R.I.P. Sean Hughes

As you may have noticed, the blog’s slipped into one of its periodic hibernations, but it would be remiss not to note the passing of Sean Hughes. He was a real fixture in my childhood, and I’ve always regretted not being more familiar with his earlier stand-up or his Channel 4 work. 51 is no age to go.

R.I.P.

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Series Two, Episode Six: “Three and six. And that’s about what they were.”

Originally Aired on 20th October 1997

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and welcome to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a bracelet from Ratner’s’. Out two team captains have both been banned from heavy metal concerts, Sean because he’s too scruffy, and Phill because he would insist on stage-diving. Hughes and Jupitus, ladies and gentlemen, my team captains.”

Guests

Brian Molko – “Phill’s first guess is Brian Molko, singer with top five big goth’s blouses Placebo. The band are named after a type of medication, like many other groups: Brian Enos, Adam Antacid and Dexys Midnight Rennies.”
The first of three appearances for Brian, who’s winsome and sweet and has some good lines, although maybe not the best delivery. Definitely a good guest, though.

Bruce Dickinson – “Phill’s second guest is heavy metal warrior, Bruce Dickinson, former lead singer with Satanic cock rockers Iron Maiden. In the Maiden Bruce knew all too well the number of the beast. In fact, the beast has since gone ex-directory to get rid of him.”
Bruce returns, having been on the very first episode. He’s hamstrung by being sat to Phill’s right – his strong point on his previous appearance was his gameness in the Intros Round; here he comes across as quite low-energy and disengaged from the show.

Saffron – “Sean’s first guest is Saffron, lead singer with top ten techno monkeys Republica. Republica’s hit Ready to Go was played on Baywatch, the only show where both the soundtrack and the cast are available in vinyl.”
Saffron turns in what is pretty much the standard for a one-off musical guest at this point in the show. She doesn’t contribute many jokes but takes part in the Intros Round well and has a few of the answers. Nothing memorable but no disgrace.

David Baddiel – “Sean’s second guest is comedian, author and chart-topper, David Baddiel. David’s got a new video out right now. It’s called Swedish Lesbian Sauna Schoolgirls and it’s due back on Wednesday.”
Some good jokes from David, who seems relaxed and at home here. Not exactly the sort of performance that dominates an episode, but a good, solid show for a comedian.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Phill’s team must make whimsy from the Rolling Stones’ Tumbling Dice. They decide it’s about cheese. We do get some funny Stones/cheese based humour – Bruce even gets in a good (but clearly pre-scripted – stop looking at your notes!) variant on the hoary old ‘Keith Richards getting his veins changed’ story – but the actual lyrics themselves are as tedious as ever. Well, OK, it does sound a bit like he’s singing “slow down Bagpuss”, I’ll give them that. Anyway, Bruce pretty much has the right lyrics. Two points.

Sean’s team get the Happy Mondays’ Kinky Afro. Cue some nonsense about amputees. To be honest, Sean and David’s hearts seem to be more in making the standard Happy Mondays ‘what did Bez do, loads of drugs’ jokes. I don’t blame them, mind. Saffron bails us all out with a close enough approximation for two points.

Intros Round

Sean and Saffron get us started with Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. Sean, as is his wont, lets Saffron handle the tune and busies himself with mimes: golf, hanging himself, etc. Saffron does a solid enough job with a pretty recognisable riff, anyhow, and David gets it.

Next, it’s Ann Peebles and I Can’t Stand the Rain. It’s an OK version – a little too slow for my liking but they do it well enough for that not to matter. David keeps up his hot streak.

Finally, New Pollution by Beck. It’s recognisable if not quite spot-on, but David’s lost. Brian gets the artist but the wrong song, so no points.

Phill and Brian start their turn with Bachman Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – quick, do your best Smashie and Nicey impressions – and do a very good job, all told. Remarkably, no-one gets it. Bruce, at least, seems ashamed not to have got it.

Next, the Stray Cats, and Runaway Boys. It’s close but not quite there – a little slow and too-sparse for my liking – but at the very least they manage to get over the visual clue of miming a double bass and Brian pretending to have a quiff. Admirable restraint in not just pointing at Mark. Bruce has the band but not the song; Sean’s team appear to have fallen asleep.

Finally, Whatever You Want by Status Quo. It’s one of those early series piss-easy ones, frankly, but you can only play the cards you’re dealt and Phill and Brian do it well enough that Bruce finally earns a point.

