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.

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Series One, Episode Four: “At Thickth, Thethilia by Thugth.”

Originally aired 3rd December 1996
Feast your eyes on this bad boy!

Introduction
“Hello, I’m Mark Lamarr and this is Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the pop quiz that says ‘Wake up, Maggie, I think I’ve got something to say to you. My name’s Keith Chegwin and I’m an alcoholic’. Our team captains are two men who claim to know about as much about pop music as they do about comedy. So we’re in deep doo-doo already. Please welcome Phill Jupitus and Sean Hughes!”

Phill and Sean now get a joint intro, in what is possibly an effort to pick the pace of the show up.

Guests

Sarah Cracknell – “Phill’s first guest is Sarah Cracknell. She’s a solo artist and the lead singer with Saint-Etienne. She spent her youth hanging around James Bond film sets with her father who worked there. His job was to check Roger Moore for woodworm.”
One of the quieter guests, I’ll admit that I’m struggling to think of much to write for Sarah, who is chirpy and seems to have a good time but says very little.

Billy Bragg – “Phill’s second guest is an Essex-born singer-songwriter. He’s a confirmed socialist and co-founder of Red Wedge, and so he really is a leading member of the Barking left. Billy Bragg!”
The first of a number of appearances for Billy, who’s above average in terms of funny musical guests, although not quite outstanding. Still, he’s usually good for a laugh or two per episode, and he is of course good friends with Phill, so there’s a warmth and chemistry there.

Suggs – “Sean’s first guest is Suggs! Suggs is a man who hasn’t let many years of stardom with Madness go to his head. When we called him recently, and this is absolutely true, we were told he was unable to come because he was on a songwriting course.”
Another friend of Phill’s and another member of Red Wedge – it’s a wonder the Daily Mail didn’t incite its readers to burn their licenses in disgust. Anyway, Suggs appears a handful of times and is generally good value although, curiously for someone who’s quite a seasoned television personality away from his music, he often seems a little uncomfortable and maybe nervous on the show.

Jeff Green – “Sean’s second guest has just finished supporting Jo Brand for two months so he’s now eight inches shorter than he was in the summer, Jeff Green!”
A regular early on, Jeff does very well on the show, with a lot of good jokes and even if he never really knocks your socks off he improves every episode he’s on.

Freeze Frame

Sean’s team get ‘metal monsters’ – Mark’s words, not mine – Aerosmith and their video for Living on the Edge. A nude Steven Tyler, hand covering his cock, sings some platitudes over a vaguely Eastern arrangement, with an undone zip running down to his navel, basically leaving him with a massive gaping hole for the right side of his body. Honestly, watch the video if you want to know what I’m on about. There’s a few jokes but with no serious answer forthcoming we get the rest of the clip – a green man comes out of Steven’s hole.

A slight change of pace for Phill’s team, as they get the chart rundown from a then-recent edition of Top of the Pops, hosted by Chris Eubank. It doesn’t take a genius to predict the general direction it takes, but the rundown pauses after number seven. Billy and Phill both know the answer – number six was Suggs, with Cecilia, or, in Eubankese, number thickth wath Thuggth, with Thethelia. It’s a little obvious but still a fantastically funny clip, and as a little extra we get a brief clip of Phill hosting the show himself dressed as the Easter bunny.

Intros Round

Sean and Suggs are up first with a strong version of Free’s All Right Now. Jeff has a good joke – tossing a coin to the performing duo – but not the correct answer, so it’s over to Billy.

They continue – under duress – with the Frog Chorus, and We All Stand Together. It’s good, to the extent that the Frog Chorus can be considered good, but Jeff makes the same schoolboy error that I made playing along at home, thinking that the Frog Chorus was in fact the title of the song. We’re not alone, as Phill was under the same impression, so the points go begging.

Do you remember Larry Mullin and Adam Clayton’s cover of the Mission Impossible theme? I do, because it was on Now 34 or something like that and that was one of the first CDs I ever owned. Sean and Suggs do a good version although even if that particular version’s a bit of a half-remembered oddity these days it’s such a distinctive song anyway that you’d be worried for Jeff if he didn’t get it. No need to worry – he gets it.

Which band did Tiger Feet? If you’re thinking Mud, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right (sorry). They do it well enough although the biggest clue is of course the dance – Jeff doesn’t get it but Sarah does.

Over to Phill and Sarah who get started with a pretty good version of the Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), although those of you with nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox may wish to shy away from Phill’s rather suspect falsetto. Neither Billy nor anyone on Sean’s team can get it, although there’s a funny moment when Mark plays it in and Sean, Jeff and Suggs all groan in unison.

Continuing on the theme of hearts, we then get Elton John and Kiki Dee with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. It’s a good effort, but Billy can’t get it, so it’s up to Suggs to take the points for his team.

It’s time to stand for the Irish national anthem – Phill and Sarah give us Ghost Town by the Specials. Sarah does a very good job, although curiously for a renowned ska fan Phill does the beat a bit too loud and uptempo. It matters not a jot, though, as this is more up Billy’s alley than the Eurythmics or Elton John and Kiki Dee, and he guesses correctly.

Keith Flint was everywhere in 1996, and he sneaks into this round with a rendition of Firestarter. It doesn’t start well, but once the drums kick in it’s recognisable, and once the ‘hey, hey, hey’ has been deployed Billy’s on board.

Indecipherable Lyrics

Sean’s team first, and they have to decipher Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. After not contributing any for the last three weeks Sean’s team finally contributes some joke lyrics, although Sean notably keeps schtum throughout. While you have to admire their cheek in keeping up the pretence that Wuthering Heights isn’t about, you know, Wuthering Heights, it’s only Jeff’s charm that stops it from being tedious.

