HIDDEN ARCHIVE: Not The Nine O'Clock News - The Pilot - Page 1


Recorded: 31/03/79
Projected TX: 02/04/79
Running Time: 30'29"

CREDITS:

THIS SHOW HAS BEEN
FUNDED WITHOUT ANY HELP
FROM THE
SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT

Appaaring en
NAAT DER NEIN O'CLOECK NEWS

waar
PIETARR RHOODIE
JAN RHOODIE
BOAZ RHOODIE
ARNOLD RHOODIE
RHOODIE LLEWELLYN

ROWAN VAN ATKINSON
CHRIS VAN EMMET
WILLOUGHBY VAN GODDARD
CHRISTOPHER VAN GODWIN
JOHN VAN GORMAN
JONTHAN [sic] VAN HYDE
CHRIS VAN LANGHAM
HERTZ VAN RENTAL

Danceavolkgruppe
"Tepid Chitchat"
WANDA ROCKICK
LIBBY ROBERTS
TERESA LUCAS
CLAIRE LUTTER
CHRISSY WICKHAM

Choreograaphy
ARLENE PHILIPS

Scribblingavoike
PIETER SPENCE
CHRIS MILLER
AANDY HAAMILTON
BAARRY PILTON
CHRIS AALLEN
LAAURIE ROWLEY
ROWAAN AATKINSON
RICHAARD CURTIS
MIKE BURGESS
AANDY STEVENSON

Script Associaate
IAAAN DAAVIDSON

Muisicke
NIC ROWLEY

Graaphic Design
MIC ROLPHY

Coestume
JOHN PEACOCK

Maake-up
CHRISTINE WALMESLEY-COTHAM

Film Caameraamaan
BILL MATTHEWS

Film Soeund
GEORGE CASSIDY

Film Editoer
SUSAN IMRIE

Lightung
GEOFF SHAW

Soeund
RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN

Proeduction Teaam
MAGGIE CHAPMAN
STEPHEN HONEYBILL
DIANE TAYLOR

Proeduction Aassistaants
JOHN KILBY
BOB RANDELL

Visioen Mixer
HEATHER GILDER

Deseign
JANET BUDDEN

Studioe Dieraector
BOB SPEIRS [sic]

Produecers
JOHN LLOYD
and
SEAN HARDIE

© BBC MCMLXXIX
As every comedy schoolboy should know by now, the Not The Nine O'Clock News "pilot" is something of a misnomer. It was in fact originally intended as the first show of what would have been their first series, scheduled for broadcast on BBC2 on the 2nd of April 1979, but pulled at the eleventh hour.

The background to creating the show was simple enough. Commissioned by John Howard Davies (then head of BBC comedy) to produce a satirical/topical comedy show, producer John Lloyd pulled together a roomful of writers he knew from his stint at producing radio comedy and set out, alongside current affairs producer Sean Hardie, to devise a weekly satirical show for BBC2. The cast consisted of Rowan Atkinson, Christopher Godwin, John Gorman and Jonathan Hyde. Impressionist Chris Emmett (a cast member of Radio 4's The Burkiss Way, which Lloyd had also produced) provided a few celebrity voices, and Chris Langham appeared in a few minor roles. Other actors were scheduled to appear later in the series, including one Mel Smith.

The show purportedly never had a proper pilot, the intention being to create a 'guerrilla' comedy. In Gerard Barry's documentary The Not The Nine O'Clock News Story (17/07/99, BBC2, 10pm), Lloyd recalled that the proposal from John Howard Davies was "to make six shows with no brief at all except that it had to be funny and it had to be contemporary". Speaking on the same documentary, Howard Davies recalled things slightly differently, mentioning that "the pilot was in January '79... and it was proposed that there'd be a series straight away" - but you know what his memory's like. In any case, the show under examination in this article was studio-recorded on the 31st March 1979, for transmission two days later on the 2nd of April.

At this point Lloyd and Hardie started getting worried. Hardie later recalled, in Gerard Barry's documentary, that as the series drew nearer they'd only actually amassed enough material for the first show. Lloyd added that he actually prayed for a General Election. A topical satire comedy show plonked slap-bang in the midst of electorial polling would almost certainly be pulled and rescheduled for broadcast at a later date.