Connected Round

Phill’s team are first up and have to find the connection between ZZ Top and Jerry Lee Lewis. The answer, is, of course, that Steve Albini has covered both artists, with Rapeman’s rendition of Just Got Paid being the stand-out of their album, while Big Black really made the latter’s Kerosene their own. What? Oh, OK. There’s some japery involving teenage brides and beards and the like, but the actual ‘grounded in reality’ answer is the accidental non-fatal shootings of bassists, ZZ Top’s bassist Dusty Hill having accidentally shot himself in the ‘lower abdomen’, while Jerry Lee Lewis shot his bassist Butch Owens. Full points.

Sean’s team must then link Axl Rose to Cher. David has a very funny but incorrect anagram-based answer, but the truth lies in their brief marriages, both having had marriages lasting less than a month. Saffron was in the marriage ball-park, so two points are administered.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team are tasked with identifying a bona fide legend, X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene. It’s one of “number one, polyester, number two, polyunsaturate, number three, polyurethane, number four, Polly put the kettle on, or number five, Polly Wolly Doodle all the day”. We appear to have a team of X-Ray Spex fans, so it’s pretty simple stuff – number two.

From the sublime to the ridiculous – Phill’s team get Paul Griggs and Martine Howard of Guys ‘n’ Dolls. The line-up, alternated by gender, is “number one, Lenny Bruce, number two, Pam Ayres, number three, Lennie Bennett, number four, Pam Shriver, number five, Lenny the Lion, or number six, Pam-Pam-Pam-Pam [to the tune of whatever that fanfare is… sorry, I don’t know]”. Brian pulls the ‘before my time’ card, Bruce was too busy going to Poly Styrene concerts (he claims – don’t worry Bruce, you can admit you were too busy listening to Yes, this is a safe haven), but Phill has an encyclopaedic knowledge of this sort of shite. He correctly identifies them as three and six.

Next Lines

There’s an amusing moment of synchronicity when Sean and Saffron somehow simultaneously guess the wrong lyric. Otherwise, it’s a largely textbook round. Saffron and Brian are both pretty good, Sean’s team, having gone in as winners, hold onto that lead, winning 17-13.

In Closing

Standard guitar chord stuff: “I’ve been Mark Lamarr, and may I say, not in a gay way. Good night.”

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: I like a good silly joke, and the joke about the Stray Cats is very silly and very good.
  • The Bad: Take your pick. The introductory jokes are pretty shit.
  • Overall: A couple of decent jokes, but otherwise it’s a parade of the hackneyed, well-worn and obvious.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Saffron’s the big stand-out guest in this regard – Republica had a handful of hits but are almost entirely remembered for Ready to Go, and the legal mandate that it be played before every football match between 1997 and 2005 (roughly). Everyone else looks very young – even Bruce, despite being close to 20 years into his career at this point.
  • Ratner’s hasn’t actually been called as such since 1993, so the joke in the introduction was already pretty dated. Still, Gerald Ratner’s ill-advised remarks were probably more fresh in the memory at the time.
  • I don’t think anyone’s made reference to going ex-directory since about 2004, while the joke about David renting pornography in his introduction harkens back to the more innocent days when obtaining grumble actually took effort.
  • There’s almost a trifecta of dated references in the introductory jokes, but seeing as a Baywatch film has just been released at the time I’m writing this, clearly some things don’t ever fully go away.

Other Observations

  • One thing the show never seems to quite get right is heavy metal. Even as a dyed-in-the-wool punk, I know that Iron Maiden aren’t cock rock. Bruce doesn’t seem to mind, at least.
  • We’ll save a big, in-depth discussion about whether or not Mark is (or at least can be) misogynistic for the Gail Porter episode – at my rate, probably sometime in 2023 – but there is an unnecessarily aggressive tone to the remark he makes to Saffron – “Put your head down then, don’t push your tits up” – when she and Sean are performing Beck in the Intros Round. It’s more in what he says than how he says it. By comparison, David was able to make fun of the same action without seeming unpleasant, because he didn’t seem inexplicably angry as he did so. Saffron, for what it’s worth, seems distinctly unimpressed by Mark’s remark and/or tone.
  • Actually, I don’t want to pile on him, but Mark’s pretty gratingly bad in this episode. He’s working off a bit of a lame script, but his off-hand jokes are crap here too, and I could have done without hearing his rendition of X-Ray Spex’s Identity, however brief. Probably the most grating thing at this point, though, is that he’s still trying to be deadpan, but can’t stop laughing, so he has a barely-suppressed smirk throughout. He’ll improve a lot once he learns to relax and actually be himself.
  • Alright, I’ll take a pop at someone besides Mark – I made a fuss over Bruce reading his notes earlier on, but he seems to do it a lot, even at times when he’s not delivering jokes. Slight shyness, maybe?

