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.