COMMENT: The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell - Page 4
First published December 2000
The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell
25. The James Whale Radio Show

Wayne Hussey being drunk and boring on said show before being escorted out of the building by Whale. Hardly an isolated moment on the James Whale show in question - a common occurrence in fact. This incarnation of Whale's TV work wasn't too dreadful. A genuine, if flawed, attempt at an interesting and intimate discussion / phone-in / pop video / whatever programme. Later, after Mike 'Cue The Music' Mansfield's tabloid make-over, it became desperately plebby (with Jerry Hayes' "political spot", Baz Bamingboy's "showbiz gossip" and that enormous lawyer from the Daily Mirror (now deceased) dishing out "legal" "advice").

Here's a bit of Whale 'hell' which was a lot more embarrassing than some pop star taking his shoes off and saying 'fuck'. Rob Newman appeared on The James Whale Radio Show several years back, (ages before his big elevation to little-girl-student hero status), ostensibly to plug Rob & Dave's Comedy Phone-In which was broadcast that week on Radio One. All went fine for a bit - Newman, then sporting short hair and a tache - did his Ronnie Corbett impressions and stuff, no problem. But at some point the mood turned and vague insults started to fly. He started talking over Whale as he was reading out the letters and seemed irritated about being on the show in the first place. Whale, much more shrewd and adept at dealing with idiots than Rob Newman, managed to quite easily turn the minimal audience gathered behind the sofa in the studio foyer against him. Newman couldn't come back to any of this so he simply muttered 'Alright, yeah, I've been sussed by the Whale!' or somesuch.

But he gave it one last shot. At the close of the show, Whale left Newman whining on the sofa in the background, and approached the camera for his final bit to the viewers. He earnestly conveyed a greeting to his mother who was in hospital at the time. Seizing his chance, Newman yelled out 'SHE'S GOT CANCER!'. Oh dear - not a single laugh. Whale turned back and simply announced 'I didn't think that was very funny. Did anybody here think that was funny?' The audience were unanimous and it was all Newman could do to affect a comedy 'Okay, who said that - right, outside, now!' before leaping from the sofa, through the audience and presumably out of the back door straight into the arms of Jon Thoday.

Now that's a hellish TV moment. But nobody saw it, so there's no opinions on it, and ultimately not considered for this list.

24. QVC

Meera Syal and Arabella Weir do their respective shopping channel material. We reckon those two should get together. And fuck off.

23. Chris Mayhew on Panorama

The Coogan character being fellated in The Day Today (as part of 'Attitudes Night') is an obvious nod towards this untransmitted show which featured a staid BBC presenter taking mescaline as part of a TV experiment. TV Hell also showed this as part of their A-Z. It worked there as a general exploration into television silliness, but - like the Countdown clip earlier - it doesn't really count as a 'TV Moment'. If this were the case then surely all sorts of out-takes swapped within the industry could be shown (for instance the stuff from all the various 'Christmas Tapes' over the years).

22. L!ve TV

All we can hear now are Peter Cook and Dudley Moore:

DUD: Have you learned from your mistakes?
PETE: Yes, and I'm looking forward to repeating them exactly.

Live TV was deliberately bad. And Channel 4 are following its example. That's hell. Topless women playing darts and midget weathermen - that's just bland.

21. Blue Peter Garden Vandalism

Ricky Gervais consolidating his 'dangerous' persona by saying he thought it was funny when the garden was wrecked. He's surprisingly camp for a 'hard man of comedy'. And he has beautiful eyelashes. This of course shouldn't dissuade us from hunting him down and ripping open his stomach in front of his family. Back at the garden, Percy Thrower opines that people who wreck Blue Peter gardens must be 'mentally ill'. We reckon it was Johnny Rotten, still in a bad mood after having Alan 'Fluff' Freeman tell him to shut up.

It's worth pointing out that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY (least of all Gervais, who presumably loved television as a child and respected its parameters) found the wrecking of the Blue Peter garden remotely funny - most people either didn't particularly care, or they felt a bit angry and sad and depressed. But try telling that to some stubbly turk guzzling Red Bull and vodka in a Percy Street bar - he's re-written history, and he doesn't want facts to get in the way of his sales pitch.

20. Dexy's Midnight Runners on Top Of The Pops

'Jackie Wilson Said' but a big picture of Jocky Wilson as a backdrop. Not hell. Deliberate. They've said so. 1982. Pre-irony, totally aware and pissing all over the dickheaded media of today.

