Saturday Morning Archaeology – WOW!

[previous: Saturday SuperstoreMulti-Coloured Swap Shop]

Continuing our run of Saturday morning shows, the cursed bog of YouTube has burped up another bone with 1996’s WOW!; a true forgotten example of the genre, even carrying the excitement of the Bad Influence! exclamation mark, and with the added urgency of caps implying its title should always be shouted. WOW! was a CITV effort, following the axing of Telegantic Megavision and It’s Not Just Saturday, and playing opposite the titans of Theakston and Ball on a reinvigorated, post-Andi Peters Live and Kicking. The unenviable task of fronting this cannon fodder slot went to a pairing of Sophie Aldred, formerly assistant to McCoy’s Doctor Who, and Simeon Courtie, who’d recently departed rivals CBBC, where he presented the weekday links with Otis the Aardvark. Set against the BBC’s biggest dog, WOW! had a clear plan of action, which was to embrace the same spirit of anarchy that led TISWAS to become so popular and iconic, decades earlier.

This is on show from the cold open, where comedy tea ladies Pat and Barbara bust into the dressing room, only to interrupt Sophie pulling hair onto Sim’s bald-wigged head. The tea ladies, whose role is to always be pulling faces in the background, are another pair of CITV grotesques with busted teeth performed by Peter Cocks and Woody Taylor, who you may remember as Hoki and Koki on Endurance UK. Evidently, this is a weird episode to start with, as following the titles, we find cast, crew and audience crammed onto a small patch of grass outside the studio, with a gravel car park visible in the background. Due to a power cut in Maidstone, WOW! is reduced to making telly like they did in the 1800’s, with everything running off a generator. Down to a single camera and handful of working mics, they’re robbed of an earpiece link to the production gallery, and the phones which run their precious competitions and celebrity Q&As. Unable to even magic a picture of Peter Andre onscreen, they have to make do with pulling a girl from the audience and pointing at her PAndre t-shirt.

For a show priding itself on unpredictability, nobody can hide their obvious glee, symbolically tossing the script into a crowd of children, while a bald man in plastic Spock ears screams “BURN IT! WE DON’T NEED IT!” Sim urges viewers to “ring your mates and tell them, ITV this morning… this is gonna be a legend in television!” and in hindsight, there’s a rather sad quality to all the giddy joy, believing themselves the centre of cultural history, in an event — and series — not a soul would remember. It’s hard to feel like ITV’s choking on the smoke of revolution with everything pitched so young, and as Sim jokes “put some more coal in!” we do the most Saturday morning thing of all and cut to a cartoon. There’s even a puppet — Sid the Bluebottle — the final talking glove on Phil Cornwell’s résumé, just one year before I’m Alan Partridge; and he’s really phoning it in.

You’ve no need of end credit Roman numerals to discern the year, as this is 1996 to its fullest, with gigantic shirts you could host the Glastonbury dance tent in, and audience foreheads visible through perfectly parted curtains. The guests too, are mid-90s incarnate, with Gaz Top under his “I’m a big boy now” real name of Gareth Jones, in a buzzcut and Liam Gallagher shades, plus lovely Scottish Sally Gray (a powerful teenage crush for old Millard), Sam Kane off Brookside, and both kids from The Upper Hand. Big guest is Peter Andre, dressed all in black like an evil spider and slouching in gangster poses with his shoulders lolloping. It’s strange to see this first phase of his career, before the post-Jungle reboot as Prince Pete the Wonderful Dad, back when all the semen he’d fired out of his penis had thus far gone to waste. During his interview, an entourage of stern-faced dancers in puffa jackets the size of inflatable sumo suits sit behind, whispering, gossiping and pointing at people off camera. The tea ladies shuffle on with milky cuppas, and Pete spills his when a wasp flies in.

