The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow

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[More Noel: Noel’s HQFirst & Last: Noel’s House PartyThe Live, Live Christmas Breakfast ShowWhen Noel Tried to Crack AmericaNoel’s Christmas PresentsSwap ShopHouse Party Hell Playlist]

Yep, I’m back on my bullshit again. Having already penned tens of thousands of Noel-centric words, perhaps I should just leave him be, but then, could I contentedly go into the ground having failed to cover every coiffured inch of the Edmonds oeuvre? Decades from now, my restless ghost will be left wandering the South Downs, barred from the afterlife with loose ends untied; scaring some campers by spelling out pleas on a ouija board for a typewriter plus a VHS containing at least three episodes of Noel’s Telly Addicts. Inevitably then, we end up here, at The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow. Roadshow was somewhat of a bridge in Noel’s career, spanning the gap between the disastrous cancellation of the Late, Late Breakfast Show after a man’s death, and the series that would elevate him to the throne of light entertainment’s emperor, Noel’s House Party.

After one of his classic audience participation stunts — a bungee jump from an exploding box entitled ‘Hang ’em High’ — claimed the life of Michael Lush on November 13th 1986, Noel resigned both from the show, and possibly from public life forever. But within weeks came an outrageously self-pitying appearance on Wogan, bemoaning the shock of sudden career ruination, the sadness of having to cross out filming dates in his diary, and his being overwhelmed by thousands of letters of support. He and his new bride, “we had a bad couple of weeks.” A real man of the people, Noel asked himself “is it worth it?” with K9 police protection units on the grounds of his estate because of “nutters coming to the house,” and arming the gardener with a pitchfork. Even Wogan played along — “of course, it was a terrible tragedy for the family… but a traumatic time recently for you as well; your career seems to have stopped dead,” before a horribly misjudged joke about being known as “Lucky Edmonds.”

01

Exactly six weeks after Lush’s death, Noel was back on our screens, choosing to fulfil the contract of a live Christmas special, which was renamed from the tainted Live, Live Christmas Breakfast Show brand to the simple Christmas Morning with Noel. While these festive shows would continue through to 1988, before morphing into Noel’s Christmas Presents, it would be two years before he’d return with a full series. The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow debuted at 6pm on September 3rd 1988, and though Noel thrives on the arena of live TV, this was pre-recorded, perhaps having to earn back the trust of the BBC and the British public, who didn’t want to inadvertently find themselves watching a snuff film over their spaghetti hoops. Similarly, he could no longer rely on pulling members of the public into dangerous stunts, and the audience who, during House Party, were under constant threat of getting yanked out of their seats or confronted with hidden camera footage, now remained solely behind the frame as unseen claps ‘n’ cheers.

Even as the world’s foremost Noelologist, it’s wild how Roadshow; a series that history’s entirely ignored in the wake of Noel’s House Party; is just Noel’s House Party, but three years earlier. The deja vu is overpowering from the opening theme, which is practically identical, right down to the big “bahm-bahm!” ending, though brilliantly, its credits are shared by House Party‘s composer and — of all people — Joe Longthorne. Many of the HP staples began here, with the gunge tank, Wait Til I Get You Home, and the Gotchas; under their more laborious title, the Gotcha Oscar. Where the latter series stuck to its setting of Crinkly Bottom Manor, Roadshow‘s location switched weekly, broadcasting from locales as varied as the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, the Channel Tunnel, King Don’t Tut’s Egyptian burial chamber, a Japanese judo school, and on the high seas aboard the S.S Boil-in-the-Bag; as the titular Roadshow made its way around the globe. In reality, these were shonky sets in the BBC studio, but the place-names should give you a clue to Roadshow‘s MO, which was wacky, wacky, wacky.

02

I begin with an episode from the weirdly specific location of a private American prison. Note that this wasn’t Roadshow‘s first episode, coming a year into its run, but as a jumping-in point, multitude jokes about Noel being a criminal deserving of a stint inside sit really oddly in the wake of the Michael Lush incident. It’s very Oz-like, with metal gantries and cell bars, as uniformed guards and cons mill about in the background, before Noel emerges in prison-issue uniform (N7213, trivia fans), handcuffed to a nightstick-wielding guard. Noticeably, Noel’s very grey, far more than he’d ever appear before or since, with that fabulous mane completely faded at the sides and around the temples. Maybe there was no more room for contraband hair dye when he was smuggling all the gunge in up his arse.

Unfortunately, this is very much the Noel Edmonds comedy hour, with just a handful of games breaking up interminable, gag-filled monologues and two-hander comedy skits, where celebrities — as they would in House Party — show up to trade one-liners as a funny character. Where this really grates is in its deliberate naffness, with every joke an awful pun that’s meant to elicit groans instead of laughs, and each punchline followed by a knowing sideways look intimating how bad it is. Sure, we all enjoy the bad Christmas Cracker joke, but you wouldn’t do it all the way through dinner.