But they've included it anyway.

19. Bullseye

Not even slightly hellish. Tedious, if you don't happen to like darts, but well liked and fondly remembered by people who are in love with the world. Not deserving of a place in this chart at all.

18. Driving School

Only hellish in that it opened the floodgates for a shitload of faked, second-rate television (or a 'heritage of...' as TV critic Tina Baker spits it) which has resulted in TV attempting to emulate the same tired formula again and again, and gushing middle-class, middle-aged women writing RT leaders telling us how great it is that finally there's some good down to earth ordinary people on TV. That's hell. We're surprised Alison Graham hasn't made an appearance on these sorts of show actually.

17. Shaun Ryder on TFI Friday

Yes, yes, we've heard it all before. Shaun says 'fuck' a few times. Not hellish. And nobody's yet pointed out that, by singing 'Pretty Vacant' by the Sex Pistols, he gets to say 'Cunt' several times anyway.

16. Streaker On This Morning

A naked man jumps onto Fred Talbot's floating weathermap and sort of runs around a bit showing his bottom. Deemed so shocking by the producers that they actually returned to him after a bit so you could see his penis too.

15. Bobby Ewing coming back from the dead

Hell? Quite ingenious, looking back. Has anybody explained whether the corresponding storyline in Knots Landing was meant to be a dream too?

14. The Hopefuls On The Word

'Whenever the story of trash TV is told...' says Ball. Every fucking year on Channel 4, surely? A man licks a fat woman's armpits. Another man snogs an old woman. Depressing, perhaps, but not hell. As with everything on The Word, it was never the events that were entertaining but the various reactions to it. After the gerontaphilic piece above, Bob Mortimer's reaction was a totally unfazed and hilarious 'No, in fact, the elder mouth holds no fear for me'. That was the funny bit.

'The Hopefuls' is also always cited, by revisionists, as a satire on the mindlessness of the junk TV generation. Yeah, and I bet Thatcher had a lot to do with it as well. The bottom line is, nothing can change the fact that 'The Hopefuls' played up to a moronic mass audience, upon whom producers at The Word were relentlessly reliant.

Taken to its conclusion, 'women bathing in pigshit' and 'Zoe Ball' are actually part of the same TV producer remit. One day she might even work this out.

13. Dubbed TV

"If you look in the dictionary under the word Gruff, it says 'like all the men spoke in all of those dubbed TV programmes'." We just looked up the word 'arsehole' and found 'Stuart Maconie trying to be funny'. No mention here of Oscar, Kina and the Lazer or Heidi, both of which were very popular with children.

The feeling one gets, watching this entry, is that the people who've compiled the list have only just been told that such shows used to be dubbed and feel the need to share this info with anybody who might still be troubled by the phenomenon.

The truth was a lot more simple. The pictures don't match the voice, so...:

'Mum - why don't the pictures match the voice?'

'Because it's a foreign show in a different language dubbed into English, son'

'Oh. I see...'

It was that fucking simple. And we understood all the jokes Not The Nine O'Clock News made about Freddie Laker too, simple by asking a responsible adult what they meant.

That's the root of what's wrong with plebbed-down TV. Everyone in the industry assumes there are no more responsible adults to ask.

12. John Redwood sings (sort of)


11. Eldorado

Like we said, the nadir of reference comedy is Jim Davidson making a joke about Eldorado last week. And so it continues.

10. 321

No better or worse than any other quiz shows of the age. No reason for it to be in this list.

9. Soap Characters Changing Actors

Ha ha, Tracey Barlow went upstairs to sulk and didn't come down for ten years, ha ha ha, did they honestly think we wouldn't notice, ha ha ha, aren't I a right old laugh with my funny observations.

Whenever a soap character changes actors there's always a tossing big write-up on the replacement in TV Quick or whatever. So why do the gushing Alison Graham middle-class, middle-aged woman brigade act like they're in on some 'big secret' which they're naughtily sharing with the world?. Because they're scum who genuinely believe that their readers are as thick and slow on the uptake as they are. Hell? Oh yes.

Anyway, whenever actors are changed in this manner, the scriptwriters nearly always insert wry references to the situation. When Brookside 's Gordon Collins returned to the series in the skin of another actor, his first line upon returning home was 'Well, everything looks the same, mum...'. A reference designed to be spotted by the viewers, who - it was assumed - could differentiate between television and real life. When the bloke in Game On was replaced, they were less subtle, but their heart was in the same place. Becky from Roseanne, meanwhile, did a song and dance routine pertaining to her departure, which was a parody of something we expect. See - people revelling in the silliness of television. And again, no sneers.

