By the time this website goes up, The 11 O'Clock Show will have started on its fourth series. Not bad going for a show which has become a by-word in the business for disaster, deceit and a sad (not to mention dangerous) reflection on the comedy world. An apathetic media has allowed this abomination to continue thus far. We say 'no more'...
The 11 O'Clock Show is Channel 4's flagship topical satire show, usually broadcast when the Rory Bremner Show (their other flagship topical satire show) is off the air. Why has it continued for so long? Because it needs to.
Channel 4 and Talkback spent so much money piloting the series, blindly trying to find a winning formula, that, by the time a series finally emerged, they had to make their money back at any cost. The only option open to them was to produce another series. Then another. Then another, ad infinitum, in the hope that, eventually, it would become a success (or at least people would just accept it as a permanent fixture).
A comparatively inoffensive 'test series' (beginning on 30/9/98) featured Fred MacCaulay and Brendon Burns as anchors, while Iain Lee was banished to the wings in a Doc Cox/Cyril Fletcher capacity. Daisy Donovan meanwhile cropped up occasionally as a rubbish 'It Girl' character called Pandora Box-Grainger. The show was bland but no real threat. Victor Lewis Smith even reviewed it favourably in the Evening Standard (although he was comparing it with 'Stuff The Week', ITV's then-flagship topical satire show which was genuinely awful.
The second and third series (9/2/99 - 29/4/99 and 19/10/99 - 9/12/99 respectively), however, established and ossified the Lee/Donovan partnership - Lee's ex-comedy partner and real-life flatmate MacKensie 'Charlie Cheese' Crook did a few weeks anchorage, then got dropped - and the show has since adopted a pseudo-reactionary idiom (misogynistic and homophobic vernacular, buffeted by the haziest of inverted commas) in a desperate quest for young viewers.
Everyone on the show fails to realise that
'nasty' comedy of this kind only ever works if a
philanthropic heart is seen to beat underneath. Lee (whose
catchphrase in his short-lived stand-up days was 'I'm
not very good but I'm keen!'
) and Donovan (pointless
daughter of photographer Terence Donovan, whose last work
'Blatant Nepotism' has yet to be unveiled) are clearly so
disinterested by both news and
comedy that one genuinely
wonders why they bother.
The 11 O'Clock Show continues
to survive because it flatters the audience into thinking that they
too could produce something of the same standard. Not too funny,
not too clever - a sort of DIY 'People's Comedy'. With
good stuff (Python, Brass Eye, The Simpsons), the
viewer is left with a feeling of sheer awe at how on earth such
wonderful programmes could possibly be generated by human
hands...precisely the feeling comedy should generate of
course, but something which evidently worries some fans. With a lot
of generally-good-but-slightly-annoying 90s comedy (Izzard, Fast
Show, Reeves & Mortimer, Harry Hill, South Park), there is
an overbearing 'You could do this at home' mentality which
is quickly revealed as an illusion the moment some amateur fucker
is stupid enough to try it. The 11 O'Clock Show,
however, by-passes talent altogether, and presents something which
could literally be done in the pub with yer mates. And what's
worse, people do.
One 11 O'Clock Show contributor
recently commented that working on the show is difficult since they
'have to be funny to a deadline'. Well, hey, who knows.
Maybe one day they'll succeed.
SERIES 3 DIARY OF EVENTS
When the show returned for a third
series in October 1999 we hoped to illustrate its crimes against
comedy over the thrice-weekly seven-week run by keeping a thorough
diary of each broadcast. In the end we lost the will to live and
hereby present a detailed breakdown of the first and last shows
In the weeks preceding the third series, a number of trailers
were aired featuring Iain Lee on the streets asking members of the
public whether they like the show (eliciting unenthusiastic
replies). The Mary Whitehouse Experience did this joke in
their Radio One series, but for real. Iain Lee's routine was
tightly scripted. 'Would you say The 11 O'Clock Show is
the best thrice-weekly topical Channel 4 show there is?',
he asked. We can't breathe.
A few hours before the transmission, a (live?) trailer was aired
featuring Daisy Donovan in the studio (empty) telling a strained
joke about the French feeding manure to cattle.
'Those satirical slappers are back...'. bleats
the continuity announcer before the break.
