’s just one problem – Graham hasn’t heard any music recorded since 1964, so it’s up to Sean to get it right.

Phill and Midge keep up their good work with a well-realised version of Irene Cara’s Fame. Surely Graham knows it? No. No, he doesn’t. Shelly does, though.

Everyone on the planet recognises Ray Parker Jr., and the haunting strains of Ghostbusters, but that doesn’t mean Phill and Midge don’t give it their all. Graham, alas, isn’t actually on the planet, apparently, so Math gets it, plus a round of applause for a pretty good joke.

Connected Round

Phill’s team must find out the connection between Chris Isaak and Terence Trent D’Arby. There’s some funny business with Graham and Midge both being pretty bad at guessing, but Phill remembers that both singers were once boxers. A full complement of points.

Sean’s team get Sid Vicious and Ray Davies. Not much to report – a couple of quick jokes from Sean before he reveals that he knew the truth all along. Both men came close to marrying Chrissie Hynde.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team get the job of picking out both Karel and Matthew Fialka, of Hey Matthew fame. But hey, hey, come look at this – the show’s finally hit on the formula for the Identity Parade gags! Rather than a string of unrelated jokes about the line-up, we get an evolving string of jokes on a single theme. It’s not quite the elaborate lattice that later episodes will hit upon, but it’s a start. The line-up is “number one, Matt Goss, number two, Matt Bianco, number three, Matt Dillon, number four, Matt Le Tissier, number five, the young Matt Munro, and number six, matt emulsion.” It’s all very funny stuff – Phill manages to pose the line-up in a good bit – before the team guesses two and five, correctly, as it happens.

Sean’s team are given a tuxedo-clad line-up, from which they must identify Tenpole Tudor’s rhythm section of Dick Crippen and Gary Long. It’s two of “number one, James Bond, number two, Scaramanga, number three, Pussy Galore, number four, Q, or number five, back of the queue.” Sean’s team guess number two and four look like old punks – and number four looks absolutely chuffed to be described so – but they’re only half-right, with numbers one and two being the real culprits.

Next Lines

If the idea of a quickfire round is to end the game on a note of tension, consider that note pretty flat this week, as Sean’s team starts off miles ahead and then proceeds to rack up such a high score that Phill’s team, having not especially distinguished themselves at the quiz aspect of the show up to this point, don’t have a chance, especially when Graham confuses R Kelly for Orville. In the end, Sean’s team wins 19-13.

In Closing

Still sticking with the standard guitar chord and announcer, before this mangled wreckage of a reference: “I’ve been Mark Lamarr, and I’m not afraid of any ghosts. Good night.”

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: The joke confusing the Charlatans and the Charltons is pretty funny.
  • The Bad: There’s a joke about Sid Vicious’ mother being stripped of her title of Mother of the Year which is a good example of a joke letting the facts do the work for it. She bought him the heroin that killed him and then dropped his ashes next to a vent – funny, in a very grim way. The actual punchline is weak and unnecessary after that.
  • Overall: Quite good. There are a few jokes I could have picked for the good, and while nobody’s going to confuse it for a work of high art, it does its job. Besides, we finally have the Identity Parade line-up jokes working.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • The opening joke about the standards of education in Hackney appears to relate to an ongoing news story from the time. 
  • Other contemporary references in the script include the conflict in Bosnia, Suzanne Charlton and a man who entered the lion cage at London Zoo.
  • Math is, of course, the very spirit of mid-to-late 1990s distilled into one drummer with an inoffensive second-tier Britpop band, while Alisha’s Attic haven’t really clung to the national consciousness, despite 1997 being the year in which they were nominated for Best Newcomer at the Brit Awards. They lost to Kula Shaker. 1997!
  • Graham is, of course, a huge star now, but he’s introduced here as the regular guest host of the Jack Docherty Show, and looks frighteningly young.
  • Both the Charlatans’ and the Lightning Seeds’ featured songs were pretty contemporary, and I’m not sure either is among their better remembered songs today.
  • Phill makes reference to the Teletubbies, then a new show, while Graham, prompted by Phill, refers to Boxing Helena, which isn’t exactly forgotten but you can’t imagine a mainstream BBC comedy show making reference to it at any other time than within a year or two of its release.
  • Graham makes a reference to the equalisation of age of consent laws for same-sex couples. He actually jumps the gun somewhat – Labour were trying to equalise the law, but wouldn’t successfully push it through until 2000.
  • Phill has a joke about the now-defunct Littlewoods catalogue.

