The 100 Greatest Moments from TV Hell
Saturday, September 9, 2000 by Ian Jones
People who hate lists, and hate making lists, especially lists of television programmes, must face shows like these in a state of utter despair. Their cries of pain at seeing TV history being cut-up, ripped out of context, ineptly sequenced and repackaged purely for superficial enjoyment sound like the lament of someone suffering from half a dozen sulphuric ulcers.
Strange the aversion some people have to this kind of methodology. After all, a list brings order and structure to an otherwise sprawling, slippery jumble of images, recollections and feelings; a list turns a subjective roster of taste and preference into a semi-objective, definitive one, and helps rationalise, clarify and justify those tastes in the process. TV retrospectives that base themselves round lists are always intensely exciting (who is number one?), have a natural momentum so they don’t become boring (the gradual acceleration in tension as the countdown continues) and best of all make great catalysts for debate and argument. And anyway, if you’re into TV history the list format has provided (with Channel 4’s Top Tens and previous 100 Greatest … shows) some of the best treatments of nostalgia and use of archive footage for decades.
This particular show was different to its predecessors, which promoted themselves as straightforward celebrations (Best TV Moments, Best Adverts). For while claiming to be 100 choice moments from TV Hell none of the clips on offer were really bad television at all; a chart of truly worst TV of all time would comprise of footage taken from actually offensive broadcasts (like the BNP’s 1997 Election Broadcast) or unforgivably tedious shows (a debate on macroeconomic theory on Weekend World) or crass, tasteless self-indulgence (Alastair Burnet’s interview with Prince Charles and Diana).
In this instance all of these clips were voted for not because people thought they were so horrific they never wanted to see them again; no, it was the reverse – clips were voted for solely because people wanted to see them again, they were funny or or fascinating or simply promised some nice Saturday night nostalgia. It meant the actual sequencing of the clips was almost immaterial – who’s quibbling if The Black and White Minstrel Show appeared seven places higher than The Comedians? – and really Richard Madeley as Ali G could’ve been at number one or 100, and vice versa for Frostie and the yippies (though why people really thought Madeley’s rather endearing take on this dubious comic creation was the “best” of the “worst” is uncertain; it seemed quite inoffensive, and indeed helped prick the pomposity of the original).
To try and pick this chart apart, it’s useful to break down the clips into a few categories. 45 were proper TV “moments” that occurred during ongoing shows or broadcasts; 38, however, were actual shows themselves, which renders the programme title (Moments …) instantly problematic. Compounding this, three of the entries were actual people – Benny Hill (number 73), Pam Ayres (64) and Timmy Mallett (30), two were TV channels – QVC (24) and L!ve TV (22) while seven were just programme genres – regional beauty competitions (60), keep fit (49), kids’ variety (39), novelty showcases (36), DIY shows (32), docusoaps (18) and dubbed kids’ TV (13). There was also one actual “event” which TV cameras just happened to be there to record and therefore shouldn’t really have been included (John Redwood gurning his way through the Welsh National Anthem at number 12). The remaining four clips defy categorisation, being respectively “character changes in soaps” (9), “Norwegian Eurovision entries” (31), “Pan’s People dance routines” (44) and the catch-all label “swearing football managers” (57, though this failed to include any Cutting Edge Graham Taylor-isms).
Over a third of the clips (35) came from live transmissions; just over a quarter (26) were music-related, either an actual performance of a song or involving musicians in another context. A dozen clips were both music-related and live, clearly the most lethal and potent combination of all.
Out of those 38 actual shows which found their way into the chart, most belonged to one of three categories: comedy (a total of six, including all the usuals such as Mind Your Language, Love Thy Neighbour, Curry and Chips, but which were only given rather tokenistic summaries, with nothing mentioned about the actors at all); the game show (six again, including some of the greats: 3-2-1, Bullseye and Going For Gold); and the catch-all term “variety” (again, six, including New Faces, Minipops, Game for a Laugh and the ITV Disco Dancing Championships). Other strong categories here were “educational” (always a fine source for fond lampooning, including here Play Guitar With Ulf Goran, Origami, Out of Town and Ask Zena Skinner) and the ever-reliable “youth” (those fine early BBC efforts The Oxford Roadshow and Something Else, along with Club X and The Girlie Show).