Phill’s team then set about the finest Giorgio Moroder cover to ever become a terrace chant, Chicory Tip’s Son of My Father. Again, it’s all a bit silly, but it doesn’t take too long.

Identity Parade

Sean’s team go first again, and must identify the Rubettes’ Alan Williams. We get the first introductory jokes for each line-up member – “Is it one, smaller than you thought, is it two, with the twinkle in his eyes, Is it three, with the luxuriant mane, four with the ears, or five, who wears that cap like a natural?” – although as you can see they’re not quite the elaborate lattices that the show would later construct. Suggs recognises number two as being him virtually straight away, and it’s no surprise – he’s barely changed at all.

Phill’s team get the first of an occasional trend in which an artist featured in an earlier round is brought back for the identity parade, in this case Chicory Tip frontman Peter Hewson. The line-up of potential Hewsons consists of “number one, curly to his mates, number two, Mr. Handsome, number three, with the kindly wrinkles, number four, the affluent ex-model, [and] five, the city gent”, and Mark takes the opportunity to remind Phill’s team of some of the jokes they made about their guest’s haircut earlier in the show. They guess number one, but instead it is revealed to be number four, a jolly Joe Kinnear lookalike.

The Mark Lamarrs Bar Round

Apparently renamed on legal advice, this round begins with Sean’s team, who must connect Pink Floyd with an afghan hound, a wok or a pig’s testicles. Suggs knows the correct answer – after Roger Waters left they added a pair of testicles to their trademark inflatable pig to prevent legal difficulties.

Phill’s team must then work out the connection between everyone’s favourite urophile, Chuck Berry, and a lady’s toilet, a glass table or a Barbie doll. Billy hints at the classic glass table urban legend that has been attached to many down the years, with Sarah connecting it to Hitler, oddly enough. Billy knows what our Chuck’s been up to, though, and gives us the correct answer that he got in legal trouble for videoing women using the toilets in his restaurant.

Next Lines

Again, a pretty textbook playing of the round, lots of questions, no huge laughs, over and done with. Phill’s team win with 21, Sean’s team lagging behind on 16.

How Good Is The Script?

  • The Good: I’m a sucker for contrived puns, so the list of songs originally written in German – Heil Ho Silver Lining, Goering Underground and Is She Really Going Out With Himmler? – hits the spot for me, and there’s a good joke about Pink Floyd releasing the aforementioned bollocks as a concept album.
  • The Bad: Nothing too dreadful, although the other Pink Floyd joke, about the quality of festival food, is aptly enough not especially fresh.
  • Overall: So-so, really. It’s never hilarious but then it’s never jarringly bad. It works, basically.

Proof That It’s 1996

  • Keith Chegwin’s alcoholism was a fairly recent news story at the time, I believe, hence the joke about it in Mark’s introduction.
  • Sarah was about to release her first and, to date, only solo album, so I’d assume her appearance is to promote it. While they’re both big names to this day, Suggs and Billy had both just released albums too, with Suggs in particular enjoying some chart success, and while Jeff is still performing he was a much more ubiquitous figure at this point.
  • I suppose any episode with the phrase “from Top of the Pops, earlier this year” is going to be a little dated, but the clips of Chris Eubank and Phill hosting the show dates it to the mid 90s, when the show experimented with celebrity guest hosts.
  • As previously mentioned, the Larry Mullin and Adam Clayton cover of the Mission Impossible theme is one of those songs that I can’t imagine we’d have seen performed even a year or two later.

Other Observations

  • It occurred to me that while I’ve been complaining about how the show focuses more on its quiz aspect than the comedy in these early episodes it does probably benefit the show in the long run. I’ve cited examples of other shows, like Have I Got News For You and QI, that have had similarly tight starts, and it seems that stuffing the early episodes with as many questions as possible basically serves like a pair of stabilisers while the regular participants get to know each other and develop some chemistry. Even on NMTB, where I seem to recall Mark, Phill and Sean all knew each other beforehand they have to get used to performing together and there’s every chance that if these early episodes had been as laid-back and chatty as later episodes that they would have been more awkward and less funny. Meanwhile there’ve been countless panel shows that haven’t lasted beyond a series or two because they’ve expected, say, David Mitchell, Alexander Armstrong and Johnny Vaughan to be able to bounce off each other perfectly from the off.
  • During the very first round, after Suggs makes a joke about Steven Tyler’s testicles exploding, Mark remarks “What a beautiful thought to end the show on” – something of a peculiar statement to make with only three minutes gone. It’s hard to say whether Mark misspoke or it’s the product of peculiar editing.
  • Peter Hewson from Chicory Tip looks very different in the identity parade from how he did in the clip shown, and yet they’ve taken the effort to find four other men who look a lot like him as he does now – e.g. heavier, with a mullet. This happens a couple more times in this series, I think, but later on they’ll just get any four ringers who broadly look like they could have been the person in question.
  • After we all had a good laugh at Chris Eubank earlier, Mark manages to call Suggs ‘Shuggsh’ at the end of the show. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why I transcribed the end of the first episode but haven’t done it for any since, that’s because they’ve been identical ever since. When the show starts adding in jokes and the like at the end, I’ll let you know.

Final Verdict
Credit where credit’s due, the show seems to be loosening up at this point. It probably helps that you have Phill, Billy and Suggs, who all know each other, but there’s just a general feeling that everyone’s a bit more relaxed than they had been before, and while the little comedic interplays don’t last for too long the fact that they’re there at all shows that we’re getting to a point where the show is about a collection of people being funny together, rather than various individuals just getting their jokes in. It’s nothing special, but it’s enjoyable.