Other Observations

  • It’s Math’s turn to wear the ‘Support the Liverpool dockers’ t-shirt that both Sean and Mark Thomas wore in the first series. I hope it got washed between episodes.
  • After Mark introduces Phill’s team, Phill and Graham seem to be having a very good, animated chat, while Midge looks on forlornly. Poor chap.
  • There’s something very odd about Phill’s team’s contribution to the Indecipherable Lyrics round, in that Graham’s suggestions keep being contradicted by Phill and Midge. Was Graham not available for the pre-episode working-out of the round and had to write his own lyrics?
  • Mark seems to be getting restless – three times he gets up from behind the desk for the sake of a joke. None of them are really that funny, but it’s something he’ll do to greater effect in later series, and at the very least it’s one way to distinguish him from other panel show hosts.
  • A bit of an oddity – while Mark explains how both Sid Vicious and Ray Davies almost married Chrissie Hynde, Brass in Pocket is played very quietly in the background, with accompanying footage. It doesn’t really serve any purpose – we don’t need it to illustrate who Chrissie Hynde is for us – other than to try and make a lengthy, gag-free explanation more interesting.
  • Number five in the Fialka line-up – the actual Matthew – completely corpses when the man stood next to him is introduced as Matt Le Tissier, and appears to glance back to his father, which somewhat gives the game away.

Final Verdict
Another good episode, with Graham and Phill in good self-deprecating form and a decent script. It starts slowly – I know I keep banging on about it, but Indecipherable Lyrics can go badly awry – but it just keeps getting better as it goes on.

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Series One, Episode Two: “Let’s all get up and do moonwalks!”

Originally Aired on the 19th November 1996
It’d be churlish not to click here and watch it

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘He ain’t heavy, that’s just water retention.’ Our first team captain is a comedian who once directed videos for Kirsty MacColl and is largely responsible for where she is today – in the bargain bin at Woolworths. Phill Jupitus! And leading the other team is a comedian who’s just completed a nationwide tour, and next month he’s doing all the Abbey Nationals as well. Sean Hughes!”

Strange that, for the second episode running, we get a joke specifically about Phill Jupitus, but the one about Sean Hughes could easily have been told about any comedian. I’m not sure if there’s anything in it, but it still seems odd.

Guests

Ashley Slater – “On Phill’s team’s Ashley Slater, lead singer with Freak Power. He also played trombone in an army band and with the London Symphony Orchestra.”
The previous episode featured very gentle jokes about its musical guests; this one doesn’t even bother, merely giving them a humour-free career rundown. I don’t know if they’re a bit scared of upsetting them, but it won’t last long. Ashley comes across as cheerful and nice but he doesn’t contribute a great deal.

Cathy Dennis – “Phill’s other guest is singer Cathy Dennis, who once achieved ten consecutive top forty hits. Her latest album saw her working with no less a legend than Ray Davies of the Kinks.”
Cathy was, at this time, coming to the end of her time as a performer – I believe the album mentioned in her introduction was her last – and about to become a major songwriter, something of a British Linda Perry. She’s very quiet here, although that could be more due to the hectic pace of the show at this stage – she reappears a few years down the line and puts in a fairly memorable performance.

Shovell – “On Sean’s team, Shovell from M People. He’s the Manchester band’s percussionist and got his strange name from the time he worked on building sites.”
Like last episode’s Math Priest, we have a percussionist from a band mostly remembered as a fairly bland mediocrity, who becomes something of a regular on the show in the first few series, more due to his being knowledgeable and personable than being especially funny. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – Shovell comes across as a very nice bloke on the show, and clearly enjoys himself a lot.

Graham Norton – “Sean’s other guest is comedian Graham Norton. As co-presenter of the late night sex quiz Carnal Knowledge he helped educate insomniacs everywhere – they all switched over to the Open University.”
Well, musician’s egos might be deemed too fragile to mock at this point but there’s no need to handle the comedians with kid gloves, clearly. This is a pre-chat show Graham Norton, of course, so he’s not quite as seasoned a performer here as he would be now, but he clearly impresses the producers, who get him back on a few more times.

Freeze Frame

Phill’s team get Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. It’s strange to remember a time when this wasn’t seen as a massive cheesy anthem – there was a phone advert a few years back that had a load of people singing it in a crowd, inexplicably – and was seen as a bit embarrassing. Anyway, these days you’re all probably familiar with the video, so you know how it goes – a windswept Ms. Tyler sings, a choir with glowing eyes does so too. The video pauses. Phill makes a joke about choirboys being abused, although curiously enough when Cathy suggests that Michael Jackson appears Phill tells her to ‘leave it’. Phill knows the real answer, though, as even then I think the video was well known – one of the choirboys ‘flies’ unconvincingly for a brief time.