8. Some girls being not much cop on University Challenge

Hell for the girls involved, dull for anybody else. The one in the glasses was nice.

7. Naked Jungle

A naked Keith Chegwin leading naturist contestants through a series of adventures in a set left over from another show. For some reason he's put out an embargo on images of his cock being used in this entry. Not unlike Esther Rantzen and her face in fact.

Nothing hellish about Naked Jungle. Bland tack, offending nobody. The hell came with the right-wing press afterwards erroneously claiming it as a new low in TV while making nasty comments about the various shapes of the contestants. Great stuff - 'It was disgusting! There were naked people on television. And what's worse, they were all slightly overweight too!'.

6. Julian Clary on the British Comedy Awards

This must surely be the first time this clip has been repeated since it happened. From a VHS copy several generations down the line it would appear. It's not hell, but it is bloody great. Purportedly led to Clary being banned from TV for two years (according to other documentaries) and brief tabloid hysteria. The Sun described the word 'fisting' as 'so disgusting that we can't tell you what it means as this is a family newspaper' (in other words they had yet to dig out their copy of the Oxford Book Of Obscure Words For Rudeness and didn't know themselves) yet Michael Barrymore appeared a bit later in the evening to reiterate Clary's amusement in the form of a mixture of charades, hand-signals-for-the-deaf and mime (which pretty much explained the premise) and received no comment.

Garry Bushell gets himself back in character to dismiss Clary as a disgusting individual who should never be allowed on mainstream television (despite earlier having claimed - of The Comedians - that it doesn't matter what the subject is, as long as it makes you laugh)

The joyous reaction from the audience (there's one particularly excellent shot of Richard & Judy crying with mirth) elevates this to comedy heaven, not hell.

The hell came later as this incident kicked off the brainless opinion that 'something always goes wrong at the Comedy Awards'. Oddly, Buster Merrifield's collapse at the 1997 awards wasn't shown. Maybe there were too many abrasions on Stuart Maconie's tape? And spunk.

5. Clive Anderson All Talk

The Bee Gees walk off after one pun too many from Clive. The BBC wouldn't allow footage of this to be shown so Channel 4 opt for the 'fair dealing' VHS option. And like the clips on You've Been Framed (or indeed the Minipops earlier) you can see how many times the actual walk-out bit has been played and rewound by the amount of drop-outs and indentations on the tape.

The bearded one from The Bee Gees has never had a sense of humour, being the one who took great exception to the Hee Bee Gee Bees' 'Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices' (while the other two apparently thought it was a hoot). But since the whole All Talk appearance has now become an industry joke (with Anderson appearing on the recent Audience With The Bee Gees), this also doesn't qualify for a hellish moment.

4. Shakin' Stevens jumps on Richard Madeley

And Rick Parfitt is such a rock and roller that he takes time out to brush the dust kicked up by the non-ruck from his nice expensive shoes. No hell.

3. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on the Frank Skinner Show

Dull. The dick from The Sun blethers about how this TV appearance led to Palmer-Tomkinson entering rehab. Well, chronologically, maybe.

2. Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox on The Brits

Good morning. Welcome to the beautiful sleepy docile town of Received Opinion, Twatville. We hope you'll enjoy having all your decisions made for you by people you've never met. Your song for this evening is William Shatner's version of'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'.

'The most toe-curling, cringe-making, awful, shambolic, shameful piece of television I have ever seen!', says Kate Thornton, the woman who murdered Smash Hits.

Only about three separate things actually went wrong that night. The rest of it was just Fairground Attraction. But it captured the end of an era in British TV - a time when messy incompetence was still, to use Gary Davies' terminology, a possibility. Think about it - can you imagine a crowd of teenybopper pop fans openly booing a cabinet minister on live TV these days? Wrong question. The fact is, can you imagine a crowd of teenybopper pop fans being given the opportunity to boo a cabinet minister on live TV these days? Well, try it with one of Zoe Ball's lackies and see how far you get.

Who the fuck wants 'professional' television anyway? Where's the fun in that? These days, The Brits is presented by Davina MacCall. We rest our case.