Lloyd's prayers were answered by Prime Minster James Callaghan who, on the 28th of March, announced that the election was on its way. Possible cited dates at the time were 26/04/79 or 10/05/79. The eventual date, which saw Callaghan off the premises in favour of Margaret Thatcher, was 03/05/79.

According to Lloyd, the BBC pulled the show "two days before transmission". Whether the decision was undertaken before or after the actual studio recording took place isn't clear. If it was before then they presumably decided - with the studio already booked and actors rehearsed - to use the opportunity to make that proposed first show as a proper pilot. Either way, it's risible to wonder whether - with the Election having been confirmed - John Lloyd deliberately upped the political satire quotent to ensure its cancellation.

9.0  New series
Not the Nine O'Clock
News

A new series of six topical comedy
programmes
with
Rowan Atkinson
Chris Emmett
Christopher Godwin
John Gorman
Jonathan Hyde
Designer JANET BUDDEN
Studio director BOB SPIERS
Producers JOHN LLOYD and SEAN HARDIE
Radio Times, 31 March - 6 April 1979
Due to the 11th hour nature of its cancellation the aborted series was listed in Radio Times for two issues with capsules for the 2nd and 9th of April.

Show 1 was billed at 9pm-9:30pm, between Lennie and Jerry - a Lennie Bennett and Jerry Stevens vehicle which guest starred The Chuckle Brothers - and the documentary show Horizon which, that week, was entitled 'The Real Bionic Man'. (And before Mark Lawson and his nasty careerist ilk pop up to snide "See - Lennie Bennett! There's was never a 'Golden Age' of comedy!", we'll just mention a few other hot comedy items broadcast in the week Not The Nine O'Clock News was pulled: Series 5 of The Burkiss Way began on Radio 4 on the 2nd of April, Spike Milligan's Q8 began on the 4th on BBC2, and the delightful one-off Rowan Atkinson Presents Canned Laughter was broadcast on ITV on the 8th.)

Radio Times carried no promotional article about the show but the capsule was accompanied by a photograph of some strange people standing outside a castle wearing antlers on their heads. Caption: 'This is not the cast of Not the Nine O'Clock News. And it's not clear what's not going to happen when a new comedy series starts at 9.0pm.' Not so much a teaser as a reflection of the fact that, as RT went to press, neither the magazine nor the production itself had much idea what was going to happen anyway.

9.0   Not the Nine
O'Clock News

A new topical comedy programme
with Christopher Godwin
John Gorman, Rowan Atkinson
Designer BOB COVE
Studio director BOB SPIERS
Producers JOHN LLOYD and SEAN HARDIE
Radio Times, 7 - 13 April 1979
The capsule for the never-made Show 2 bills it as 9pm - 9:35pm, between a concert by Gerald The Gorilla's favourite crooner Johnny Mathis and the latest Horizon (this week, 'A Mediterranean Prospect').

We're awaiting confirmation as to what actually did go out for those two weeks. The third projected week of the run, 16 April, was Easter Monday, so it's entirely possible that it might have been dropped for a week anyway. In any case, at 9pm on this day they started a run of the US sitcom Rhoda.

UPDATE:
David Brunt and Matthew K Sharp have saved us from having to make an archive trip with the following postings on The Mausoleum Club:


David Brunt
Senior Associate
posted on 4-4-2004 at 12:36 AM

Episodes from the third season of 'Rhoda' were used as a filler in subsequent weeks, so they probably just ran those two weeks early.

Possibly the episodes 'The Seperation' and 'Together Again for the First Time' as these were referred to in the plots of the billed episodes.
Matthew K Sharp
Member
posted on 4-4-2004 at 03:05 AM

From The Grauniad:

BBC2, 2 Apr 1979, 2100-2125
RHODA - Last minute replacement for the anticipated start of a new series promised to take an alternative view of some topical themes.

BBC2, 9 Apr 1979, 2100-2125
RHODA - Safe, American, non-satirical and not a trace of p-l-t-c-s - so back it comes, quick, instead of the new topical newsy - risky - program we'd have got but for the election.

BBC2, 16 Apr 1979, 2030-2055
RHODA - Valerie Harper in US comedy vehicle, which would have been starting a new series tonight had not the general election two weeks ago pitched all hint of satire out, and her untimely in.
I do like the Guardian *still* bitching about it two weeks later... bless them!


