Lesser Noel’n Edmonds

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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 ShopSaturday RoadshowHouse Party Hell Playlist]

Continuing our scholarly appraisal of Edmonds, it’s time to really get into the weeds, with a pair of shows which fail to even reach modern standards of existing, with neither deemed worthy of a Wikipedia page. 1999’s The World of the Secret Camera filled the gap between House Party‘s acrimonious end and the final BBC edition of Christmas Presents, suggesting its recording pre-dated Noel’s bust-up with the Beeb. A Friday night run of eight episodes, Secret Camera is the most low-budget enterprise of Noel’s career, and a straight hosting gig, like filling the revolving chair of a Commercial Breakdown. Accordingly, of all his works, this is the one which most feels like his heart’s not in it.

Animated opening credits depict comical self-destruction of the world’s landmarks, crumbling into shame as they’re captured on camera; the Millennium Dome deflating; Lady Liberty’s skirt blowing up to reveal her knickers (with accompanying wolf whistle), which as it will turn out, is pretty on-brand. The set’s comprised of a day-glo map, with an incongruous ladder extending into the ceiling, perhaps for Noel to make a quick escape from demeaning role as bearded bookmark betwixt old clips from foreign prank shows.

01

This is very much the Tarrant on TV space of “ain’t telly from abroad mad?!” and opens with a Frenchman hurling himself down concrete steps. Members of the public rush to help, with multiple slo-mos of the impact, and of bystanders’ shocked faces, while Noel’s audience shriek hysterically. The man himself is mid-laugh when we cut back — “extraordinary!” Hailing from the days before global pop culture became a communal paddling pool of slurry, the outrageous behaviour of other countries is our theme, with a flabbergasted Edmonds continually extolling the televisual Wild West of our overseas chums. “There is something totally mad about the French,” he’ll tell us, guffawing over the politically-incorrect Spanish, and teasing viewers with the words “more from those barmy Japanese!

To be fair, as mentioned in my look at Endurance UK, pre-internet, Japanese television was the lone source of shit you couldn’t believe existed, where crying naked men were shooting 80mph downhill on a toilet. You can’t really blame Noel, his fist clenched in excitement with a cry of “it’s Japanese time, yes!” into a clip of some poor sod being gifted a lifetime’s PTSD as a fruit stand violently explodes around him. But even now, after all we’ve seen — men on Omegle solving Rubik’s Cubes with their anuses; YouTubers having diarrhea fights — decades-old Japanese prank shows still have the power to loosen your jaw. Here, a rambler’s out for a casual stroll when landmines start going off; explosions so powerful they send up twenty-feet of dirt in a single frame, chasing him down the path as he makes a desperate dash for safety, believing he’s already seen his children’s faces for the final time.

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Maybe Noel finds kindred souls here, as he’ll pull out a vintage 1982 clip of his own making, where a panicked victim working at a ‘dynamite factory’ is physically restrained escaping from an accidentally-lit stick by a man playing a foreman, and dragged screaming back to an explosion which reveals a beaming Noel — “hello!” Noel reiterates how stressful it was, worrying that the man — in terror of losing limbs or his life — might run out of frame, before presenting him the joke gift of a bomb. Similarly questionable is a montage of Russians trying to extricate a $100 bill from under the wheel of a parked car, which we’re told is equivalent to the average monthly wage.

Attempting to put his own stamp on a tired genre, Noel will repeatedly use the phrase “secret camera” as though it’s a thing; like how WWE solely refer to their fans as “the WWE universe” so it can be trademarked for t-shirts. These aren’t clips, they’re “secret camera films,” made by “secret camera film-makers” and “secret camera operators.” As with Beadle’s About, most of the humour derives from bewildered confrontations, yet in another odd choice, none of these are subtitled, instead backed by vaguely ethnic stock music, leaving you no clue as to what’s being said when another Iranian pickpocket prank turns physical, which even the audience aren’t sure they should be laughing at. Noel points out “you might get your hand chopped off for this,” though it’s diffused when the camera’s revealed, and the men involved exchange a peace offering of handshakes, cheek-kisses, and a flower. “I hope that doesn’t catch on,” cracks Noel, “or I don’t think I’ll do another Gotcha!

03

Naturally, he can’t refrain from getting involved himself, playing back earlier footage of the audience being patted down by a ‘security guard’ who’d been secretly rifling through their pockets, for ill-gotten gains of wallets, watches, and the most 1999 totem of all, a Cartman keyring, described as “the height of bad taste!” He also remakes gags from old American Candid Cameras, feeding people free supermarket samples before revealing it’s made of cockroaches, then offering them cash to eat it. “As it involves the Americans, it is of course, all about the money,” says Noel Ernest Edmonds, who some years later would literally be paid to eat cockroaches and eyeballs on I’m a Celebrity. Incidentally, his catchphrase when walking in for the big reveal is “you’ve just been caught,” which sounds more like security informing a cleaner their nightly wank was captured by the office CCTV.

