In a discovery that fills us with three parts excitement and two parts simmering resentment*, there seem to be a growing number of fondly remembered, though never commercially released, TV shows on YouTube. This is a marvellous thing, so here’s a quick rundown of our latest finds.
(*over the time we spent untold hours making a video of The BrokenTV Awards, only for it to be near-instantly removed from YouTube because it had ten-second long clips of Channel Four shows in it.)
NOTE: Presumably because the programmes involved are so dimly remembered by anyone, they seem to sneak under the copyright barrier, but that’s unlikely to be for long. We’d suggest you watch them now, while you can. And don’t, for example, download the videos involved by using a YouTube download app, because that would be wrong. (Our tip: if you’re using Firefox, install the Greasemonkey extension, and then the YousableTubeFix script.)
Where’s Elvis This Week?
BBC Two, 1996
Going out on Sunday nights from October 1996 and recorded in New York for BBC Two, this saw Jon Stewart – fresh from his self-titled MTV show – meet up with a quartet of guests each week to trade banter about current events from either side of the pond. One pair of guests were from the UK (such as Arthur Smith, Armando Iannucci, Eddie Izzard or Tony Hawks), while the remainder were from North America (notably Dave Chapelle, Norm MacDonald, and Stewart’s predecessor in The Daily Show hotseat, Craig Kilborn).
Slightly pathetically, we always find it a bit thrilling when The Daily Show covers a UK-based story, if only to see how many words into the script the writers can go without penning a joke about football hooligans or the Queen (average score: 2.76 sentences), so this we found this very interesting to see again. Most of the time, when the worlds of US and UK comedy combine, the results are disappointing – look at the ‘Miami Twice’ episode of Only Fools & Horses, the episodes of Married With Children where Bill Oddie guest starred, or forthcoming Channel Four series of The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret (already airing in the USA). WETW comes over pretty well in comparison, with it basically being five funny people being funny. Think of it as Jon Stewart conducing a week’s worth of Daily Show interviews all at once, so he can have the rest of the week off.
Only five episodes were ever actually broadcast of Where’s Elvis This Week?, and four of them are on YouTube thanks to the splendid Anglogirl1. Here’s episode two (Dave Chapelle, Tony Hawks, Christopher Hitchens, Helen Gurley Brown):
On a very similar tip, 1999 saw Michael Moore Live go out on Channel Four. It was also from New York, and took a more energetic approach to comparing the two nations, incorporating live phone-ins and stunts. From the former, we remember one irate Welshman who’d misunderstood a throwaway remark by Moore challenging the portly filmmaker to name three cities in the Principality (he came out with Cardiff, Swansea, and after much whispered hinting from the UK crew, Wrexham). From the latter, the main stunt we recall saw people simultaneously collapse in front of hidden cameras in the UK, USA and Canada, to see which populace would come to the aid of the stricken stooge. All interesting stuff (with curious scheduling that saw the first half of the only series sneak out at about 1am without fanfare, and the rest going out at a more sensible 11pm), and something we’d love to appear on YouTube. Sadly, Channel Four are notorious killjoys when it comes to their content being shoved on anything that isn’t their own 4OD YouTube channel, so we won’t hold our breath.
Families At War
BBC One, 1998-9
Possibly the most unexpected Saturday night light entertainment show ever, at least until 2008 saw ill-judged Five offering “Ron Jeremy’s Strictly Cum Dancing” (legal note: that was just a very rubbish joke that we immediately regret), Families At War was a Saturday evening light entertainment spectacular devised and hosted by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. The premise was that two families would enter the arena, one championed by Vic Reeves, the other by Bob Mortimer, with a family member from each side putting on an impressive turn in front of the audience. Novelty Island gone legit, if you will. The competing family members were pitted against each other, with the victor of each round decided upon by a jury of people from a chosen profession, such as nurses, or jockeys. The family with the most ‘votes’ at the end of the game were deemed the winners.
Coming from around the post-Shooting Stars era when the BBC seemed confident that Vic and Bob could make the leap from cultish BBC2 comedy heroes to national BBC1 treasures (see also: the remake of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and Bob Mortimer panel show vehicle 29 Minutes Of Fame), this was easily the most entertaining from that triumvirate of underachievers. The show aimed to take the kind of thing everyone’s nan likes to see (members of the public performing impressive achievements in front of a studio audience), then add a generously heaped tablespoon of R&M-brand whimsical wonder. On hand to calm the chaos was Alice Beer, who acted as moderator and referee.