Read the full thread here.

John Lloyd was happy enough with his and Hardie's first attempt at TV comedy and invited his friend Mel Smith to come and watch it. Smith purportedly denounced it as 'completely awful': "It was kinda like how pilots of new shows are - it was sorta dreadful".

And so, making best use of the six months they had before the next available BBC2 slot, Lloyd and Hardie went back to the show and revamped the format. Aside from Atkinson and Langham, who moved centre-stage, the original cast were given their marching orders in favour of people Lloyd knew and admired. Theatre director Mel Smith brought with him a more naturalistic approach to acting comedy. Bit-part actress Pamela Stephenson brought along a much-needed female presence. Radio producer and comedy actor Griff Rhys-Jones brought along his mates and did some studio warm-ups (and made the odd appearence). The choice of writers remained the same but their material was given a better shape.

The first series began its run of six shows on Tuesday the 16th of October 1979, with each show clocking in at a tighter, and more easily fillable, 25 minutes. Still very much a learning process for all concerned, but everyone agreed that it was a definite improvement on the pilot.

But what of that original unbroadcast show? Was it really so dreadful?

It was okay. Even given the obvious fascination factor attached to such a rare part of comedy history, there's a lot in it worth defending per se. But the problem lies in what to compare it with. Although a million miles away from the version of the series people remember (or have experienced more recently from the video compilations), there are still enough similarities between it and Series 1 (not to mention quite a lot of reused material) to make it a part of the Not The Nine O'Clock News canon.

And so to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of it being wrenched from the schedules, here is a complete breakdown of the show that never was. This was not Not The Nine O'Clock News.


FAWLTY TOWERS

In terms of the BBC2 schedules, Not The Nine O'Clock News was intended to replace the second series of Fawlty Towers on 2nd of April 1979. The latter show had been hit by industrial action resulting in the recordings of the fifth and sixth shows - 'The Anniversary' and 'Basil The Rat' - being delayed. The series still got its six-week run - the fifth week carried a repeat of Series 1's 'Gourmet Night' while the sixth week featured the recently-edited 'Anniversary'. The recording for 'Basil The Rat' was rescheduled for later in the year.

With such annoyances presumably being a regular grumbling point amongst BBC insiders (the 1979 Christmas Tape Good King Memorex features a number of jokes relating to the strikes), Not The Nine O'Clock News elected to start its first series by pretending it was business as usual, beginning with the Fawlty Towers title sequence and (with more than a little help from Bob Spiers who directed both shows) a specially-recorded sketch featuring John Cleese (recorded on the night of the 'Anniversary' session - 18/03/79), informing the BBC via the hotel telephone that he wasn't at all happy with the situation:

FAWLTY TOWERS TITLES AND MUSIC (AS PER 'THE ANNIVERSARY' - WITH THE SIGN READING "FLOWERY TWATS")

MIX THROUGH TO STUDIO. 'BASIL' IS ON THE PHONE SOUNDING EXASPERATED

CLEESE
No. No. No... No, I'm sorry, but no. No, no... no, now, now listen, I'm not going to do it this week. No, I'm sorry, no, the series ended last week. I know the contract said six but there was a strike and that wasn't my fault was it!

PAUSE

Well you gotta have something - what about Edited Moto-Cross Highlights or Horse Of The Year Show or Inter-Counties Basket Weaving or something? Or how about a cheap, tatty revue?

PAUSE

Alright, if that suits you. (REPLACES PHONE. TO CAMERA) A cheap tatty revue then. Standby and...

ADOPTS EXAGERRATED 'CUEING IN' STANCE. PAUSE)

...Cue!

CUT TO OPENING TITLES

Not The Nine O'Clock News:
withdrawn Show 1 (02/04/79)


The sequence was dropped into the first series, placed at the start of Show 3 (30/10/79), which tied it in vaguely - five days later rather than a week - with the eventual broadcast of the delayed final 'Basil The Rat' episode of Fawlty Towers (25/10/79).