03

Worst of these are the prop comedy sections, where he goes all Carrot Top, telling us the prisoners deal in snout before holding up a board with dog noses stuck to it. “The bloke in cell 17’s a pickpocket,” he says, revealing a pocket embedded with an ice pick; a newspaper chain of cut-out men who’re “the chain gang,” and a salt cellar with an AA battery; “assault and battery!” Every joke is worse than the one before, ending on a truly ghastly moment he hurriedly wraps an escape plan in tinfoil to proclaim “I’ve foiled the escape plan!” If this is him playing safe, strap a fraying bungee cord round my waist and I’ll take one for the team.

The closest thing to a prank on a member of the public is a pre-record where old people have been tasked with tipping pink slime down funnels into bottles as they whizz by on a conveyor belt, with Noel pissing himself as — oh no! — the belt keeps moving, causing them to spill the gunge a bit. There’s quiz sections, the first with “two real nutters,” one of whom’s so nervous he forgets his own name, playing a Don’t Forget The Lyrics game. The bloke sings “merrily” instead of “gaily” to Rolf’s Two Little Boys, causing Noel to laugh and tell him what word he got wrong in a 1970’s comedy woofter voice.

The gunge tank sees celebrities — such as Carmen Silvera from ‘Allo ‘Allo — playing a word game for prizes on behalf of the poor non-famous sap who’s sat inside. When contestant Fiona loses, Noel calls her a “naughty girl” before dumping a load of custard on her. MP David Owen shows up in the next episode, where Noel sleazily admonishes another gunge-soaked woman with a “that was naughty, wasn’t it, Linda?” As always, the oddest Noel/contestant interactions are found in Wait Til I Get You Home, which use the same animated intro as House Party. This week’s dad appears to be Ned Flanders, with pre-quiz banter of a story about his wife being too heavy to carry over the threshold when they got married.

04

For those unfamiliar, Noel met with a child and asked them things, and the parents have to guess their answers. But his questions to children are like those of your weird aunt; have you kissed anyone yet? How would you ask someone to marry you? It sounds like stuff they read out to someone who’s just been busted by an online vigilante group. “Stop crying, mate, we’re not gonna hit you, we’re only filming for our safety, yeah? But did you, believing this to be a nine-year-old boy, ask which sexy bikini his dad would buy his mum, and then show him loads of examples?” The rest of it’s clearly engineered for the kid to say that his mum’s overweight.

Often, these sections paint a grim picture of home life, with Noel chuckling through stories of mums yelling at dads whenever they attempt a display of affection, and pig-thick fathers who are always drunk. In the second episode, the dad seems to be a straight-up alcoholic, with the kid’s answers all about how he can’t hold his drink, but it’s good because he lends her money when pissed, recanting an incident stripping off naked at the rugby club — “my father practically lives down the rugby club.” For their gifts, two kids ask for a computer, while one girl really worked out how to milk the system by asking for a — clearly rehearsed at home — “dance costume designed and made by David and Elizabeth Emanuel” (the designers who made Princess Di’s wedding dress).

05

Sadly, there’s yet more character comedy — Dear John‘s Peter Blake as a mean guard; Joe Pasquale in the prison workshop, flailing around and miming a chainsaw as he honks into a kazoo; and Lisa Maxwell as recurring character Janice, in a real Colin Hunt performance, as president of the Roadshow fanclub. The club functions as that Crinkly Bottom role of parochial British zaniness, crammed with gags like a local man who stole savoury fertility pills and gave birth to Twiglets, and fake ‘funny’ letters from viewers, with that trademark Edmonds put-on laughter worse than ever, literally slapping his thighs at every punchline, perhaps desperate to ensure that everyone understands it’s all good, harmless fun.

There’s a Gotcha Oscar for Peter Snow, straight from the Beadle school of pranking, being a joyless exercise in frustrating the victim. It ends like they all do; the moment punctured by the appearance of Noel Edmonds, presenting his microphone like a man showing off a proud, pulsating erection on entering an orgy, to let them know they’ve been Noeled. Sadly we exit the prison episode without a scene where Noel’s tricked into going down to the greenhouse.

My next Roadshow‘s on a space station, with our host emerging from a rocket which bears the words THIS WAY UP and an L plate. Although, the ‘plot’ is they’ll later be sending Britain’s first astronaut into space, so are they already up there or not? The related gags will make you wish you’d fallen into a black hole — “the British aerospace industry has really made great strides… in fact, i’m wearing a pair at the moment,” and landing on the Milky Way between meals. Then a zero-gravity Billy Pearce floats in on a wire, presumably about to take one small step for the lay-jeh-men — “me foot kept going to sleep… the doctor strapped an alarm clock to me leg! By any chance, he’s not onboard the Space Shuttle Challenger is he?