But other shows that may have deserved a similar catch-all single entry ended up split between several clips, such as The Word (three separate appearances) and This Morning (three again, including the number one). The reasoning behind this wasn’t made clear – surely Club X deserved a similar plural representation (the nude body painting incident as well as the dinner “to futurism!”). Again, three soaps just appeared wholesale: Crossroads (54), Prisoner Cell Block H (35) and Eldorado (11), as did one chat show, Harold Wilson’s Friday Night … Saturday Morning (87) seen here together with its surprisingly raunchy title sequence. There was also an entire charity event (the ITV Telethons at 71) an award ceremony (the 1989 Brits at number two), two kids’ programmes (the incredible Animal Kwackers at 82 with the horrific blue Rasta lion, and the unfairly maligned Why Don’t You … ? at 53), two sports shows (the stunning Indoor League at 84 and World of Sport wrestling at 48) and finally two alternative/access slots, the great Epilogue (56) – “I was jumping like a mountain goat from boulder to boulder” – and Open Door (94, summed up here by the “Albion Free State” episode giving free air time to a tree).
When it comes to that collection of clips documenting actual moments within shows, however, there is one runaway winner: the chat show. As perhaps the ultimate arena for making mischief and creating indelible, memorable TV happenings, this was bound to score highly as a category in any chart. 13 entries in all came from chat-based programmes, from David Frost’s ebullient dual with Jerry Rubin and his band of selfish yippies (100) to Jonathan Ross and Paul Morley tackling the odious Tony Colston-Hayter and ending up handcuffed and soaked with water respectively (68) to Paul Shane committing treason with You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling on Pebble Mill (91) to Stan Boardman’s intensely lame “Fokker” gag in front of a squeaming Des O’Connor (65). There were some inspired inclusions in this category, such as Michael Winner’s triumphant snubbing of Richard Littlejohn in a debate over homosexuality, and James Whale’s legendary encounter with a very tired and emotional Wayne Hussey of The Mission. The chat show also provided the number three entry – the decline and fall of Tara Palmer Tomkinson on Frank Skinner’s sofa.
Other high scoring genre in this category included what could be termed “youth”. Here’s where all The Word clips reside (and they were all predictable: “The Hopefuls”, L7 dropping their pants, Lynne Perrie bawling I Will Survive), along with Tony Banks rolling a joint on Naked City (96), child goon Felix drying during his interview with Paul McCartney on The Tube (59), the “Private Dicks” game from Something For the Weekend (40) and Shaun Ryder on TFI Friday (17). This Morning accounted for three of the four “magazine show” entries (thanks to their attempt at Stars In Their Eyes, the streaker, and Richard as Ali G) with The Stone Roses shambling through a technical cock-up on The Late Show providing the other (41).
There was a slew of clips from music related programmes including several vintage TOTP moments – at last a chance to see the famous Dexy’s performance with the Jocky Wilson picture, plus Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker struggling with You’re The One That I Want. It was good to see Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow putting the awful BA Robertson in his rightful place (“This is a pretty shit show”); John Lydon on Check It Out, Tyne Tees regional music show in 1979 (so who actually voted for, or could remember, this?); Iggy Pop’s see-through trousers on The White Room in 1997, and Shakin’ Stevens attacking Richard Madeley on another regional music show, Calendar Goes Pop.
Two news moments (Jeremy Paxman by the Berlin Wall in a firework display at 43, Chris Mayhew getting high on Panorama at 23), two variety moments (Roger De Coursey being attacked by kids at 67, the special Royal edition of It’s A Knockout at 26) and four quiz moments (the pair of “wankers” on Countdown, the pathetic score on University Challenge, and two fine clips from different incarnations of Juke Box Jury, one with Fluff telling John Lydon to “shut up”, the other the famous Glenn Medeiros humiliation) brought the total up to 100.