As Sim’s got the only clip-on mic that works, links are delivered with Sophie or the guests leaning on his chest like he’s nursing them, while kids wanting to win a poster of Peter’s abs can’t fax answers in, forced to write with their hands like cavemen. Speaking of Neanderthals, the bald bloke’s constantly mouthing off, with the job of sitting among the child audience, yelling at the top of his lungs, and the catchphrase “NO NEED TO SHOUT!!!!” In a bit where football teams have written in to win a WOW! sponsored kit, a letter from a girl whose school doesn’t have a kit incites baldy to laddishly bellow “wahey!” Note that this is a primary school, as he adds an offscreen “PUT YOUR KIT ON FOR THE LADS!

All the other beats of childrens TV are in place; reading out a happy 9h birthday greeting to a poshly-named Christopher Nibbs, who in a striking example of social determinism, has “just started boarding school.” I’m sure that’s of great comfort, if he’s able to hear the telly over the sound of flushing, and the cold, familiar taste of toilet water. Out of contact with the producer’s gallery, everyone talks over each other, as Sam Kane wishes good luck to wife Linda Lusardi on the imminent birth of their baby, Peter Andre refuses to take his top off and show his sexy body for the excited under-tens, and Sim explains how they’re running the show off a genny, before further adding that genny means generator. Thanks for that.

The televisual landmark comes to a sudden end halfway through, when the power comes back — but now caught up in the moment, they stay outside anyway. Crossing to a thin and pre-jacked Andi Peters in a trail for his show, The Noise, which follows in the schedule, he’s the meat in a 90’s sandwich, sat between Skin from Skunk Anansie and Louise Nerding. Andi Peters was the premier music journalist of the age; the sonic Pauline Kael; a man who once cited his favourite ever song as Shout by Ant and Dec. Back to WOW!, to mark the VHS release of 101 Dalmatians, the dinner ladies walk on with puppies, one of which is so frightened, it absolutely drenches Simeon and Sophie in a wild arc of piss, spraying so ferociously, I first thought it was a comedy bit with a puppet. But no; real dog, real piss, and Sim cues a break while wiping pissy hands on his massive shirt which is absolutely soaked with steaming dog urine.

We return with more puppies and a Dalmatian expert, who takes the wheel and careens us down a dark alley, with breeders who execute puppies at birth if they’ve not got perfect spots — “this one’s deaf, she would’ve been put down.” Shitty hell, I wonder what Theakston’s up to on the other side? And all conducted over the sound of nervous pups incessantly whining (and probably pissing), while the daughter from The Upper Hand tries to quiet them. Pat or Barbara waddles into frame, complaining about “all these dog businesses” and pretends to slip on one, while Gaz Top wafts his hand with a “terrible whiff of dog poop in here…”

Perhaps it’s all the piss and turds that lead everyone to stop being so silly and finally go back inside, for a mortifying wig modelling segment, showing off the era’s “cool cuts.” Gaz Top swaggers down the stairs to Oasis’ Roll With It in a Liam wig, pretending to chew gum; “it ain’t no morning glory” says Sim. Then lovely Sally Grey’s in a Mel B wig, looking like Rachel Dolezal, as a tired-sounding Phil Cornwall, laying behind the sofa with his arm in the air, keeps repeating his “secret cigar” (zig-a-zig-ah) line until it gets a laugh. Of course, the world’s most popular haircut then was The Rachel, which naughty Sim tells us is actually called “a bouncy shag,” and consequently, I’ve spent the last week on hold to the ITV complaints line. Disgusting.

There’s a quick review section, with Sophie inside a kebab van in a fake tash as ‘Donna Kebab’, before the Upper Hand phone-in, with everyone awkwardly perched on giant replica handsets like Borrowers with cramp. In a classic demonstration of the Saturday morning Q&A, the sole question’s a bored-sounding kid asking “what’s it like acting on TV?” The other call’s Cornwell’s bluebottle doing an impression, which an accidental whistle of feedback cuts off in such a way — “My name is Michael C–” — that it really sounds like they’ve bleeped the name Michael Cunt. “Who does your hair?” he asks, in a joke last heard from Mike Reid, “is it the council?” And then Peter Andre plays us out with Flava.