SERIES 3, SHOW 1 - 26 October 1999 (Tues, 11pm)
Tommy Vance reads out the pre-show headlines. Vance has always
enjoyed a fey link to the comedy world, promoting Monty
Python's 'Contractual Obligation Album' on
Top Of The Pops by wearing a pair of 'Monty Python Sat
On My Face' underpants on his head; introducing the Comic
Strip at Castle Donnington's 'Monsters Of Rock'
festival (in the film 'More Bad News') and linking
into the repeat broadcasts of Radio One's Mary Whitehouse
Experience with a gravelly quip. His dulcet tones were also a
regular on Chris Morris' Radio One show ('Stop being
poor..!') and he was apparently one of the few interviewees
on (Talkback's) Brass Eye to be in on the joke. Here,
however, he is simply a cunt.
'TV's Iain Lee' emerges onto the soundstage. Lee and
Herring used to use the 'TV's...' tag as a jokey
pejorative term. Lee is obviously a fan of the duo judging by the
amount of stuff he's stolen from them in the past (including
their joke about the 'Bootleg Bootleg Beatles' which Lee
and MacKensie Crook blatantly appropriated as the title of their
Edinburgh act a few years back. Incidentally the act still performs
(sans Lee and Crook) under the title 'The
Iain Lee fluffs his first big joke by stammering like a fool.
For some reason it hasn't been retaken. We daresay the
production team have some sort of 'no retakes' rule due to
the time restraints in bringing to the screen a watchable edit of a
show which has only just been taped. However, any half-competent
crew would surely override this decision if a) nothing funny
happened as a consequence of the fluff (nothing did) and b), if it
was practically the first joke of the show (which was rubbish
The audience still laugh, in a sort of hollow, dubbed,
pre-recorded laughter-wash kind of way. It's really rather
shameful but, as we mentioned, C4 and Talkback have spent literally
millions developing the show so it must be seen to be a success at
all costs. A few cheats with canned laughter is a small price to
Iain Lee, undaunted by the audience laughs he won't hear
until broadcast, continues by re-using his 'thrice weekly
comedy show' joke from the vox pop trailers. He must be
quite proud of that one.
Daisy Donovan emerges and asks what Iain Lee's been up to
while the show's been off the air. 'Mainly playing
Playstation and wanking',
he answers. The sort of answer
Richard Herring might have delivered on Fist Of Fun
really only works if you've managed to build up a character
that is self-depreciating and laughable. Iain Lee is a laughable
figure but his unnerving self-publicity precludes any sympathy that
would make the line work. The audience of course don't concern
themselves with the politics of the situation and simply laugh at
the word 'wanking'
. Sadly the laughter didn't
sound canned on this occasion.
If Iain Lee's line had been 'Mainly stealing other peoples material and molesting children' we'd have more respect for him.
The headlines. They're doing the exact same routine about feeding manure to cattle that Daisy Donovan did in the trailer. We can't believe they're proud of this joke. They obviously don't have any extra material to use for trailers. Not surprising. The routine is longer here and basically an excuse to use as many lame puns as possible. Better comedians use cheap material like this but only as preambles, asides or rhythm-aids to a properly-written routine. Here, it's presented as the routine itself.
Daisy Donovan is vacant throughout. She laughs at one of Lee's 'poo' puns as if she's not just heard it in rehearsal. One of the headline routines looks as if it's been edited out for some reason. Surely it wasn't less funny than the 'Poo' one?
Paul Garner's report. Ex Radio Bedford DJ Garner was Chris
Morris' fall guy on his 1994 Radio One series. Morris would
speak to him via a mobile phone, send him into late-night corner
shops, hotel foyers and airports and instruct him to behave
strangely. The premise was soon stolen by Steve Wright as an item
on his People Show
(BBC1) and later as a show in its own
right by BBC2's The Fall Guy
, both of which missed the
point completely anyway - the instructions were what made it funny,
not the situation itself. Paul's role was always debatable. He
always sounded like he considered himself and Morris to be
'partners' in the routines but the listener was never quite
sure who the joke was on. By urging Paul Garner to go up to a hotel
receptionist and sing 'Your forehead makes me sick'
Chris Morris wasn't taking the piss out of the
Garner's contributions were always hit and miss anyway. So
keen was he to impress his mentor that he'd often indignantly
paraphrase the Morrisian amusement he was instructed to say,
resulting in humourless and embarrassing listening. Garner later
appeared, briefly, in Morris' Brass Eye, which
presumably solidified his link to Talkback.
