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 One, Episode Two: “Let’s all get up and do moonwalks!”

Originally Aired on the 19th November 1996
It’d be churlish not to click here and watch it

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr, and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘He ain’t heavy, that’s just water retention.’ Our first team captain is a comedian who once directed videos for Kirsty MacColl and is largely responsible for where she is today – in the bargain bin at Woolworths. Phill Jupitus! And leading the other team is a comedian who’s just completed a nationwide tour, and next month he’s doing all the Abbey Nationals as well. Sean Hughes!”

Strange that, for the second episode running, we get a joke specifically about Phill Jupitus, but the one about Sean Hughes could easily have been told about any comedian. I’m not sure if there’s anything in it, but it still seems odd.

Guests

Ashley Slater – “On Phill’s team’s Ashley Slater, lead singer with Freak Power. He also played trombone in an army band and with the London Symphony Orchestra.”
The previous episode featured very gentle jokes about its musical guests; this one doesn’t even bother, merely giving them a humour-free career rundown. I don’t know if they’re a bit scared of upsetting them, but it won’t last long. Ashley comes across as cheerful and nice but he doesn’t contribute a great deal.

Cathy Dennis – “Phill’s other guest is singer Cathy Dennis, who once achieved ten consecutive top forty hits. Her latest album saw her working with no less a legend than Ray Davies of the Kinks.”
Cathy was, at this time, coming to the end of her time as a performer – I believe the album mentioned in her introduction was her last – and about to become a major songwriter, something of a British Linda Perry. She’s very quiet here, although that could be more due to the hectic pace of the show at this stage – she reappears a few years down the line and puts in a fairly memorable performance.

Shovell – “On Sean’s team, Shovell from M People. He’s the Manchester band’s percussionist and got his strange name from the time he worked on building sites.”
Like last episode’s Math Priest, we have a percussionist from a band mostly remembered as a fairly bland mediocrity, who becomes something of a regular on the show in the first few series, more due to his being knowledgeable and personable than being especially funny. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – Shovell comes across as a very nice bloke on the show, and clearly enjoys himself a lot.

Graham Norton – “Sean’s other guest is comedian Graham Norton. As co-presenter of the late night sex quiz Carnal Knowledge he helped educate insomniacs everywhere – they all switched over to the Open University.”
Well, musician’s egos might be deemed too fragile to mock at this point but there’s no need to handle the comedians with kid gloves, clearly. This is a pre-chat show Graham Norton, of course, so he’s not quite as seasoned a performer here as he would be now, but he clearly impresses the producers, who get him back on a few more times.

Freeze Frame

Phill’s team get Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. It’s strange to remember a time when this wasn’t seen as a massive cheesy anthem – there was a phone advert a few years back that had a load of people singing it in a crowd, inexplicably – and was seen as a bit embarrassing. Anyway, these days you’re all probably familiar with the video, so you know how it goes – a windswept Ms. Tyler sings, a choir with glowing eyes does so too. The video pauses. Phill makes a joke about choirboys being abused, although curiously enough when Cathy suggests that Michael Jackson appears Phill tells her to ‘leave it’. Phill knows the real answer, though, as even then I think the video was well known – one of the choirboys ‘flies’ unconvincingly for a brief time.

Sean’s team get a less iconic song, King Missile’s Detachable Penis. It seems something of a cheat to dedicate a round to a comedy song, as the song itself ends up doing most of the comedic heavy lifting, but there we are. The song and video get astonished laughs from the audience. As you can imagine, what happens next is that the lost penis is discovered, although as those of us who discovered the song by staying up to watch repeats of Beavis and Butthead in the early 2000s know, the next bit of the song/video that they show isn’t actually the bit where he finds his penis. Oh well, no need to be pedantic.

Intros

Sean and Shovell are up first, and start with I Heard It Through the Grapevine. It’s a pretty good rendition, mostly on Shovell’s part – Sean is more interested with shouting ‘Daddy’ and miming being shot. Graham can’t remember the title, so it goes over to Phill’s team, who of course get it easily.

The second song is a very good impression of Shiny Happy People by R.E.M., which Graham gets quickly. No muss, no fuss, over and done with.

