Weaver's Week 2020-06-28

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Let's recap the career of Noel Edmonds. Rising star at Radio 1, gets the breakfast show. Leaves it to invent Saturday morning magazine programme Swap Shop. Moves to primetime Saturday night, first on audience participation The Late Late Breakfast Show, then on prerecorded larkabout The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow. Finally, Noel's House Party is broadcast live to the nation. Evenings are full of gunge, grands to be grabbed, the star of the show is you, and Mister Blobby.


The Life and Career of Noel Edmonds

A Beard for History

We left Noel's House Party in March 1996. It was at the height of its popularity. Between 12 and 15 million people tuned in each week, Mr Blobby was still a cultural phenomenon, and Noel's company Unique had opened theme parks in Devon and Morecambe. Noel owned part of Noel's House Party, and the success made him tremendously rich.

But there were problems afoot. At the height of Blobbymania, a franchised Blobby accidentally smashed someone's face into a trophy cabinet, breaking their nose. Another franchised Blobby ruined a child's birthday cake, and was punched in the oversized nose by an angry father.

The park gates in Morecambe.

The theme park in Morecambe had opened, and then closed again within a few months. There were reports that Lancaster council had been promised the impossible to get this tourist attraction in their borough. The one in Devon morphed into a general children's television world, Blobby bumped along with Noddy and the Playdays crew.

And the show had begun to suffer. In 1992, the 0898 contests were an organic part of the programme – would we prefer to gunge Timmy Mallett or Phillippa Forrester? Can we predict the future? By 1996, the premium-rate contests were patronisingly easy and done for money – where is the end-of-series special taking place? Australia, France, or Disneyworld?

Noel Edmonds had signed a contract taking House Party through to spring 1997. In retrospect, he should have brought the curtain down then, it would have left us wanting more. Throughout his career, Noel had known when to move on from something, and not look back. He'd left Radio 1 Breakfast before it got stale. He'd left Dingley Dell and Perkins Grange while they were still fresh. He'd moved on from Swap Shop and left us wanting more. After fifteen years, was it time for Noel to take his bow?

Top: Noel and Blobby; guards look after the Gotcha.
Bottom: Noel calls up a viewer; Peter Andre surprises his "lookalike".

But House Party was to continue. We've looked at an edition from November 1997, when House Party was clearly off the boil. The backbone of the show is a lovely NTV, a viewer is surprised and taken to her local ice rink, where she sees a performance by Torvill and Dean. But there's a twist: our viewer is going to skate with Christopher Dean. The public is the star, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's all charming and heartwarming.

In the studio, there's a slightly funny running joke about the Gotcha being kept under armed guard, with two security guards and their ferocious poodles. If anyone steals the Gotcha, they'll yap like no security guard has yapped before. Needless to say, this week's victim (Joe Pasquale) introduces himself by stealing the Gotcha, then watching his humiliation.

Top: The Secret World of the Teenager, with shoddy set dressing.
Bottom: Joe Pasquale, and the titles resembling Eastenders.

"Wait Till I Get You Home" has been revamped as "The Secret World of the Teenager", where the younger member of the family tells embarrassing stories about … themself. Can't see ITV making a cutesy primetime show out of this idea, sorry. Mister Blobby appears in the opening skit, and doesn't come back all night. Someone who looks vaguely like Peter Andre is surprised by Peter Andre. Bryan Adams performs that tedious and overplayed song – no, not the Robin Hood one, the summer one.

Top: Torvill and Dean; rubbish hidden camera stunt My Little Friend
Bottom: Noel interrupts Joe Pasquale on stage; the viewer with Christopher Dean.

"I wanted to fail on my own terms"

But it's clear House Party is suffering. The stunts are cosy, not expansive. Surprising Joe Pasquale on stage is hardly as inventive as creating a six-foot-high mobile phone for Cheryl Baker. There's no viewer engagement, the Crinkly Bottom soap was tedious, and the whole show was a shadow of itself.

Behind the scenes, producer Guy Freeman had left House Party, a mere six episodes into its run. Other Gotcha stunts were poor and not good enough to transmit. The writing was unfunny, and the series felt unplanned. Things got worse and worse, until the afternoon of 3 January 1998, when Noel went on strike from his own programme.

Look, just bung out Blobbyvision, it's better than Noel's usual dreck.

A standby compilation was substituted in its place, and the following week's show consisted of archive Gotchas linked live from the set. Not only was it clear that Noel had no confidence in his own show, but we'd also been treated to a couple of archive editions from when the show was good. It was no surprise when the star of the show left after this series, Mister Blobby accepted a transfer to Live and Kicking where he merrily blobbed along with rising stars Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston.

