Series Two, Episode Two: “I don’t find your student humour amusing.”

Originally Aired on 22nd September 1997

Well, I’m back, and I’m not the only one. I spoke (four years ago) about how there were a lot of returning guests in series two, and in this episode, we get two of the better guests from the first series. Accordingly, there’s a greater sense of everyone feeling at ease with each other.

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and welcome to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘This wheel’s on fire, and look at that hamster go!’ Our two team captains have already contributed to the festival atmosphere. Sean Hughes hasn’t washed for a week and Phill Jupitus has flooded the toilets. Please welcome Sean and Phill!”

Guests

Edwyn Collins – “Sean’s first guest is Scottish singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins. Edwyn’s first job was as an artist in Glasgow’s parks. His finest works included Still Life with Park Bench, Dead Tramp in Hedge, and the classic Dog Crapping on Bowling Green.”
Edwyn seems a pretty safe booking for the show – a veteran musician undergoing a commercial renaissance at the time of this episode, renowned for his erudition, the bookers would have expected him to tick plenty of boxes. There’s no reason, on the basis of this, that he couldn’t have returned – he’s witty, able to hold his own against the comedians, and seems to enjoy himself. As it is, it’s a one-off.

Jeff Green – “Sean’s second guest is comedian Jeff Green. Embarrassingly, Jeff was once a fan of soprano choirboy Aled Jones, and then the penny dropped, among other things.”
Another solid, lively performance from Jeff, who always brings plenty of enthusiasm to his appearances. Considering the show is still taking a ‘quiz first, comedy second’ approach, but is gradually loosening up, a guest like Jeff is ideal, as his approach is to be funny but to use the confines of the quiz to generate his material.

Tony Wright – “Phill’s first guest is Tony Wright, singer with Britrock Gods, Terrorvision. The band are such hell raisers that on a tour of America they once carried on partying during an earthquake. In fact, the first they knew about it was when Charlton Heston appeared and led them to safety.”
Tony’s Tony, endearing, occasionally dopey without being irritating, and giggling his way through his jokes in such a way that leaves you unsure as to whether they’ve been written for him or he’s just amused himself as he’s thought of them. He’s a reliable figure in these early series, and it’s always good to see him.

Gary Barlow – “Phill’s second guest is Gary Barlow. He’s now a successful solo artist, and we’ve been asked not to mention his boyband past. He can take almost anything, but he can’t take that. I’m sorry about that Gary.”
Well, fair play to him for appearing after being the butt of a lot of jokes in the first series, mostly about the state of his career by this point, although his intro is kind enough to describe his solo career as ‘successful’. While that might have been an exaggeration he would still have been a big enough star that the fact he’s appearing at all is testament to what a success the show had been. Sadly, that’s all that’s really notable – he might be a polished performer on our screens nowadays, but here the future national treasure/tax dodger (delete as appropriate) is mostly quiet, and, with the possible exception of the Intros Round, where he’s able to rely on his singing voice, never seems entirely comfortable.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Kicking us off, Sean’s team must translate the chorus of Song 2 by Blur. I’m no fan of this round, but it seems that Jeff very much is, weaving a preposterously elaborate backstory to his answer and dancing as he sings it to the original, on his own to boot. Sean has a suggestion before Edwyn puts us on something resembling the right path, enough for a single point.

Phill’s team get a slightly less famous song, being tasked with recounting the lyrics to Open the Gate by Dutch metalheads Vortex. The funnier bits are in the margins here – the banter about the video’s good, the actual attempt at providing lyrics less so, but at the very least give them credit for having worked together, divvied up the lines, etc. It feels a bit more streamlined than some previous efforts. Sadly, no-one has the real lyrics – not even Tony, who owns the album – so Mark fills us in, and gives a point “for charity’s sake”.

Intros Round

Sean and Edwyn are firstly tasked with impersonating Peaches by the Stranglers. It’s a solid performance of one of those songs that’s distinctive enough that it’s hard to mess up. Jeff gets it.

