Noel’s House Party – First & Last

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Of all the ways to even attempt an accurate description of the complex character of Noel Edmonds, none have so perfectly and succinctly pinned him down as Vic and Bob’s portrayal, in 1993’s Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. Their great skill is using warped non-impressions to perfectly capture a person’s essence, through one beautifully observed trait, and their Noel, mouth agape in eternal hysteria that his show is going unmissably wrong — “It’s not a cock-up, is it? I hate them!” — is one of those portrayals so cutting, it unravels the persona in a way that can never be pieced back together. Like the arrow on the FedEx logo, or noticing a co-worker’s verbal tick of starting every sentence “anyway…” Noel Edmonds is never the same once you’ve seen Bob Mortimer’s take, physically buckled with a wheezing laugh, as an old DJ friend produces an ’embarrassing’ photo of him from ten years earlier, looking “slightly different!

This is Noel, right down to the marrow of his bones, forever imparting to the audience that live television; his live television; is unfettered chaos, where anything can happen, and most importantly, anything go wrong. Bloopers, pranks, the imminent arrival of a giant pink monster to smash up the set; it’s a world inside a balloon poised above a pin, where everyone lives on edge; co-hosts, audience, the home viewer, and even Noel himself. Which brings us to Noel’s House Party, a television institution with a sign around its neck reading “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!” I’m watching House Party‘s very first and last episodes, to try and decode what was so amazing, audiences and commissioning editors alike went “169 episodes please! Just this for the next decade!” Noel originally pitched House Party to ITV in 1986, but they passed on it, and five years later, on Saturday night, November 23rd 1991, it made its debut on BBC1.

01

The set-up is that Noel lives in a big country mansion in the village of Crinkly Bottom, a double entendre that forced us, week on week, to picture the rumpled cheeks of his sagging arse. Through exposition, we learn he was left the mansion by his Great Uncle, as one of two living nephews, the other being a cowboy builder. Crinkly Bottom was a character of its own, a bumpkin Beanoland filled with colourful residents, often played by minor celebrities, appearing at the door for the big Cosmo Kramer entrance. Noel’s phoney chaos is in evidence from the first ring of the doorbell, where the handle comes off as he opens it, fake-laughing and overtly clutching it like a hot potato for the whole segment, bringing to mind Rik and Ade’s scripted bloopers in the live Bottom shows. Inaugural cameo goes to television copper Tosh off The Bill, who — much to Noel’s delight — is unable to remember his lines, in a moment which is far more tragic in hindsight, after the actor’s eventual firing from The Bill and early death due to chronic alcoholism.

This sets the tone for the next hour, and eight years to follow, with Noel fake-corpsing his way through a mixture of dreadful skits, quizzes, audience participation and pranks. Much of it has the feel of a nightmare village fete. A pre-record of Noel at a pub sees him laughing so hard he can barely stand, at a couple with their hands tied behind their back dunking their faces into bowls of custard to retrieve various items with their teeth, soundtracked by Madness’s House of Fun. All the prizes seem like random tat from a tombola, with contestants playing for a novelty radio, a lucky horseshoe, and a garden gnome in medieval armour, which may sell the idea of Crinkly Bottom as an eccentric rural village, but doesn’t make for intentionally good television. Even the big finale — which proves the adage about time moving slowly when you’re having a bad time, as Eddie ‘The Eagle’ scrambles for fivers inside a glass box, over sixty seconds which goes on for five thousand years — gifts one lucky viewer the princely sum of £560.

02

House Party is littered with solid-gold Alan Partridge moments, like Noel’s solemn announcement to camera that Eastenders‘ Letitia Dean fell ill this morning (though it’s nothing serious), and sending “best wishes from us all here.” He compliments Henry Cooper, telling him he’s been his biggest fan for years, despite having “never, ever been the greatest fan of boxing.” When Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, then going through a public bankruptcy, features to grab at handfuls of money for an audience member, Noel introduces him as “a chap who’s been in the news recently, if you believe the tabloid newspapers, because he’s a bit short of a few bob, so I think he’s a great sport to come on.

One quiz section sees those two from Birds of a Feather performing Abba and Doin’ The Lambeth Walk in bad karaoke; another, a “parents guess what their kids said” game, is held in a dungeon, with manacles on the wall, and Noel on a wooden throne draped in chains like Vigo the Carpathian. Like all children on these things, the self-aware little girl mugs through the twee questioning of “where is heaven?” and continuing House Party‘s preoccupation with makin’ babies, a bunch of stuff about conception and birth. His final question, “what’s the most horrible thing that ever happened to you?” results in an answer that’d get both parties put on a register these days — “my sister took a rude picture of me when I was washing my bottom.” When the mother assures him they didn’t have the film processed, with a twinkle in his eye, Noel fires back with “why, were you on it as well?