06

Audience participation is limited to pre-taped pub challenges, where Noel’s sat in a beer garden with two members of the Great British Public playing Russian Roulette with hard-boiled eggs; a game we’ve previously seen employed by Freddie Starr and Craig Charles, and which seems even more pathetic on Saturday tea-time than it did in the 1am ITV wank-slot. The next episode’s got a game of “dingle-dangle; dangling your dingle at just the right angle,” where contestants have to squat a pencil hanging from their groin on a string into the neck of a bottle, in one of those saucily coy 1980’s British sexual repression party games, like drunk uncles thrusting into adult nieces from behind to bust a balloon against her bum. This was the pre-shagging era, and nobody fucked back then, rather, they lay on their backs with their legs in the air, socks still on, for some ‘bonking’ or a bit of ‘how’s your father with the old meat and two veg’. Noel’s in fits over Dingle Dangle, but mate, I’m from the future; the last time I saw a bloke squatting over a glass bottle, it went right up and came out in bloody shards.

After a Gotcha for Bob Wilson, the show ends ends with Noel strapped to a rocket like Johnny Knoxville, which is lit by Billy Pearce and rises out of frame in a shower of sparks. My final episode, and the last of its current series, is set in an undersea wreck, with background extras stumbling around in flippers and scuba gear, and lazy Noel just in a stripey top. Frank Carson’s dressed as a pirate to tell a joke about Arabs, and Lisa Maxwell plays bloopers of Tony Robinson falling over in Maid Marian, under the guise of the Roadshow Club’s historical re-enactment society. Most notable thing here is the Lyric Game contestant who resembles the exact mid-point between Elvis and Peter Sutcliffe, and whose appearance is so striking, I assumed it was someone in disguise for an end-of-series prank.

07

Scouse popstar Sonia plays the gunge tank game, with the lad behind the glass a 21-year-old city investor called Malcolm whose nickname is “big boy,” in case you wondered what the men of Thatcher’s Britain were like. Unable to not be creepy when there’s gunge about, Noel offers losing Malcolm the star prize of a dishwasher if he can give Sonia a good enough chat-up line to get her onto his lap, and that’s the real quiz, that’s the real quiz! She’s lured into the tank, but Noel ups the ante — “what about a kiss? What about giving him a little kiss?” Alright, Ghislaine. There’s another weird game where villagers bowl a bale of hay down a hill out of a tractor, aiming for a big replica of Noel’s mouth which resembles the gateway I’ll be passing through on my way to Hell. Should the bale miss, it knocks a button which triggers gunge-buckets on members of the public stood on a gantry, giving it the feel of those complicated torture devices Limmy sets up to murder Minecraft villagers.

08

The closing Gotcha sees Claire Raynor dicked about at a radio show, having to gamely take over when the DJ runs off to be sick. Most of the laughs with these things seem a bit unfair, coming from all the celebrity’s yawns, tics, and muttering to themselves when they think they’re alone, and unaware there are hidden cameras. But genuinely great here is the way Raynor fails to recognise a disguised Edmonds, in a wig and false-beard-on-real-beard, as he witters on in an American accent across a desk at her for over half an hour, about farming rhinos for aphrodisiacs, even when he plonks the Gotcha on the desk and asks her to describe it.

Raynor: “It’s a kind of Oscar clutched in a hand…”

Noel: “It’s called a Gotcha Oscar.”

Raynor: “Gotcha. Right.”

Not until he’s forced to say his own real name does it finally dawn on her, which must’ve been irksome; a tacit admission she couldn’t recognise Noel if he were sat two feet away. Raynor presents him with his own trophy; a golden microphone engraved with The Prattle Award, “for the man who talks the most unadulterated balderdash!” and we close with Frank Carson being attacked by a giant foam tentacle, before — hurray! — a treasure chest opens to reveal Liz Smith dressed as a mermaid.

09

As is human nature, we only want what we can’t have, and dire as Saturday Roadshow is, when seen only in glimpses, its siren call lures you onto YouTube’s deadly rocks for more. The policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo; Mary Whitehouse getting gunged; Jimmy Cricket in an admiral’s hat, as Noel rocks about on a fake pirate ship; Geoffrey McGivern as a locked-out nudist, crawling under Bertice Reading’s table with his anus pixelated. Stay strong, Millard, leave it be. Though this is House Party in all but name, it’s a markedly different Noel, no longer atop the ratings, nor with the creative freedoms or supercilious nature that came with being the King of Saturday nights. It’s a position he was happy to brandish in Crinkly Bottom, quick with an impatient snap at the producer’s gallery, or an on-camera rebuttal to a bad review. Here though, well… ‘humbled’ is the wrong word, but perhaps this is a man who’s aware he’s on thin ice. Noel always threw himself into that most British cliché of the self-deprecating host, constantly slating the wobbling sets, awful jokes and half-asleep audience of his own shows, but on Saturday Roadshow, it’s the one time it feels like he really means it. And as well he should.

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 December 4, 2021.

4 Responses to “The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow”

  1. Have you thought about doing a article on the Estate Agents a funny hardly remembered show from Channel 4 that ran for one series in 2002.

    • I missed that at the time. I’ll have to check it out, though probably not as a Shitcom if it’s any good.

      • Ah yeah should be on all4 if you wanna watch it shitcoms how about eyes down with Paul O Grady somehow lasted 2 series on the BBC.

      • Interesting cast for Eyes Down, but 2 series and completely forgotten suggests it’s rotten.

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