The version of the sketch as presented in the series differs from the pilot slightly. Firstly, it's slightly shorter. The pilot edit allows the full sig tune and credits to play out before we mix through to the studio. The series version cuts the 'starring John Cleese and Prunella Scales' credit, fading the sig and mixing through to Cleese about ten seconds earlier, losing one of Cleese's "No..."s in the process. Secondly, the pilot's audio boasts two audience tracks mixed together - the original live audience present at the 'Anniversary' recording, and the Not The Nine O'Clock News audience watching it on monitors, resulting in a stronger-sounding response (and also showcasing the wild cackles of one audience member who finds the 'Flowery Twats' anagram ridiculously funny). The series utilises the original insert package. No pilot cackles, just the polite bearded laughter of the original 'Anniversary' audience.

A helpful member of that studio audience recently recalled the insert actually being recorded in a discussion thread on Missing Episodes. His recollection also suggests that an alternate version was recorded for a special programme trailer:

Mike S
Guest
Re: Fawlty Towers - 'The Anniversary' (O/T)
Reply #2 on: Feb 10th, 2004, 2:39pm

Question for you though: did Cleese record his 'I'm not going to do it this week' link for Not the 9 O'Clock News in front of the audience? If so, how did they set it up/explain it beforehand?
Gary C
Guest
Re: Fawlty Towers - 'The Anniversary' (O/T)
Reply #3 on: Feb 26th, 2004, 12:06am

yes indeed, he DID record that trailer in front of us. 'No, I don't know what's on next week...........Not Now The 9 O'Clock News or something...' I seem to recall we were told by the floor manager what was going to happen. & if my memory serves me right, Cleese did it twice.


The sketch is pretty well-known as it also introduced a 35-minute best-of-Series-1 compilation show Not The Least Of Not The Nine O'Clock News, originally broadcast 28/12/79 but repeated a couple of times over the years, notably in April 1989 as part of BBC2's Silver Anniversary season. Curiously the compilation used the pilot's full unedited 'both audiences' version of the sketch instead of the series version.

The item was also included as an extra on the Series 2 Fawlty Towers DVD, where it cuts off at the exact moment before the Not The Nine O'Clock News titles kick in. The DVD packaging gives no explanation as to its origins - it's simply indexed as 'Cheap Tatty Revue', while the slipcase describes it as 'an exclusive link from John Cleese'. Nowhere does it mention what people really need to know - i.e. that it's the edited version as used in the series. The one with only the 'Anniversary' audience on the mix.

To open the first show proper, the team attempted a similar pre-titles wind-up, opening with a parody of the opening credits to John Le Carre spy drama Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which was running at the time (the penultimate episode having been broadcast on BBC2 the previous evening).


TITLES

It was a nice surprise to learn that the pilot title sequence wasn't disimilar to that used in the series, the same sort of stock footage re-edited into a satirical montage, images of the people-in-power juxtaposed with suitably debasing visuals, all backed with that marvellous Nic Rowley sig-tune, here presented in its original folky violins and tom toms incarnation.

The montage of images include Callaghan jigging with some foreign persons, two Chinese people doing an embracing routine, Margaret Thatcher cutting a pound note in half, Joshua Nkomo dancing, Cyril Smith making a point and some Maoris stomping about. This is all kicked off by a quick shot of the animated BBC2 logo of the day.

The title graphic is similar to the first series - the same footage of an atomic explosion - but with a different typeface for the logo. More Impact than Courier.



NEWS AT TEN / HEADLINES

After a tasteful but unnecessary fade-out (in the series this would be bridged with audience applause) we hear the strains of the rival ITV's News At Ten sig tune and see footage of Big Ben, as per its title sequence. However the close-up of the clock face reveals Robert Powell (as Richard Hannay) dangling precariously from the minute-hand in footage swiped from the then-recent remake of The 39 Steps (Dir. Don Sharp 1978). A lovely bit of lateral footage-dubbing from Sean Hardie.

Continuing the News At Ten pastiche are the headlines, the style of which, although in an embryonic state here, greatly informed the language of topical news parody throughout the 80s and 90s - the device of attributing jokey descriptions to newsfilm and photos still bookending Have I Got News For You every week.


'BONG'. STILL PHOTO OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE

VOICEOVER 1 (JONATHAN HYDE)
Mr Callaghan chooses new date for the election. 1945.

'BONG'. NEWS FOOTAGE OF MUSLIMS BOWING AT PRAYER

VOICEOVER 2 (CHRISTOPHER GODWIN)
Iran, and the search goes on for the Ayatolla Khomeini's contact lens.

