COMMENT: The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell - Page 1
First published December 2000
The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell
'History doesn't repeat itself - it just burps...'

There's a Woody Allen film (we forget which one - probably Hannah and her Sisters) where a Jewish academic is incensed by a television documentary on Auschwitz. He is particularly contemptuous of the way an on-screen rabbi has been continually referring to the Holocaust with the cliched question 'How could it happen?'. 'The reason why they will never get an answer,' he argues, 'is because it is the wrong question - they shouldn't be asking 'How could it happen?' but instead 'Given the way we're going, why doesn't it happen more often?'.' Shortly afterwards, he discovers that his girlfriend is shagging Michael Caine so he stops worrying quite so much, but the point was made.

The current state of affairs at Channel 4 is, of course, exactly like the Holocaust in every possible sense, both metaphorically and literally. You know that.

The truth, however, is that the idea of bad television 'happening again' is historically meaningless. The 'so bad it's good' concept, once so innocently ubiquitous in the late 80s, simply doesn't exist any more - television is no longer messy, whimsical, amateurish, silly or's just bland. And everyone in TV knows the score - the blurring of the medium has resulted in a mediocre, hair-gelled, press-the-right-buttons nothing-goes dystopia where presenters are perennially on parole for good behaviour. Keep reading those press releases, darlings, and there's a nice cushy career awaiting you in the fashion industry. Everyone is so fucking media literate they're absolutely no fun whatsoever.

Of course, this isn't the message you get from Channel 4's 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell , a selection of 'awful' and 'embarrassing' clips culled from the television archives. The subtext here is that, phew, thank God we've left all the bad stuff behind us. Isn't it great we have Charlie Dimmock telling how to look after our gardens rather than those sad-eyed avuncular blokes from Wigan standing around in their sheds (© Stuart Maconie Inc, 2000). Television is so much better nowadays, isn't it? Y'know, since we took over n'that?

Well, no. Fuck off. Television used to be wonderful until the rise of (for want of a better word) 'Theakstonism'. Take kids' TV. In the old days, the presenters looked like they wanted to be there. They loved children and understood how their ludicrous little minds worked - mainly because they were all over 40, and had something to say. What's more, their career was for life. Nowadays, people only become kids' TV presenters as a stepping stone to something else, something 'better'. Their hearts aren't in it. They're just biding their time, hoping they won't have too long to wait before FHM come a-knocking. Listen to the speech patterns of any Theakstonesque presenter - the whole rhythm of their delivery continually suggests that the next sentence they're about to say is much more exciting and relevant than the one they're currently saying ('And. We'll. Be. Coming. Back. To. That. Later. In. The. PROGRAMME, Now...') It's something they get taught by directors, and it probably made sense when an American media guru suggested it to them. The sad fact, however, is that (a) in a donkey's carrot style, said exciting and relevant sentence never arrives, and (b) the idea of continually 'moving on' to something bigger and better is a tragic metaphor for the decline in television presentation in general. Andy from Big Brother has now left the building.

In 1992, the concept of 'bad television' still meant something. In August of that year, BBC2 screened TV Hell , probably the best-realised of their theme nights, an evening of clips and features hosted by Angus Deayton as The Devil and Paul Merton as (for want of a word) 'a pleb'. The evening was excellently conceived and, while being a 'celebration' (in that the choices were presented as entertainment), there wasn't too much of an attempt to foist the 'so bad it's good' ethos on us. The underlying feeling one got from watching was that there was a lot of genuine contempt for basic, regrettable TV stupidity.

The evening was separated into various strands. John Peel did a personal round-up of worst songs, Danny Baker looked back at chat-show travesties, various half-hours were given over to Eurovision , It's A Knockout , etc. A general A-Z collected together any miscellaneous clips which didn't fall into previous categories. Victor Lewis Smith also contributed three short but fantastic inserts. The evening ended with a showing of a one-off 60s show called Mainly Men, billed as a misogynist tragedy but actually a completely inoffensive little gem featuring a terrific piece on shark-fishing. It was seemingly re-vamped several years later as a BBC2 strand called MenZone.

