Series Two, Episode Five: “Shit and Shovell.”

Originally Aired on 13th October 1997

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘Oh Carol, I am but a fool, so I’ll have eight vowels and one consonant, please’. Both our team captains are well capable of filling Wembley Stadium. Sean Hughes by reading his poetry outside and Phill Jupitus simply by walking in there. Phill and Sean, ladies and gentlemen, our team captains.”

Guests

Richard Fairbrass – “Phill’s first guess is Richard Fairbrass from Right Said Fred. Richard is a singer and TV presenter who’s bought his own weightlifting gym. He’s now expert at the clean and the jerk, but he curiously has no interest in the snatch.”
A third appearance for Richard, and the second in three episodes. It’s a little quiet by his standards, maybe because the regulars and his fellow panellists are on good form and he doesn’t have chance or the need to dominate as much. As ever he takes his licks and argues with Mark, just less so than usual.

Lisa I’Anson – “Phill’s second guest is Radio 1 star DJ and TV presenter, Lisa I’Anson. Lisa’s had a long association with pop music and recently worked with Wings. She does the voiceover on the Bodyform ads.”
A decent showing from Lisa, who doesn’t chip in with too much but clearly has a fantastic time which adds to a good atmosphere in this episode. It’s not exactly a memorable performance but there’s no reason she couldn’t have returned. Maybe I’m just shallow.

Shovell – “Sean’s first guest is Shovell, percussionist with M People. Every year the band spend Christmas together in a hotel, the one day of the year when they’re fully justified in throwing the TV out the window.”
One of the cornerstones of the show’s early years, Shovell brings something different to the show – a boisterous exuberance that’s entirely devoid of self-consciousness. It could get wearing – all that dancing and belting out disco numbers turns the show into Night Fever at times – but it keeps the energy up without the show having to settle into the breakneck pace it had in the first series. Add to that a couple of good lines and it’s a good performance.

Mark Owen – “Sean’s second guest is heartthrob and platinum-selling pop sensation Mark Owen. Mark used to work in a bank but now gets hundreds of fan letters a week. He replies diligently to every letter, and charges a mere £15 administration fee for each one.”
Following hot on the heels of once and future bandmate Gary Barlow, Mark O would make a handful of performances in the show’s early years, often at times when his career was at a level where he needed the show more than the show needed him, suggesting the producers liked him. It’s easy to see why – he’s like a more innocent version of Tony Wright, innocent and cheery and totally loveable. He’s got a good habit of making self-deprecating jokes because they feel natural rather than because he’s trying to pander to the audience, and considering some of the venom aimed at his old group in the last series it says a lot that both the audience and his castmates take to him so well.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team get the Manic Street Preachers’ Australia. Remember in the last series, when we had Kevin Carter, and someone (Sean? John Thomson?) made a joke about how the whole verse was the name of a Welsh village? No? Good! Because we’re getting the same joke again. In the interest of fairness, it’s funnier here, because the show is more decompressed now, allowing for jokes to develop – Shovell makes the joke, Sean asks him to give the name of said village, and Shovell’s wordless impression of the song is funny. Mark O’s contribution, about vegetables, is coherent enough to be one of the better contributions this game has seen yet, and isn’t it sweet to see his relief when the audience applauds? Afterwards, Shovell gives us something close enough for two points in Mark’s eyes.

Phill’s team must then decode the complex sonic code that is Adeva’s rendition of Respect. Richard’s suggestion that the song is about a private dental practice marks a branching out from his usual innuendo, although you wouldn’t know it when he announces the song is actually called ‘Inspect Me’. Well, OK, he does get back onto innuendo with a spit or swallow joke. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Again, it’s in the upper tier for this game, and Lisa has it spot on to collect both points.

Intros Round

Sean and Mark O get the ball rolling with a rendition of Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry. It’s not the greatest rendition – Sean’s bass is a bit too bouncy and Mark O transforms the distinctive cowbell of the original into a weird desk-slapping sound that the Shaggs would have deemed out of time – but Mark O’s impression of the vocal utterances are enough to clue Shovell in.

Next, it’s Queen and Another One Bites The Dust. It’d be pretty hard to make a mess out of, especially when Mark O sticks a pen lid under his nose and does a Freddie Mercury impression (or a slug-balancing act). Shovell’s on the ball.

Finally, it’s Thriller by Michael Jackson. It’s a rendition that’s maybe more about enthusiasm than accuracy, but it’s still a job well done and Shovell can’t fail to get it.

Phill and Lisa’s first song is Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. They start a bit too big, really – the intro on the actual song builds up some tension, but they start off full-pelt – but Phill’s Jimmy Somerville impression is a big, and frighteningly good, clue. Still, nobody can get it – Sean’s the only person who even seems to recognise the impression – so points go begging.

We’re at the other end of the spectrum with the next song, Spirit in the Sky by either Norman Greenbaum or Doctor and the Medics, as Richard gets it almost immediately, much to Phill’s consternation – he wants to do ‘the good bit’ with the guitar, and gets his wish.

Finally, it’s Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell. It’s a good performance, although as sometimes happens, Phill drowns Lisa out when she’s doing the most recognisable bit of the song. Not even a Quasimodo impression can clue Richard in, and Shovell, despite dancing to the intro, thinks it’s Love Don’t Live Here Anymore by Rose Royce. Again, no points.

Connected Round

Sean’s team have to find the connection between Debbie Harry and Toyah Willcox. Mark O is all too happy to take an opportunity to shamelessly plug his new album, and there’s some gags to be made, but no-one has the real answer – both women have played female wrestlers in the theatre. But of course!

