Noel’s Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show

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[more Noel Edmonds: House PartyNoel’s HQCracking America]

For a good while, Noel Edmonds was Christmas television manifest. More than just his seasonal first name, Noel’s Christmas Presents became as much an annual tradition as World’s Strongest Man, premieres of the big American film from five years ago, and your grandad ruining dinner by saying something awful when Lenny Henry came onscreen. It all started here, on Christmas morning, 1985, with The Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show. It’s a weirdly unfestive intro sequence, with the usual Late, Late Breakfast stunts, where people jump through fire and stick their heads in killer whales’ mouths, without so much as a dubbed-on sleigh bell. But the opening shot perfectly sets the scene, with Noel in a crowd of people, everyone in party hats, and a man in a gorilla costume by his side. “…these idiots!” he playfully tuts.

I absolutely remember watching this as a six-year-old, and revisiting it 30+ years later still gets those nostalgia-neurons firing, with vivid sense-memories of Christmas mornings sat watching TV in my pyjamas, with the smell of dinner already in the oven. The gimmick here is that Noel’s hosting from atop the British Telecom Tower, 620 feet above London. The studio’s absolutely plastered in gaudy decorations, with an enormous bank of phones manned by tinsel-draped volunteers, who’ll be taking the viewer dedications that whizz across the screen for the whole show, at too dizzying a speed to be legible. Pretty much every second of the following two hours is plagued by a background noise of ringing phones, which is appropriate for a show that’s haunted, Marley-like, by the looming presence of British Telecom. A “percentage” (wonderfully vague) of money from the calls will be given by BT to charity; “a charity called Comic Relief,” which as it turns out, is being launched on the show.

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As we know, Noel’s big on television ‘firsts’, and just in doing a show from up the tower, he’s staking a flag into virgin soil. Spitting off technobabble like Geordi La Forge, he brags about BT’s “micro radio network,” and “a computer with 50,000 names in it,” for the world’s first ever computer prize draw. They’ve also moved a satellite dish 4,000 miles, and in another first, will be broadcasting live, and in-flight, from a commercial airline. All this, he nonsensically promises, will be “a Christmas show you’re not gonna be able to put down;” television that “really is international,” because it’s going all round the country. I’m… not sure that’s how that works.

For these international links, we cut to various local DJs on outside broadcast, in places we will revisit again and again over the next two hours. Manchester, Norwich, Bristol, Plymouth, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast — on and on it goes; over to Cardiff to a man who looks like Bobby Ball; to Newcastle for a wet DJ waving in an empty, rain-sodden carpark; to Leeds, for a team of presenters stood with the police, “and a rather charming lady as well.” In an effort to lure the public to these locations, he throws out none-more-Noel challenges, with prizes for those who arrive wearing another country’s national costume, carrying a fried egg, or accompanied by an actual door. What a great way to spend Christmas day; “sling that turkey in the bin, love, and bring me the screwdriver, we’ve gotta bomb down the high street in a kilt with the bathroom door to win a toaster off Noel Edmonds!”

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Another of those television firsts is the jumbo jet, with its take-off cued by a lucky viewer; “a lady with an amazing name,” called Mary Christmas. “Off you go, boys!” says Mary, launching 400 tons of plane, filled with 200 kids, Radio 1’s Gary Davies, and the Krankies. Noel tells viewers to look out for it, as it flies over the country — “it’ll be going over Norwich” — though this was the point I had to pause to write an alternative history novel about naughty Wee Jimmy hijacking that sucker and flying it straight into the Telecom Tower. The jet’s the scene for what became an infamous blooper, in another television first, as Feargal Sharkey and his 11-piece band are to perform/mime their latest single while 30,000 feet in the air. But when the vocals kick in, Sharkey’s left shrugging, and mouthing the words “I can’t hear it!” Already too-cool-for-this in his shades, he stands awkwardly running his fingers through his hair, while Jimmy Krankie energetically jigs at his side. Noted lover of cock-ups Noel must’ve been a very good boy that year.

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Later, we rejoin the jet for take two, where a dancing Sharkey serenades rows of children with the lovely festive lyrics “you little beauty, you little whore,” until the plane gets out of range and the feed starts breaking up. Final visit to the skies sees the Krankies playing a quiz with pony-tailed musician Paul King, which involves stunts where King pushes his face in treacle and wears an enormous stag’s head. When he dons an owl mask filled with custard, which oozes yellow gunk from its eye holes, it’s clear this is all just admitted-swingers the Krankies filling TV time with the pagan sex magick ritual that’s kept Wee Jimmy so youthful all these years.

