While we’d like to spend a little time musing on the way BBC North-West and Granada* have failed to heed our advice and simply fallen off-air at the end of their analogue tenure, we’re instead going to crack on with:
(*Though, really… Granada? You used to give a flying crap about things! You just collapsed off-air in the middle of a film no-one cares about. If you still had an ounce of decorum, you’d have summoned up a roll-call of continuity announcers, like Colin Weston, Richard, Judy, Bob Greaves, Lucy Meacock, and the rest… for shame.)
There have been quite a lot of “wry looks at unusual people” from just beneath Louis Theroux’s faux-concerned brow over the last decade, but it’s this which has stayed in our memory. Louis And The Nazis saw Theroux visit California, specifically the home of the man dubbed “the most dangerous racist in America”, Tom Metzger, in order to see just what makes him tick. Tick with bilious bigoted fury.
While Metzher spent most of the programme trying to be polite and well-mannered (as racists tend to do when appearing in documentaries), one pivotal scene of the documentary saw him, alongside his family, angrily excommunicate Theroux from him home, after Louis courageously refused to reveal whether he was Jewish or not.
See also: Nazi Pop Twins. A 2007 Channel Four documentary where James Quinn travelled to meet Prussian Blue (who were also shown in “Louis And The Nazis”), pretty much the white supremacist answer to Tegan & Sara.
TV’s Believe It Or Not was (what seemed to be) a curious yet enjoyable pair of pilots for Sean Lock. Both programmes dipped into the less remarkable depths of TV history, be they UK-based (such as popping in and out of The Sky At Night’s ill-judged dalliance with cloud-strewn live astronomy) and US-based (Shatner. Rocket Man. That is all). On first transmission, episode one ran from 8pm-9pm, and was a family-friendly flip through the more mockable parts of the television archives. Episode two ran from 9pm-10pm of the same night’s BBC Four schedule, and was an expletive-packed glance at similarly kickable televisual offcuts. With the perpetually quick-witted Lock at the helm, both programmes were as hugely entertaining as you could reasonably expect such a thing to be – maybe Victor Lewis-Smith about fifteen years ago could have handled the show slightly more entertainingly, but only just so.
Sadly, this hasn’t yet mutated into an actual series. And sadly, it hasn’t stopped people on the internet calling Sean Lock “Sean Locke”.
You know all the things the infuriating Extras decided to pretend was wrong with studio-audience sitcoms? And you know Ash Italia’s ill-considered theory in a Word Magazine article about how British stand-up comedians are incapable of penning half-decent sitcoms? Well, this quite comprehensively slaps the latter around the chops, and kicks the former quite forcedly in the balls. And was it Not Going Out that felt the need to include a teeth-clenching cameo from the star’s top showbiz chum Chris Martin? No, it wasn’t.
So, Not Going Out happily debunked many of the misconceptions about the British sitcom. It had a live studio audience (of course, so did Father Ted and I’m Alan Partridge, but columnists tend to forget that when they’re getting in a lather over The Sodding Office). It was primarily written by a stand-up comedian (of course, so were many prime US sitcoms, but columnists tend to etc). It went out on BBC One (of course, so did Men Behaving Badly, but people seem to have forgotten how good that was when when making lists).
Anyway, to detract from us just finding excuses to attack perceived prejudices, we’ll just note that each episode of Not Going Out contained enough piss-funny lines to win us over, no matter how weak the plot tended to be, or how underused Miranda Hart was once she was written in as a proper character. If nothing else, in this age of “relentless promotion before the first episode of each series, fingers crossed most viewers stick around for episode two”, Not Going Out saw its audience grow episode by episode, despite never really being promoted by the BBC. So, naturally, it was axed before series three had finished. Hey, that’s marketing for you. Expect the final, Christmas themed episode on your screen over the end of this month, unless the BBC One schedulers are even more clueless than even we’d fear think.
He looks and sounds a bit like Andrew Collings. He writes and thinks a bit like us, if you were to believe a reply to one of our posts on the NotBBC comedy forum a couple of years ago (we post there under the less-than-wacky pseudonym ‘Mark’, which presumably led to the confusion). Clearly, the latter isn’t at all appropriate (if nothing else, you’d have to take everything we say, but then replace the words “Shaun Micallef” with “Neil Kinnock” or something), as we’d never be capable of making biographies of Lord Byron, Karl Marx, Thomas Paine or Harriet Tubman accessible to, well, berks like us.
The Mark Steel Lectures was able to take such lofty subjects and make them accessible to the YouTube-video-sized attention spans of Generation X, putting them in the contexts of Room 101 (the Merton-fronted TV show, as opposed Orwell’s original) or the Match Of The Day studio. This led to modern-day dullards like us learning things by deceptive proxy. This is a good thing.
One of our favourite things about BBC Two over the last decade has been their propensity to broadcast programmes like this. It would have been just as easy to run a clip show fronted by a former kids TV presenter wandering around a hamfisted mockup of the Live & Kicking set, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they invited Noel Edmonds to front a retrospective of BBC One’s Saturday morning kids output – in front of a huge studio audience, and alongside his original co-stars – to great effect.
While you could quite justifiably claim such a programme was just a cynical exercise in memory-gland tugging, we’d counter that even the cold mechanical heart of a cyborg Norman Tebbit would have found the phone call from a stricken Tony Hart to be genuinely moving.