Noel’s H(oly) Q(uest)

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Noel Edmonds is an… interesting character. Few have endured through as many decades of the shifting entertainment world, and like Madonna, he’s had to evolve to survive. His path began as a DJ and phone prankster, moving onto television host and King of Saturday nights, and inevitably wilderness-dwelling pariah, spoken of only as a punchline, before bouncing back with a hugely successful show where people take ages to open boxes like they’re in a cult. Since then, he’s reached a further stage of enlightenment, reinventing himself as a wizard.

The signs of his latest, modern-alchemist direction began with televisual resurrection, claiming to have acquiring Deal or No Deal simply by asking the universe for it via cosmic ordering. Jon Ronson’s incredible piece written during a week’s filming of the show painted a portrait of a backstage beholden to a hippie guru, with contestants terrified Noel might see negative vibes buzzing through their auras and have them banished. Then there’s the time he made a video criticising the BBC in falsetto while dressed like an old lady, before later threatening to buy the broadcaster himself. Nu-Noel’s media appearances function as opportunities to spread his gospel, such as the dead parents that visit him in the form of two melon-sized orbs of light, or the service he offers to cheer up depressed cats over the phone by sending them messages of positivity. It’s not just cats and dogs psychically yacking, as Noel confirms that trees and bushes chat too, sending each other warnings up to 50 miles away, if hungry giraffes are lurking in the vicinity. Water can also speak. “It’s communicating with us, it’s communicating with other water,” he said, which is probably why my ears were burning after my morning poo.

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Positivity has become Noel’s MO, officiating ‘Positivity Weddings’, and helpfully announcing that diseases like cancer are caused by negative attitudes. Coincidentally, around this time Noel was hawking a magic box which uses soundwaves to cure cancer and prevent aging. But if you couldn’t find the required £2,315 to buy one, your tumours could still be shrunk by listening to his new station, Positivity Radio, which aimed to soothe the listener with birdsong noises, the ethereal sounds of Noel’s laughter, and as per an article in the Guardian, a quiz section where “the subject is Prisoner: Cell Block H but… the answer to every question is “Lord Archer.” Positivity Radio has currently taken a new direction, as Noel locks the same laser-focus that took Telly Addicts to the top of the ratings onto another target. Lloyds Bank. His rebranded website, Noel World, in all its 1999-looking glory, is an unending diatribe of rambling words and pictures, which seem like they should be pinned to a garage wall and connected with red string, detailing the crimes of Lloyds Bank. Or, as he calls them, Liars Banking Group, seeking £300m compensation for the collapse of his business, and subsequent emotional damage. Noel claims that, thanks to all the publicity, his computers and phones are constantly being hacked, and while on a trip to France, was approached by two sinister men who told him “be very careful, you are making powerful enemies.” The radio station playlist consists entirely of songs that relate to his plight, Abba’s Money, Money, Money and You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two from Oliver! — interspersed with interviews about his Lloyds experience by somebody who sounds suspiciously like Noel putting on a voice.

Though it seems as though he’s gone the full David Icke, there’s still a way for Noel to mount a comeback. Picture this — a slasher movie, set in the ruins of Blobbyland, where urban explorers are picked off, one by one, by the beast himself. As the final girl slays Blobby by impaling him on a Gotcha, its head comes off revealing Noel, gone mad. If he signed off on that, he’d earn back all the lost money, and reclaim his place in the nation’s hearts. But while the Ozymandian rubble of Blobbyland is long-considered Noel’s greatest folly, there’s another; a perfect outlet for his self-help delirium; a perfect disaster. I’m speaking of Noel’s HQ, a television pilot airing on Sky on September 14th 2008.

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The phrase ‘Event Television’ is often overused, but that’s obviously the intention behind Noel’s HQ, which even Sky’s continuity announcer claims will “inspire the viewer.” From the opening salvo, Noel makes it clear that this is no mere television show; it’s his call to arms. He’s fully back in crazed philanthropist mode, the Christ-Noel of Noel’s Christmas Presents, where he’d appear on a factory floor to usher a confused man in a hairnet onto a private jet because he’d not had a day off in thirty years. Like some weird goblin guarding the door of a mysterious labyrinth, Noel begins by telling the viewer to prepare for three questions. Should we say yes to even one of them, this show could change our lives forever. What might these questions be? Do you know what happened to Roy ‘Spook’ Jay? Have you got a scrap of paper? Because if so, did you know, you can cosmic order Anna Kendrick to be your wife?