Sean’s team get a less iconic song, King Missile’s Detachable Penis. It seems something of a cheat to dedicate a round to a comedy song, as the song itself ends up doing most of the comedic heavy lifting, but there we are. The song and video get astonished laughs from the audience. As you can imagine, what happens next is that the lost penis is discovered, although as those of us who discovered the song by staying up to watch repeats of Beavis and Butthead in the early 2000s know, the next bit of the song/video that they show isn’t actually the bit where he finds his penis. Oh well, no need to be pedantic.

Intros

Sean and Shovell are up first, and start with I Heard It Through the Grapevine. It’s a pretty good rendition, mostly on Shovell’s part – Sean is more interested with shouting ‘Daddy’ and miming being shot. Graham can’t remember the title, so it goes over to Phill’s team, who of course get it easily.

The second song is a very good impression of Shiny Happy People by R.E.M., which Graham gets quickly. No muss, no fuss, over and done with.

Blockbuster by Sweet is up next, and again, it’s very well done. Graham clearly recognises it but can’t remember the song, so Phill answers once more.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Intros round without one awful rendition, so we come to Step It Up by the Stereo MCs. Sean and Shovell do manage to imitate the component parts of the song quite well but, like Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. Mark, oddly enough, plays the song in, and then passes it over to Phill’s team – even with this hint they don’t get it, Ashley correctly identifying the band but not the song.

It’s then over to Phill and Ashley, who do a very strong rendition of Blue Monday by New Order. Cathy doesn’t get it – although she thinks it might be Electronic, so she’s at least in the right ballpark – so Sean picks up the points.

Next, the Osmonds’ Crazy Horses. They do it well enough, but Cathy doesn’t recognise it so Shovell gets the points for Sean’s team.

The third song is Bjork’s version of It’s Oh So Quiet, complete with Phill hiding behind Ashley, which gets a big round of applause from the audience. It’s a pretty good version too, albeit of a very simple intro. Cathy gets it right.

Finally we have Material Girl by Madonna – performed well, guessed correctly; again, no muss, no fuss.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team go first, with Rockin’ Robin by the Jacksons. Sean tells a couple of quick jokes, leading Mark to wearily ask “Any idea what the lyrics might be?” as though Sean has gone on for a few minutes. It does seem odd for a comedy show to be so adverse to jokes, although I’m not sure if this can be blamed on the busier nature of the early shows or if it’s the product of some strange editing. Shovell gives pretty much the correct lyrics and we’re done. While I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of this round usually, it seems even more pointless without any attempt at joke lyrics, since at this stage it just feels like something you could’ve had on Pop Quiz or A Question of Pop.

Shovell then mentions that if they had more time he could do the moonwalk (well, he says moondance, which Mark picks up on) on the desk, which Mark encourages him to do. Soon after, Cathy asks if she can do it too; when Mark deems her effort substandard he gets everyone up to walk backwards on the desks. I mentioned when looking at the first episode that the show was infamous in its early days for having guests dancing on the desks; I’m not entirely sure whether it happens again but it does seem suspicious for it to happen in the first two episodes.

Anyway, with those festivities out of the way, Phill’s team get Ten Pole Tudor, with Swords of a Thousand Men. There’s a bit of mucking around with some joke lyrics – including an amusing cut to Sean, Shovell and Graham looking alternately bored and unimpressed – before Phill gives their serious answer, which is pretty much right.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team have to identify Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton. We’re still not getting individual descriptions of each parade member, but Cathy starts a tradition by interacting with the line-up, in this case giving them a pen to pass to the left-hand side. Eventually the team goes for number one; unfortunately it’s number two.

Sean’s team, meanwhile, get Dave Bartram and Rod Deas of Showaddywaddy fame. Yet another tradition is established, this time of someone making a point of ruling out a line-up member who turns out to be the one they’re after – Sean, in particular will do this a lot, and here he rules out number two on the basis that none of Showaddywaddy were so tall or ‘violent-looking’. As such they guess 3 & 5; of course, it’s 2 & 5. Oddly, after they step forward their song When is played, and they get a chance to recreate some of their old dance moves, a fun little touch that won’t happen too often.

The Mars Bar Round
Ooh, a new round. It’s a forerunner to the various rounds that will often come first in the later series, questions like ‘How did [innocuous item] get [pop star] in trouble with the law?’ and the like. In this case we’re just given a musician and three items, and we have to work out which one is related to them in some way. Full credit, I guess, to them for not condescending to the audience by explaining the name of the quiz.

Sean and co get Demis Roussos, and have to find out whether he is connected to the Ayatollah Khomeini, an electric razor or a pint jug. The connection turns out to be that he was on a plane that was hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists, which seems a slightly tenuous connection to the Ayatollah – they don’t even say whether or not the hijackers were Iranian – but there we are.