Here, Paul Garner reports on French beef, attempting to parody
the tabloid media's anti-French attitude but only serving to
become part of it. As always on this show, Garner attempts to get
his vox popees to say something stupid. Instead they query his
stupid comments and comport themselves diligently. Garner is
obviously hoping for something along the lines of Morris'
Feedback Report/Speak Your Brains material. He can't do it - he
doesn't have the same sense of the ridiculous Morris has. The
public's reactions here are the sort of thing Chris Morris
would have snipped out. Only on one occasion did he broadcast (on
the Radio One show) a reaction by an incisive member of the public
('Why are you talking strangely?') and that was only
to illustrate that the recordings don't always work out.
Back in the studio, Iain Lee makes another joke about computers
and wanking. Another laugh. He continues by doing a joke about
Prince Phillip telling the Chinese president that his wife had
'good tits for a slitty-eyed bird'. The audience laughs
because each and every one of them could have written that joke
themselves and they feel uplifted. Again, Daisy Donovan laughs far
There appears to be an odd thing happening in comedy at the
moment whereby an audience responds to a bad joke (and the
embarrassment attended thereto) just as enthusiastically as a good
one. Never Mind The Buzzcocks thrives on such anti-humour,
as indeed do Barrett and Fielding.
Daisy Donovan interviews Glenda Jackson on tape. Donovan's
'Angel Of Delight' pieces involve her talking to
celebrities in a plebbed-down paean to Chris Morris' media
interviews. Unbelievable - she makes a pun about Glenda frequenting
Ronnie Scotts and 'appearing in jazz-mags'. There is
nothing to attach this punning to - Jackson herself points out that
'jazz has had no part in my life at all'. The
writers have come up with the 'jazz-mag' pun and are
absolutely delighted by it, yet they aren't interviewing
anybody from the jazz world so they try it out on Glenda Jackson
The reason she doesn't pick up on the rubbish puns is that she doesn't normally choose to keep the company of sniggering nine-year-olds.
They genuinely do think this is clever - Daisy Donovan continues
to insert strained giggly schoolboy puns - 'lick Mrs
Thatcher', 'front bottom'
, etc - into the
interview. Glenda Jackson doesn't notice - ha ha, isn't
Glenda stupid? Nope. Neither is she deserving of such tedious
intrusion. She isn't your average media whore, doesn't
deserve to be 'taken down a peg or two' or in any need of
exposing as a stupid or brainless celebrity. The reason she
doesn't pick up on the rubbish puns is that she doesn't
normally choose to keep the company of sniggering nine-year-olds.
Also, since the puns are so strained, they render what Daisy
Donovan is saying practically gibberish most of the time
Nothing wrong with schoolboy humour of course, as long as
everyone is agreed from the start that 'it isn't big or
clever'. That way it becomes a nice release from maturity for a
bit. The 11 O'Clock Show and its cackling pleb audience
don't understand this.
Robin Ince's John Peel piss-take takes us into the break.
This is quite funny, and a good impersonation. And at least it
doesn't allude to anything in the news (which, history has
shown, is a genuinely good thing in a topical news comedy
Commercials - a quick shower to wash off possibly infection from
Part two - a joke from Daisy Donovan about Richard Madeley
stealing bottles of wine, followed by mock deadpan insistence that
he didn't do it, obviously. Like Lee & Herring used to
An oh-so-on-the-fucking-edge joke about Jill Dando's death.
'Dead As A Dando', says the caption behind Lee. We reckon
the joke is left over from when Dodi Fayed died. At least the pun
worked then, in a sort of boring sick-office-humour kind of
The editing of this show is unbelievably bad, retaining Daisy
Donovan's continued panic and side-glances at monitors,
autocues and fire-exits. She really is appalling. Iain Lee pulls a
stupid austere face whenever awkwardness occurs which is slightly
more professional, but no less easy on the eye.
drunk and irritated
A studio interview with Malcolm McClaren. He looks sweaty, half
drunk and irritated by what's going on. The interview is
heavily edited yet they've kept in another unfunny fluff from
Iain Lee. There seems to be an internal decision by the production
team to make him look as inept as possible.