And the latter highlights the main problem with the current thinking. For now we are 'post-ironic' and, far from having contempt or indignation for the foibles of the past, can now celebrate and recreate the horror for real, secure in the knowledge that we are all far too intelligent to do so in innocence.

Davina MacCall ensuring that no genuine unscripted emotion appears on Channel 4
Well fuck that noise. Bad TV is bad TV. Putting an ironic slant on it only serves to make it a hundred times more painful. It's just another lie, perpetrated to disguise a basic lack of talent or originality. And Channel 4's clip-shows are leading players in this field. People have, of course, always laughed at old TV, but - until recently - their laughter has been essentially good-hearted, stemming from a genuine fascination for broadcasting history. Nowadays the laughter is sneering and hollow.

It's SOTCAA's belief that old television, like the past in general, should be treated with respect. Why? Because, even though bad television is obviously not a new phenomenon, the fact is that nobody on TV in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s was genuinely offensive. At least, not in the way that the likes of Gaby Roslin and Johnny Vaughan are offensive today. They may have misjudged things, but at least they did so in apparent innocence, usually with a genuine desire to make television that people wanted to see; nowadays, people make deliberately bad television, secure in the knowledge that it'll (a) get the viewers in, and (b) give them the opportunity to do other things. Obviously, there have always been wily, cynical business-operators working in television, but at least in the past they managed to disguise it well. Nowadays, their self-serving mediocrity is insultingly blatant. In the 80s, for example, the then-likeable Noel Edmonds presented Swap Shop and the ridiculous Mick Fleetwood hosted the Brit Awards. Nowadays, Saturday morning kids' TV is fronted by anonymous, interchangeable boyband clones and award shows are presented by Davina MacCall. Is this progress?

Laugh at bad television, by all means. Tell the TV of the past to fuck off. But don't assume that you can't learn from it. After all, it's only through making those 'mistakes' that current presenters are able to exist at all - and look what an anaemic, soulless job they're doing of it. We don't need Zoe Ball sneering at bad TV when she obviously doesn't care either way. We want somebody who is passionate about the problem. And the problem has fuck-all to do with Keith Chegwin, Zena Skinner or the bloody Mini-Pops.

Hell is attitudes - people watching TV through Red Bull-tinted spectacles instead of doing their jobs properly.

So anyway, 100 bad TV choices, and they were all completely wrong. For various reasons. And we're going to go through them all, one by one, very slowly. So descend with us now into the sheer unadulterated inferno of Channel 4 as we count down The 100 Most Stupid And Lazy Decisions Made By 19-Year Old Twats In A Channel 4 Office. From Hell...

Counting down...

100. David Frost And TheYippies

Frost attempts to interview Jerry Rubin, the leader of the political hippy movement. Rubin offers him a joint. He declines. The audience (of Yippies) yell 'Smoke it, smoke it' (the show obviously influenced Morris and Baynham's radio sketch about Simon Bates eating human flesh) before taking over the show. This sequence was last given an airing during Jerry Sadowitz's Greatest F***ing Show On Television documentary about swearing (Channel 4 - part of the Without Walls series) so no first-hand research has been attempted here.

As with all these clip-shows, talking-head pundits pop up and abbreviate the choices with their unwelcome views. This gives the whole thing an artificial air of 'popular culture sociology' but, as we'll see, is just an excuse for the same old professional witterers to deliver intrusive and lazy soundbites for money.

In the case of The Frost Programme, Paul Ross pretends to hazily recall seeing the show when it went out (yeah, yeah - and the first LP he bought was Revolver, not 'Fluffy The Mouse Goes To Town', narrated by Thora Hird) and thinking 'Now that's a TV presenter'. (well, he got that bit right). Even if he did see the show, he's been sent a tape prior to the recording session anyway so he can practise his fake recollections.