Phill’s team gets Dexys Midnight Runners, and must choose between a clothes peg, a set of darts and a hamster. As we all know the answer is the set of darts, as they performed Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) in front of a picture of darts legend Jocky Wilson, and as I hope we all know, this was an intentional joke on the band’s part. I hope we all know but apparently the NMTB question setters don’t, as they claim it was the result of a hard-of-hearing technician. I always thought this was a pretty well-known story anyway, but it gets a huge laugh from both the audience and the teams, so maybe it wasn’t as famous then.

Next Lines

As is the norm at this stage, all delivered at a rapid clip, although Sean has settled into his groove of caring more about getting the jokes over than the right answers, which makes for better entertainment although it does result in his team only scoring two points for the whole round. Unsurprisingly, Phill’s team win, with 16 points to Sean’s 11.

How Good Is the Script?

  • The Good: There’s a joke about Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley’s divorce that works well despite being a touch predictable, and there’s a nice bait-and-switch in referring to Bonnie Tyler’s distinctive gravelly face.
  • The Bad: There’s a very obvious joke about Detachable Penis being available as a 12”. There’s an utterly awful joke about Marvin Gaye that doesn’t seem to have any actual humour content beside the shock value of the phrase ‘boob tube’.
  • In General: Not especially good. There seem to be quite a lot of obvious jokes, and not much you won’t have heard elsewhere. I wouldn’t exactly claim that the scripts on the show were ever high art but they were usually well-written and at least had original jokes that were good for a couple of big laughs; you can’t say that about it in this larval stage, though.

Proof That This Is 1996

  • References to Woolworths, Abbey National and the late Kirsty MacColl in the introduction all date the show somewhat.
  • Shovell, Ashley and, to a lesser extent, Cathy are all fairly ‘of the time’. Graham has obviously gone on to be a very big star since, and looks very young here – it’s amusing to hear him introduced as the co-host of Carnal Knowledge, a show which I can’t imagine too many people remember these days.
  • Beside those in the introduction, there are topical jokes about the Bishop of Gloucester and Gillian Taylforth.
  • The early episodes frequently use quite iconic songs in the Intros round; once they start to run out there is a tendency to go for songs that were either big at the time or at least fresh in the memory but which we, watching them today, might have difficulty remembering, or might have completely forgotten about until now. I’d argue that Step It Up is the first song to come under that description.
  • Ed Tudor Pole is said to be now hosting the Crystal Maze; the show had actually ended a year prior to this although it’s possible that its cancellation hadn’t been announced at that point.

Other Observations

  • Mark has a tendency at times to explain panellists’ jokes if they’ve left some of it up to the audience’s imagination, notably doing so here with one of Graham’s jokes during the Freeze Frame round.
  • Sean will frequently drop references to earlier jokes into the Intros round; that begins here with a couple of callbacks to Detachable Penis.
  • Both Sean and especially Phill seem quite committed to doing their Intros well here – this won’t last, as I recall. While Phill is very good at it, he tends to be louder than his teammates, which is a problem when they do the most distinctive part of the song and he drowns them out, a good example being when he does the guitar part on Blue Monday.
  • During the Ten Pole Tudor question Mark, rather defensively, suggests that this might be a good time to make fun of his hair. While his greaser image would become a running joke on the show, and was obviously mentioned a lot before this on Shooting Stars, it does seem a tad odd considering no-one’s mentioned it either in this episode or the last.
  • The Identity Parade line-ups really seem to be relaxed and enjoying themselves a lot in the early episodes, often laughing along with the jokes – later on you’ll see them making an effort to keep a straight face, and I think mention has been made of them being told not to laugh.
  • On the few times it’s played, the Mars Bar round always contains at least one surreptitious reference to an urban legend about some celebrity or other, in this case a pint jug and a hamster. Graham actually hints at the rumour about the pint of semen being pumped from someone’s stomach, in this case Marc Almond – it goes on to become something of a running joke in the early series, although this is the closest anyone comes to actually saying what the rumour is.
  • The rush to get through the Next Lines round becomes a bit of a problem when Mark comes out with a pretty good joke – admittedly a fat joke about Phill, but a fairly clever and quick one – but seems so keen to get it out and move on to the next joke that it seems to go unnoticed by everyone in the studio.

Final Verdict
If the first episode was at least interesting from a historical viewpoint, this doesn’t even have that going for it, I’m afraid to say. It’s not that it’s a car crash – it’s amusing at times, it’s energetic and there’s nothing embarrassing about it, but a lot of it feels quite tepid and there’s nothing that’ll really make you feel as though it’s worth it to watch. The main problem is still that, as I keep saying, it’s still a quiz with some comedic elements at this point. Someone – possibly even Phill Jupitus, come to think of it – said that the best panel shows feel like a funny chat with your mates, but here there’s almost no chat, and certainly no room to breathe.