'BONG'. STILL PHOTO OF BUSINESSMEN AT DESK

VOICEOVER 2
Due to adverse weather conditions, the British Rail pools panel meet to decide what trains would have arrived, where.

'BONG'. STILL PHOTO OF IAN SMITH

VOICEOVER 1
And in the run-up to democratic elections in Rhodesia, Ian Smith introduces racially-mixed swimming pools...

STILL PHOTO OF A GROUP OF BLACK PEOPLE

...half the water for the whites, and half for the blacks.

STILL PHOTO OF SWIMMING POOL

The whites get the top half...

VOICEOVER 2
...and the blacks get the bottom half.

Not The Nine O'Clock News:
withdrawn Show 1 (02/04/79)


The News At Ten set-up was used twice in the series. Series 1, Show 2 (23/10/79) introduces it as the 'Independant Television Emergency Service' and adds a caption to the 39 Steps clip, identifying Robert Powell as "Alan Sapper" (then head of the ACTT whose restrictive practices rulings were under scrutiny). The headlines are conveyed by Chris Langham's voice and a couple of the same jokes, e.g. the 'Ayatollah's contact lens' gag, are used. This sequence was also present on the Not The Least... compilation, without the "Emergency Service" and "Sapper" captions

In Series 1, Show 6 (20/11/79) the 39 Steps footage was captioned "Anthony Blunt's Last Stand" (the first of a number of jokes throughout the show alluding to Blunt's recent unmasking as the Fourth Man) and the sequence eventually linked into Pamela Stephenson in the guise of ITN newsreader Anna Ford. The same show ends with 'Anna' singing 'Oh Bosanquet!'.

Special mention should be made of the 'racially-mixed swimming pools' joke which is transformed slightly for the series with the use of alternate photos - with a shot of a relatively uncrowded pool representing the whites' "top half" and a pic of several hundred blacks to represent "the bottom", thus it could also be read as a joke about overcrowding!

The 39 Steps/News At Ten footage was included as a standalone bit of silliness on the 1995 video compilations.


ANGELA RIPPON

The real Angela Rippon pops up in a specially recorded insert to announce "Good evening. Well, if this is the Nine O'Clock News then I'm Reggie Booze-anquet... I mean Bosanquet!". A reference to the erstwhile (and now sadly deceased) ITN newsreader who was a notorious drinker. The "Booze-anquet" pun was doing the rounds at the time and was also used by Kenny Everett in a Captain Kremmen adventure (UPDATE: The latter was originally broadcast on Everett's Capital Radio shows but the animated version of the joke - part of the infamous 'Giant Banana' story - appeared in Series 2, Show 4 of The Kenny Everett Video which was broadcast on 12/03/79 - just a few weeks before the Not The Nine O'Clock News pilot was recorded! More on this later...).

Some speculation here. It's possible that this was one of several inserts Rippon recorded for the series and others were to have been spread over the series. A second clip from the session appears in the 1979 in-house VT Christmas Tape Good King Memorex which has the newsreader insist "This is Not The Nine O'Clock News... and I'm not Angela Rippon!" before we cut to Richard Baker in a wig who says "No. I am!".

The only bit of the session which ever made it to broadcast was a brief clip of Rippon saying "Good Evening", which, in Show 2 (23/10/79), was used to link into their first bona fide newsreader routine.

Rippon would later appear as a special guest in the final show of Series 3 (15/12/80) alongside Jan Leeming, both judging Stephenson's impersonations of them with score cards (and seemingly managing to reduce her to a fit of giggles in the process).


THE STORY SO FAR

In a sketch which seems entirely tailored for a radio audience, Chris Langham narrates "The continuing saga of a topical British family" (a reference to some long-running radio serial we suspect) over a selection of still photographs, weaving a soap opera plot around events in the week's news.

TEST CARD-LIKE MUSAK.

STILL PHOTO OF A HIGH STREET

VOICEOVER (LANGHAM)
The Story So Far, the continuing saga of a topical British family.

STILL PHOTO OF AN OLD MAN HOLDING A CAMERA

Dad Wilkins is a civil servant with a problem. What if his strike clashes with the election?

STILL PHOTO OF PARLIAMENT

Will a country with neither civil servants nor government plunge into complete and utter order?

