The Accursed 90s: Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush

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[previously in the accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests]

When last we saw Chris Evans, he’d been wahey-ing all over the Big Breakfast cottage, before growing too big for the show, both in fame and ego, and leaving to pursue solo ventures. His first breakout effort, screwball gameshow Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, resided in a post-watershed slot, unbeholden to the restrictions of breakfast television. Toothbrush almost didn’t make it to air, following two disastrous pilots, but went on to a pretty successful two-year run in Channel 4’s Saturday night slot. Though there were 26 episodes, scant few remain in 2019, outside of those sat in forgotten boxes in lofts, crammed alongside VHS tapes of The Brittas Empire, and all of Jet’s bits in Gladiators with ‘DAD’S SPECIAL TAPE, DO NOT WIPE’ scrawled on the label.

Toothbrush is definitely not gonna be repeated, hailing from perhaps the most culturally problematic era of them all. What the Ghost of Christmas Present is to the Yuletide season, so too Chris Evans is the embodied spirit of the 90s, with his tabloid-style positioning of women as hot babes to be yelling “phwoar!” at as much of the package as the wackiness and the bright, baggy suits. Even his Ginger Productions logo has a wolf whistle in it. The show’s conceit is that two randomly chosen audience members compete for a holiday to an exotic location, or as a loser’s prize, to a scabby British resort. Consequently, all 300 of them are required to bring their toothbrush, passport and luggage, and to have booked the following week off work, as winners are literally shoved out of the studio into a taxi as the credits roll.

01

I watched a couple of episodes for this revisit, and I know I return to this reference point pretty frequently, especially in regard to Chris Evans, but let’s call Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush what it is — Noel’s House Party. While it’s sold as a gameshow to win a holiday, it’s effectively a Cool Britannia take on Noel’s show, which was airing on the BBC just an hour earlier. Whereas Noel filled his studio with your Tony Blackburns or bobbies off The Bill, Chris lived off the trendy reference points found in lad’s mags, sharing their idolatry of iconic performers and styles of the 60s and 70s, and shunned House Party‘s family audience in favour of a cult-like following of shrieking twentysomethings. Though at the time, there was a sense of naff Noel as the old guard, and Chris the anarchic young upstart, both shows share a near-identical structure of manic energy, self-congratulatory noise, and audience participation-slash-degradation.

The opening to its Easter ’94 show is textbook Noel, cutting from waving audience members to their embarrassing passport photos from, at worst, a decade earlier, before mildly pranking the voiceover man by showing him on camera as Chris taps him on the shoulder. In his autobiography, Chris would admit to threatening the audience at Toothbrush‘s pilot taping, with being dragged onstage and humiliated, should they fail to laugh loudly at any of his jokes. This is never far from my mind, as he runs on like a conquering hero to a completely wild response, kicking off an opening ten minutes of the most exhausting and excruciating television I’ve ever sat through. Let me try and describe it without accidentally smashing my keyboard and hands and bollocks to pieces with a hammer instead.

02

He begins with a call-and-response of Leslie Phillips’ “He-llo!” before squeezing his dick so it makes a foghorn noise. Then it’s off to the house band, led by Jools Holland, as always, hunched over a piano looking unbearably smug. He blasts out boogie woogie while Chris jigs about, bringing on show hostess Rachel, who blows a kiss at the camera. A former model, and Chris’s then-girlfriend, she’d be replaced in the second series, both onscreen and off, by a new model girlfriend. Then we’re introduced to Little Johnny, a nervous child dressed like James Bond, backed by two scantily-dressed women, and pointing a handgun at the camera. If this sounds like random shit that doesn’t go anywhere, in the televisual equivalent of opening a kitchen cupboard and having loads of crockery fall on you, well, yeah.