This clip wasn't shown for any genuinely 'hellish' reason. 'Actually, I think someone actually used the C-word...' , says Ross. They did, but this bit was edited out of the footage shown for some reason. The full final sequence ran as follows:

Now Jerry, people who are watching this have had a good look at the party and what it is. How many people do you think have been converted to your cause?

It's not a party!

Well, Jerry said it is. And Jerry's a reasonable man - I'm sure he can give a reasonable answer.

He's not a reasonable man. He's the most unreasonable cunt I ever heard in my life! (LAUGHS CHILDISHLY)

How pathetic...

(SQUIRTING FROST WITH A WATER PISTOL) Aw shut up, Frost, you were dead years ago... (YIPPIES CHEER) You've died. Die die die...

David, will you get rid of these people?

Listen. By laughing, childishly, when you've managed to say a four-letter word on television. Big deal!

Okay, man, how many times have you said a four letter word on television?

Never, and I hope I never do because it's so pathetic, and so childish, and so pointless...and we'll be right back...

The Frost Programme
Associated-Rediffusion, 07/11/70

The editors picked up from the phrase ' pathetic', which made Frost look like a syntactical goon. No indication was given as to what happened to the Frost show after it returned from the break. Maybe Paul Ross couldn't remember that bit.

99. This Morning Stars In Their Eyes

Stuck in to appeal to daytime students. Yes, appalling and embarrassing. But not entertaining or even pleasant considering that This Morning would, like a child murderer, do the same again tomorrow.

98. Play Guitar With Ulf Goran

Stuart Maconie, having already foisted himself as a professional talking-head on BBC2's equally badly-conceived I Love The 70s shows (and scripted Zoe Ball's patronising narration), pops up here to recall 'this geezer, Ulf Goran' in an overly-neat recollection piece filled with tidy soundbites. Maconie - like most of those interviewed - got to see the full shows prior to interview. Hardly surprising, really, seeing as he also rented the camera and interviewed himself - luckily, he chose the ingenious tactic of looking slightly sideways, meaning no one would ever know.

Much is mentioned of the fact that guitar-tutor Mr Goran couldn't speak English. Well, at least he tried, which is more than today's presenters attempt. "Remarkably, Ulf was a daytime TV star for five years" says a sneery caption. Yeah, such a hellish innocent age that threw up a likeable bearded bloke with an acoustic guitar.

97. Bottle Boys

Nondescript, throwaway, obvious choice. Perhaps they couldn't choose Terry & June for copyright reasons. Nothing hellish about Bottle Boys which was certainly no worse than most ITV sitcoms made back then, but - ironically - far superior to the field-removed atrocities currently cited to 'save' the sitcom industry. David Schneider seems to have based his 'Them Next Door' persona from The Day Today on Robin Asquith.

96. Tony Banks On Naked City

Nothing hellish here. Johnny Vaughan on Naked City, maybe. Or how about Collins & Maconie on said show doing a weekly comedy routine in front of a small but totally bored audience. That was hellish for Stuart, surely. But Tony Banks rolling a joint is just dull. A fake air of 'whoo, it's come back to haunt him', shouted from a disinterested bystander to an audience of who-gives-a-sod-anyway....

95. Oxford Roadshow

"Youth TV was still in nappies...", squawks Zoe Ball's voiceover which, as with other selections in the list, smugly suggests that today's industry have the balance completely correct. Another sneer from one generation of Youth TV to another. Knocking the past as a means to an end. How dare they.

94. Open Door - Albion Free State

Another clip nicked from TV Hell's A-Z. Nobody remembers it actually going out of course. No first-hand research needed or even attempted.

93. Boyzone on The Late Late Show

'And now, that embarrassing first appearance they all want to forget...' , says the idiot Ball. Not likely, considering how many times this clip has been dredged up. Always interesting to watch The Priory's 'Theakston Report' as it invariably features such 'exclusives' which have been shown on every Penk / Brand / Deayton type clip-show over the past five years. It would appear that most TV researchers wear blindfolds and ear-muffs for most of their working lives.