Lots of strange things here, including:
- The introduction, where the competing families sing their introductions in a way that should be completely horrible, but which works surprisingly well.
- References to Voltaire on primetime Saturday night BBC One.
- Pleasingly silly asides like “Do you like my hair?” “Yes.” “Which one’s your favourite?”
- Not forgetting the bit everyone remembers, the delightfully demented endgame, where Vic or Bob (whoever had been representing the winning family) would be strapped into a spider costume, and act as a human grabby-claw-thing in a gigantic version of an arcade crane claw game controlled by the winning family members, while the remaining Vic-or-Bob grooved behind a prop organ. “I AM THE SPIDERRRRRR!” “I AM THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERRRRR!”
It’s clear to see why it was commissioned. Vic and Bob get the best out of the contestants, and when each family member gets to do their own particular turn, they’re afforded a chance to shine without interruption. Vic in particular proves how brilliant he is at this kind of thing, riffing effortlessly with the family members in the pre-stunt banter slots. Bob, who BrokenTV’s dad (wrongly) always thought was the funnier of the duo (sorry Dad), didn’t bond quite as well with the families, prefers to just do his own thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s a real shame that the series didn’t really prove a hit with the viewing public, as it still makes for really entertaining now, in VHS-converted-to-.flv-YouTube-o-vision. As you can see for yourselves, thanks to (again) Anglogirl1. Two full episodes are online, with one (we think) being the 1998 broadcast pilot episode, and the other from the full series that followed a year later. Yes, the other bit of the show everyone remembers – a man on a treadmill giving Leo Sayer a piggyback – IS included, but we’re not saying in which episode, so you’ll have to watch them both. Mwah-ha-ha.
HBO Comedy Hour: Live! From London
This is a wonderful find, again from Anglogirl1 (yeah, we should stop pointing out that each show we’ve mentioned so far is from the same YouTube account, so it looks like we’ve done more research). From the time when Channel Four’s Saturday Live had ditched The Dangerous Brothers and mutated into Friday Night Live, this show was an attempt to export the cream of Britain’s alternative comedy (“Oh-ho, what? Alternative to ‘funny’?” – J. Tarbuck On A Billion Fucking Clip Shows) scene to a stateside audience, with, well, mixed results.
A number of notable acts from the UK perform here, with the main performer – and co-host of the evening – being, as it was 1988, a shiny-suited Ben Elton. Also on stage were Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (doing the enjoyable “how sex works” skit also seen in the inaugural A Night Of Comic Relief, a number of puppets from Spitting Image (but only the puppets voiced by Chris Barrie and Steve Nallon, so yeah, mainly Chris Barrie), Jeremy Hardy, and most notably, Rowan Atkinson, who gets to perform two routines. The first of these is his “news with sign language” routine, but the second, later in the show, was the excellent “Jesus as magician” sermon, as also heard on his “Not Just A Pretty Face” album. Three notable differences for the US TV audience here SPOILERS ALERT. the first being that “The Cup” becomes “The World Series”, “Sharon” becomes “Trixie”, and that “Paul Daniels” is changed to “Steven Spielberg”. Possibly the only time those two names have ever been transposed, and not immediately interesting to you readers, but it makes us feel clever that we know that fact. It’s a huge shame that (a) Angus Deayton doesn’t get to act as Atkinson’s sidekick in the show, and (b) Atkinson doesn’t do his brilliant Madonna song.
The main drag factor here is the main host, Canadian actor and stand-up Howie Mandel, then probably best known for his role in St. Elsewhere. He doesn’t really add much to the proceedings – near the start, he hopes to win the London audience onside by proudly holding up page three of The Sun, and later on when bantering with an audience member who announces he’s a surgeon, asks “when a female patient is under, do you feel up her tits?”, which isn’t really the done thing in front of a London right-on 1980s alt-comedy audience (or indeed, any audience packed with non-idiots), whether it fills the dangerous-content remit of HBO or not. As it is, that’s fulfilled by the liberated UK comedians, finally free to say the things they say in their non-televised-until-then acts, as made pretty clear by Ben Elton, who at one point blurts “shag…. I mean FUCK….”.
Some more YouTube finds soon!