Odd that Ali G, considering his success among the plebs,
wasn't used in this first show of the series, especially as
he's the only selling point they have. A tempting theory is
that Iain Lee may himself have suggested a 'slow-burn' to
keep people tuning in, but in reality is really worried about how
unpopular he is by comparison. In a better world of course Ali G
would be doomed to extinction, being a one-joke character (a la
Dennis Pennis) but the media seems to have stopped judging the
shortcomings of such affairs, preferring to hype them well beyond
their talents or achievements.
Executive Producer - Peter Fincham. He has the clout to remove
his name from the credits. Yet he doesn't.
We take a break in the article here in
the interests of balance and present Talkback's own official CVs of Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee...
Daisy Donovan was a runner on the pilot series of The 11
O'Clock Show and was hired as a researcher for the current run
- before being plucked out of the office to appear on screen as one
of the three studio presenters.
A graduate of Lamda, Daisy once appeared in a US television
movie as a KGB spy - and she can be just as tough in real life,
listing judo, boxing and stage combat on her CV.
She appears in two incarnations in The 11 O'Clock Show - as
herself in the studio and as The Angel of Delight, one of the
programme's roving reporters.
In character as The Angel of Delight, she is the reporter who
kills with kindness. Inspired by all TV's caring blonde
presenters, with their sympathetic smiles and smooth as silk
bedside manners, the Angel celebrates the lives of the cream of
Britain's glitterati. No question is too small, no gossip too
By contrast, when Daisy appears in the studio, as one of the
trio of main presenters (alongside Iain Lee), she is herself - the
ultimate 90s girl.
Away from The 11 O'Clock Show, Daisy is a photographer,
specialising in style pieces. She has worked for English and US
Vogue, the American version of Harper's Bazarr and for
Previous work includes that appearance as a KGB spy - in
made-for-TV movie The Unexpected Mrs Pollyfax, which starred Angela
She also featured in the film Elizabeth, directed by Shekar
Kapor, in which she played Amy Ronsart the wife of Joe Feinnes'
character Robert Dudley.
TV appearances include BBC1 comedy Smith and Jones - not to
mention making the most of her complexion in an ad for Oil of
Other films include Parting Shots, directed by Michael Winner
and Still Crazy, directed by Brian Goodson.
Daisy has an MA (Hons) degree in English from Edinburgh
THE 11 O'CLOCK SHOW (3 series) ....................... CO-PRESENTER
Talkback for Channel 4
VENT ..................................................... VOICE OF MR BUCKLE
Big Talk for Channel 4
NEW LABOUR NEW LANGUAGE ................................ PRESENTER
Diverse for Channel 4
THE CHANNEL 4 PARLIAMENTARY AWARDS ............... REPORTER
FAKING IT ........................................................... VOICE OVER
THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER ............................................. GUEST
Talkback for Channel 4
THE HYPNOTIC WORLD OF PAUL McKENNA .................... WRITER
SHOWBIZ NEWS ................................................... PERFORMER
SUNDAY EVENING SHOW................................................... XFM
SUNDAY SERVICE ................................................. Radio 5 Live
THE IAIN LEE SHOW .......................................... FM103 Horizon
THE MORNING CREW .......................................... FM103 Horizon
THE STEVE WRIGHT SHOW ....................................... Talk Radio
DISCUSSION SHOW ............................................. Liberty Radio
HYSTERIC STUDS .................................................. PERFORMER
Battersea Arts Centre
So now you know.
SERIES 3, SHOW 21 - 9 December 1999 (Thurs, 11:05pm)
End of the series. Thank you, Jesus...
Tommy Vance is still barking the
headlines. We had a limited amount of respect for Vance in his DJ
days: he presented Radio One staples like The Friday Rock Show and
the Top 40 with a dry wit and a vague knowledge of how ridiculous
he was. Here, he has been cast as a quasi-reactionary 'voice of
the show' type figure. Commenting on Irish footballer Roy
Keen's £52, 000 a week pay rise, he adopts a crude,
cod-Dublin accent and remarks 'Ah, that's a lotta
potatoes...'. Cue a huge laugh from audience. The
show's writer's are not racists, but they clearly get a
kick out of dabbling with pseudo-ignorant phraseology. Which is
somehow worse than if they were doing it for real.
