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.

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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 One: “Motivation? Oh yes, £500, that’s what it was.”

Originally Aired on the 12th November 1996
Watch it here.

I suppose, this being the first episode and everything, this is the place to discuss Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ opening credits. I think they remained in place, completely unchanged, until Mark Lamarr left, and they do have a whiff of mid-90s about them, partly from the fashions on show, partly from the drum ‘n’ bass theme tune but mostly from the way it evokes youth programming of the era. It took me years to realise, mostly because I was seven and had only been to one gig, Space at Derby Assembly Rooms, at the time the show aired, that the opening credits are meant to represent the crowd at a rock gig, and the rapid cuts between people generally looking drunk or stoned and doing things like making out are meant to tell us that ‘this isn’t Have I Got News For You you’re watching now, sonny Jim!’ Of course, that sense of edginess doesn’t necessarily hold up once the show starts, but there is an effort to keep up the gig theme with the show’s set.

Introduction
Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and welcome to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the show that says ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, what first attracted you to the Salvation Army?’ Our first team captain is Ireland’s very own answer to the question ‘Who’s that bloke over there?’ It’s Sean Hughes! And leading the second team, a man who comes from Essex, so he’s the only one here who thinks the set’s tastefully understated, it’s Phill Jupitus ladies and gentlemen!”

One area in which the show continually changed was in its opening jokes – the first few series open with jokes based on famous lyrics. Later series would construct convoluted alliterative one-liners based on musical genres, and toward the end of Lamarr’s run they would become ever more elaborate.

Additionally, the show introduces the two team captains for every episode in the first series, probably a safe bet because, as near as I know, prior to the show neither was a real star – both were known on the stand-up circuit, and Sean Hughes had had his Channel 4 sitcom Sean’s Show but only Mark was really a household name. As with most panel shows NMTB will eventually develop a series of running jokes about each of its regulars, although these introductions don’t show any signs of those to come – Phill being from Essex isn’t touched on too often and Sean’s introduction is a bit too vague and nonspecific to hint at anything. In truth, the show will struggle to think of a defining characteristic for Sean, with the odd joke about him being scruffy or a bad poet, but nothing as obvious as Phill’s size or Mark’s greaser image.

Everyone involved looks very young, particularly Phill, who also looks a bit bigger than he will in later years and who is clean-shaven here.

Guests

Math Priest – “Sean’s first guest is the drummer with one of the country’s hottest bands, Dodgy. He’s a singing drummer but swears that’s the only similarity between him and Phil Collins, it’s Dodgy’s Math Priest!”

During the first series there seems to be a slight unwillingness to make jokes at the expense of the musical guests during their introductions, so these tend to be more lightly humorous than anything for a few episodes. Math is a regular guest on the show in the early days, although he’s more likeable and knowledgeable than outright hilarious.

Richard Fairbrass – “Sean’s other guest is one of that small group of bald, singing gymnasium owners who named their band after a Bernard Cribbins record. Please welcome, Right Said Fred’s Richard Fairbrass!”

Another regular, although Richard sticks around for pretty much as long as Mark does. He’s one of the funnier musical guests, and develops a good rapport with Mark, which is something that helps the show a lot – these early episodes are a little stiffer and more formal, and it’s guests like Richard, musicians who are at ease, funny and get on well with the comedians, who help to lead the show toward the more relaxed tone it’ll take on.

Bruce Dickinson – “Phill’s first guest sold millions of records around the world with Iron Maiden. He’s a historian, a fencer and the voice of British heavy metal, Bruce Dickinson!”

The first of three appearances for Bruce, who comes across as pleasant and game for a laugh without being overly amusing. He somehow manages to look the youngest on the show despite being the second oldest there, as near as I can tell.

Donna McPhail – “Phill’s other guest is a comedian and presenter of the Sunday Show, a programme whose ratings have remained high despite stiff competition from Farming Outlook and Morris Dancing Weekly. Please welcome Donna McPhail!”

I have to admit I’m a bit young to really remember Donna McPhail, but I know that she was a comedian who, as the introduction says, hosted the Sunday Show and was involved with the Mary Whitehouse Experience in its radio form – Wikipedia tells me that she’s no longer a comedian and is now a journalist. She never really manages to take the show by the scruff of the neck, although she’s far from alone in that in the show’s earliest days.

Freeze Frame
A popular game early on, it’s essentially the classic ‘What Happens Next’ from A Question of Sport and the like. It’s a good showcase for wacky videos, but that can get old fast.

Sean’s team get the video for Prefab Sprout’s The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and are shown Paddy McAloon and co hanging out by a swimming pool, accompanied by a Speedo-clad hunk and a waiter with a frog’s head, before the video pauses on a robotic talking bust (as in a statue, not a lady’s chest). Richard, setting the tone for most of his appearances early on, wishes to focus on the man in his trunks, but Sean gets the first big laugh and round of applause on the show by claiming it was Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, then in the news for alleged urine sample tampering. Math believes that what happens next is that Prefab Sprout made one more album and their career nosedived – hmm, people in glass house and all that. After some more tomfoolery the correct answer is successfully given – three dancing hot dogs appear, a little bizarre but not inexplicable given the song’s lyrics.