Final Verdict
Not a great episode, truth be told. The biggest problem is that no-one really takes it by the scruff of the neck. I’ve said my piece on Mark, but neither Phill nor Sean have anything memorable to contribute, David does alright but doesn’t dominate and none of the musical guests are that interesting as guests. It’s OK, but it’s not one you’d specifically pick out to watch.

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.

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

Originally Aired on 6th October 1997

Introduction
“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!”

Guests

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.

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 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 Two, Episode One: “Hrrrrrrrrrrmmm!”

Originally Aired on 17th September 1997
Part one is the father
Part two is the son
And part three is the holy ghost

So, on with series two. A quick look at the guests suggests that the bookers at least feel the show is into a nice little groove here, with no fewer than three guests making more than one appearance during the series – by way of comparison, only two guests have ever appeared twice in one series of Have I Got News For You during its 44 series, not counting people filling in as guest captains for whatever reason. Still, none of them are on this episode, so instead we get one guest returning from the first series and three newcomers, one of whom seems to have been booked in an attempt to emulate another first series guest.

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is the new series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘With your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue, I declare your latest operation a success, Mr. Jackson’. Each of our team captains is, in his own way, a veritable pop encyclopaedia. One of them’s sponsored by Guinness, and the other has a huge appendix. Please welcome Sean Hughes and Phill Jupitus!”

Still sticking with the format of the previous series, and still introducing each team captain at the start of each episode.

Guests

Marie du Santiago – “Sean’s first guest is Marie du Santiago, the guitarist in Sunderland’s Kenickie. They’ve been called the city’s answer to the Spice Girls, which is of course ridiculous; their music’s much better, and their combined age is still younger than Ginger Spice.”
It might seem rather harsh and reductive to suggest that Marie was booked mostly due to the success of her bandmate Lauren Laverne on the final episode of the previous series, but it’s hard to really see it any other way – while Kenickie had gained a reputation for being funny and feisty in interviews, the simple fact of the matter is that Laverne’s performance had been a bit of a starmaking turn, something that had stood out for just how confident and strong it was, and if the show could get a similar performance from one of her bandmates, then it would be to its credit. As it is Marie comes close, being fun and playfully aggressive, but crucially she isn’t quite as funny as Laverne was. Still, it all works, and it’s a shame this was her only appearance.

Mark Little – “Sean’s second guest is actor and comedian Mark Little. He played Joe Mangel in Neighbours, and then spent two years doing the Big Breakfast, with extra sausages by the look of it.”
A strange appearance for Mark Little, who manages to alternate at times between being endearing and loveable and rather irritating. He’s full of energy and has exceptional timing, but he’s never as funny as a comedian should be on the show and at times his bluster comes across more as hot air.

Suggs – “Phill’s first guest is Suggs. Following his last appearance on the show the Madness frontman announced his total requirement from pop quizzes. He spent the last year hosting a pop quiz, and here he is tonight on a pop quiz.”
Suggs becomes the first guest to appear twice, which on one hand seems a strange choice – he was decent but undistinguished on his last appearance – but on the other makes sense – he’s a high profile, well-loved figure. He seems a lot more comfortable here than he did before, and all in all does a decent job.

Shaggy – “Phill’s other guest is Jamaican superstar Shaggy. He took his name from one of the characters in Scooby Doo. He took the name Shaggy because ‘Fat Bird with the Pleated Skirt and the Glasses’ didn’t have the right ring to it.”
Yes, it’s Mr. Boombastic himself – Shaggy seems to have a great time on the show, frequently doubling over in laughter, particularly at some of the more risqué jokes, which he seems somewhat taken aback by, albeit still amused. He has a bit of a tough brief on the show – he spends much of it working against Mark’s impression of his trademark vocal style – and although he doesn’t really contribute a great deal in terms of comedy he does seem like a nice guy who enjoys himself, which is half the battle, really.