However, Vance is playing a character
here, right? Yeah, like Bernard Manning might do. Vance introduces
Iain Lee as 'everyone's favourite lanky twat'.
Lee probably insisted on this moniker to pre-empt insults of this
kind for real. What he doesn't realise is that his office
nickname is 'Embryo Head' (yet another thing the writers
have stolen from The Mary Whitehouse Experience).
Lee's opening monologue gets a poor
reaction from the audience as usual, and he keeps things chugging
along with his legendary ad libs ('See what we do?
Jokes...' he remarks, before pulling his useless face).
Being the last show in the series gives him and Donovan a license
to re-cycle old material from previous shows, including pointless
jokes about Welshmen 'bumming sheep' and Vanessa
Feltz's weight. Again, the irrelevance of the material is
what's offensive: instead of subverting and building upon
Welsh/sheep-shagger jokes, they simply ride happily on the crest of
their inevitability; similarly the Vanessa gag is misplaced - Feltz
is guilty of many crimes, but her weight (the easiest and laziest
target of all) is not one of them. It would be more interesting if
Lee and Donovan were to create characters based on their supposed
'nastiness' (or on the media climate where the first
reaction is to lash out at someone's personal appearance),
but...no. Far too much hard work. Won't get the kids
Much of Lee's material is actually
written by Kevin Day, although this is actually the easiest job in
the world for Day as he simply sells the production his old
material from Radio One's 'Loose Talk'.
'Topical material' which is still usable five years after
it was first broadcast. Says a lot, that.
There's some frightful thing about the
directors of The Blair Witch Project making a Monty
Python-style comedy: no joke, just footage of a woodland, over
which a Pepperpot voice screeches a famous line from Life Of
Brian. Cut back to the studio and Donovan is laughing her tits
Next up is a report from Alex Lowe, a man
even more insignificant than Paul Garner. His opening comment about
Gordon Brown having 'Oeff all over his fat face' is
pure Armando Iannucci (and gets an obedient cackle from the
audience on this basis), despite the fact that Lowe has no idea how
to pace the delivery which such a vernacular demands. The rest of
his report is reliant on both lazy homophobia ('He
wouldn't take it lying down' reads Lowe, followed by a
shot of some pink marigold gloves) and an
adults-behaving-as-children premise (Gordon Brown asking who wants
to be in 'his gang'), always the ironically
appropriate last refuge of the childish comedy show.
Even excellent comedy can be killed by the act of putting a third party in to react to it
Back in the studio, and Ricky Gervais is
'interviewed'. Gervais is from the depressing Ricky
Grover/Phill Jupitus school which says that the only attribute you
need to be a successful stand-up comedian is to be working class.
Originally Gervais' contributions were pre-recorded inserts of
him purportedly improvising a topical A-Z of dubious political
leanings. Here he's in the studio and plays his material off
Lee and Donovan who sit there shaking their heads with dismay.
Whatever the merits of his comedy, any half-competent producer
could spot the flaw in this set-up a mile off. Even excellent
comedy can be killed by the act of putting a third party in to
react to it but the situation is flawed anyway by the fact that
Gervais is supposed to be a sick, offensive man who shocks everyone
with his revolting opinions...but his views are no more reactionary
than those already expressed by Lee and Donovan. Indeed, in many
cases, he is comparatively less offensive. Not that it worries
The buffer into the ad break features a
parody of the 'Charly Says' Public Information Film cat
talking to an animated Iain Lee about Prescott and pies. Here, the
kitsch student market is catered for. The previous series had also
parodied PIFs and had spent a painstaking amount of time getting
the scratchy yellowing picture and oversized captions just right.
Shame they never wrote an amusing script to justify the
Part two begins with their special guest,
70s rock star Suzi Quatro. Like all other guests in the series,
Quatro is inoffensive but pointless. There is no possible reason
why she is on the show - she isn't plugging anything, she has
no relevance to a topical event, and most of the audience, cast and
crew are too young to remember any of her records. She doesn't
even have kitsch value on her side, unlike - say - a minor member
of Slade. Undaunted, however, Lee makes a joke about his penis, and
the interview descends into masturbation euphemisms very quickly.