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Noel’s helicopter buddy Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith is airborne too, touring the country in a chopper, with first stop at the posh Sussex village of Rusper. It’s likely during this section that Noel scribbled the words ‘Crinkly Bottom?‘ onto a post-it, as Smitty runs some Great British Eccentrics through a series of summer fete style games, in truly bottom-of-the-bin television. There’s races between villagers dressed as jesters and ‘Chinamen’, who’ve spun round until they’re dizzy, or wear welly boots filled with mud; a man called ‘Ice-Bo’ melting blocks of ice with a blowtorch; and a pretend-drunk who burns his hands on roast chestnuts, and puts them out in the punchbowl. It’s an Alan Partridge Comic Relief sketch made real, and we return for more dizzy-racing, and an egg-throwing contest between teams dressed as chickens, chefs, and Hawaiian dancers. Interviews are conducted at screaming level, as Smitty’s whirring helicopter blades thunder in the background.

The helicopter obsession leads to a bunch of location stuff filmed from above, where you might as well be leaning out of the bedroom window watching ants on the patio while someone runs a chainsaw next to your ear. There’s a chilly Christmas swim with Cheam Water Polo Club’s ‘Big Charlie’ (dressed as Snow White) and his mates diving in a lake — “what a load of wallies!” — then the Plum Forest Oglers doing a ‘traditional’ dance around a haddock while a man plays an accordion, and finally, a London street party, where Noel thinks he can see “a gentleman juggling.” “That’s a girl, actually,” says a resident on the phone, “she’s just very butch.” Noel plays up the size of the crowd; “they’re all drunk,” she says, “it’s disgusting.”

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You may have noted there’s been a lot of fancy dress. I can’t stress enough how 80’s wacky it all is; the embodiment of a decade where you didn’t have to be mad to work there, but it helped!! This was a time when office blokes on pub crawls dressed like St. Trinians girls, and bowties span so fast, one could simply fly to the shops to purchase their inflatable banana; the earnest years, before the internet made everyone ironic and detached; too self-aware to smile in a photo unless it’s the angle that makes our cheekbones really pop. There’s no such insecurities on Live, Live Christmas, and whatever’s going on, in the back of every shot there’ll be someone in a hat with big rubber ears attached, or dressed like a clown, with everyone leaning in to wave “hello, mum!” as being captured on camera was still a giddy thrill, before we were all livestreaming our morning dumps. The hosts are no different, with Smitty in a white jumpsuit covered in baubles and holly, a tinsel belt, and plastic Santa atop his hat, while Noel’s jumper’s got the tower knitted into it, with woollen helicopters and a procession of stick-men running up stairs.

Exemplary of this mood are Noel’s challenges, with a good 50% of the two-hour running time taken up with checking on every location, upon where Noel’s absolutely destroyed by the hilarity of it all. “In Norwich, we have a Scotsman!” he cackles, dead at a kilted man whose legs are on show. He’s rolling on the sofa at the first fried egg in Bristol, and ready for the grave with each new person that’s brought a door with them, which seems only to become funnier, with shrieks of “did you unscrew it? Will you get in trouble?!” yet always to be told, disappointingly, no, it was just laying around. On it goes, thoroughly done in by another fried egg in London; by a Scottish girl dressed all Welsh; by a garage door in Belfast, which between the man’s drunkenness and strong Norn Iron accent, and Noel’s mania, makes for a confused interaction. In Birmingham, he asks a middle-aged man in a sheik costume “why are you dressed as an Arab?” You asked for national dress? “Yes, I just wondered why you were inspired by an Arab?” The sheik keeps plugging his business, so Noel cuts him off. Most of note here is one incredible background goth, giving it the full Morpheus from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

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Maybe he’s just slap-happy at Christmas. The stair-marathon, with people racing up the tower’s 816 steps, ends as Noel cuts another segment off with a cry of “the first idiot’s arrived up the tower now!” and wheezing with laughter as the runner collapses to the floor with exhaustion. Hysteria aside, the show’s conspicuously absent of pranks, with a more restrained Noel behaving himself, thanks to the breakneck pace, where there’s no more than half a second between links, and he can’t have even had time for a piss. You can tell he’s busy, as he doesn’t mention when his mic pack falls out, and spends the next link dragging behind like Satan’s tail, loudly banging against the floor. On House Party, he’d have been doubled over for about twenty minutes. There’s always something happening, from cutting to the royals emerging from a church service, to segments which really highlight this as a 2-hour commercial for British Telecom, showcasing futuristic new “video conferencing” tech (CCTV on two massive old tellies), and a handover to Scotland, where a man from BT will connect their 21,000,000th landline to a school for the deaf.