Phill’s team must follow that up by linking David Dundas to Spinal Tap. Richard, apparently unfamiliar with Spinal Tap, is contemptuous of those silly boys with guitars, while Phill reckons he can take Dundas in a fight. As it transpires both Dundas and Christopher Guest are Lords, which Phill and Lisa are able to collectively deduce.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team must identify the Doctor of the aforementioned Doctor and the Medics. The five hulking and long-haired gentlemen are tagged as “number one, Doctor Feelbad, number two, Doctor in Distress, number three, Doctor Doolittle, number four, Doc Cox, or number five, Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.” There’s a few doctor jokes – Sean asks for their handwriting, awkwardly explained by Mark O in what feels like an attempt to cover up potential dead air – before number one is deemed to be the GP of glam, based on his sloppy scrawl. Alas, it is in fact the rather surly-looking number four, so no points.

Phill’s team, meanwhile, must identify Dunfermline’s finest son, Dan McCafferty of Nazareth. The line-up is “number one, Dan Dare, number two, dandruff, number three, Dancing Queen, number four, Dan, Dan, deeper and Dan, or number five, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.” Phill and Richard while the time away identifying soap lookalikes that are a little lost on me (sorry, I hate to play the ‘before my time’ card but…), before Lisa pushes us in the direction of number one – no surprise for the audience at home, since he basically looks the same as in the video, but for shorter and greyer hair. She’s right, of course. But wait, there’s more – you thought Mark’s rant a few episodes ago about people thinking the panellists saw the clips along with the audience would be the end of it? Well, it seems the latest bugbear is people thinking the line-up guests are fake, so Mr McCafferty is asked to perform the chorus line of Bad Bad Boy, and I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Well, maybe not that much, but it’s lovely and great and it’s a shame this is the only episode where they did anything like that. What a set of pipes.

Next Lines

Phill’s team go first, taking a commanding lead of 14 points. Can Sean’s team claw that back and achieve an impressive victory?

No. Don’t be daft. 19-11.

In Closing

Usual format for this series: “I’ve been Mark Lamarr, which is no longer a criminal offence. Good night.”

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: Richard’s introductory joke is probably the best introductory joke we’ve heard so far.
  • The Bad: The Michael Jackson joke only really works if you’ve never heard anybody say he’s a pasty-faced monkey-loving freak, or words to that effect, before, while the Toyah joke is a bit lame, not helped by a weak delivery by Mark.
  • Overall: So-so. A few clangers, not much great, and a lot of just OK.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Lisa was very much at the peak of her powers at this time, exactly in the middle of a four-year stint with Radio 1. Mark O was just about to launch his solo career, which gets mentioned a couple of times. In future history textbooks, the 1990s will be referred to as ‘the M People Age’, so Shovell’s in his era.
  • Pushing it, really, but there’s a mention of Whigfield that… well, I don’t think anyone was expecting a follow-up to Saturday Night as late as 1997, so it feels like the softest of soft targets, really. Still, it’s at least close enough to her 15 minutes of fame that it feels less of a non-sequitur than it would do nowadays.
  • This might be a can of worms, but there’s a tendency at this point for every joke about any gay act to be about sex, and in particular about them being sexually ravenous – there’s a few about (and by) Richard, of course, but also a joke about Bronski Beat receiving a ‘kneeling ovation’ on the gay scene. More often than not the jokes are still clever or well done, but it’s maybe hard to imagine them making it to air today, at the very least being read by a heterosexual presenter.
  • Shovell makes reference to Toyah Willcox’s hosting of some iteration of the Good Sex Guide, a relatively short and little-remembered phase in the career of Mrs Fripp.
  • Richard does an impression of Vic Reeves’ early catchphrase, “you wouldn’t let it lie”.

Other Observations

  • Sean’s had a haircut. That felt worthy of comment.
  • When Shovell gives the correct lyrics to Australia, he elects to sing them rather than read them back, as guests usually do. Accordingly, the show responds by playing the song in, which startles him enough to trail off momentarily.
  • Both sets of Intros seem to be aimed at the guesser – in particular, it feels very deliberate that Shovell gets three big disco anthems so that he can get up and sing and dance.
  • Mark gets up from his seat again, this time to express bemusement at Phill’s Jimmy Somerville impression.
  • In fact, Mark seems to be enjoying himself a lot in this episode. In the earliest years of the show he’s still playing his miserable persona from Shooting Stars, whereas in later years he’ll become very playful and will very clearly be having a lot of fun. We’re a way off the transition from the former to the latter but for whatever reason he’s much more relaxed in this episode. Maybe Shovell’s exuberance rubbed off on him?
  • Mark O has a joke to make about the Blondie/Toyah videos, and has to ask if they can be replayed so he can make it. Pretty soon it’ll become the norm on the show that if a video is played there’ll be pre-selected clips, images, etc. cued up for the panellists to riff on. Interesting that this seems to be the first time it happens.
  • Mark points out that one of the ringers for Dan McCafferty is the bouncer who appears in the show’s opening credits, and as such has his face plastered all over the set when videos are not being played. Eventually they’ll end up with such a pool of line-up members that the observant viewer will be able to dismiss people based on seeing them in prior episodes, and that’s not even taking into account ‘gag’ paraders like Athelston.

Final Verdict
It’s a loud, rowdy episode with a high energy level. Shovell won’t stop singing and dancing! Phill and his teammates are all laughing their heads off! One of the Identity Parade members sings! It seems like everyone’s having the time of their lives, and that’s a pretty infectious feeling. Laughs-wise, it’s a slight step-down from the last few episodes, but it’s still a fun way to spend 30 minutes.