1. Richard Madeley's impression of Ali G

This is the worst of the lot. This sums it all up for us. Is it embarrassing? Is it hellish? Well, no. Not a bit of it. There's the vague irritancy which always accompanies somebody blatantly latching onto a fad, but Richard Madeley has nothing to gain either way. He did it in response to some pleb-feed tabloid article suggesting alternate hairstyles. His response was to take that dull joke a stage further. What's worse is that it's actually a pretty good impression. Even Judy does a good impression of herself being pissed off at the embarrassment factor of the idea.

So why is it in this chart? Moreover, why is it number one in this chart? Is it not simply Channel 4 promoting itself? What they are saying is that, basically, they've created Ali G. He was a great big fat success. In fact he was so successful that Richard Madeley degraded himself on TV (even though he actually didn't) and thousands upon millions upon quadrillions of people have voted for this clip (even though they haven't) as the very very very very best hellish TV moment (even though it isn't) and this just shows how far the popularity of Ali G has spread (even though it doesn't). The subtext, as with the contemporary Guinness commercial which suspiciously "won" the the station's Best Adverts poll earlier in the year, is 'Bank with Channel 4'.

Here you see the final irreparable smudging of the gap between good and bad TV. The final big HELL is revealed as a clip that doesn't even make sense. Its purpose here isn't to say 'this is bad' (or even 'this is great'). It's here as a PR exercise. No coincidence is it that the final shot before the fade-out and credits is not Madeley but the real Ali G.

The Top 100 TV Moments From Hell? Add another to the list.

In July 2001 we received the following email from John Lewis of Time Out:

Hello Corpses

Bit of a latecomer to the site, but I was interested to read your comments on 100 TV Moments From Hell, particularly the allegations of racism levelled towards Curry And Chips, Mind Your Language, Heil Honey I'm Home, etc. It set off a whole train of thoughts that I'd been thinking about for a while. While the description of Meera Syal as a 'stunt paki' isn't particularly helpful, I think that you are on to something when you make reference to a Stalinist obliteration of sitcoms of the sixties and seventies which dealt with - ahem - issues of race.

British comedy has grown uncomfortable with racial stereotyping and by extension, any reference to cultural or ethnic difference. We have been made to cringe at clumsy portrayals of minority ethnic groups, however innocuous or well meaning they are presented.

Growing up Anglo-Indian in the 1970s, I personally found any TV appearance by an Asian character liberating. My father would cheer any time someone Asian would appear on television -- even if it was as banal as Michael Bates's punkawallah in It Ain't Half Hot Mum; or Spike Milligan (an Anglo-Indian) playing 'A Pakistani David Coleman' (according to the caption) on Q9; or Peter Sellers in 'The Party'. It was at least an acknowledgement of our existence -- a clumsy, mildly offensive but ultimate harmless acknowledgement. And they were often funny -- done well, Indian accents can be FUNNY. Ask anyone in my family, or anyone I grew up with in Southall.

However, by the early 1980s, the response of TV comedy writers was to completely ignore Asians for fear of offence. There was the Gujurati Rastafarian in No Problem (an enormously prescient character called I-And-I Patel, if I remember rightly, who pre-dated Ali G AND the Bhangramuffins by around 20 years); there was C4's pisspoor Tandoori Nights; there were a few incidental appearances from Saeed Jaffrey in the odd mainstream sitcom; there was a ludicrous 'Asian' slot on the Real McCoy -- the absurd situation of a tokenistic-sub-group-within-a-tokenistic-sub-group -- featuring Meera Syal and (if memory serves) Kulwinder Ghir. And that was about it. Generally, the response of TV producers to allegations of clumsy racial stereotyping was to completely ignore British Asians in mainstream British comedy. A masterstroke of anti-racist racism by default. In fact, the only Asian comedian I remember from around four years of watching Friday Night Live or Saturday Live was a bloke on crutches who had won a competition for disabled stand-up comedians. (I'm sure one of the Corpses has this on a video archive.) And, frankly, I think that his race was probably more of a handicap to him than his muscular dystrophy.

Scripted by Vince Powell, Mind Your Language is essentially a British update of The Education Of Hyman Kaplan, a series of utterly uncynical, celebratory 1960s comic novels by the New York comedy writer Leo Rosten. The Kaplan books are about a language teacher working with new immigrants in New York, and is written in heavy vernacular, using phonetic transcriptions of speech patterns of Hispanics, Italians, Ashkenazi Jews, Poles, Germans, etc.