STILL PHOTO OF A WOMAN But Mum, a fervant Liberal Party worker is just back from Edge Hill, where she says David Steel...

STILL PHOTO OF DAVID STEEL

...was so cock-a-hoop, he was feeling four feet tall.

STILL PHOTO OF OLD MISS WORLD WINNER

Meanwhile, up at the launderette, great aunt Phoebe has admitted buying Israeli oranges and fears the Arabs may take reprisals...

STILL PHOTO OF YASSER ARAFAT

...by not sabotaging the European Song Contest.

STILL PHOTO OF PRISONERS IN YARD

But she has just returned from visiting cousin Sid in Parkhurst, who is refusing the prison sex-visits urged by Rene Short. He says he doesn't want to have sex with Rene Short.

STILL PHOTO OF AN OLD MAN READING A BOOK

Grandpa is poorly, but, in the absence of normal hospital services, he has been refered to a consultant archaeologist.

STILL PHOTO OF 'CONSULTANT ARCHAEOLOGIST'

And, having read that Sophia Loren wants to have another baby...

STILL PHOTO OF BABY

...he writes, offering his services.

STILL PHOTO OF MAIL BAGS IN SORTING OFFICE

But, why do his letters remain unanswered?

STILL PHOTO OF TWO MEN PRACTISING KARATE BEHIND A WOMAN KNITTING

George and Nigel have had a tiff after learning that men in the south of England are better in bed than men in the north of England...

STILL PHOTO OF BLONDE WOMAN

...but Lotte says that anyone is better off in bed than in the north of England. Lotte has just finished a scarf for cousin Cedric...

STILL PHOTO OF ENOCH POWELL

...who has just lost his job as a race-relations officer for no apparent reason. But the same fate has also befallen cousin Ingrid...

STILL PHOTO OF GLAMOUROUS WOMAN

...who has been sacked from Rotterdam's new floating brothel. But is she wise to claim unfair dismissal on the grounds that the constant rocking motion made her feel queasy - and the sea made her feel sick as well.

STILL PHOTO OF OLD WOMAN ON A PARK BENCH

Will tragedy unite the family with the sudden death of neighbour, Mrs Prendegrass, who was half-way through an operation for the removal of a vital organ, when a hospital steward shouted 'One out - all out!'

ORIGINAL STILL OF HIGH STREET

All this, and a lot less in this week's thrilling instalment of... stay with us...

Not The Nine O'Clock News:
withdrawn Show 1 (02/04/79)


The Eurovision Song Contest joke may not have been terribly funny but it was certainly topical - that year's event was occuring on the night of the recording, in Israel (who also won it for the second year running).


PUPPET DENIS HEALEY

Excitingly, this show isn't just the birth of Not The Nine O'Clock News but also, in many ways, the first inkling of what would later become Spitting Image. This great article for Spiked Online sets the scene:

"In any case, getting Spitting Image off the ground had been no picnic. Lloyd had tried to get the celebrated magazine illustrators Peter Fluck and Roger Law to make puppets for Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1979. 'I had done a lot of stuff on the radio with people doing impersonations, so I knew I had all these great voices, but I couldn't think how on Not the Nine O'Clock News to show them off. Otherwise it would just be like [famous impressionist] Mike Yarwood, the same old thing. So we wanted some sort of animatronics or cartoon or whatever. But they said they didn't know how to make puppets, and weren't that interested.'"

Fluck & Law don't appear in the credits of the abandoned show, yet the style of caricature is pure David Stoten. The puppetry itself is much more simplistic however - an oversized puppet Denis Healey head resting atop the shoulders of an all-too-real performer (with presumably someone under the table pulling strings which animate the mouth and eyebrows alternately. The vocal impression comes from Chris Emmett:

BBC TESTCARD WITH PUPPET DENIS HEALEY IN LIEU OF GIRL. THE BLACKBOARD READS "2+2=7"

CUT TO HEALEY ADDRESSING THE CAMERA

HEALEY
Hello. (EYEBROWS RAISE) Now, because of the Tory win in the Commons you probably know I can't actually introduce the budget I'd planned for tomorrow. Still, I thought I'd tell you what I was going to do (OPENS BUDGET CASE). The first thing I was... oh...