One particular German clip’s described by our man as the cleverest stunt he’s ever seen — “bordering on magic” — which is high praise indeed from the prank-master, consisting of a building site workman submerging into a puddle like the Vicar of Dibley. Again, everything’s in unsubtitled German, with Bavarian accordion music soundtracking the panic of passers-by believing themselves to be helplessly watching a man drown. “Any idea how they did that?!” asks Noel. I dunno; dug a hole? He’s completely aghast, perhaps thinking back to his own pranking career of making celebrities late to fictitious appointments by giving them a driver who’s a bit ruddy mad!!

04

Again and again we will return to the continent, with Eurotrash style voiceovers on foreign clips by Kate Robbins (who actually did the Eurotrash dubbing) and some bloke, putting scouse accents over Spanish footage of “a very mad hairdressers,” and even a “fan-dabi-dozi!” when a female dwarf dressed as Supergirl’s loaded into a cannon and seemingly fired through the mark’s window. Most popular, we’re told, is a French prankster who featured in previous episodes, instigating a flood of letters and phonecalls begging for more. Let’s break down a list of his witty japes at the beach:

  • kissing an unsuspecting stranger

  • squirting sun cream all over the body of a sleeping woman in a bikini

  • massaging a shirtless man’s belly

  • pulling down a raging man’s trunks to expose the white of his bare arse as he fights him off

  • undoing a woman’s bikini from behind, and grabbing at her tits as she tries to cover them

  • pulling down the trunks of a very angry old man

  • licking the thonged crack of a woman sunbathing

  • mounting an old man and aggressively kissing him

  • throwing sand over a sunbathing women in a clip I’m 80% sure results in accidental exposed vagina on British tea-time television

Almost every one of those would involve prison time in 2022. “It’s terrible, terrible,” laughs Noel, promising something we can play along with at home, to amaze our friends, annoy our family, and possibly “get to know the local constabulary!” Not sending us out to pull women’s tops off, are you? The truth is more mundane, signalled with a cry of “here comes a mad Frenchman!” and footage of a bloke in a baseball cap trapping people inside phone boxes by running round it with gaffer tape while EMF’s Unbelievable plays. He’ll later do it with buses, tractors, and some old men on a bench, before finally the Arc de Triomphe. Noel’s so amused, he has to compose himself, and the episode closes with various BBC folk, from a tea lady to Dick from Dick ‘n’ Dom, being taped up by an imposter Frenchman played by Barry Killerby, AKA Mr. Blobby’s guts.

05

Moving on, or rather back, it’s 1992’s Noel’s Addicts, which wasn’t even a spin-off of Telly Addicts, and surely came about when a commissioning editor decided “people like Noel programs about Addicts, let’s make some more of them!” Though the pitch is ‘Noel meets with addicts’, this isn’t a heavy docuseries like Ross Kemp would do, giggling through his beard as someone details a crippling struggle with meth, but another Edmonds vehicle devoted to British eccentricity. Culturally, its biggest footprint is as the show Reeves and Mortimer were parodying, in the bit which gave us Bob’s infamous wheezing and lumpen Noel. As grim warning, Addicts shares a director with 3-2-1 and every episode of Plaza Patrol, and its opening titles use the Davro’s Sketch Pad format of painting different outfits on its mugging host — cowboy, vampire, cool leather daddy — under theme music peppered by Seinfeld-esque mouth noises.

06

In this instance, ‘addict’ is a blanket term for anyone who’s got a hobby, back when having interests marked you out as a nerrrrrd, which was very much a pejorative term. “Look at this nutter!” is Noel’s lifeblood, but this is moreso a capsule of what people of 30 years ago considered to be eccentric. An elderly male belly dancer; teddy bear collectors; men who repair aeroplanes, or enjoy the extremely-1992 activity of launching yourself at an inflatable wall in a Velcro bodysuit — “mad,” shrieks Noel, “total madness!” If they did this now, it’d be about feet pics and tide pods and tweeting transphobia. Mate, we all spend 18 hours a day staring at our phones, don’t talk to us about your so-called addictions.

They’ve clearly got access to one of those video effects packages allowing the screen to be folded into a shape and flown around, and use it in every transition; Noel turning into a clock face or melting down into a donut, or the footage becoming a frisbee which flies about his head. Willie Rushton’s got a segment ala Dictionary Corner, talking a mile a minute about historical addictions, showing how clever he is by dropping references from Rambo to Dracula to reincarnated earwigs, and implying that Alexander Graham Bell fucked a sheep.

