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

Originally Aired on 6th October 1997

“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!”


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.