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This is the tip of the iceberg concerning Noel’s continually… odd manner with women. He suggests an audience member get in a glass box and stand over a giant fan, to prove that she’s not wearing any knickers, before suggestively asking a Catholic mother who’s had lots of babies “What’s the best part of the process?” He also tells a 7-months-pregnant Linda Robson that she could be “adding a bit of spice to the game tonight!” in a bit which is, I guess, supposed to infer how exciting it would be to see a withered premature baby suddenly drop onto the studio floor, but under the filter of 90’s banter comes off a bit like “Someone likes sex, eh? Luck might be in, lads!” Incidentally, a £1m Patreon tier wouldn’t be enough for me to hear Noel Edmonds utter the phrase “mummy’s tummy” ever again.

Soon, it’s time for the first NTV, perhaps House Party‘s most famous segment, as Noel clicks his fingers and cuts to the living room of a viewer, where he’s installed a hidden camera — in Crinkly Bottom, television watches you. You can’t mention NTV without the urban legend of Chris Evans’ appearance, which went unbroadcast when he started having a wank over Baywatch. Another variation has Carole Smillie caught interfering with herself in the dressing room during the secret filming of a Gotcha, footage of which doesn’t exist no matter how many times you’ve searched Pornhub for it every single day over the last decade. This likely stems from the airing of Carole’s Gotcha, when they paused the tape at the moment Carole began to undress, with a big CENSORED bar, having legitimately filmed her getting changed with hidden cameras, and then had a big laugh about it, with Noel acting disappointed we didn’t see anything. Although if Evans was filmed masturbating, they should have aired it, as karma for the time he played hidden camera footage of his female producer urinating on the final episode of Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. Good old nineties.

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Another notable NTV was the week they went to a guy eating a ready meal, who sternly said something along the lines of “no thank you, Edmonds” and walked out of the room, with a flustered Noel quickly moving onto the next segment. Except, viewers of Grange Hill will have recognised the actor who played similarly uptight teacher Mr. Parrot. Presumably there’d been a technical issue with that week’s victim and quickly shot this replacement in a nearby studio, as Noel reacted like it was genuine, and it’s even referred to as such in the final episode. Without the foresight to protect themselves, as the young me did by holding up a piece of paper with SHIT written on it, the first NTV cuts to a family in Essex, with about a dozen people crammed in the room like they were expecting it. Noel pokes fun at their décor and clothing, then pulls up an ’embarrassing’ home movie of the lady of the house performing in a school play. Classic Edmonds, the office dullard for whom there’s no bigger laugh than shaming someone with evidence of them wearing the fashions of ten years ago, looking “slightly different!

House Party‘s other most famous brand also makes its debut in the first episode, the Gotcha, or as it’s clunkily titled here, the Gotcha Oscar. Noel’s strictly from the “annoy the shit out of someone” school of pranking; Jeremy Beadle in all but name, down to disguising himself with a false beard on top of his real beard, and doing the reveal with that look on his face like winding someone up is the pinnacle of comedy. Under the pretence of filming a golf instructional video, Henry Cooper, along with Noel’s patsy Keith Chegwin, both dressed in cartoon old timey golf gear, get interrupted by a string of idiots, including Noel Two-Beards pulling double duty as a bumbling hunter, and a gardener fucking about on a lawnmower. Absolutely excruciating, it’s probably no worse than Ant and Dec auditioning for X-Factor under 50lbs of latex as a pair of Chinese rappers to prank their mate Simon Cowell, or whatever bollocks passes for Saturday night TV these days.

05

Of course, there is a gunging. What’s more 90s than gunge? Noel spent a career being obsessed with it, while we, as an audience, all behaved like gunge tanks (an actual thing for some reason) are both hilarious, and a terrible fate to be avoided. It’s not a guillotine, just have a shower after! Something a middle-manager would put himself through at a charity fun day to show that he’s one of the team, Noel brought the gunge tank over to House Party from The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow. Its first victim is a woman pulled out of the crowd, to be punished with a gunging for always taking ages to do her hair. Though, in something I’d love to hear more about, she was lured onstage with the cover story of “my mum wrote a story about my dog?