'Hey, it's sex with someone you love!' quips
Quatro, presumably thinking that the audience will recognise this
famous Woody Allen line for what it is. 'Yes...me!'
replies Lee, presumably thinking that he can pass the witticism off
as his own because the audience is full of South Park fans.
Tellingly, Lee's response gets a bigger laugh than Quatro's
a comedy character that even Felix Dexter wouldn't be seen dead in
After an inconsequential vox pop selection
concerning acceptable behaviour for wives, the show ends with a
compilation of Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen)'s interviews over the
series. Again, it is odd that - considering he is often viewed as
the saving grace behind the show, he has produced so little
material (in the case of this third series, about 15 minutes of
footage). In a further display of barrel-scraping, the first few
clips of his interviews with American dignitaries feature Ali
G's questions alone; this is fair, since - unlike the Lee and
Donovan vox pops - the joke relies on the stupidity of his
questions rather than his supposed ability to ridicule
people...it's just a shame the audience (not to mention every
cunt writing in Time Out) don't recognise this. Unlike Lee and
Donovan, Cohen has some sense of pace and timing, and - for a few
brief moments (his discussion with economist J.K. Galbraith about
selling slippers over the Internet) - it's almost funny. But,
again, the sycophantic cackles block out all the pauses, and you
become aware that you're watching something distinctly
unremarkable. When Chris Morris approached Brixton coke-dealers in
, it looked genuinely dangerous (to people who live
outside London anyway), but - with Cohen's interview with Bronx
street gangs - even the illusion of danger isn't on his side.
It's just an amiable gangster chatting to a comedy character
that even Felix Dexter wouldn't be seen dead in.
Lee and Donovan tell us they'll be
back in the new year. Yes, they will, and they are.
Okay, so what are you going to do about it? Yes, you,
sitting there in the cybercafe with the cold coffee and a melted
overpriced muffin. We can safely assume that anybody who has read
through until the end of this article has more than a passing
interest in the future of comedy, yet you have allowed this
show to continue. It's up to you to put a stop to
FACT: Daisy Donovan came within a gnat's breath of being
acknowledged as the 'Best Female Performer' at the Comedy
Awards '99. You did nothing except moan about it in the
FACT: Ali G has been hyped, on the basis as being the least
unwatchable contributor to a television show nobody really wants,
as a cult-hero. The word 'cult' now appears to refer to
something that has become popular because somebody lends an
overpriced video to his mate at work on the grounds that 'he
likes a bit of a laugh'.
FACT: Iain Lee still works in television.
Nobody has actually complained. There have been a few
jokey quips (Lee & Herring admonished them live on
This Morning With Richard Not Judy for stealing their
material; Jonathan Ross made some fey joke at the 1999 Comedy
Awards about Iain Lee resembling the Elephant Man; Private Eye
referred to it as 'The 11 Viewers Show') but nothing
concrete. Channel 4's sop-flinging public access show
Right To Reply gave two idiot students a
chance to air their views on it's supposed
'offensiveness' but they utterly ruined the opportunity by
sitting on a glory-hunting fence and admitting that the show was
'quite good sometimes, especially Ali G...'.
The 'offensive material' is not offensive. It's just
a few sad acts swearing a bit. The offensive aspect is that the
show exists at all and has become accepted as a new standard of
comedy. Imitators are queuing up in their droves - not just
'down the pub' but on TV too. Channel 4's plebgasm
The Priory features Jamie Theakston doing vox
pops which manage the amazing feat of being worse than Iain
Lee's (e.g. asking people who don't speak English what they
think of Steps' payment disputes, then pulling a funny face
when they don't answer). Just when you think a new low has been
reached we descend one step further into comedy hell.
Ali G was subject to a complaint on BBC's Watchdog
over the fact that his cash-in Xmas video featured the same
material as the compilations spread thinly over the 1999 Xmas TV
schedules. Anne Robinson and that other twat on the show basically
dismissed this complaint with an attitude that gushed 'Oh,
who cares - he's very funny isn't he? Yes he is. Very
funny!'. Robinson went on to gush broadly about how
she'd recently been approached to be interviewed by Ali G for
his new series. See? Everyone's in on the joke. And what a
great big fat ugly joke it is too.