Phill’s team get some prime late-period Rolling Stones with the video for She Was Hot, and are shown a man answering several telephones while a model reclines on a television set and breathes flames. Their guesses aren’t especially funny or interesting, although Bruce does get tongue-tied, referring to ‘the alien in Chestburster’, something that goes unnoticed, before Richard jumps in to joke that she lights her fart. Mark deems this close enough to show what happens next, which, as you can imagine, is that the young lady farts a column of flame.

Intros
One of the show’s signature rounds, I don’t think they’ve done an episode without it.

Phill and Bruce start with ABBA’s Dancing Queen. These early shows have a lot of distinctive, famous intros, perhaps understandably, and with this one done fairly well Donna gets it almost immediately.

Next, Down Down by Status Quo. Not an especially great performance, with Bruce in particular making it sound far too heavy and neither really giving much of the tune. Through no fault of her own Donna doesn’t get it; inexplicably Math does.

Reach Out, I’ll Be There by the Four Tops next – a very good performance, but Donna can’t remember the title so Math gets it.

Finally, Step On by the Happy Mondays. Bruce wants to do the distinctive piano intro but gets it wrong, so Phill takes over and does it near perfectly. Bruce’s contribution is… less perfect, and leads to him dancing on the desks. I seem to recall that early on the show was famous/infamous for this happening fairly often, with it having the whiff of pre-planned ‘spontaneity’. In hindsight it feels similar to the opening credits, an attempt to push the show as being edgier than its contemporaries, although how well it achieves those aims is open to your interpretation. Anyway, Donna doesn’t get it, so once again Math leaps in.

You’ll notice, at this point, that to begin with the show had four intros. After a couple of series it became three, and then eventually two. In some ways this is indicative of the way the show goes – these early episodes are absolutely packed with games, with very little room to breathe, chat or even tell jokes, and I suspect this is the reason why knowledgeable guests like Math flourished early on. This is pretty much the way it goes with panel shows – early Have I Got News For You episodes can feature as many as eight rounds, and even the looser, more free-form QI would rush by at a hectic pace in its first series to accommodate all the questions.

Sean and Richard get Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. They do it well although it’s hard to do it badly, really. Math gets it.

Next we have Parklife by Blur – Richard’s impression of the guitar isn’t great but Sean, just shouting “Oi!”, gets the song over and is funny doing it, something that doesn’t happen too often in this round, with laughs usually coming from how bad the performances are. It also starts a trademark of Sean’s, which is to get the song over not through performing it but more through visual or verbal clues.

After that, I Love You Love Me Love by Gary Glitter. Richard performs the song on his own, and does a pretty god job, Sean busying himself with an admittedly very good impression of the then-reputable Mr Glitter. Math gets it.

Finally, probably the first legitimately bad performance of the series, How Soon Is Now? by the Smiths. Neither Sean or Richard really does it well, although Sean’s impression of the famous swooping guitar line is probably more distracting than anything, with their rendition making the song sound more like some bizarre avant-garde experiment in noise than an indie anthem. Math doesn’t get it, but Sean’s impression of Morrissey waving flowers is enough for Phill to get it. For the first time they play the song after, possibly to show just how bad Sean and Richard’s rendition was.

Indecipherable Lyrics
A popular round early on; unfortunately it’s rarely funny, since for the most part it just devolves into reading nonsensical, vaguely ‘random’ phrases which, presumably, have been pre-prepared by or for the guests. It’ll stick around for a while, though, so strap yourself in.

Phill’s team get Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up. After some perfunctory jokes claiming that the lyrics are indeed nothing but mumbling, and the first appearance of a ‘Well, that last bit was [title of song]…’ joke, Bruce contributes some joke lyrics. Oddly enough, when Mark says he’d like to hear them sing them along with the track, they sing the real lyrics, apparently written down by Phill since Bruce is leaning over to read them. Strange editing perhaps?

Sean’s team get Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire. There’s a couple of jokes about the video but not even a token effort at joke lyrics, not that I’m complaining. Richard can remember it all, except for one line.

The Identity Parade
Probably the round most closely associated with the show, they’ve tried out a few games in its place here and there but for the most part it’s remained intact.

Phill’s team get the Glitter Band, and have to identify lead singer Gerry Shephard and drummer Pete Phipps. There are no introductions for the individual line-up members, as there would be in later shows, but Phill tries an early variation of the standard ‘talk to them and hope they respond’ routine, while Donna is the unfortunate first panellist to eliminate someone based on rather illogical reasoning, claiming that number three ‘looks like somebody’s Dad’ and therefore couldn’t be in the Glitter Band. She needn’t feel too bad, as plenty of other people down the line will come out with far more bizarre statements during this round. They guess 1 & 4; it turns out to be 2 & 4 and we all move quickly on, with no statements about what they’re up to now or the like. These episodes really are very fast-paced.