He makes his entrance, to a large, wildly applauding live audience, pointedly wishing good evening, with a serious look in his eye; a look that seems to say “there will be no gunge tonight.” He means business. Then, ask he me, the riddles three. “Are you unhappy with life in Britain today? Are you concerned with the lack of respect, compassion, and freedom in our society? Would you like to be part of a fairer, more caring Britain?

Now, before you scream “Yes!” so hard that you strain a bollock, let’s step back and remind ourselves about the Britain of 2008. Culturally, it seems a million years ago, before the joy of George Osborne getting booed at the Paralympics, and preceding the horrors of Farage, Hopkins, and Brexit. Compared to today, 2008 seems like some kind of Star Trek utopia, back when nobody had heard of Logan Paul, and we weren’t deluged with daily videos of racists on trains shrieking at brown people. What did we worry about back then, before things slipped into the dystopian fascist hell-hole we now call home? Don’t worry, Noel’s here to remind us, at great length, immediately slipping in the phrase “Broken Britain.” Used frequently in this show, back then, it was a two-word battle cry for The Sun, in its daily front page scares about poor people and hoodie-wearing feral youths in need of the birch or National Service; and tales of petty ‘elf n safety’ regulations from Barmy Brussels. David Cameron would go on to use the phrase as the backbone of his election campaign, as would your dad when reposting articles from the Onion while thinking they were real.

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And that’s essentially Noel’s HQ; it’s your dad’s Facebook page; it’s the comment section of the Daily Mail; it’s every local newspaper photo of an angry resident squatting beside a pothole. It’s all those things, and so much more, as presented by a genetic hybrid of Alan Partridge and Infowars‘ Alex Jones, who’s dressed as a divorced lion. Noel opens with an impassioned rant about the evils we, as a nation have to deal with. Poverty? Racism? Underfunding of vital public services, and poisonous media billionaires stirring up hatred with daily propaganda? Of course not. These are but petty concerns. Noel’s bothered by the real problems we face, the “tidal wave of new rules, regulations and laws, that’ve been introduced on behalf of health and safety, security, or the environment.” Yeah! Fuck the environment!

Throughout the show, each of the many times these words are uttered; phrases like “health and safety” or “red tape,” they’re spat with the chuckling, weightless contempt you’d use to utter the name of a disgraced local clown; caught shiteing against the counter in McDonalds again. This is Noel with a purpose, angry at politicians who’ve “had their turn,” livid at “red tape and bureaucracy.” There’s a fire in his heavily-made-up eyes, and he clearly sees Noel’s HQ as the spark to light the fuse, sending Britons into the streets with bread knives to hack their local fat-cat councillors to mush and reclaim these lands.

The assembled audience have obviously been hand-picked for their virtue; noble men and women who hold our sceptred, crumbling isle on their broad shoulders. As he passes, he thrusts his mic towards their mouths like King Arthur’s sword; a lady who works in a soup kitchen; a plumber offering one free bathroom; for a show which promises life-changing qualities, its reliance on man-on-the-street interactions pulls us right back to Noel’s Prankster Claus roots. Seemingly unable to stop himself from awkwardly surprising regular folks, with that look on his face like he’s walking on fucking water, much of Noel’s HQ consists of suddenly pulling unsuspecting audience members into his game, in a series of consistently awkward interactions. The first victim is a man who started a Kind Deeds Day in his local area, whom Noel patronises by putting on a bad Brummie accent. But in the Church of Noel, he is God, and as he judges and condemns the bad, so he will reward those who’ve earned a place at his right hand. Their prize, while not quite eternal life, is a go on the Wonder Wall; a television screen which displays the words Wonder Wall with a magic tinkling noise, and a series of ‘random’ prizes hidden behind numbers. Mr. Kind Deeds picks #12, landing himself a (heavily sponsored) spa holiday to Spain.

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And on it goes, with Noel hijacking his own show about making Britain more caring to wrong-foot ordinary people, not expecting to find themselves on camera, suddenly thrust onto live television, and forced to watch emotional videos about their various deeds. When he accosts a nervous man who found a holdall containing £3,800, and handed it into the police instead of keeping it, I half expect the Wonder Wall to land on live footage of Anton Chigurh hiding behind his bedroom door with a shotgun. Instead, he picks a number and wins a cruise, which Noel says he’s specially arranged, knowing the man hasn’t had a holiday for a while. So, the numbers aren’t random? What’s the point of making them choose? Later, a young woman who set up an anti-bullying website has to watch a VT of her mum talking about her daughter’s horrific schooldays, before being product-placement gifted a Pocket Surfer 2; an evergreen piece of tech up there with Alan Sugar’s em@iler. She doesn’t even get a go on the Wonder Wall. Finally, as a show closer, Noel surprise-calls on a couple who lost their honeymoon when a holiday company collapsed, and hands them a trip to Malta, cuing a messianic soundtrack of “You raise me up!” Ever generous, back in the studio, he gives us a gift, of the most Partridge line of all time, regarding the bride — “In case you didn’t cry then, let me just tell you, Kelly, earlier this year, had meningitis, and had a very serious disease as well.