92. Curry and Chips

'Proof that even comedy Gods can have feet of clay...'. The first genuinely contentious one here. And, yes, here she is... Stunt-Paki Meera Syal is wheeled out as a talking head to give her viewpoint on a show which nobody really remembers anyway. 'It was so blatantly "let's have a laugh at the wog"...' , she assures us. The clips of the show on display here don't do much to bolster its reputation, comedy-wise, but the researchers were obviously searching for clips which fully illustrated its 'racism' rather than its comedy anyway. And as is always the case with 'racist 70s sit-coms', (or 'poison', as RT's Alison Graham recently described them), they've failed to point out that all the white characters are always horrible and brutish while the ethnic parts are always played sympathetically.

With Curry & Chips, the satire was very obvious, but its complexity seems to be what alienates people - Milligan's character was an Irish Pakistani who hated blacks, his co-worker was a black man who hated Asians, and Eric Sykes was the liberal, anti-racist foreman who reprimanded his employees for hating just about everyone. Perhaps a 'SATIRE WARNING' alarm could be employed especially for stupid people, should LWT choose to repeat the series? 'I think we can look back on programmes like that now and go "God, how did that ever get through, but isn't it good that it wouldn't get through now"', says Meera. Funny - we thought the same about The Real McCoy.

Clive James once pointed out that since Spike Milligan was actually Indian (and spent most of his War years posted to Africa), he defied you - and denied you - the chance to tar him with the 'racist' brush. When this C4 show went out Milligan was about four million years old, and had seen more than most people were ever likely to see. So have some fucking respect. Particularly you born again liberals working at Channel 4.

91. Paul Shane on Pebble Mill

'One memory from the show has haunted viewers down the years...', reads Zoe. No, you idiot. It's haunted viewers of Shooting Stars.

90. Origami

Maconie is back on camera, once again snidely targeting a show which surely couldn't offend anybody. Given the choice between nice shows discussing the art of paper-folding and Zoe Ball sneering at anything which doesn't fall into a followed remit of pop-culture, which would you choose? The clips are here intercut with inserts of the Not The Nine O'Clock News contemporary parody. Do you see Rowan and Mel sneering? No.

89. Otway and Barrett

Bastards. John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett have more talent in their little fingers than the entire production crew of this Channel 4 show put together. This performance (from Whistle Test in 1977) is fantastic and has Otway sending up rock star performance foibles. Last shown when Otway was a guest on Jonathan Ross (so, again, no real first-hand research here). A great piece of silliness, totally misrepresented on this show as an example of 'how awful things were before pop video'.

88. Something Else

'In the late-70s, the BBC said "Hey, why not have programmes made for the kids, by the kids!" Because they were rubbish at it, that's why!'. That was Zoe Ball, saying that. Don't ever forget it.

87. Friday Night, Saturday Morning

Another one from TV Hell, this time from Danny Baker's piece on chat shows. Exactly the same clips were shown, of Harold Wilson not-particularly-floundering as he attempts to chat with Harry Secombe and Pat Phoenix. And, as an eerie but potent afterthought, an onscreen caption reveals that Harold Wilson was suffering from Alzheimer's - about fifteen years later.

86. The Who on Russell Harty Plus

A 1973 clip of Keith Moon saying amusing things in character to Mr Harty. Not hell. Entertainment. There is a difference.

85. Mr and Mrs

Oh, such a hellish show. Recently brought back on satellite. When will they ever learn?

84. Indoor League

Another load of clips from a show which nobody considered particularly bad, except for a few 90s comedians (and even they were just using it as blokey kitsch). Once again, NTNOCN fills in some gaps with a few clips from the 'Darts' sketch (which is on one of the Not compilation videos one of the Channel 4 production crew got for Christmas a few years ago from his mate who knew he'd like a bit of a laugh even though most of it's probably dated now).