Next up, Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones. If the last song was idiot-proof, this song turns out to be pretty difficult, at least for Sean and Edwyn. Edwyn’s use of his housekeys and a beer bottle to impersonate the cowbell ends up being overpoweringly loud, Sean can’t even get started, and after they swap roles Edwyn’s impersonation of the riff isn’t quite there. Still there’s enough for Phill to swoop in for a bonus point.

Last, and probably least is D’You Know What I Mean? by Oasis. Sean, as is his wont, is more interested in giving visual clues – i.e. standing stock still like Liam Gallagher – leaving Edwyn to try and capture the guitar, the helicopter and what I’m presuming is Morse code. Jeff’s lost, Phill’s not.

There’s no rest for Phill, as he and Gary must now perform Adam & the Ants’ Prince Charming. It’s a good, enthusiastic rendition, helped by the requisite dance moves. Tony was living in a cave – well, Keighley – in the 80s, sadly, and doesn’t recognise it, so Jeff makes up for some of his guessing on the last round.

Controversy! You can’t really fuck up the Village People’s YMCA, can you? It’s another intro that’s so distinctive there’s no way it’s not guaranteed points in the bag. It certainly seems that way when Tony, within seconds, is stood up and joining in with his teammates, but then Phill, clearly in the mood to continue showing off his moves, jumps to the chorus, performs the dance and shouts out the title. Tony clearly knew what it was – well, you’d presume as much – but Mark is having none of it. Oh, Phill!

Lastly, and apparently against Phill’s will, it’s Faith by George Michael. They perhaps make the organ intro sound a touch livelier than it actually is, but it’s otherwise a good rendition, and by the time the guitar comes in Phill’s apparently warmed to it. Tony gets it.

Connected Round

A slight shift in name – Sean’s team are asked to join the dots between Spandau Ballet and Pulp. Edwyn has a couple of suggestions. The first – large genitalia – isn’t true, or at the very least isn’t on Mark’s card, but the second – appearances in teen girls’ magazines’ photo love stories – is, Jarvis Cocker and Tony Hadley being the guilty parties.

Phill’s team have to connect Iggy Pop and Pink Floyd. Tony wins the team a bonus point for amusing Mark, but the actual answer is so hopelessly bizarre and obscure as to be beyond anyone, with both artists being honoured by America’s National Association of Brick Distributors at their annual music video awards. Cue a photo of Iggy Pop receiving said award that’s probably the funniest thing in the whole episode.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team must spot former New Seeker Eve Graham, with Mark making a very big point of the fact that the teams are not shown the footage that appears in the final broadcast. The line-up is “number one, my maths mistress, number two, Laura Ashley’s sister, number three, who’s just made for a song of never-ending love, number four, one of the frock chorus, or number five, hang on, wasn’t she in Pan’s People last series?” Sean’s often less than gracious handling of the line-up is on display, as he rather dismissively suggests Ms Graham wouldn’t have many royalties left as she wasn’t a songwriter – Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, suggests she has been deprived of royalties somewhat, so nice one Sean! – while Edwyn recognises number five as the culprit immediately, earning his side some points.

Phill’s team, meanwhile, are given Den Hegarty, the bug-eyed and manic bass singer with Darts, who my Dad continues to insist invented punk. (He also says that crinkle cut chips are a Chinese invention.) Some effort has been put into disguising the distinctive Hegarty – more than was put into disguising Buster Bloodvessel last year certainly – as all five are given dark glasses. They are “number one, your scary grandad, number two, your recently released uncle, number three, actually, he’s not a real welder, number four, the man from the CIA, or number five, the man from the DSS?” After some brief japes Phill cuts to the chase – even dressed as one of the Men in Black, he recognises number two as our man, and sure enough, the shades come off and it’s him.

Next Lines

Both teams go into the final round level, thereby rendering every previous round pointless, I suppose. There’s definitely a loosening up compared to the last series, with Sean’s team taking their time pretending (?) to not get a Take That lyric, Gary getting a Robbie Williams question right immediately and Jeff being so eager to play along during Phill’s team’s round that he gives away a couple of answers. Even with Jeff’s assistance Phill’s team can’t win though, the final score being 16-15 in Sean’s favour.