These days, gunging has become legitimately gross, but for reasons other than intended. With the internet making us painfully aware of people’s disgusting fetishes, and the propensity for rank dudes to masturbate over anything, we now know, during all those countless gunges, where Ian Beale, or Su Pollard, or some grotesque politician got locked in that little box and covered in the stuff, out there at home, dozens, maybe hundreds of men, were merrily wanking away. Any minor female celebrity on Twitter will have no doubt encountered the prolific pest who’s racked up tens of thousands of tweets over the years, each with the simple plea “would you get gunged in jeans for charity please answer me”. In fact, when I was hunting for Carole’s Gotcha on Youtube, the top comment was “Why the he’ll didn’t Noel Edmonds send Carol smiley on a trip round the great house and cover her In gunge completely coating in goo.” Noel Edmonds; innovator, philanthropist, mogul; provider of thousands of powerful slime-fetish orgasms for generations of men. Give that man a knighthood.

06

The first House Party went off the air with Noel threatening “if you don’t come to the House Party, the House Party might just come to you,” confirming the series as an extension of a career-long power trip, where co-hosts and audience members were pulled into the spotlight to be humiliated while he wheezed, bent double in hysterics, and now, aided by the future-tech of 1991, not even home viewers were safe. Effectively holding the nation hostage, the God of his own studio floor had finally become omnipotent.

Though nobody watching today would ever guess such a mess could have lasted beyond a single episode, House Party‘s reign of terror ran for eight demented years. Successful from the off, 13m tuned in for its first episode, leading to a banner year in 1993, with viewers peaking at 15m, Mr. Blobby hitting #1 in the music charts and turning £8m profit for the BBC, and Noel signing a four-year deal worth £20m. But in 1994, a franchised Blobby, running amok during a promotional event at an ice rink, broke a bystander’s nose by smashing their face through a trophy case. The resulting lawsuit, and a separate incident where a Blobby was punched by an angry father after destroying a child’s birthday cake, caused the BBC to ban outside use of rogue Blobbies for public appearances. Meanwhile, ratings had begun to slip under 12m, and in January 1998, a New Year edition of House Party was suddenly pulled from transmission on 24 hours notice, according to a mysterious BBC statement “due to circumstances beyond our control.”

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With both the BBC and Noel declining to comment on whether or not it had been permanently cancelled, a best-of aired in its place, sparking a tabloid frenzy of speculation and leaked internal memos. Unhappy with the tumbling quality of the show, Noel had simply refused to go to work. Chris Evans kindly offered to take over House Party until its host returned, which the BBC didn’t even grace with a reply, however Noel was back the following week, to front a highlight show of old Gotchas. But the creative power dynamic was clear from the off, with captions of “WHERE IS HE?” followed by Blobby cartwheeling across the stage, to raucous chants of “Blobby! Blobby! Blobby!” Blobby gave a (subtitled) statement, mimicking that of the BBC’s the previous week, that “due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, Noel Edmonds will not be appearing tonight,” before Noel appeared behind his back, the returning hero, to chuckle uncontrollably at the blobby-speak.

Unsurprisingly, by October, Blobby had been written out altogether, with Noel publicly disavowing his monstrous creation; the golden egg that’d plainly overtaken him in both popularity, and in association with the House Party brand, and in the process, reduced his highbrow festival of gunge and audience degradation into dumbed-down monosyllabic slapstick. Now in a creative abyss and with ratings having slid below 8m, Noel’s obvious frustration began to manifest onscreen. Just four weeks before the end, when cuing Gotcha footage of Lisa Riley trapped in a cab with a half-naked man, the clip he’s expecting to run doesn’t materialise. Casting side-eye off to the crew, Noel witheringly asks “what happens next?” before shrieking “is anyone in the gallery listening to me tonight? It’s my show!” When it finally plays, we return to a smiling, yet clearly seething Noel, muttering “I dunno what’s happening,” before joylessly mashing a banana into the lens of a camera as it swings in for a close-up, with a barbed “I hate it when you do that.”

08

A month later, the BBC had had enough, and finally dropped the axe. Noel was initially magnanimous, calling it “the perfect time to say goodbye,” and releasing a statement that read “I am delighted this decision has been made. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. History will prove that House Party was one of the most successful entertainment shows of all time” Though he still wasn’t quite willing to accept that the British public had simply gotten tired of the increasingly desperate format, putting the blame on, of all people, Ronan Keating, whose talent show, Get Your Act Together, had been the lead-in for House Party‘s final series. “We have suffered very badly,” said Noel, “because the Ronan Keating show on before us has turned out to be a disaster. That’s dragged down our figures.”