The most egregious of these “you thought you were here because x, but actually…” surprises is a show-long tale we frequently cut back to, between the other maddening skits. Switching pace from Noel’s Christmas Presents to Challenge Anneka, we’re introduced to some “girls” from a nursery for special needs children whose opening has been hobbled by that ever-present red tape. It’s not exactly clear the nature of their problem, other than Noel’s repeated, vague emphasis, over and over again, that there was red tape, but he’s cut through it. Then it’s over to Konnie Huq, “slashing through that red tape,” and renovating the building so it can be opened tomorrow, in a scene that’s hilarious in its wild efforts to look industrious. A constant stream of people walk busily past the camera, carrying items; paint pots, planks of wood, a tool bag. Nobody’s working, but everyone’s rushing, pushing past Konnie as she speaks, bustling in front of the lens, some carrying single items; a tiny stool, a tube of polyfilla; one boy has a single packet of wipes in his hand as he barges though. Others carry ‘presents’ that are clearly just identically wrapped empty boxes. By the end of the 40-second piece, during which some 50 people rush by, the faces are starting to repeat, going back the way they just came, with one lady holding the same paint can from her first appearance, now also armed with two ‘presents’ that someone else has just carried off-frame.

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Konnie then gives us a tour of the place, with a Japanese gameshow style reaction box in the corner of the screen, so we can catch every falling tear from the nursery workers back in the audience at Noel’s HQ. It’s a true monument to the fight against Broken Britain, showcasing the kind souls willing to take a stand and help those less fortunate; heroes; like the artist painting a mural on a wall; Rolf Harris. Rolf explains that he “loves working with kids and for kids, cos it keeps you young,” in an appearance Noel describes as “a good surprise,” promising us “we’ll be getting through the tissues.”

But television’s soon-to-be-convicted-for-sexual-crimes-against-children Rolf Harris isn’t the only celebrity on show, as Noel’s pulled a few strings to round up more big names similarly sick of Britain’s slide into the bureaucratic abyss. On Brighton beach, a shivering Andi Peters harangues passers-by into signing up to the organ donor list, and encourages viewers to do the same, during what Noel suggests “could be the most important commercial break in the history of TV.” In Liverpool, Liz from Atomic Kitten waves a placard reading ‘NOEL EDMONDS NEEDS YOU TO GIVE THE GIFT OF LIFE‘, urging people to blood test for bone marrow compatibility with a pair leukaemia-stricken children. Gail Porter’s in Glasgow, rounding up volunteers for a ‘guerilla gardener’, planting flowers in a public space that’s a mess of overgrown grass and suspiciously-placed whiskey bottles. Back in the studio, he brings out Helen Chamberlain — “she’s got a great idea!” — who’s pushing for football clubs to donate match tickets to soldiers. Your dad’s all for giving Are Brave Boys footballers’ wages, but they’ll have to do with tickets instead, with Noel threatening to name and shame the clubs that aren’t giving enough seats, to rabid applause from the audience. These celebrity interactions give us the incredible ad-break teaser, when coming up, “our senior citizens are going to be helped by Nell McAndrew.”

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This section is Noel at his most righteous; his most fearless; like a young Che Guevara, almost shaking with rage as he bemoans the fact “our senior citizens should be shown more compassion, and more respect.” Noel shows this respect by chucklingly describing elderly covers band The Zimmers as “a group of people who, quite frankly, have got more energy than the rest of us put together!” The group mime along to My Generation at Birmingham airport, as Nell collects coins from travellers in a bucket with Noel’s face on. Back in the studio, Noel tightly grips a collection box, careful to angle the part with his face towards the camera, and as though spitting the name of his mother’s murderer, informs us “if I rattle it too aggressively, in the Britain we have created, I can be accused of begging, and I can be arrested!” Yeah, and I hear if you order a black coffee the PC Police will hang you for racism. “That’s a rule,” he confirms of the tin, “that’s a regulation brought in!” Then, in a powerful act of political rebellion, surely seconds from having his beard doused with pepper spray, he forcefully, deliberately shakes the tin, holding the lens with a firm glare.