83. Club X

Paul Morley is literally the only talking-head contributor to 100GTVMFH with anything of interest or merit to say. TV Hell also did a piece on this show. And how can Channel 4 sneer at this when they've recently had the audacity to broadcast Frontal - basically Club X with a Fuck-Art-Take-A-Look-At-My-Clitoral-Piercing policy. Club X was at least presented by likeably wide-eyed toffs who were vaguely bemused at the idea of being on TV in the first place -Frontal is presented by embarrassed people in their late 30s depressingly familiar with what's expected of them and television. Which, of course, is nothing, because they're sad wap-heads without anoraks.

We have to admit though, the clip in which the Club X presenter feyly toasted 'So, to Futurism, everybody...' before being startled by an off-mic explosion made us howl our pants off. No sneers though.

82. Animal Kwackers

We need only really quote ourselves here: 'Do you enjoy taking something you obviously adored as a child and sneering at it to compensate for the lack of any grass roots things you've contributed to the world?'. The 'Joe' one off of Adam & Joe gives the game away a bit by saying that he'd suppressed all memory of the show until he saw it again 'the other day' (i.e. when Channel 4 sent him a copy). Fuck knows what the supposed problem is with the show. Surely, just a British version of The Banana Splits with a Glam Rock slant. Hell Rating: flap all. Ricky Gervais contributes to the debate by making wry observations based on absolutely nothing. Such a jewel in Channel 4's crown.

81. Kevin Keegan on Superstars

The England football manager falls off a bike and hurts the side of his leg ha ha ha. 1. Not hellish. 2. Not entertaining, just bland. 3. If the rumours concerning what the media are currently protecting Mr Keegan from are true then there is a genuine hell awaiting him.

80. The Girlie Show

Well yes, it was bad. It made a lot of people believe that the spirit of modern feminism was best presented by three women acting like sneery blokes and calling people wankers. But what we have now is a lot worse. The idea of Zoe Ball slagging something which isn't essentially any different from what she does herself is genuinely offensive.

One of the original presenters (the 'Claire' one, we think) left after the first series, saying she had been misled by the producers into believing The Girlie Show would be a warm, intelligent series in the spirit of the C4 she had once loved. When she saw the result, she jumped ship as soon as her contract allowed. Funnily enough, C4 didn't pick her as an obvious interviewee.

79. Out Of Town

Another bit of sneering at a 70s show in which a nice man talked passionately about a given subject. God, how pathetic it was in the 70s when people used to have interests. And it's no coincidence either that Stuart Maconie once again emerges from behind his prop bookshelf to blether about it. Why does this man have such a downer on such programmes? Hasn't he made a career out of presenting music shows based on his own passionate interests? Very strange. Paul Morley pops up to say, without sneers or 'irony' to say how he loved the show. Top man. Out Of Town influenced the Bob Fleming character in The Fast Show so the research is all theirs.

78. Anabella Lwin on B.A. in Music

The jailbait Bow Wow Wow singer acts like a spoilt little cunt in front of 'ageing pop star' B.A. Robertson. No manners, these kids.

77. Ask Zena Skinner

Oh no - a cookery show from ages ago. Zena Skinner, mother of Frank, once appeared in an episode of The Innes Book Of Records. For that reason alone she doesn't deserve to be in this chart.

76. Love Thy Neighbour

Yeah, come on then. Let's hear the same fucking opinions reiterated by the same old idiots. The Curry & Chips bit was just a warm-up, surely? And on they come, one by one, to say the same over-rehearsed talking-head twat-talk they've spat out a hundred times before. Racist sitcoms from the 70s, blah blah. They were poison, blah blah. Fuck you. If people are too stupid to recognise the basic differences between decades then they forfeit their right to own tongues.

Meera Syal is back again in her capacity as a professional minority, moaning about being abused in the playground by kids recreating the racist dialogue. Probably never occurred to her that maybe it was because the other kids thought she was an idiot. Poor old Vince Powell, the show's writer is brought out too. 'All I've ever wanted to do is make people laugh...', he says, bleakly. And the on-screen caption once again attempts to add a weighty afterthought: 'Love Thy Neighbour was axed after eight series in 1976'. Eight series? Good innings!
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