And so, we come to the final episode, which aired on March 20th, 1999. By now a shorthand for bad TV, House Party and its host were routinely slaughtered in the press, who considered both to have long-since outstayed their welcome. Consequently, I’d expected a passive-aggressive atmosphere, as Noel is famously unable to stop himself raging against the haters. During one particularly spectacular showing of the thinnest skin in showbiz, Noel used his stroke to spend 40 seconds of prime Saturday night airtime directly addressing a “so-called TV critic” who’d given the show a bad review, greeting them by name in his classic ‘I’ve made you part of the show’ style. Noel’s public take-down of someone who “knocks success,” and “quite enjoys knocking popular TV shows” by bragging about his big ratings, was surely the moment which inspired Alan Patridge’s televised dig at a critic who referred to his show as moribund.

09

Even now, it’s easy to see why the latter-day House Party seemed a living relic, existing in the fratboy ’99 of Jerry Springer and South Park, of Britney and Napster, and Austin 3:16. Twee, jumper-wearing Noel is in the middle of it all, like a dad picking up his kids from an illegal rave, his last hurrah before the wilderness years. By now I, along with millions of others, had long since stopped watching, so I had no idea what to expect. Even so, I was surprised to be immediately confronted with a Yoda-looking talking door knocker, and dancing frog puppet who sings “I love my Noely!” before tears shoot out of its eyes. In startling comparison to the village green whimsy of ’91, a group of athletic young dancers intro the show, aggressively thrashing under strobes with wild eccie-eyes, and singing “we’re having a party!” as the audience throw shapes in their seats. Noel enters the sexed-up Crinkly Bottom in an enormous explosion of pyro, wading through smoke beneath a spotlight, cut between swooping close-ups of the rabid, markedly younger audience, in camerawork made popular by TFI Friday. In fact, the spectre of Evans’ influence, via TFI and Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, hangs heavy over the later House Parties. Gone are the polite clappers from episode one, and in their place, an audience that seems untamed; wild; a crowd of 90’s lad’s mag readers with frosted tips, tribal tattoos and nob piercings, who might rush the stage at any moment to force a bottle of alcopops up Noel’s arse while yelling “oi oi, saveloy!”

It takes them forever to quieten down enough for Noel to speak, which he says makes him suspicious. This is merely the first of many allusions to, what he suspects, is a series of end-of-term pranks that are coming his way. Desperately on edge the whole way through, the eternal jester is convinced the crew will show him love the only way he knows; by dropping a piano from the ceiling or having Dave Lee Travis nail him to a burning crucifix. His eyes shifty yet knowing, he makes constant reference to being nervous; to the inevitable upcoming prank; like someone who’s yet to be wished a happy birthday and keeps hinting about the surprise party they’re certain is waiting.

10

A scattershot highlight reel of the worst of Noel’s instincts, its opening segment introduces a pair of viewers who won a contest to sit on the balcony above the stage; a teenage boy who built a lego replica of the house, and a woman whose boyfriend sent in a poem about her. At least, that’s the cover story. Later in the show, a phone-in contestant turns out to be the boyfriend, and the lady looks utterly mortified as he proposes on air, taking an age to give her answer beneath Noel’s pestering. Eventually giving a yes like she’s got a gun to her head, the boyfriend appears with flowers and a ring, and she’s trapped on live TV beneath a rain of confetti, holding her head in her hands as he kisses her awkwardly on the cheek.

11

Festivities begin a proper with Noel’s shout of “LET’S PARTY!” with the terrifying air of a recently-fired man who’s still not been home to tell his wife, just about to snort a massive line of heroin off the floor before the last pub closes. As you’d expect, there are plenty of montages of all the House Party ‘fun’ over the years, with celebrity guests, Gotchas and gunge, and the audience forever dancing with the kind of mania that seems like the police are about to rush in and break it all up. But that’s mistake number one. You can’t relax around Noel, as demonstrated when a random explosion of gunge in the audience goes off like a nailbomb. There’s an overwhelming ambience of mistrust, both in the host and his guests, ever wrong-footed by constant bluffs and double-bluffs, and now paying the price, a distracted ball of paranoia, looking over his shoulder for the prank that’s definitely going to come.

The final NTV is a brutal example of the nasty edge to Noel’s pranks, and the way his over-complicated deceptions see any remaining humour completely lost to confusion. Even describing this turn of events is going to be tricky. We begin with Noel bragging that, in all those NTVs, nobody’s ever spotted the hidden camera, and he references the time somebody walked out of the room. Wait, so has Noel convinced himself after all these years that the Mr. Parrot episode was real, or have I uncovered the great lost BBC lying scandal? Anyway, would you believe it, he’s just filling time because the final ever victim of NTV isn’t in their living room, which Noel seems to think is part of a set-up, and that he is about to get punked. While we wait, we go to a lengthy Surprise Surprise segment, where an old lady is flown to America to meet with a friend she hasn’t seen for 15 years. As it turns out, the ‘missing’ victim, and even Noel’s mistrust about it, is just the beginning of an elaborate, and deeply peculiar ruse.