TAKES OUT ABACUS, CASTS IT ASIDE WITH EMBARRASSMENT. TAKES OUT PAPERS

The first thing I was going to do was to introduce a positive measure to stimulate the economy. Yes, you've guessed it, I was going to abolish income tax. Absolutely and forever! (SIGHS) Ah well, that's out now. There were a number of other goodies. Let me see now... (READS PAPERS) For you small shopkeepers, VAT would have remained at 8% - the only change being we'd have paid it to you. (READS THROUGH VARIOUS SHEETS OF PAPER) Relief for the unemployed - we'd have sacked Albert Booth. The two-day working week. Bonus incentive schemes for getting out of bed. Full compensation for the helpless, the sick, the handicapped - well, Chelsea need all the help they can get don't they!

THROWS PAPERS IN THE AIR

Ah well, they all go in the bin too. In fact the only people who would have had to pay anything at all would have been a new special tax grade called 'Conservatives'! Pity, I don't suppose the Tories will be as generous. Of course it's very difficult to see ahead. (EYEBROWS RISE REVEALING EYES) Ah, that's better! I might just possibly get to bring these measures in one day. If I'm still here! Get the picture? (EYEBROWS WAGGLE)

Not The Nine O'Clock News:
withdrawn Show 1 (02/04/79)


That year's budget was indeed on the 3rd of April.


NEWSCASTER: "PICK OF THE WEEK"

In 1979 this probably seemed like an exciting new way of presenting topical one-liners - to have them scroll from right to left on an electronic billboard on the front of the Swiss Centre in Leicester Square. The device (in terms of comedy and hardware) is used several times throughout the pilot, the first scrolling joke being:

"ELECTION CRISIS... ULSTER UNIONISTS DEMAND FIVE MORE SEATS IN COMMONS... SO THAT NO ONE HAS TO SIT NEXT TO IAN PAISLEY".

Several of the 'newscaster' clips were eventually used in the Show 1 of the eventual series - although this one wasn't. Neither was the brief long-shot of the Swiss Centre which introduces the set up.


STOCK FILM: MAORIS

News footage of a tribal routine which sees some precision "fuck me" arm-gestures delivered by a group of enthusiastic Maoris.

The clip was used in Show 1 of the eventual series, and favoured several times afterwards when Sean Hardie assembled the opening titles montages.


STOCK FILM: PRINCE PHILLIP

Newsfilm of the Prince giving a speech, with a beep strategically added at an appropriate moment to make it look like he's just said a rude word.

A nice comedy device if you can get it - Armando Iannucci would later do a very similar joke in Armistice using footage of Michael Heseltine. Although its origins go back to I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again's 'Dirty Songbook' sketches.


NEWSCASTER

We return briefly to Leicester Square and the Swiss Centre newscaster, not for a one-liner but for a link into the following sketch - the scrolling words reading:

"CHURCH OF ENGLAND PAY RISE... WE LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE CHURCH TODAY... REPORT FOLLOWS..."

Cut to...


PRIESTS

The first inkling that the show has any visible onscreen cast members. In this case, John Gorman and Christopher Godwin as two priests on a park bench. After declaring that the afore-mentioned pay rise is a good idea, Gorman adds that he "gave a marvellous sermon the other day about...", then flounders, forgetfully. He continues to ponder. "Oh, whatsisname... you know the chap... Oh, name's on the tip of my tongue...". Finally, a vague recollection: "Walks on water!!"

A clip from this sketch was chosen to illustrate Mel Smith's less than enthusiastic comments about the pilot in Gerard Barry's documentary. It's certainly a perfect illustration of the difference in acting styles between the pilot and the series, serving to highlight, by its absence, just how effective the infamous 'roughening' of performance introduced by Smith actually was. Gorman and Godwin play the priests with traditional camp 'comedy vicar' mannerisms. When the sketch was reperformed for the series (Show 2, 23/10/79), Chris Langham and Rowan Atkinson simply played (or rather underplayed) the characters as two blokes having a chat.


NEWSCASTER

Back to the heart of London's fashionable West End for some electronically-delivered risibility:

"GET THE ABBEY HABIT... HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH A MONK"

Well, the old ones are the best (although it would have been relatively new at the time, perhaps.)


Hidden Archive: Not The Nine O'Clock News - The "Pilot"
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