'History doesn't repeat itself - it
- CRAIG RAINE
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 odd...it'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
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
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.
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...
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
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)
(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
The editors picked up from the phrase '...so
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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!