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Walking among the audience members, to ask if they think they’d ever spot the hidden camera, they eye him with intense mistrust. Correctly, it turns out, as he informs a lady she’s had hidden cameras in her house all week. Covering her mouth in shock, she’s thinking what we all would in that moment. “All week? Has he seen me getting dressed? Having a shit? Saying the n-word?” His hand on her shoulder, Noel scans through various cameras in the house to find her husband, who’s in the bath. The studio fills with screams of laughter, as Noel calls the house phone, and the man clambers out to answer it, bending right over, his genitals and gaping anus protected only by the House Party logo. But… this is live? Noel puts on a shit Italian accent to pretend he’s from a pizza restaurant, while sending an accomplice up a ladder to pour live crabs into the bath through the open window. The wife has the choice of £250 to end the prank, or £1,000 to let him get in the bath. On live TV. With his dripping dick and arse hanging out. She takes the grand, and he leaps out of the water in terror, before eventually being wheeled into the studio, still inside the bath, to reveal the prank was on her this whole time. Exhausting. And weird as hell. Presumably she, and everyone in the audience, thought Noel was broadcasting a naked man without his consent, and was fine with letting millions of people potentially see right up his hole, and it was very normal television? Though as is apparent, this is the decade “haha we secretly filmed you naked” was considered a great and perfectly legal jape.

And in case you did need reminding of the year, five precious minutes of the final show are eaten up by Martine McCutcheon miming her one hit, before Paul Ross and his wife try to guess what wacky answers their children gave to Noel. The frog puppet comes out and gets horny for Paul Ross’s wife, and Noel makes their little girls choose from lame forfeits like wearing school shoes at the weekend. Sadly, there’s no forfeit that says in 18 years, they’ll have to read news of their dad snorting meow meow off some old bloke’s face in the bushes.

13

But as we wind down towards the closing act, there’s one House Party hallmark yet to put in an appearance. In the lead-up to the final show, Noel and the BBC had refused to say whether or not Blobby, still a pariah, would even be involved. No worries, as he smashes through the door during Sofa Soccer, with Noel apoplectic with laughter as he acts the fool, putting a football down his shorts and knocking the goal over, and so on. He slaps Noel about a bit, forcing him to admit that he wouldn’t be in this mess if he hadn’t sacked him, and perhaps it’s my imagination, but there seems to be a little too much fire in those slaps. Certainly, the way he bundles Noel to the unforgiving studio floor seems to reek of payback. After one final montage, featuring celebrities who’ve since been lost to Yewtree, the end credits roll, with a shell-shocked Noel standing thoroughly unpranked. Is it even a prank if you’ve been waiting and hoping for it the whole time, dropping hints backstage for weeks? “I hope nobody gunges me, that would be so embarrassing!”

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Post-credits, under a standing ovation and chants of his name, an emotional Noel says his farewell, and hops up the stairs to the exit one last time. Freddie Starr’s waiting with a fire extinguisher, and sprays him from head to toe in white foam, in a shitty, joyless, no-imagination prank that perfectly encapsulates his oeuvre. “You love me,” his face seems to say, “you really love me.” He takes a final bow, looking like Winston at the end of Ghostbusters. However will he live it down?! A final post-credit sketch has him wake in the Swap Shop studio in the 1970s with John Craven and Cheggers. It was all a dream? Or was it… as a distressed Noel weeps at realising Blobby’s there too.

But it turns out the victim of the grand prank was me all along, now realising that week after wretched week, House Party was the weirdest thing ever, and that many, many hours of my future involve combing through them to uncover horrible TV gold. I found that each episode, when broken down to its component parts of naff cameos, Noel pretending it was all going wrong, and moments of Partridge gold, was so hauntologically fertile, I had to preserve them. So, here’s the first House Party Hell.

If you click on my Youtube page, there’s more of these. Oddly, without even publicly linking to the videos, I noticed each House Party Hell would immediately get hundreds of hits. So, I went into the stats to see where they were coming from. To a (dirty, wanking) man, the search terms were of a theme — ‘gunging’, ‘girl gunge’, ‘female gunge tank’, ‘girl slimed’. As least when I get totally desperate, I know where the real money is.

This piece first appeared on my 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 provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too.

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~ by Stuart on October 24, 2018.

One Response to “Noel’s House Party – First & Last”

  1. […] promise, unlike Baywatch, Noel’s House Party, and all the other bollocks I get into on here, I will not be falling down a Waltons rabbithole and […]

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