Blockbuster by Sweet is up next, and again, it’s very well done. Graham clearly recognises it but can’t remember the song, so Phill answers once more.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Intros round without one awful rendition, so we come to Step It Up by the Stereo MCs. Sean and Shovell do manage to imitate the component parts of the song quite well but, like Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. Mark, oddly enough, plays the song in, and then passes it over to Phill’s team – even with this hint they don’t get it, Ashley correctly identifying the band but not the song.

It’s then over to Phill and Ashley, who do a very strong rendition of Blue Monday by New Order. Cathy doesn’t get it – although she thinks it might be Electronic, so she’s at least in the right ballpark – so Sean picks up the points.

Next, the Osmonds’ Crazy Horses. They do it well enough, but Cathy doesn’t recognise it so Shovell gets the points for Sean’s team.

The third song is Bjork’s version of It’s Oh So Quiet, complete with Phill hiding behind Ashley, which gets a big round of applause from the audience. It’s a pretty good version too, albeit of a very simple intro. Cathy gets it right.

Finally we have Material Girl by Madonna – performed well, guessed correctly; again, no muss, no fuss.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team go first, with Rockin’ Robin by the Jacksons. Sean tells a couple of quick jokes, leading Mark to wearily ask “Any idea what the lyrics might be?” as though Sean has gone on for a few minutes. It does seem odd for a comedy show to be so adverse to jokes, although I’m not sure if this can be blamed on the busier nature of the early shows or if it’s the product of some strange editing. Shovell gives pretty much the correct lyrics and we’re done. While I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of this round usually, it seems even more pointless without any attempt at joke lyrics, since at this stage it just feels like something you could’ve had on Pop Quiz or A Question of Pop.

Shovell then mentions that if they had more time he could do the moonwalk (well, he says moondance, which Mark picks up on) on the desk, which Mark encourages him to do. Soon after, Cathy asks if she can do it too; when Mark deems her effort substandard he gets everyone up to walk backwards on the desks. I mentioned when looking at the first episode that the show was infamous in its early days for having guests dancing on the desks; I’m not entirely sure whether it happens again but it does seem suspicious for it to happen in the first two episodes.

Anyway, with those festivities out of the way, Phill’s team get Ten Pole Tudor, with Swords of a Thousand Men. There’s a bit of mucking around with some joke lyrics – including an amusing cut to Sean, Shovell and Graham looking alternately bored and unimpressed – before Phill gives their serious answer, which is pretty much right.

Identity Parade

Phill’s team have to identify Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton. We’re still not getting individual descriptions of each parade member, but Cathy starts a tradition by interacting with the line-up, in this case giving them a pen to pass to the left-hand side. Eventually the team goes for number one; unfortunately it’s number two.

Sean’s team, meanwhile, get Dave Bartram and Rod Deas of Showaddywaddy fame. Yet another tradition is established, this time of someone making a point of ruling out a line-up member who turns out to be the one they’re after – Sean, in particular will do this a lot, and here he rules out number two on the basis that none of Showaddywaddy were so tall or ‘violent-looking’. As such they guess 3 & 5; of course, it’s 2 & 5. Oddly, after they step forward their song When is played, and they get a chance to recreate some of their old dance moves, a fun little touch that won’t happen too often.

The Mars Bar Round
Ooh, a new round. It’s a forerunner to the various rounds that will often come first in the later series, questions like ‘How did [innocuous item] get [pop star] in trouble with the law?’ and the like. In this case we’re just given a musician and three items, and we have to work out which one is related to them in some way. Full credit, I guess, to them for not condescending to the audience by explaining the name of the quiz.

Sean and co get Demis Roussos, and have to find out whether he is connected to the Ayatollah Khomeini, an electric razor or a pint jug. The connection turns out to be that he was on a plane that was hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists, which seems a slightly tenuous connection to the Ayatollah – they don’t even say whether or not the hijackers were Iranian – but there we are.

Phill’s team gets Dexys Midnight Runners, and must choose between a clothes peg, a set of darts and a hamster. As we all know the answer is the set of darts, as they performed Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) in front of a picture of darts legend Jocky Wilson, and as I hope we all know, this was an intentional joke on the band’s part. I hope we all know but apparently the NMTB question setters don’t, as they claim it was the result of a hard-of-hearing technician. I always thought this was a pretty well-known story anyway, but it gets a huge laugh from both the audience and the teams, so maybe it wasn’t as famous then.