In Closing

Still sticking with the format of the guitar chord, the announcer and an appended joke. This week, “…I’ve been Mark Lamarr, which I know means nothing in the real world. Good night.”

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: There’s a nice, silly joke about Adam & the Ants after the Intros Round.
  • The Bad: None of the guests’ introductory jokes are much cop, are they?
  • Overall: Two or three inspired jokes but a lot of dross.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Tony and Jeff are both very late 90s guests, as I discussed when they appeared before. Edwyn’s been working for 35 years by this point but was very much at his commercial peak here, riding the crest of A Girl Like You’s success.
  • Sean’s contribution to Indecipherable Lyrics centres around the poor reception to Oasis’ Be Here Now, released just weeks earlier.
  • Mark (or the script, anyway) gets in a joke about Ulrika Jonsson that plays off the fact that they were on Shooting Stars together at the time.
  • You don’t really get Patsy Kensit jokes anymore, and I could be wrong but I think jokes about Robbie Williams’ weight tailed off a while ago, probably when he started getting his kit off in videos in an effort to show he wasn’t actually fat.
  • Tony’s joke about ‘banned alcopops’ is a reference to a brief moral panic about said drinks; specifically, according to Wikipedia, the Co-Op had banned them in 1997.

Other Observations

  • I have to admit that my first memory upon seeing this episode listed was of Gary Barlow being drunk, at the very least. Watching it back the only ‘evidence’ is that his eyes seem pretty glazed during Indecipherable Lyrics, and who can blame him? This probably suggests he wasn’t very good at delivering the pre-prepared lines, since, quiet as he is, he seems lucid for the rest of the episode. Sorry, Gary. Now pay your taxes.
  • Oh, and not to pile on him, but he does seem to wince slightly at the mention of Take That in his introductory joke. It’s always hard to tell with the scripted jokes what’s a conceit and what’s not, but it might well be that the show had been asked to skirt around his then-former band.
  • Edwyn’s ‘student humour’ remark to Jeff is in good humour, presumably. I only feel like bringing it up because Jeff is nobody’s idea of student humour, and the idea of one of the pillars of indie pop accusing anyone else’s work of being aimed at students is a bit of a pot and kettle situation, frankly.
  • Phill’s “badly dubbed Dutch vid with a bone in someone’s hand” is the funniest thing he’s come out with on the show thus far, and one of those lines where it almost seems too perfect, as though the video had been filmed to set up the joke. Not that I’m seriously suggesting that – the video might be laughable but I’ll be damned if I don’t have the song in my head now.
  • I’ve a feeling that Phill’s dislike for George Michael and Wham! will come up fairly often, with him making it clear repeatedly that he doesn’t want to perform their intros.
  • As every long-running quiz must eventually do, there’s a moment where they pretend to be reading from scripts to send up the idea – the very idea! – that the show might be scripted. It’s a cute if overdone bit, helped out by a funny contribution from Edwyn, but it’s not helped by the fact that it comes right after Tony telling a joke where he continually pauses to glance at the desk in front of him at his notes. It’s no secret that there was some preparation to the show, and in a lot of ways it’s better to give non-comedians funny lines than to let them flounder. Plus, it’s pretty clear that there is room for spontaneity, which’ll only increase as time goes on. But still, it’s all a bit rich.
  • Another example, most likely the product of the edit suite, of Mark hurrying up a team when they don’t seem to be taking all that long, this time in the Identity Parade. Considering in later episodes this round will have the potential to go on for a good five minutes it’s cute to see that even the slightest deliberation is seen as excessive.

Final Verdict
The show continues to operate at a higher level than the first series without hitting any great heights. Jeff and Tony are reliable ringers for the show to bring in, Edwyn’s a very good one-off and a wilderness-era Gary lends some historical fascination without being obtrusive. I don’t know that it’s one that you’d choose to hunt down and watch above all others, but it’s solidly entertaining for half an hour.

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.