As it’s the start of British Summer Time, he gets everyone to wind their watches forward an hour, as Rachel joins him for a lip-sync of Summer Nights from Grease, in one of many bits which exist solely to show off that he’s got a girlfriend. Under the cosh of their cruel master, the audience are loving every noxious moment, breaking into another sing-along, of Cliff’s Summer Holiday. And just what, he asks “the girls” in the audience, are you looking forwards to most about your holiday? By far the loudest squeal is for “big hunky blokes,” so with the words “would you like to see a naked man right now?YCMA kicks in, revealing the silhouette of a nude bloke in a construction helmet behind a screen. There’s nothing Chris Evans finds funner than a penis, and it’s clear from the riotous screams that the audience are getting a good look at a big floppy dick wobbling about — though it’s censored for the home audience — as Chris runs him through toe-touches and star jumps. “It’s Big Johnny!” says Chris, over and over again, simply dying at how funny a willy is; “It’s Big Johnny! It’s Big Johnny!

03

Because this is most assuredly a 10pm Noel’s House Party, the naked guy’s girlfriend is in the audience, unaware it’s him, and collared by Chris with a mic. Big Johnny’s not the sort of guy you’d go for madam?! Well, joke’s on you, because it’s your fella! He pulls her onto the stage, where her naked boyfriend hides his sweaty genitals in his cupped hands, while Chris repeatedly praises his massive nob, and offers him £500 to catch a football. The ladies in the audience are brought to a terrifying frenzy as they get a proper look at a nice big william, while we have to settle for a censored arse. Chris is still making big dick innuendo long after the segment’s done.

Thankfully, we get a breather when Paul Young comes on to sing, only four years before he’d be burgled by Gino D’Acampo, though Chris asserts his dominance by awkwardly bringing up backstage in-jokes, and announcing that Young was late because he got in a car crash. The superfan segment, where Paul Young answers questions on his own career against a fan, brings the weirdest line of the night, when Chris looks straight down the lens to proclaim, rather solemnly “as in all the best quiz shows… I’m a raving lech.” Who was this in reference to, I wonder? It’s clearly not scripted, and barely gets a reaction, so must’ve been an insider dig at another host, rather than a reference to a news story. But even this, a two-minute quiz, can’t escape the pull of 90’s random wackiness, halted halfway through so Chris can lead the studio in a rendition of All Things Bright and Beautiful from hymn books, as Little Johnny passes on the revolving stage dressed like an angel.

04

The most House Party skit of all is predicated on the idea Rachel will go and work on Play Your Cards Right with Bruce Forsyth if Chris can’t give away £1500 in the next minute. The mere invocation of Brucie’s name incites a chorus of boos; to the Evans Cult, just a boring old duffer who deserves no respect. Chris pulls the cash from his pocket, as Rachel slides a mic from her garter, with wolf-whistles as the camera dives up her short dress. Roaming the audience, he pulls victims into a series of ‘games’; a man literally kissing Chris on the (trousered) arse for £250; a girl who’s asked “how’s your father?” before said father is wheeled onstage in an armchair; a travel agent whose entire office is recreated in the studio, colleagues and all. But the relentless mini-games leave us 2/3 of the way in before they get to the holiday competition, which involves asking so many questions in so little time, Chris has to temper his natural instincts to constantly fuck about just to get it done. The contestants lose, sent from the studio in yellow raincoats for their wooden spoon of a week in Margate, while Chris and Paul Young sing us out with Bring Me Sunshine, which after sitting through that, seems to me a carrion call to climate change to hurry it up and scorch this rotten Earth clean.

04b

Just one month later, Toothbrush would air its most infamous episode, kicked off by Chris Evans descending from the ceiling straddled on a crescent moon, to serenade the audience with When You Wish Upon a Star. You see, this is a special night, with a very big surprise coming; a surprise referred to throughout the show via Chris dropping his fly to play the William Tell Overture. Nobody knows but Chris; not Rachel — shown gagged and tied to a chair — not special guest Barry White. Big Barry’s presence is notable for the silken sweat-rag, permanently gripped in his hand like a toddler’s blankie as he spends the hour mopping at his face, even presenting it as the prize to his superfan; at whom he throws a look for help when asked “what are the names of your eight children?