07

The series has all the connective threads of Noel’s back catalogue, everything riddled with those familiar puns, like regarding Shakespeare (addicted to writing plays), “if he was that popular, how come he was bard from Avon?!” There’s also viewer letters, of which he claims there have been “tens of thousands,” reading out missives from a lady who collects puffins, a man who paints hot air balloons, and holding up a picture of a bedroom crammed with Postman Pat memorabilia. He’ll hurl facts at us; a human trivia book kept on the cistern, informing breakfast addicts that nuts come from Turkey and bananas from Brazil. Now laden with fruit, Noel asks “where can I get my oats?” A busty woman enters stage left, greeted with a “well hello!” before, much to his disappointment, rather than take them out, she tips a sack of oats over him.

In a pre-record hosted by unacceptably wacky DJ Adrian Juste, we meet a radio addict with a collection of over 200,000 recordings, which honestly seems quite normal in this era of content hoarding. I download that many podcasts every week. Juste introduces it by pushing at his mixing desk to play stings of “AH, THE FELLA MUST BE NUTS!” and “STARK RAVIN’ BONKERS!” with a completely unnecessarily effect where he’s physically squashed into the shape of a signal, flying into his panel and over the airwaves to the addict’s house. The radio buff describes himself as “a servant of history,” which I may steal, for when people ask what I do for a living, and I’m forced to explain what “funny essays about, say, Michael Barrymore or Syd Little” actually consists of. Along with an early Noel broadcast — with a cut to whining dogs making a bolt for it — they show a picture of him looking slightly different, which leaves our thoroughly humiliated host bashing the arm of his chair with a “not fair, not fair!

08

The Peter Gunn theme signals an American section, traveling to meet a man who collects film and TV memorabilia, like Andy Kaufman’s jacket and Elvira’s dress. It’s here my two very specific addictions collide, as Noel Edmonds chats about Elvira’s great big gothic knockers, even having a feel of the underwiring. Also, we have what I believe to be the only onscreen meeting between Noel and Slimer. Another episode has him interview Phyllis Diller in her Beverly Hills mansion, about various collections of clocks, cars, jewellery, wigs, hats, and musical instruments, including seven grand pianos. Hold on… that’s just being rich and buying things!

Things take a turn in a sudden sketch which feels like something got taped over the end by mistake. Titled The Saint Anne Greavsie School for Girls, it’s that disturbing 90’s adult-schoolgirl aesthetic, with Susie Blake, Sherrie Hewson and Sophie Lawrence in St. Trinians pigtails and uniforms, sat behind desks to recite the play “Noel Pulls It Off” (a riff on Daisy Pulls it Off) and randily gossip about meeting the head boy behind the hockey pavilion. Enter Noel in a mortarboard, physically attacked by the girls and begging “please; don’t; stop!” When they do, he lets out a disappointed “I said please don’t stop…” Revealing himself their new biology teacher, Lawrence giggles “can we start now?!” and excitedly rushes him, before a woman enters the classroom. No, it’s not a WPC ready to cuff him, but an addict for vintage schoolgirl comics, of which this has all been the set-up; comedically portraying Noel as a paedophile.

09

Going through her comics, Noel laughs really hard at the phrase “bosom chums,” and in celebration of the addict answering twelve questions correctly, he gives the girls the rest of the day off. Susie Blake grabs her satchel and runs to Noel, who excitedly asks “does this mean we’re off to the bike shed?!” But don’t call Yewtree, it’s just for some “sticky buns” — yeah, I bet. Also aging badly is a Woody Allen addict (“don’t worry, we’ll try and cheer him up”), who says he’d love to have Woody’s record with women, with their interview conducted in front of a backdrop of enormous Woody headshots, leering over the whole thing like he’s thinking “bit old for me.”

We close with Noel dressed as an old-timey barber in red and white stripes, (fake handlebar moustache over his real one) sweeping the floor of a barbershop set, as four men in pink jackets bid him hello, helloo, helloooo, hellooooo! Barbershop addicts, (i.e. they have a group), before singing us out, the leader says a “good ear” is important, and for literally no reason at all, starts doing Prince Charles, pulling out big rubber ears and going “errrr, errrr, Diana,” although in a close-up, I can’t legally confirm whether he’s moving his stiff arms up and down.

10

Noel’s Addicts is a show which re-emphasises 1992 — even moreso than now — as a time when one simply couldn’t enjoy a thing without being derided for it. You mean you don’t come home from work and drink yourself to sleep in front of the telly? What a ravin’ great nerd! Old book-boy loves his books, don’t he? Bet you shag ’em! Papercuts all over his willy, this one! There was a clip going round Twitter last year of Graham Norton belittling Henry Cavill for partaking in Warhammer, with that idea that men shouldn’t have fun; shouldn’t have hobbies; and even a casual interest renders you an obsessive weirdo and helpless addict. Keen on Woody Allen films? ADDICT! Go out dancing once a week? JUNKIE! Like a thing which other people don’t like as much as you? STARK RAVIN’ BONKERS! My own addiction is writing longform pieces about Noel Edmonds, which you are all enabling, so don’t bother trying an intervention.

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~ by Stuart on December 8, 2022.

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