Skipping forwards a couple of weeks, we get a proper look at the studio, with a spiky design mimicking action bubbles in comics, down to the painful-looking furniture, with chairs resembling Pinhead’s bollocks. Although it doesn’t matter, because nothing in the 90s was as uncool as sitting on things properly, so the hosts assume a variety of trendy sitting positions, often with one or both feet propped up, or their legs lazily splayed out in positions their grans would hate. At one point, Sim crooks one knee over the back of a sofa, having to use both hands to faux-casually stop himself falling off, and leaving the seat completely empty. Imagine if someone sat on it with their arse; spoddy little feet resting on the floor. What a nerd!

Cold open sees Sally Gunnell trying to hijack the show by tying and gagging Sim ‘n’ Sophie. While Sim breaks free, Sophie hops into the studio, arms and legs bound by ropes, to remain hog-tied for the entire first half, having to pull out viewer faxes with her teeth. To this turn of events, horny YouTube commenters had such varied reactions as “so hot,” and “If this was one of our American programmes they’d have untied her right away! Rule Britannia!” along with a plea for footage of “that smtv episode where cat deeley hopped onto the set bound and gagged. Also June sarpong on t4 one Saturday morning where she had a gag over her mouth and hands possibly tied behind.” I’ll keep an eye out, mate. But they’re all at it, with Sim complimenting her “bindings” while Sid the bluebottle frantically vibrates with what one must assume is overwhelming sexual arousal.

In a weird aside, as a tied-up Sophie lays next to him on the sofa, Sim presents a copy of The Sun — “Hugh Grant’s girlfriend… I have to show you this. She has come out with inflated lips!” Holding up a double-page spread with the headline LOOK AT THE LIPS ON THAT, he’s kissed by the tea ladies, using sausage-meat for collagen, leaving his face smeared in red. Like all the jokes, it’s soundtracked by that unavoidable Big Breakfast style crew laughter, everyone braying like Tory MPs at a shit zinger to the opposition, as the thing all 90’s shows feared the most was not seeming like it was a fun, rule-free workplace. The stench of Chris Evans’ influence hangs heavy, demonstrated again when Sim asks for some “walking music” while strutting three feet across the studio floor to footballer Dean Holdsworth.

Dean was one of the era’s most prolific tabloid cocksmiths, though here he’s helping their football strip contest, reading out phone numbers with the wide-eyed terror of a man stumbling into the kitchen at 3am for a glass of water to find masked intruders going through the drawers. A phenomenal collection of the period’s most cliched guests continues with Louise Wener from Sleeper and three of the Hollyoaks cast — including cheeky lad Will ‘Jambo’ Mellor — a trio who’ll be referred to singularly as “The Hollyoaks,” like they’re a band or a human centipede. As Jambo finally unties Sophie, I’ve a prevailing memory of the Hollyoaks launch, with the gang doing the rounds on all the magazine shows, and the big recurring talking point being Will Mellor’s absolutely outrageous bleached hair. Good god almighty, the 90s.

Jambo’s got the textbook “pissed off I was up at 5am for a kids show I can’t even talk about shagging on; I’m too cool for this” vibe, not helped by the tea ladies pointing out his big ears and nose, which is a Jambo/Dumbo joke, but he’s not laughing. The interview’s a waste, with everyone struggling for family-friendly answers to questions about what they got up to in Ibiza and the worst thing about flat-sharing together — “the boys nick our hoover!” Nick Pickard takes the piss out of Jambo’s blue contact lenses, so Jambo gets him back by saying he’s “got feet like apes’ fingers,” and gosh, have Criterion put out a WOW! box set yet? The Hollyoaks lads brought back some prizes from Ibiza for the competition, which thankfully is a baseball cap and not a vial of herpes.