The whole programme was well-served with a high calibre of punditry. Meera Syal was concise in her views on Curry and Chips (“It was so blatant: let’s have a laugh at the wogs”) in contrast to actor Kenny Lynch’s rather unique interpretation (“It helped race-relations”). Sid Waddell fondly recalled The Indoor League (“Raucous, lowbrow, redneck entertainment”) justifiably proud of bringing shove ha’penny to national TV screens. Mark Lawson and Robert Elms provided breezy intellectualisms, Paul Ross some cutting insults (“Anything from European television is rubbish”). Nicholas Parsons turned up to defend Sale of the Century from the evil clutches of the loathsome Garry Bushell who as usual had nothing worthwhile to say, with pitifully clichéd responses on all his pet topics, principally homosexuals – “Watching Julian Clary [you thought] this man has got to go. There’s no way this behaviour can be accepted …” – and racist comics – “It was magnificient … all that matters is, is a joke funny?”
Adam and Joe were their usual erudite selves (on Pam Ayres poems – “the punchline always seemed to be ‘fuck’”), Russell T Davies confessed to nicking all the ideas for Why Don’t You … ? from books in WH Smiths, and Paul Morley offered revealing insights into those clips he himself appeared in (the Colston-Hayter fracas, and the great Club X 6th edition birthday dinner: “What about the fascism?,” asks Paul of the host, confused).
Oh, and of course, our hero Stuart Maconie was on hand, as usual, enjoying some vox poppery here on C4 and BBC2 (I Love 1977) simultaneously and on course for multi-channel domination by next summer. Maconie co-wrote the programme with producer Paul Robinson, and while the links by Zoë Ball were instantly forgettable they weren’t that harmful, and certainly not as intrusive as Graham Norton’s during The 100 Greatest Adverts.
Other highpoints during this three hour marathon: seeing Robert Elms painstakingly explaining the 1981 People’s March For Jobs on The Oxford Roadshow then recalling his producer spluttering “I’m not here to make good television; I’m here to start a revolution!”; a bedraggled girl named Sally Williams on Something Else recounting her background of living homeless on the streets of London “and so I’ve written a song about that … ‘Who am I?/Who am I?/Who am I? …’”; Iain Johnstone, producer of Friday Night … Saturday Morning alleging that Harold Wilson’s memory loss was already in the ascendant in the late ’70s (“I said after rehearsal ‘We’ll do the show at 7 o’clock’ and he said ‘Haven’t we just done it?’”) There was 10 year old curly-haired ponce James Harries on Wogan in 1988 valuing antiques; and the incredible Heil Honey, I’m Home from BSB in 1990, the only non-terrestial clip of the 100, and from the only episode ever to be shown (Hitler: “I’ve got to think nice thoughts … mmm, ‘Poland’, ‘the Sudetenland’ …”)
It was great to actually see footage like Julian Clary’s 1993 Comedy Awards appearance (“I’ve just been fisting Norman Lamont – talk about a red box”) which was supposedly never to be shown again on British television. Best of all though had to be a tie between Paul Morley commenting on John Lydon’s behaviour on Juke Box Jury in 1979 (“The way he would look at Noel Edmonds is eventually how an entire nation would look at Noel Edmonds”) and the Blue Peter garden vandalism. Cue Janet Ellis: “It’s very sad to think that a few people take such pleasure from harming their fellow human beings and from hurting animals as well.” Percy Thrower, however, had his own thoughts: “They must be mentally ill,” to which Janet replied, “Yes.”
On the downside, the voting system wasn’t explained at all – were these clips compiled from random suggestions from anybody in particular, or from a preordained set list of options which the public had to rank in order of preference? Similarly there were some clips which featured on pre-publicity – “Well, what am I supposed to tell the Panorama viewers?” and the lesbians invading the Six O’clock News – that failed to turn up in the actual programme. And whilst on a pedantic, fussy note, some of the clips were wrongly captioned (Shaun Ryder’s TFI “fucks” were in 1995, not 1999) and erroneously contextualised (Paul Ross appearing to take some sort of credit for the Word’s “Hopefuls” feature even though he’d left the show two series earlier).
But this stuff is mere grist to the mill of the anti-list brigade, who would only have watched this programme to find faults in it rather than try to enjoy or appreciate it. Cheers to the (half-dozen?) remaining staff who actually still work for Tyne-Tees Television for another superb night’s telly.