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Scrapheap Challenge

Scrapheap Challenge is another one of those shows that seemed to be on air just as I was hitting the right age for it. It’s also another one of those programme that does exactly what’s on the tin.

In this case the challenge was to build some sort of device, weapon or contraption using scrap found in the scrapyard.

Robert Llewellyn standing on some scrap.

Two teams went head to head to compete in a competition of some sorts. For example building an amphibious vehicle. The winner then went on towards the finals.

Each team had someone who could be considered an expert, usually some kind of engineer and then two others from a more mundane walk of life.

After initially planning out their ideas, helpfully illustrated for us with some graphics the teams then split to head off on quad bikes to find what they think they need from the scrapheap.

In almost every episode someone would find something not on their list that they think will be really useful that they return to their teammates enthusiastically only to find blank expressions.

The hosts. Robert never lost his enthusiasm.

Presented by Robert Llewlyn (better known as Kryten in Red Dwarf) who seems to hold endless enthusiasm for everything going on. He was joined originally by Cathy Rogers who was actually an executive at RDF who made the programme, in later series Lisa Rogers (no relation) replaced her.

The show also made it over to America but they prefer to call their scrapheap Junkyards and their challenges Wars.

Robot Wars

Probably a firm favourite of many and unnoticed by everyone else. I was slap-bang in the target audience for the show. Airing at 6pm on BBC 2 back when the BBC didn’t have the rights for enough episodes of The Simpsons to air it every night.

The premise of the programme was simple. Robots fighting against each other. No AI involved, they were all remote controlled. At least I think they all were. Those that controlled the ‘House Robots’ to the best of my recollection were never talked about or seen.

Those House Robots had names like Sir Kilalot and Matilda or my favourite at the time Roadblock – don’t ask me why it was my favourite but this fighting machine was made from a Road Closed sign, witty stuff.

Yes, watching a cheese shaped roadsign was how we entertained ourselves in the new Millennium!

Going against the House Robots were the competitors. These robots were built by members of the public. There were some expert teams but also sometimes teams consisting of father and sons which was probably half the appeal of someone my age at the time.

The robots were no soft-touch. There were saw blades, flame cutters and many spikes and jagged edges. But everything took place inside a perspex walled arena so no health and safety concerns here.

The arena where it all took place.

The action in the arena was hosted, for the first series by Jeremy Clarkson. He was probably the perfect host but at the time was a lot more marmite and less popular he was ousted for the following series in favour of Craig Charles.

Jeremy/Craig were joined by Phillipa Forrester (and probably others during various series) as backstage reporters. They would interview the teams and ask questions like ‘do you think you can fix it?’ When the team had suffered at the house robots.

The battles were entertaining to watch. Sometimes they’d be over quickly and the House Robots would make a show of their victories, circling around before placing the immobilised opponent into the kill zone (a small drop in the arena floor). Occasionally too robots would basically commit suicide or simply never get going.

It was all exciting enough but ramped up more by Jonathon Pearce and his massively over the top commentary style. In many ways Jonathon made the programme. You could switch most of the elements but his commentary was essential.

After a few series I became bored, so did the BBC so it was dropped before being picked up by Channel 5. It was then revived briefly by BBC 2 in more recent times.

Comedy Corner: The Smoking Room

BBC Three, 2004 – 2005

The notion of there even being a room for smoking in a workplace is now nothing but a memory. This sitcom came just a couple of years before smoking indoors at work was outlawed.

The Smoking Room was a weird lounge with yellow walls and old files in an office building, the exact nature of the business was never really revealed but its staff gave glimpses of the world beyond the smoking room, we never saw outside of its four walls for the whole series.

The cast were the smokers. Robert Webb played Robin. He was the only character to remain in the Smoking Room for almost the entire time, exactly what his job was isnt clear but he obviously didn’t spend much time doing it, although he would often state that he would finish off his cigarette then he really must go back to work.