The 1998-99 series abandoned many of its core principles, replacing NTV with "You're On Your Own", isolating its victims for the week. "Sofa Soccer" was as drawn-out and tedious as anything on the first series of Late Late Breakfast Show, except without Barry Manilow or ABBA performing. We could forgive the first series of Late Late, Noel was finding his feet at Saturday telly, we knew he could do better, and maybe this week has the requisite oomph to kick into top gear. We couldn't forgive the final year of House Party, we all knew Noel could do better. Even Noel knew he could do better.

Jamie and Zoe are shocked that Blobby's on the transfer market.

The final demise of House Party, on 20 March 1999, came as a merciful release. Evoking the end of Bruce's Big Night, Noel spends time knocking the television critics; invoking a future bloviator, he spends time obsessing about his ratings figures. There's a slight return for Mr Blobby, and – inevitably – the host ends up covered in gunge.

Why don't you just switch off your television set and go out and do something else less boring instead?

But there was another long-running string to Noel Edmonds' bow. Telly Addicts had kept his face on television for years. It's a show so simple a child could have devised it, a mixture of archive footage and questions about television.

The set, Noel dives into the props bag, and the momento for losing contenders.

Now, they could have played Telly Addicts straight, a simple archive quiz. But Noel is better than that, he's got boundless imagination, and he's going to show us some of it. So, can you guess this programme from clues — brought out of a props bag? A change clear in retrospect, and it adds so much to the fun. Sing the Sig, where you're to sing a television theme tune. Guess the Year, obviously.

In later years, there was "On the Box", an individual round where one member of each family would answer questions on their own – initially on the sofas, then isolated in another part of the studio. Charles Collingwood from The Archers was employed to give the scores, and the final round was In the Spotlight: three questions for each person, 90 seconds for the lot, many points to be won.

And if we weren't interested in the competition, the featured clips were interesting in their own right, and were allowed to run uninterrupted. In the days before the internet and video on demand, this was a rare privilege; even today, we rarely see clippage without some talking head popping up every two seconds and describing what we've just seen.

From a 1994 celebrity edition, featuring Danny Baker, June Whitfield, and a young Bradley Walsh.

Telly Addicts always seemed to be on at the same time as The Krypton Factor. Like the other show, Telly Addicts took a year off and then came back in a bizarre mutation, with lots of running about and a far-too-complex end round.

By then, Noel was clearly in a bad place. After Noel's House Party came to an end, the star moved out of the spotlight. For the first time in three decades, he wasn't a regular face on television or radio. He concentrated on his business involvements. In radio, Unique Broadcasting made the Network Chart for independent stations, and owned the Classic Gold chain of oldies stations. But mostly, Noel was content to live on his estate in Devon.

Noel popped up again in 2001, using his celebrity to communicate with farmers during the foot and mouth disease crisis. He gave interviews during a pro-farming demonstration the following year, and seemed poised for a new challenge.

File:Square Deal or No Deal Box.jpg

Deal or No Deal

Six years out of the spotlight was enough, and Noel returned for a new challenge. Deal or No Deal, a game of prediction and psychology, arrived on screen in autumn 2005. It ran for eleven years. We've written a lot about Deal or No Deal, mostly in its early years when the format was still fresh and exciting, and was a genuine competition between the player and the house. For a lot more on that, we'll point to the Tenth Anniversary Special.

Let's look at Deal or No Deal and ask a different question: how does this fit into Noel's career? We'll watch a random episode from October 2009.

Deal or No Deal

"Greetings, pilgrims!" Noel starts with an in-joke, something that makes more sense if you're a regular viewer. And he starts with a religious reference, perhaps suggesting that he's the High Priest of the Red Boxes. In real life, Noel got into spiritualism, and made claims for something he called "cosmic ordering" – if you want something hard enough, the universe will provide it. It's not clear how this claim might be tested by science.

There's a recap of recent shows, and reference to "The 1p club", a group of people who won the lowest amount on the board – 23 people since the show started. Throughout his career, Noel's built on what happened last time, plucking out the most exciting moments, making us feel that if we've missed a show, we've missed out on something exciting. It's one of his most enduring qualities. So is the way he makes the contestant feel at home, talk about the picture they've brought in from home, the granny who is no longer with us.

Throughout the show, Noel invites us to step over the threshold into his little world. He focusses on the big money, the tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds. He talks of "courage to go all the way", of "the dream factory". The basic Deal or No Deal is a blank canvas, ready for a television artist to provide a background. Noel Edmonds is a master television artist.