Indecipherable Lyrics

With everyone strapped in and ready to go on a new series, Sean’s team kick us off with their take on Hanson’s MMMBop. There’s a bit of gaiety – Mark Little suggests that you can sound like Hanson by sticking your fingers in the corners of your mouth, everyone but Shaggy gives it a go – before Marie gives an approximation of a bit of the lyrics. There’s a cute moment when they’re performing them, as Marie chides Sean and Mark for continuing the ‘fingers in the mouth’ bit instead of joining in, before we move on.

Phill’s team are then given Shabba Ranks, with Mr. Loverman, which I personally feel is funnier when you pronounce it as though it’s a Jewish surname. Mark, wisely, makes Phill and Suggs go first. It’s basically the same as every other playing of this game – various vaguely amusing nonsense phrases, the best of which is ‘You pack your tiddly microphone and trim it with lint’, but all in all not especially amusing. Shaggy then provides the lyrics, albeit in his own indecipherable singing voice, leading Mark to clarify the lyrics in his own Swindonian accent.

Intros Round

Sean and Marie start with Spandau Ballet’s True. Marie’s part is good, but Sean’s bit… well, it sounds like the song, I’ll give it that. It doesn’t seem to be done in time with Marie at all, but together they manage to give over what could be described as an easily-assembled jigsaw of the song. Mark Little doesn’t get it, nor does Phill, but an exasperated-sounding Suggs leaps in with the correct answer.

The fun continues with a very good rendition of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. Mark Little’s tactics mostly consist of shouting out famously Australian artists, so the song gets passed over to Phill, who gets it right.

Finally, Marie gives us the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, while Sean recreates the video by walking along shoving his castmates. Again, Mark’s not on the ball, and it’s passed over to Phill to collect the points.

Phill and Shaggy then give us their rendition of Rose Royce’s Car Wash. It’s a pretty good version, although Suggs is surely helped by having watched Shaun Williamson belt it out in his face for the past year. Either way, he gets it right.

Moving on, we get Superstition by Stevie Wonder. It’s OK – Shaggy doesn’t quite get the riff right, but it’s close enough and Suggs gets it anyway.

We wrap the round up with Govinda by Kula Shaker – proceed directly to ‘Proof That It’s 1997’ section of review – and it’s not half-bad, that aural magic that Phill and Shaggy are parlaying for us. Suggs was lucky enough to have avoided Kula Shaker, though, as it seems was the whole of Sean’s team.

Connected
The Connections Round, as it will later be known, becomes a staple of the show, usually as the opening round, where it often rotates with various other games that essentially deal in trivia about musicians. It’s basically a blank slate of a game, giving the panellists two artists and asking them to make jokes about them, and as such represents the increasing shift towards the show being dominated by amusing chatter.

The first pair of unlikely bedfellows is Def Leppard and the Wedding Present, thrown before Sean’s team. Sean gets a good joke in that could, in truth, be reworked for just about any playing of this game, before they quickly settle on the fact that it will, in all likelihood, involve missing body parts, and although they don’t quite get the specifics regarding the Wedding Present this is enough for Mark to give them the correct point – Def Leppard’s drummer Rick Allen famously lost his arm, while the Weddoes for a time featured one-legged bassist Darren Belk.

Phill’s team then get the Housemartins – the video for Happy Hour, featuring a young Phill Jupitus, which surprisingly passes without mention – and New Kids on the Block. There are a few jokes to be had, mostly about the Housemartins’ home of Hull, before Phill guesses that it involves prison, with Mark clarifying that both have had members jailed for arson – the Housemartins’ Hughie Whitaker and the New Kids’ Donnie Wahlberg.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team are tasked with identifying Suzi Quatro’s guitarist (and ex-husband, fact fans) Len Tuckey. The line up is “one, who’s at least 48 Crash, two, who was born to be wild but some time ago, three, a real vintage biker, four, hopelessly underdressed for a Silk Sash Bash, or five, perhaps less black leather and more Imperial Leather.” Suggs reckons it to be number four, Shaggy, having never heard of Suzi Quatro, and Phill defer to his wisdom, and lo and behold they are rewarded with wonders and trinkets beyond their wildest imagination, or points or whatever.

Sean’s team then get Sally Carr of Middle of the Road, and don’t blame me for the fact that you now have Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep in your head, with a line-up consisting of “number one, sadly tonight not wearing that odd laced-up garment, number two, who looks chirpy chirpy, number three, who is in no way cheap cheap, number four, a classy chassis but is she the real Carr, or number five, nothing middle of the road there”. None of the team recognises her, but they guess number two based on body language and they’re on the money.