There was also one more thing about Robin. He was (probably) gay, in the closet and obsessed with Ben from the Post Room. He’ll try and drop him into conversations but usually gets little response. Everyone else in the smoking room is pretty much clear on the reality when it comes to Robin.

So who else was in the smoking room? There was Sally who could be sarcastic but probably the most down to earth of the lot. Her friend was Annie who was over dramatic about everything and Barry who was your typical loser, he was always struggling with a crossword.

Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?
Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?

Also popping in were Clint the handyman, who was fairly hapless at fixing things and Len the security guard. He tended to leave most of the work to his junior Ranjit, who is never seen. In season two Heidi popped in, she wasn’t a smoker and was definitely weird.

Occasionally popping in for a fag was Sharon, the manager of the business – nobody liked her but she tried small talk because she had been on courses suggesting she should. Her assistant Janet had no confidence and would often talk about standing up to Sharon, but never did.

The Smoking Room could easily have been a radio comedy as there is very little visual humour and everything takes place in one room. It is also set in real time and while episodes have some threads running through them most are self-contained.

I don’t think you could call it laugh out loud funny but there are enough jokes in there. The bulk of the humour comes from the scenario and pictures painted by the cast.

The series came to an end with a Christmas episode set during the office party. It concludes with an excited Robin being greeted by Ben from the postroom. There were no further episodes made, partly as Smoking Rooms became outlawed.

Being tucked away on BBC Choice this programme probably didn’t get the audience it deserved. It was well observed and full of dry wit and I really enjoyed it. Coming out around the same time as the Office it probably deserved more recognition as there haven’t been many sitcoms set in a single location.

A few extra useless details I remember from the BBC website of the time, the theme tune was Close to Me by The Cure. Also the majority of the cast were non-smokers and so low-tar cigarettes were used which apparently smelt worse than normal ones.

Comedy Corner: Look Around You (Series 2)

Welcome into my Comedy Corner, where I write about lesser-spotted television comedy programmes most people have forgotten.

You have probably worked out that I like television and I like nostalgia. That is fundementally what this entire blog is about. Look Around You was a comedy based on the same things. The first series was a set of short ten minute episodes parodying old schools TV progammes from the 1970s. I may write about that series at a later date, today however I want to go into detail about the second series.

The simple reason for my reverse order is that I saw the second series first, but it was very different to the first running for six half-hour episodes and being a parody of Tomorrow’s World. The writing team of Peter Serafenowiz and Robert Popper were the same but there were aditional reoccuring cast members in the shape of Josie D’Arby (who I grew up watching as a Children’s BBC presenter) and Olivia Coleman, who is a massive star these days.

Each episode had a theme, sport, music etc. The show was presented by the cast who were all suitably attired and in a very brown studio which you’d typically find in the 1980s along with the theme tune which was brilliantly synthasied as you would expect.

While I am critiquing the attention to detail on making this look like a genuine archive programme I should mention that the show (which aired on BBC 2) was preceded with a period BBC 2 logo. To keep things looking authentic, the programme wasn’t even broadcast in widescreen – which almost all new programmes were by this point.

The comedy was slightly wacky and off the wall. The various ‘Inventor of the Year’ inventions were basically ridiculous. There was a gender swapping machine and a spray on skin spray. There was a Music 2000 competition which resulted in one of the hosts, Robert Popper launching a music career.

Thank’s Ants… Thants.

Peter created Portmanu to thank the guests every episode.

The culmination of the series came with the final episode and the Inventor of the Year. This episode featured Prince Charles – not a look alike – the real deal, pasted in from a genuine Tomorrow’s World episode and redubbed by Peter Serafenowiz. He is always refered to as H.R.H. Sir Prince Charles, which of course is incorrect.

In keeping with the general humour of the series overall, things go awry when one of the hopeful inventors goes mad, which results in Prince Charles face being completely removed with the spray-on skin. The programme goes ‘off the air’ and is replaced by what looks like a genuine schedule filler from the time about birds (It’s actually a film that was made for the first series DVD) before returning to the studio with sombre voices and faces.