And he can paint behind whatever the contestant puts in the foreground. Our contestant screams a lot, so Noel puts his fingers in his ears. She deals for £22,000, but could have had a £35k-£50k split in the final two. It's an incredible game, but it's not a defeat. The player has still won a year's salary, and that's life-changing money. Noel's values might not be shared by other people.

HQ: headquarters, or high quality, or something else?

Noel's never been afraid to speak his mind, and has always gone about things in a single-minded way. By his own admission, Noel is a control freak, he wants to be in charge, and sees that as a positive thing. In recent years, he's chosen to act against the best interests of a healthy community. He may have a point about Lloyds Bank breaking his Unique Group in 2005, and the bank has agreed a settlement in the millions of pounds.

Rants against wind farms put him into unsavoury company. Rants against immigration and Welsh-language broadcasting suggest that small-minded post-war suburban Essex takes a lot of getting over. "It would be terrible if we didn't have the BBC," he said in 1998, but ten years later he refused to pay for the BBC, and twenty years later proposed buying the whole corporation to run as his personal fiefdom.

By 2008, Noel was given a lot of rope. Noel's HQ – the climax to a short spell with BSkyB – was billed as "television to inspire the viewer". Even at the safe distance of 11 years, we're only inspired to wonder "what the actual..?" The show – a rally masquerading as an entertainment programme – went on and on about "broken Britain". "Health and safety" and "red tape" were everywhere, and always an impediment, a threat. Perhaps someone might remember the last time a major television show gave a flagrant disregard for health and safety; perhaps someone might remember what ended The Late Late Breakfast Show.

It's Noel at his most smarmy and patronising, a man who hands in a backpack containing £2000 cash is awarded a holiday courtesy of Sky Travel. Noel's not afraid to lay into a council officer, inviting people to call into a named person at a council. Looks like he's just invented the pile-on, friends. And then we meet a woman who's set up a charity against bullying, introduced by someone who spent the last ten minutes on television being a bully.

Noel's HQ wasn't the end of his career. By 2008, BSkyB was an obscure broadcaster, not even carried on the cable networks. (We never saw Noel present Are You Smarter Than a 10 Year Old?, and we didn't miss it.) But it reflected his personality: charming and sweet amongst people he could get along with, but you'd cross him at your peril. Chris Morris got away with it, he persuaded Noel to rail against the made-up drug "Cake", and witter some nonsense about how it interfered with "Shatner's bassoon".

A sharp suit and earnest voice.

His final hosting job was the 2017 sitcom-game Cheap Cheap Cheap. The latter was a character-driven sitcom, set in a corner store with manager and various people dropping by. There was also a game attached, allowing Noel to meet the people, talk to the people, and offer them rich rewards. In many ways, Cheap Cheap Cheap is Noel's career in a nutshell, it lives at the intersection of normal people and Noel's fertile imagination.

After a 2018 I'm a Celebrity spell, Noel retired, and moved to New Zealand. We don't expect to see him again, but we've said that before. Channel 5's snide documentary The Curse of Noel Edmonds asked where it all went wrong, and asked that question in 2004. Noel could still surprise us again, and probably will.

Noel and his friend try to help the contenders.

Noel Edmonds has always been complex and fascinating character. He innovated on the radio, he invented Saturday morning telly, he was a bedrock for entertaining Saturday evening telly. Noel's strength was always in creating his own worlds, and inviting us in. When his internal monologue didn't match the real world, he'd lash out at the world. When everything was in harmony – as it was for a quarter of a century – Noel was a compelling and charismatic presenter.

In other news...

Good news for talent show fans, Strictly Come Dancing will return this year. The series will be "slightly shorter", and there will be some extra retrospective shows at the start of the autumn.

Great news for afternoon telly fans, Pointless began new episodes on Friday. These were originally scheduled for mid-April, but the series kept being bumped to BBC2, and they figured they'd hold them back for a time when more people would be watching.

Also this week, we've a welcome return for The 3rd Degree (R4, Mon), and a new series of Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, Wed). Home Is Where the Art Is returns on 6 July (BBC1).

Over on ITV2, they have imported a companion for their daily chat show. Ellen's Game of Games (ITV2, weekdays) features fun and undemanding games with oversized pay-offs.

We had intended to review Alan Carr's Epic Gameshow (sic) next week, but we want to see them do Bullseye, and they're not doing that till next week. So we're taking next week off, Mr. Carr battles for priority against BBC1's The Bidding Room in the next few weeks.

Photo credits: BBC, Unique, Tiger Aspect, Talkback Productions, Cheetah West (an Endemol company). Video courtesies: Andy Pearman, Neil Miles.

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