05

After a bunch of tedious pranks, it’s time for the big reveal. In the course of this Patreon, I’ve seen some phenomenally unglued audience reactions, from the lust-riots of Man O Man to seat-quaking laughter at the antics of a young Bobby Davro, but when Chris announces tonight’s contestants, if successful, will be sending the entire audience to Euro Disney, it tips an already-giddy crowd over the edge into full-blown mania. 300 people leap as one, arms pumping, hugging and dancing in jubilation. Unable to contain herself, a woman rushes the stage to kiss him, while a promotional VT for the holiday is lost beneath a wall of noise. It’s madness; absolute madness, with the final half hour a barrage of screams so deafening and ferocious, I thought the Russians had drilled into Hell again.

What pressure, then, for two contestants for whom an entire studio’s trip depends, with the audience screaming answers at them with the kind of fervour you see when people are banging on the prison vans of recently convicted child murderers. Needing five correct answers for a win, and five wrong for a loss, when the student teachers go against the popular choice and lose a point, there’s a sense that everyone’s moments from piling down from their seats for a lynching. And who could stop them? Barry White, waving his sweat-rag in surrender? With one point left, the atmosphere becomes truly frightening, but thankfully, they win the holiday, igniting a jubilant roar that almost blows out my speakers, with balloons and confetti raining from above, the audience’s minds completely gone, as Chris leads them through a sing-along of Summer Holiday.

06

In the carpark outside, all 300 have been crammed inside a fleet of coaches, rocking on their axels from the overexcited stag/hen behaviour. Chris scampers from vehicle to vehicle, offering lucky dips for the one cassette they’ll be allowed to listen to over the 11-hour journey. Two of them get the soundtrack to The Sound of Music, both times leading Chris to instigate sing-alongs of Do-Re-Mi. He commiserates with the people sat “11 hours by a smelly toilet,” and tosses a plastic water-bomb into the fray; his pleas to bring it back as he’s forgotten to wind it drowned by the shrieks as it’s hurled about the bus. As a pair of blokes push into the camera, fists in the air, and aggressively chanting “come on you Spurs,” I have found my personal idea of Hell, and vow to be a good boy for the rest of my days, lest I’m trapped for eternity on a party coach with people in Chris Evans baseball caps waving giant plastic toothbrushes and bawling “He-llo!

On Rachel’s coach, they have her identify Toothbrush‘s oldest passenger. A wizened chap raises his liver-spotted hand and reveals his age – “44?!” wows Chris. No doubt Methuselah there will be gone from natural causes before they reach Paris. They pick the last cassette (ABBA), and the lucky dip bucket gets chucked into the air, filling the coach with glitter. As some rowdy lads start madly flinging handfuls of it about, Chris leaves Rachel to it, and as he marches across the rainy carpark closing the show, Rachel’s hot mic picks up a genuinely very angry “Stop! No, Stop!” The coaches are waved off by Chris and Barry White, still clenching the sweat-rag, for a duet of Bring Me Sunshine. Barry’s so bored he’s almost asleep, and knows neither the words nor the tune, and one of the coaches clips the gazebo they’re standing under, as one of the most raucous hours of television ever broadcast goes off the air.

07

In its final episode the following year, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush would go out on another surprise, giving away a £36,000 Ferrari, plus a year’s insurance, with the winner so blindsided, they had to receive medical treatment for shock backstage. Also, Evans played some hidden camera footage of his female producer on the toilet, doing a fart while she urinated; you know, as a funny prank. Toothbrush‘s format was remade internationally, in 14 different countries, none of which made it out of the 90s, barring the USA and Norway’s versions, which ended in 2000. There were reports in 2018 that Evans was planning to bring it back in a Friday night slot, under the new title Don’t Forget Your Suitcase, with an added £2m prize at the end of the series, but evidently no channel picked it up. Unfortunately for me, that’s not the end, as sometime soon, I must serve out my penance and conclude this Chris Evans triptych, with an inevitable look at perhaps the most 90’s thing of all, TFI Friday.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it 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.

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~ by Stuart on September 5, 2019.

One Response to “The Accursed 90s: Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush”

  1. […] [More Accursed 90s: Televised Lad Contests — Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush] […]

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