While most of the content was ridiculous the attention to detail was amazing. If I was to pick on one bit that was a letdown it would be the giant ‘air-lock’ space age entrance that guests entered through which was clearly CGI, but I honestly think that over-the-top look was all part of the joke.

After watching the second series, I then bought the first series on DVD. Having seen how both were completely different I hoped for a third series, maybe with Look Around You being a parody of a regional news programme or something similar – but sadly there were no further Look Around You’s, but thanks guys… thuys.


Sunday Mornings, Channel 4

T4 successfully filled a television void around Sunday lunchtimes. Filled with children’s programmes and teen dramas I was probably right in its demographic during the early years.

I remember T4 launching back in 1998. There were lots of promotions for it although they didn’t explain what T4 was going to be and they felt heavily geared to a teenage audience. But T4 wasn’t just for teenagers, not originally at least.

All of Channel 4’s kids and youth programmes came under the T4 banner originally with a notable step-change when Ben Shepherd turned up just before Hollyoaks. There was a presenter earlier on who I dont even remember as I didn’t bother to tune in for those shows.

T4 got good when they focused solely on teen programming and we’re firmly split from kids programmes by way of the Waltons, which had been airing on channel 4 for years but always seemed out of place.

New hosts Margharita Taylor and Dermot O’Leary made the perfect team, plus I was older and they ditched presenting from the studio to presenting around the Channel 4 HQ which appeared to me because of my growing interest in television.

Dermot and Margharita the hosts I remember most

That was my era of T4. Planet Pop, Hollyoaks, Dawson’s Creek, The Real World all shows I watched in my bedroom instead of doing my homework, or socialising or whatever I should have been doing with my Sunday afternoons.

Others will remember Vernon Kay, June Sarpong or Nick Grimshaw but I had moved on from the kind of shows and television they were making by the time they all became involved with T4.

Andi Peters had been the presenter of kids programmes when I was smaller and became the producer responsible for the programmes I watched when I was older. In later years he had a job in a CD factory and more recently has been trying to flog prize draws.

The Big Breakfast Part 4

A big deal was made of the relaunch following the departure of Johnny Vaughn. He went on to work at Capital Radio and BBC Three but would never reach the fame he had on The Big Breakfast.

I remember very well waking up to the first relaunched show. It was all change from start to finish. It was a modern show. The house had once again been drastically altered and there was a team of three presenters.

It was a shaddow of its former self and once again didnt prove enough of a draw to justify the changes. I certainly wasn’t fussed with it and by now would prefer to sleep in rather than wake up to watch a mediocre TV show.

The house looked nice enough but these three weren’t much cop.

I watched on and off as the programme began to metamorphosised back into a clone of the original. There seemed to be many more presenting partnerships at this point but the humour seemed a bit more vulgar and strained.

The final show was three hours long but I watched on VHS eventually. Getting up in the mornings was no longer something I liked doing. I was at the end of my school career and my whole routine had changed, yes I loved a lay-in.

The right setting but by this point the show was limping on.

But The Big Breakfast was something special, the kind of show that wouldn’t work thesedays and possibly will be forgotten about but it changed as I changed and for me will be remembered as entertainment in the days when I had time on my hands in the early mornings.

The Big Breakfast Part 3

Johnny and Denise

Although I’d migrated from watching The Big Breakfast over to watching Children’s BBC as I headed into my teens I started switching onto Channel 4 in the mornings again.

The programme had entered it’s second golden era with new hosts Johnny Vaughn and Denise Van Outen. The format was more or less back to where it started, they didn’t show cartoons and Zig and Zag had gone but there were now more phone-in games.

I still only was able to watch for the first hour or so the show was generally split into segments. There was a daily pundown which was a clever way of doing the newspaper review based on the puns in the headlines.