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Technology’s the spectre behind the ‘first’ of a computerised prize draw, with Noel at the helm of a brilliantly low-tech set-up; green font on a huge square monitor, and keys like segments of a Yorkie bar. It’s funny, watching from a time where everybody casually uses technology all day long, to see a grown man baffled by a keyboard, typing very, very slowly with a single finger — “where’s K?” — and having to redo it three times, because he keeps fucking it up. He eventually gets a winner; a 12-year-old girl, who gets a goody bag containing a phone and some champagne. Live, Live Christmas‘s biggest technological gambit is the launch of Comic Relief, which involves the shipping of a satellite dish on a cargo plane, and to a Sudanese aid camp, along a road “which really does deteriorate like mad,” for a video link-up. Interestingly, the aid worker in charge is Helen Fielding, who went onto write the Bridget Jones books.

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As part of the launch, there’s a bunch of sketches from comics like Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrot, and Tracey Ullman, the highlight of which — and of the entire show — is an appearance by Rik and Ade, though Ade does appear to pull one of his eyes into a slit with his finger during a Chinese reference, which seems to be a legal requirement in the ’80s. For anyone scanning through for all the ‘problematic’ bits, when Noel’s handing out medals to the runners, he compares himself to Jimmy Savile, though I’ve come to realise it’s pretty impossible to watch something from this era and not spot a Savile reference, which demonstrates how impossibly enormous a cultural figure he was.

While 40-something white males bang on about freedom of speech, they’re probably just pissed that the cutting down on ableist language stops all that lazy banter from the ’80s and ’90s, which is entirely based around accusing people of being clinically insane. Anyone taking a drink each time Noel or Smitty describes someone as mad or a nutter won’t live to see Boxing Day. Members of the public are frequently introduced as “here’s the manic,” or “an exclusive team of loonies,” and even though “Smitty’s got a fair few nutters,” Noel’s “never met such a mad bunch of people!” To be fair, the sprint up the stairs is crammed with textbook office-jokers, in a flapping seagull hat or full suit of armour. A woman runner’s in regular t-shirt and shorts — “a nice, pretty ankle,” says Noel, as the camera pans up, “and the rest ain’t bad either.”

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After taking a moment to moan about the winners’ foreign-sounding names — “have we got any English people taking part?” — it’s off to the viewer stunts, which were Noel’s TV trademark, until, you know. But despite the opening credits, which showed daredevils jumping out of planes and setting themselves on fire, the thrilling Christmas day caper they’ve been training all week for is… balancing stacks of drinking glasses and trays. Ungodly amounts of airtime gets wasted on cycling through the many locations, multiple times, to watch volunteers looking at a big stack of trays; sometimes carrying it, sometimes dropping it. Belfast’s contestant appears to be the Babadook, while in over Leeds, Noel tells a woman who can’t hear playback, “you pick’ em up, dear, I’ll do the talking!” The winner balances a stack that’s 40 trays high, before it topples, sending 160 drinking glasses careening towards a woman holding a baby where they shatter over the pavement at her feet.

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For the last half-hour, Smitty joins Noel in the studio, which is like when Finchy shows up at Wernham Hogg, sat there in his kee-razee outfit, creasing up at the wackiness and technical blips, and spraying Noel with silly string, as the pair laugh themselves Babybel-red; kindred spirits in being mad bloody British nutters. They do a purported ‘live-link’ to Rowan Atkinson’s home, where Rowan introduces his dinner guest, Mike Smith, in a variation of a gag Noel would use on his American pilot. Incidentally, did I imagine a tabloid newspaper posting lurid pictures of Mike Smith and Sarah Greene’s 1988 helicopter crash, showing the pair of them all fucked up and bloody on hospital beds, with tubes coming out? I had nightmares about that for months as a kid, but can find no evidence.

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Speaking of horrible sights that leave witnesses with crippling PTSD from which they’ll never recover, after 125 life-sapping minutes, the Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show finally draws to a close. We get goodbyes from all the locations — which takes fucking ages, because there’s hundreds of them — with Noel almost unable to speak at how funny it is someone brought a car door to Newcastle; and from the jumbo jet, where 200 lucky children eat airline sprouts off lap trays with the Krankies. We go off air with Smitty in fits of giggles as he lets off a party popper that’s sewn to his jumper, Noel wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, and me hunting around for an application form to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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~ by Stuart on January 3, 2020.

2 Responses to “Noel’s Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show”

  1. Excellent as ever. One passing note – Helen Fielding was a researcher on the Late Late Breakfast Show (see here) and has been credited with inventing the Golden Egg Awards. Pretty sure Sudan plays a part in one of the Bridget Jones books too.

  2. […] Tower’s got a big cardboard tower on her head (and hopefully isn’t completing the look by having Noel Edmonds inside her); Miss Intercity’s wearing a train driver’s uniform, with a t-shirt that reads […]

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