The audience applause that follows almost collapses the foundations of the studio. Emmeline Pankhurst. The Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Noel Edmonds. Perhaps he’s not the hero we asked for, but he is the hero we need, a desperate martyr being dragged to the bowels of Hell by red tape; smothering, constricting his limbs; but never gagging his words. Damn these barmy rules; damn the stupid elf ‘n safety regulations that stop him from orchestrating another televised stunt that leads to a man’s death. We go to commercial with Noel aggressively shaking the tin once again, practically daring the police to cart him off. Frankly, it’s a shock that Noel’s HQ wasn’t taken off the air at this point, replaced by a black government test-card and high-pitched whistle.

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Thankfully, we do return, as Noel’s HQ is a busy show, with a huge amount crammed into its ninety-minutes. At one point, Noel bemoans the abuse of the word “hero,” casually thrown at footballers and celebrities, who aren’t true heroes, unlike… well, if you couldn’t tell he was about to unveil a soldier, please leave your internet access and badge on my desk and get out. A show like this, post 911, couldn’t fail to remind us that man’s noblest, most worthy aspiration is killing, and after giving the soldier a bunch of stuff for his charity, he plays him a video message of adoration from Richard Hammond on behalf of Top Gear, and lends him a Ferrari for a day. Absolute tippy-top peak Brexit gammon.

There is a danger here that I’ll look to be sneering at worthy causes, but even the most genuinely deserving charity, when spotlit by Noel’s simperingly earnest approach, turns into a peculiar sideshow. Regard the piece about knife crime, where we’re introduced to a man whose son was stabbed to death, and is unprepared to find himself pulled out of his seat in the audience and onto the stage. “This,” says Noel, “is an electrifying story!” as he cues a VT taking us through the ‘electrifying’ tale of the boy’s murder, and father’s subsequent opening of a charitable foundation. Already shell-shocked, the man is told by Noel that he’s “ploughing a lonely furrow,” and doesn’t possess the three vital skills he needs to properly grow his charity. Which three skills? The ones that Noel shows him on the big screen, in giant font; COMMUNICATION; BUSINESS ACUMEN; PUBLICITY. He wheels out three experts; one in each field; the members of his new team, entering to the weird Arthurian music that punctuates everything. The grieving father continues to sob, as Noel drowns him with rewards — a procession of helpers; a video message from boxer Ricky Hatton; and a final gift from Noel’s HQ, of a people-carrier, which is his to use, for the oddly-specific period of one year.

But everything so far is mere side dressing when compared to the three course mania of the Noel’s HQ main dish. After introducing tabloid hag Carole Malone, he tells us to brace ourselves, like someone who uses the word “methinks” ending a Facebook post with “rant over!” Then begins the section entitled Noel’s News, where an eye-rolling Edmonds, chuckling so hard he can barely get the words out, reads a selection of news stories about barmy rules and regulations. You know the kind of thing; man banned from taking wheelbarrow to the tip; old lady stopped from gardening public spaces without a hi-vis jacket; man banned from wearing kilt to the pub. Each are accompanied by brilliantly illustrative pictures from the local news, of the subject folding their arms and looking miffed, while Malone adds colour with hilarious comments like “sounds barking mad” after a story involving dogs. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t cut to Noel for a reaction shot when she humorously brings up the dangers of bungee jumping.

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But for almost all of these stories, even a cursory thought reveals the logic behind the ‘barmy’ decisions, which are less examples of jobsworth red tape nonsense, than someone putting a stop to an idiot. Noel’s pissing about a man fined for overfilling his wheelie bit, but you know he’d be the first to complain if Pringles tubes and old nappies started blowing across his driveway. And for all the harping on about the elderly, I’m sure he’d have loved it if that old lady had been mown down while weeding the roundabout because she couldn’t be seen in the car’s headlights. Kilt not allowed in the pub? Nobody wants to stare at your dick. Likewise, news of bagpipers who’ve been restricted over noise complaints leaves Edmonds aghast, and Malone beside herself that police are going after bagpipers and not “the yobs and the hoodies and the drunks!” who presumably are playing that nasty rap music on their phones, and not the beautiful, melodic bagpipes, which she and Noel would be only too happy to hear outside their bedroom windows at 3am.