Johnny and Denise were the perfect TV duo

There were Vital Statistics which in truth weren’t really vital but interested me enough. I had a Vital statistics calendar around the same time which I probably only got because it was TV related at the time that was a big obsession for me.

Then Denise van Outen left. They replaced her with model Kelly Brook, making almost the same mistake as they had with Sharon Davies and going for looks over personality or talent. Fortunately Lisa Tarbuck came to the rescue and her humour style matched Johnny’s (and mine) perfectly.

The show had become my default breakfast viewing and for the Millennium they aired an all night episode, The Biggest Breakfast Ever, which I stayed with for almost all of the night (until the programme over-ran somehow).

Then Lisa left, Johnny planned to leave and Denise came back, it wasn’t quite as good but by no means dreadful. But when Johnny left what would the programme end up like?

It turns out the days of Chris and Gaby had been matched by Johnny and Denise but they would never again reach those heights.

The Priory

Sitting in the 6pm slot on Channel 4 around the turn of the millennium, The Priory would reunite Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston on screen after their Live and Kicking days.

The show was a slightly anarchic mish-mash of features. A bit like Live and Kicking but aiming at an older audience. Produced by the same company as TFI Friday, in some respects you could consider this a follow up.

There would be guests, I have no memories of any in particular but the usual fair you can expect attempting to plug their teen related shows. There was usually live music at the end and there would be regular features.

One feature I remember would be slightly controversial now, Jamie presented a segment that revisited letters written in to Jim’ll Fixit but ultimately went unfulfilled and the show would then fulfil them. I think there may have been a Jim Didn’t Fix It medal too.

Another, completely random feature was a live link up with broadcasting legend Fred Dineage who I think was live hosting some sort of quiz or game or other pointlessness, his appearance(s) was plain bizarre.

Zoe and Jamie in bed together.

The programme had a Norman Cook/Fatboy Slim theme tune which makes sense as he was topping the charts at the time and was Zoe’s other half.

The Priory will never go down as an iconic bit of broadcasting but it was the kind of TV show you just don’t get thesedays. It was entertaining enough if you were

Rex the Runt

This offbeat animation aired in the 6pm ‘cult’ slot on BBC 2. The premise was a bit bonkers but with this sort of animation you’d expect that. The series focused on a gang of claymation dogs who were housemates.

Rex was usually the one to come up with the plans. Bad Bob was the scary one and Wendy was the only female. The there was Vince who was like the family pet, he would break out into random bursts of opera.

For me though, t best thing was the guest characters. It seemed as though people you wouldn’t normally expect to voice characters on a show like this were more than happy to appear

Mr Formal, Rex’s Bank Manager.

Stars like Bob Holness who appeared in one episode as the bank manager which was completely unexpected and random but brilliant.

The series was one of those you just don’t see anymore. Utterly offbeat and not aimed a children but no aimed at adults either. It fitted into that slot on BBC2 well.

Bob and Margaret

Bob and Margaret was an animation about a fairly ordinary British couple. It was an adult cartoon, although you couldn’t call it the British answer to The Simpsons it was an amusing show.

It originated on Channel 4 but also aired on the long-gone Freeview channel FTN. I’m not entirely sure which of the two channels I saw it on first as around the same time as it was on FTN it was also on (very) late on C4.

The premise was that Bob was a dentist and Margaret was his wife their lives were pretty vanilla but usually a few over the top situations would arise. They had no children but in one episode they were looking after someone elses.

This could easily be my house right now.

Another episode saw them taking an elderly relative to see someone’s grave only to find a supermarket built on the graveyard with the tombstones now being lined up along the carpark wall.

The whole series changed when its funding moved from being joint British and Canadian to just being funded by Canada. As a result the couple moved to Canada which made it a bit more quirky – a British couple in Canada.

Overall it was their dynamic as a couple and the mundane situations they found themselves in that made it entertaining and very much relatable. It wasnt laugh out loud funny but still worth a watch.

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