Sean’s team get Paul Hardcastle, looking rather like John Sessions in the video clip shown. They identify him immediately, on the sound logic that number two looks like Paul Hardcastle, and lo and behold they’re right.

Dance Craze
A round dedicated to Legs & Co, Pan’s People and the like, in which their performances are played with the soundtrack removed and the team have to guess what song is being danced to. It’s in most episodes this series, but after that only appears a couple more times before being done away with.

Sean’s team get several Crazy Joe Davola-esque clowns dancing while one of them lies dead on a chair; the other clowns pass a rose down a line which is placed on the dead clown. The team offers joke suggestions that seem inappropriate or focus on minute details before correctly guessing Tragedy by the Bee Gees. Simple as that.

Phill’s team get bank robbers dancing behind some flimsy cardboard jail bars. Phill gets a good joke in – “Is it Free Nelson Mandela, Mark?” – before correctly guessing ‘Bankrobber’ by the Clash.

Next Lines
And to finish with, another round that has stayed on ever since. Compared to later episodes the quickfire aspect of the round is very much on display here, with the teams getting very competitive and telling few jokes. It finished with Phill’s team on 23 and Sean’s on 25.

In Closing
“So thanks to both our teams, you’ve been watching Never Mind the Buzzcocks.”
LOUD GUITAR CHORD
ANNOUNCER: ‘Til next time, thank you!
“I’ve been Mark Lamarr, good night.”

I believe this remains the show’s closing sequence for a couple of years at least – it’s a while before they start putting jokes here.

How Good is the Script?

  • The Good: There’s a pretty good joke after the Prefab Sprout bit, with the male model in the video dubbed ‘Albert Kirky’ in reference to the song’s lyrics, while the Rolling Stones video comes with an amusing play on Jerry Hall’s famous ‘whore in the bedroom…’ line.
  • The Bad: There’s a pretty predictable ABBA joke that’s not helped by Mark repeating the set-up to emphasise the punchline, and the Prefab Sprout question does chuck up a fairly obvious Elvis Presley joke that also suffers from being overexplained a bit.
  • In General: It’s OK. More jokes work than don’t, but very few feel genuinely inspired, and we’re a long way off the playfulness that makes some of the later episodes really work.

Proof That It’s 1996

  • Is there a phrase that evokes 1996 more than ‘one of the country’s hottest bands, Dodgy’? Donna is also a very 1996 guest.
  • Bruce is referred to as having previously been in Iron Maiden, this coming during his ten year solo spell. He also looks, curiously enough, like a lost member of Teenage Fanclub.
  • There are topical jokes about Michelle Smith and Brookside.
  • Mark does a John Major impression, which is also a sure sign we’re in the mid 90s.
  • There’s two rounds related to Gary Glitter with nary a mention of, well, exactly what you’re thinking of.
  • A lot of the music covered dates from the 1970s, and particularly the late 1970s, which fits in with my own personal theory that most pop cultural nostalgia tends to stretch back about 15-20 years. Interestingly, the audience laughs at Nineteen by Paul Hardcastle, with nothing obvious to laugh about – I seem to remember the 1980s being seen as far more embarrassing during the 1990s, rather than  now when they’re seen as something cheesy to be embraced somewhat.

Other Observations

  • Mark is quite stiff to begin with, and his surly demeanour here feels more put-on than it would later, which is understandable, but oddly also feels more put-on than on Shooting Stars, which predates this.
  • Even by his own standards, Richard’s suit is, shall we say, distinctive in this episode.
  • Richard jokes that his motivation, before the intros round, is £500, leading Mark to say “Or as you call it, Two Little Boys”. A discussion of the comedic conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia is more a topic for Street Laughter to analyse, but it’s Richard’s good nature that stops the joke from coming across as unpleasant.
  • As I’ve mentioned a couple of times the quiz as a whole is taken more seriously not just by Mark but the teams too, with the Intros round particularly looking far more well-prepared and rehearsed than it usually would later on.
  • Phill is a big Star Wars fan – I believe he themed a stand-up show around it in the late 90s – and makes a lot of Star Wars jokes in these early episodes, beginning with a Wookie reference in Indecipherable Lyrics.
  • During the Next Lines round, Mark lets quite a few slightly wrong lyrics go, and also doesn’t read out the correct answer when they do get them wrong.

Final Verdict
Well, it’s interesting, that’s for sure. It’s all delivered at breakneck pace, as if audiences are watching for the quiz aspects rather than the comedy, and as a result it’s hard to judge it on its comedic merits as even the team captains get barely a word in edgeways. As it is it feels like the skeleton of what is to come – the basic rounds are there, but nothing’s quite in its finished state. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, which makes it watchable at least, but there’s no great laughs and in the end it’s mostly of interest for historical purposes only.