Noel’s News, which occurs three times during the show, always ends the same way, with the final story pushing Edmonds over the edge, into a priapic cry of “Bonkers Britain!” Ironically, these words are the cue for the most unhinged scenes ever broadcast; the televisual equivalent of opening the puzzle box from Hellraiser. Over wacky boing noises and a looped refrain of “bonkers here, bonkers there, bonkers everywhere!” the doors to the set burst open, filling the stage with a tidal wave of bodies. By bodies, I specifically mean people in fancy dress costumes that look as though they cost about £10 between them. Someone’s dressed as a banana, a cheerleader, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, a burlesque dancer in a top hat tossing handfuls of confetti, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiators (ITV, not Roman) with a pugil stick; there’s no rhyme nor reason, just a wacky mass of humanity, filling every inch of the screen. It’s like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights; an astronaut dances with a pantomime horse; a (real) dog looks confused; people in tutus and feather boas; a balcony of bagpipers; the audience waving their arms and cheering “bonkers here, bonkers there…” Incredibly, Mr Blobby doesn’t put in an appearance. Keith Chegwin does though, dancing inside a wheelie bin with arm and leg-holes cut into it. Later, he’ll be sat in a wheelbarrow being pushed by a caveman, screaming the word “bonkers!” with the desperation of a man calling for help from inside a burning house.

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The final story from Noel’s News is so ruddy bonkers, it needs its own section. “Over to you, Noel,” says Noel, handing over to himself in a pre-tape, where he rants and raves about “the killjoys at Worcester city council,” who’ve brought in rules to limit the irritating chiming of ice cream vans down to 4-second blasts. Noel’s terrified that “one of our great traditions” will become a thing of the past, in that blanket nostalgia for every single thing from Britain’s ‘better (whiter) days’ that always immediately leads to “why can’t I fill my window with gollywogs?!” Doing his best Michael Moore, Noel gathers a fleet of ice cream vans, occupying the pavement outside Worcester council offices with a group of bell-ringers and people dressed as ice creams, to hand out free cones, and force the council to face the consequences of their actions. As we wait, there are angry vox pops with locals, moaning that they’ve taken the chimes away, though as is patently obvious from the very beginning, they haven’t. This is confirmed when a councillor emerges to meet a puffed-up Edmonds, explaining that they’ll investigate if someone complains about the noise, but there won’t be any chime-wardens lurking with stopwatches. Noel gets his guarantee there won’t be any stopwatches, and then acts like he’s scored a big victory, when nothing’s changed at all, and like all of these things, his righteous anger was entirely based on a knee-jerk reaction to an incorrect assumption.

So did Noel’s HQ change the nation? Certainly Noel’s self-belief saw this as the beginnings of a revolution, with the audience becoming increasingly riled, and taking on the tone of a political rally. He bade us goodnight with “That’s what we’ve done tonight. What are you going to do tomorrow?” and earned a full series from Sky to further his cause. Airing to dismal and mocking reviews, Noel’s HQ was cancelled after four episodes, with its star threatening to walk, after a prolonged verbal attack from a teary Noel, at a council officer who’d rejected a housing application from a soldier, was edited from the repeat.

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In the long run, it didn’t matter. The spirit of Noel’s HQ lives on, long-since scattered to the winds and sprouting in every direction. From Matthew Wright and his tawdry show for morons, to the constant presence of Nigel ‘Turd of Turd Hall’ Farage, with his army of Brexit gammon-men, spitting everywhere as they ask about immigration on Question Time. NHQ‘s ambiance; it’s misplaced rage by middle-aged white people yearning for the better days when bananas were straight and you could say the n-word without the lefty snowflakes getting all funny about it; that’s basically what half the internet is now. Watching it a decade on, there’s something twee about its focus on leaves on the line and wheelie bins when we’ve now got over a million people using food banks, as our feckless leader holds hands with a conman dictator. Where’s Noel when you need him? Oh right, outside the bank, talking about magic boxes. Though, as familiar as its ideas have become, Noel’s HQ will probably be the last time you’ll see a load of woman going in for a group hug with Rolf Harris. Bet they had to burn that fucking mural.

This is the first piece from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help me provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on March 31, 2018.

3 Responses to “Noel’s H(oly) Q(uest)”

  1. I wasn’t aware of this “Noel’s HQ” or of the hippy business, but he ha’s always made me think of the sort of rich man who has a private militia training in the grounds of his mansion.

  2. […] enough red tape to give Noel Edmonds an aneurysm, Slick wasn’t perturbed, particularly as one of his team of adventurers, Peter Byrne, had […]

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