Next Lines

This round now feels like it’s in transition somewhat – while it was played at breakneck speed with no time for jokes in the first series, here there’s more comedy and, truthfully, more fuck-ups, even if Mark Lamarr is still delivering the lines as fast as he can. Phill’s team dither over two consecutive questions to such an extent that Mark bemoans what a slow quickfire round it is, while Sean’s team seemingly dither just as much but somehow manage to catch up and force a draw, mostly through Marie’s answers.

Tie-Breaker

The show’s very first tie-breaker, I think there’ll be a few more along the way, until eventually they just give up and let some episodes be a draw, as if anyone cares either way. The team are shown a clip of Earth, Wind & Fire performing Boogie Wonderland, and after some clever misdirection by Mark, are asked how many people were onstage during the clip. Phill’s team say 11, while Sean’s team, underestimating the size of your average disco band, guesses 9. The correct answer is 14 (presumably this was the stripped-down, no-frills version of Earth, Wind & Fire) so Phill’s team is the closest and wins.

In Closing

We get the same closing spiel as was used in the first series, but beginning here it’s appended with an extra little joke, in this case “…I’ve been Mark Lamarr, and it’s a dirty job. Good night.” Tiny little baby steps.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: There’s a pretty good joke about Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.
  • The Bad: There’s a pretty obvious joke about Stevie Wonder, which Mark himself seems rightly contemptuous of.
  • Overall: It’s not the best you’ll ever hear, but it’s hardly an embarrassment.

Proof That It’s 1997

  • Marie’s appearance dates the show to the limited time when members of Kenickie other than Lauren Laverne were seen as enough of a draw to be booked to appear on TV, and while Mark Little continues to perform he was much more prominent in 1997 than he is now, having just left the Big Breakfast.
  • The pop quiz that Mark mentions Suggs hosting was Channel 5’s Night Fever, a disco-themed pop quiz which was more karaoke-oriented than the quiz format of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and which I seem to recall hazily from my youth (my Mum liked it) often featured Shaun Williamson dancing on the desks while belting out Rose Royce and the like. It was also around this time that he was a team captain on A Question of Pop, the Question of Sport to this show’s They Think It’s All Over.
  • Phill’s fantasy of a duet between Nick Cave and Barbara Windsor was almost certainly inspired by the hit duets that Mr Cave had enjoyed with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey shortly before this episode.
  • Yes, Kula Shaker. You can go back and read the rest of the review now.

Other Observations

  • Sean looks particularly scruffy in this episode, unkempt and unshaven. He keeps this look for a few episodes.
  • It’s hardly unexpected, but Shaggy’s speaking voice is almost comically different from his singing voice.
  • It’s only briefly hinted at, but Mark Lamarr famously had a heated argument with Shabba Ranks when the artist formerly known as Saul Lovermann appeared on the Word. Considering the bile that ends up being directed at later Lamarr-nemeses like Chris Moyles, the jokes about him are surprisingly restrained.
  • I was umming and ahhing over whether to put this under ‘Proof That It’s 1997’ or not, but I’ll put it here – you’d almost certainly never get questions about the Housemartins or the Wedding Present these days, even though both are fairly well-remembered bands with cult followings who had some chart success, more so in the Housemartins’ case, admittedly. This probably says more about the show in its present state and its faith in its audience than it does about this particular episode, though.
  • Marie becomes the first guest to complain about questions being about music from before her time during the Identity Parade round – that round in particular will draw a few complaints along such lines over the years. Additionally, Mark Lamarr chides Mark Little for seemingly planning to go down the route of shouting the singer’s name and hoping they’ll look over, something which I think was only done once in the first series but is already being treated as an obvious, done-to-death idea, while the ladies in the line-up appear to have pre-planned a trick whereby they all go to step forward before the real Sally Carr steps forward; number five’s feint is particularly convoluted.
  • Mark Lamarr is technically right when he tries to give Suggs the clue to a Specials song during Next Lines that ‘you were on the same label as them,’ although Madness only released one single on 2 Tone and had the bulk of their success on Stiff Records.

Final Verdict
A pretty strong start to the second series, with an episode that feels more energetic and rowdier than many that came before and which seems to be a close approximation of the image the show wanted to project at this time. It’s rarely outstanding but the regulars are all on form, there’s a good guest appearance from Marie and in Shaggy a guest who’s prepared to take his lumps and laugh along with them. All in all, a good effort.