Next Lines

As is the norm at this stage, all delivered at a rapid clip, although Sean has settled into his groove of caring more about getting the jokes over than the right answers, which makes for better entertainment although it does result in his team only scoring two points for the whole round. Unsurprisingly, Phill’s team win, with 16 points to Sean’s 11.

How Good Is the Script?

  • The Good: There’s a joke about Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley’s divorce that works well despite being a touch predictable, and there’s a nice bait-and-switch in referring to Bonnie Tyler’s distinctive gravelly face.
  • The Bad: There’s a very obvious joke about Detachable Penis being available as a 12”. There’s an utterly awful joke about Marvin Gaye that doesn’t seem to have any actual humour content beside the shock value of the phrase ‘boob tube’.
  • In General: Not especially good. There seem to be quite a lot of obvious jokes, and not much you won’t have heard elsewhere. I wouldn’t exactly claim that the scripts on the show were ever high art but they were usually well-written and at least had original jokes that were good for a couple of big laughs; you can’t say that about it in this larval stage, though.

Proof That This Is 1996

  • References to Woolworths, Abbey National and the late Kirsty MacColl in the introduction all date the show somewhat.
  • Shovell, Ashley and, to a lesser extent, Cathy are all fairly ‘of the time’. Graham has obviously gone on to be a very big star since, and looks very young here – it’s amusing to hear him introduced as the co-host of Carnal Knowledge, a show which I can’t imagine too many people remember these days.
  • Beside those in the introduction, there are topical jokes about the Bishop of Gloucester and Gillian Taylforth.
  • The early episodes frequently use quite iconic songs in the Intros round; once they start to run out there is a tendency to go for songs that were either big at the time or at least fresh in the memory but which we, watching them today, might have difficulty remembering, or might have completely forgotten about until now. I’d argue that Step It Up is the first song to come under that description.
  • Ed Tudor Pole is said to be now hosting the Crystal Maze; the show had actually ended a year prior to this although it’s possible that its cancellation hadn’t been announced at that point.

Other Observations

  • Mark has a tendency at times to explain panellists’ jokes if they’ve left some of it up to the audience’s imagination, notably doing so here with one of Graham’s jokes during the Freeze Frame round.
  • Sean will frequently drop references to earlier jokes into the Intros round; that begins here with a couple of callbacks to Detachable Penis.
  • Both Sean and especially Phill seem quite committed to doing their Intros well here – this won’t last, as I recall. While Phill is very good at it, he tends to be louder than his teammates, which is a problem when they do the most distinctive part of the song and he drowns them out, a good example being when he does the guitar part on Blue Monday.
  • During the Ten Pole Tudor question Mark, rather defensively, suggests that this might be a good time to make fun of his hair. While his greaser image would become a running joke on the show, and was obviously mentioned a lot before this on Shooting Stars, it does seem a tad odd considering no-one’s mentioned it either in this episode or the last.
  • The Identity Parade line-ups really seem to be relaxed and enjoying themselves a lot in the early episodes, often laughing along with the jokes – later on you’ll see them making an effort to keep a straight face, and I think mention has been made of them being told not to laugh.
  • On the few times it’s played, the Mars Bar round always contains at least one surreptitious reference to an urban legend about some celebrity or other, in this case a pint jug and a hamster. Graham actually hints at the rumour about the pint of semen being pumped from someone’s stomach, in this case Marc Almond – it goes on to become something of a running joke in the early series, although this is the closest anyone comes to actually saying what the rumour is.
  • The rush to get through the Next Lines round becomes a bit of a problem when Mark comes out with a pretty good joke – admittedly a fat joke about Phill, but a fairly clever and quick one – but seems so keen to get it out and move on to the next joke that it seems to go unnoticed by everyone in the studio.

Final Verdict
If the first episode was at least interesting from a historical viewpoint, this doesn’t even have that going for it, I’m afraid to say. It’s not that it’s a car crash – it’s amusing at times, it’s energetic and there’s nothing embarrassing about it, but a lot of it feels quite tepid and there’s nothing that’ll really make you feel as though it’s worth it to watch. The main problem is still that, as I keep saying, it’s still a quiz with some comedic elements at this point. Someone – possibly even Phill Jupitus, come to think of it – said that the best panel shows feel like a funny chat with your mates, but here there’s almost no chat, and certainly no room to breathe.