Later, the hosts will subtly burn last week’s guest, Dieter Brummer from Home and Away, who was also meant to provide prize — “he offered us loads of goodies” — which turned out to be one (1) signed t-shirt from his own BACK FROM THE DEAD TOUR, after his character got killed off, with RIP SHANE and a picture of his face encircled with the text DIETER LIVES. This appears to be a David Brent-esque cash-in tour of nightclub appearances, and Sim gives an insincere “so thanks, Dieter, for your generosity on that one,” before Cornwell’s fly calls him “Dieter Bummer.” (note to defend myself from accusations of being a ghoul: as of publishing, Brummer died for real a few weeks ago, some months after I originally wrote this)

Everyone’s sent into thigh-slapping merriment at a prank where a pantomime cow’s unmasked to reveal Sim’s mum, before a game called Fly in your Soup, involving a blindfolded Jambo armed with a giant spoon, as Sophie sneaks up behind with a thought bubble which makes it appear like he’s thinking “UH-OH!! I’ve got no pants on!!” What a wheeze! They’re bloody bonkers here, I tell you. Oh and by the way, as they’re setting up the game, a kid in the background does this.

To sidestep for a moment, I pinpoint the 2007 Ant and Dec phone-in scandal, where competitions were found to be rigged, as the point television’s relationship with the audience became irrevocably damaged. Trust was broken, inciting a sense of viewer entitlement which now leads to outrage and floods of complaints over every minor incident they don’t like. Goaded on by tabloid clickbait, any accidental peek behind the curtain is now seen as a SHOCKING EXPOSURE of television’s desire to TRICK you (by say, rehearsing, editing or doing re-takes), while reality show vote-offs inevitably result in petitions from people crying FIX. But I may have stumbled on an earlier incident, which if spotted, could’ve shaken TV right off its foundations.

On behalf of the kids, Jambo’s playing for 10 CD singles and a Sega Saturn, Whack-a-Mole-ing flies in a giant bowl of soup. Following very basic “up, left” instructions over the phone, he nails a 100% hit-rate, often while doing the exact opposite of the nervous child’s directions, with a precision that makes it obvious he can totally see through the bottom of the blindfold, which is just a regular sleep mask. If they’d all been put in prison for this like they deserved, we never would’ve got Will Mellor’s music career, and more importantly, I never would have had that colleague who went “here’s your mate, you love him, don’t you, Millard?” every fucking time When I Need You came on the radio. Scum. Absolute scum.

A bunch more nonsense happens; a kid caller’s asked where they are, and first says “a house,” before correcting it to “Glasgow.” Andi Peters shills The Noise with the brag of an appearance by — then Superman, now one of the Trumpy D-List crew — Dean Cain, and bigs up an exclusive showing of the first ten seconds only of Boyzone’s new video. Then Phil ‘The Fly’ Cornwell witters on to himself about the freeing experience of urinating; “having a wee wee, I’ve had a wee wee!” Cheer up, Partridge and Stella Street soon. A closing interview has Louise Wener as another free-talking 90’s character struggling with the tone of a child-audience, as the fly puts on a Nazi accent to ask if she’s Sleeper’s “Führer” before they play us out. WOW! Lasted just 16 weeks, partially due to ITV spending a fortune on live rights to the Formula 1, and its sharing a timeslot with Andi Peters’ expensive music show bomb. LWT were eager to get Scratchy and Co on instead, condemning the series to its fate, not as TISWAS for the Lad Mags generation, but as another faded selection box of bizarre moments from pop culture’s most distressing decade.

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, early access to my videos, my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on September 15, 2021.

3 Responses to “Saturday Morning Archaeology – WOW!”

  1. That comment to Louise Wener from the Fly puppet was more unpleasant than you’d think, as I believe Wener is Jewish.

    As for Dieter Brummer: because I’m a morbid type, whenever someone makes a joke about themselves dying or being dead, I always think of the fact that one day it’ll be true. I wonder where all those T-shirts are now… and what Windows 95 / 3.1 program were they clearly designed in?

    • This ‘death’ is no doubt just a long con to shift the boxes of them he’s had sat around in his garage for 25 years. Sim will be wishing he’d hung onto it when Deiter smashes his way out of the coffin to book all those student union gigs. Fool me once, etc

  2. […] [previous: Saturday Superstore — Multi-Coloured Swap Shop — WOW!] […]

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