Many jokes on 'Mind Your Language' are direct lifts from Hyman Kaplan, although Vince Powell's script adds some touches of local spice -- there is much squabbling between the Hindu (played, ironically, by an Anglo-Indian) and the Muslim (played, even more ironically, by an Indian Hindu). There's a running joke in several episodes where every new word learned by the group is worked back to a religious insult: 'infinite' becomes 'infidel', 'anteater' becomes 'meat-eater', and so on. Littered with the kind of verbal misunderstandings that might happily fit into 'Them Next Door' from The Day Today's 'Attitudes Night' ('I am wanting a cup of tea -- that is why I am here'/'He said he wants a thick ear') Mind Your Language was a well-meaning and occasionally funny attempt to find humour in ethnic and linguistic difference.

It's an ironic twist that the 'Mind Your Language' format was bought by US networks in 1986, renamed 'What A Country!' and pulled after only 12 episodes. Ironic and strange -- because American comedians and American sitcoms have always seemed immensely comfortable making great play of cultural and racial stereotypes. The dozy Pole, the neurotic Jew, the happy-go-lucky Irishman, the aggressive Italian, the cool black dude -- are virtually vaudeville turns in the US comedy tradition. Even in the context of an aggressively PC civil society, they aren't seen as racial slurs. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the American approach is better - I personally believe that the United States has a heavily ingrained racism which might be almost impossible to extinguish. And, comedically, such racial stereotyping rarely produces interesting material -- a visit to even the most credible stand-up venues in New York or LA will always be awash with recycled reference material -- 'we got any Irish in tonight?' -- where comedians eek out much mileage from perceived cultural stereotypes in the absence of jokes (not a million miles from the black stand-up who Homer Simpson chuckles at while watching cable TV 'You wanna see how white guys drive? White guys drive like this!' Homer's response? 'It's funny because it's true -- we're so LAME!').

But it's as if the United States has resolved certain racial tensions - and its comedy has earned a certain carte blanche to make racial references. US comedy acknowledges that there is nothing wrong with having characters of various ethnic origins, and that these can be employed to facilitate gags, even in bluechip US sitcoms. Very often you'll find Jerry's Jewishness (in Seinfeld), or Frasier's Wasp-ness (in Frasier), or Joey's Italian-ness (in Friends), or Eddie's blackness (in Dream On) or the racial origins of pretty much every character in Taxi being pivotal to a particular joke or even an entire episode. And that's just touching the surface. In contrast there is something deeply unresolved about the issue of race in British culture and, by extension, in British comedy. Look at the aprobrium that writers faced for producing Manuel in Fawlty Towers or Stavros or Ali G or Father Ted or even, from certain ultra-PC quarters, by Goodness Gracious Me. Can you imagine - even in a country with considerably more Asian grocers than the US - a character like Apu from the Simpsons ever emerging in a British sitcom? Or if he did, more pertinently, can you imagine the writers being able to take enough risks with cultural stereotypes to make him funny?

It's difficult to celebrate British cultural difference without either (a) facing the wrath of anti-racists or (b) sounding like a dippy equal-ops twat. And it's difficult to question certain pillars of anti-racist orthodoxy without (a) resorting to CRE-baiting bollocks, as Richard Littlejohn does every week in the Sun; or (b) requiring a lot of space to justify exactly what you say very, very carefully.

'Mind Your Language' was repeated, quite recently, on weekend afternoons on LWT, I believe. And bits were hilarious. And I frankly would love to see 'Curry And Chips', alongside a few episodes of Vince Powell's other creation 'Love Thy Neighbour' (which I seem to remember containing two rather surreal characters -- the racist socialist and the black Tory). Love Thy Neighbour ran for six series in the UK -- no sign of quality, sure, but a crucially important social document.

I'm immensely wary of Bushellite knee-jerk reactions which celebrate anything that has been condemned as 'un-PC'. You do have to remember that the first series of Mind Your Language was aired in 1977, around the time that the National Front were winning local government wards and regulary terrorising local people in Southall (until routed in the riots of 1979). But, but, but.... personally I find, say, Bernard Manning's humour far more complex than people make out. Anyone who sees a Bernard Manning routine will see how the racism of his comic character eats itself up -- his bigotry collapses in on itself under the weight of its lack of internal logic. Or something.

There's a more sinister problem here, which is that the problem racism in Britain becomes purely a matter for white liberals to wrestle with. But I won't even enter that for the moment.


John Lewis

PS Everyone at Time Out was tickled by your Scanners piss take.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4