Today we’re on BBC2, starting with A Small Summer Party, a full-length prequel to Rob Brydon’s series of short monologues Marion and Geoff. It starts off with a familiar perspective. This came way before YouTube, and it’s interesting to note a subtle way in which you can see this predates YouTuber culture – in the brief opening sequence there’s a cut, but it’s a fade between the two clips. The standard YouTube grammar of just cutting is something no professional editor would have done, and this demonstrates it.
This programme is still made as if it’s entirely shot on camcorders. But there’s someone else, whom we never see, operating the camera for this, which is established when Keith (Brydon) exits the car, then asks the cameraperson to join him. Technically, this whole programme is very well done.
Keith gives the camera (us) a look around his house. As a parent of (once young) children, those plastic cups are incredibly familiar. We’ve got loads of them in cupboards.
Since this is a prequel to Marion and Geoff, if you’ve watched that you’ll know what Keith’s domestic situation was in that, but for those coming to this fresh, we’re given plenty of hints that there’s dissatisfaction in the family. Keith is very proud of his wife Marion and her career in sales, as demonstrated by the framed magazine cover with her picture on it. (Also featuring her colleague Geoff.)
And the children’s pictures certainly tell a story.
The ‘found footage’ nature of the programme isn’t afraid to use some techniques you might otherwise see in a horror film, like the panning camera that pans past Marion in the doorway, then pans back to find her gone.
The show gets around the obvious narrative drawback of a single point of view by establishing there’s more than one camera in the house, and Keith’s small children, dressed as astronauts, have got it, so they get different angles when the drama hots up.
Some guests arrive for the party, and one of them also has a camera. One of the guests is played by Mark Benton.
Our first glimpse of Geoff in the flesh.
Whilst I appreciate this show, I do find it deeply uncomfortable. Keith’s almost pathological denial at what’s happening to his marriage, combined with a cringingly awkward social event makes it a tough watch. Made sadder by brief shots like this, of Keith, sitting in his car before heading to the off licence, just staring into space.
It really does play like a horror film sometimes, like when the kids see Geoff at the top of the stairs staring down at them, run away to the kitchen, to meet Mark Benton staring down in the same way. Benton’s character, we learn, was also romantically involved with Marion, so he doesn’t like either Keith or Geoff.
Things come to a head when Marion’s father goes upstairs, finds Marion and Geoff in the act, and he comes downstairs with Geoff’s suit and shoes, and dumps them on the barbecue.
So Geoff has to do the walk of shame down to the garden. Steve Coogan doesn’t mind getting his trousers off, does he? We saw his bum in Dr Terrible too.
He can’t get his car out of where it’s parked in the cul de sac, so Marion comes out, brandishing a kitchen knife., but then cuts off the giant red bow that’s wrapped around the car she had just been presented with (by Geoff) so she can drive him away.
We get the only clear look at Marion here. She’s played by Tracy Ann Oberman.
And as they drive off, trailing the bow behind them, the neighbours from next door, watching from an upstairs window, are still complaining. “oh there we go. That’s exactly what we mean, all the ribbon trailing behind for the children to trip over, that’s exactly what we mean. See? Exactly in front of our house.”
I think I appreciate this more than I like it.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 3rd September 2001 – 21:00
After this, recording switches to later in September 2001, for Correspondent – One Day of Terror. A programme composed of footage of the events of September 11th in New York. All these years later, as these images have been repeated so much, you’d think they’d lose their power to shock. And yet, as I watched this show, it still felt shocking and visceral.
Perhaps this felt a little more real because I was watching it on January 7th, the day after a mob invaded the US Capitol, attempting to change the result of the Presidential election, at the urging of the current President.
But I also remember watching this as it happened, in a BBC office, on the ringmain. And one image in particular struck me as one that looked exactly like a shot from a disaster movie – I was thinking the Emmerich Godzilla, where there was lots of building destruction. And here it was happening for real.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 30th September 2001 – 19:20
After this, recording switches again, and I get something to really cheer me up. It’s Victoria Wood’s Sketch Show Story, in which Victoria takes us through the high points of TV Sketch Shows, talking to the performers involved, and looking at the various ways the shows influenced later shows, or innovated.
“That was a classic piece of sketch comedy from Sid Field. So well done, Sid. Yes it’s me, I’m not in an old film at all.”
There’s an impressive list of interview subjects. Bob Monkhouse explains how sketches arose from the need to have short pieces performed in front of the theatre curtains, so the stage can be reset behind the curtains.
Charlie Higson: “Radio shows would be on week after week after week so they would build up a shorthand with the audience. They were doing what we did years before we do.”
John Cleese loved The Goons. When they made a TV show “I remember getting very excited when I heard about Son of Fred, and then terribly frustrated because I discovered it was not to be seen in Weston Super Mare, it was only seen in the London area.”
David Frost talks Beyond The Fringe and The Frost Report.
Ian Hislop, not surprisingly, talks about Peter Cook, who founded Private Eye.
Harry Enfield was also a fan.
Ronnie Barker talks about the pressures of doing the Frost Report live. “It was necessary in the case of the Frost Report because it was topical. But anything else done live was only to give the director a rush of adrenaline, I used to think.”
I’m sure it’s come up before on here, but I’ve performed the Class sketch on stage.
Ronnie Corbett on the enduring influence of the Class sketch. “Weekend magazine about ten days ago, they do something on class, that is the picture, after all these years.”
Sanjeev Bhaskar talks about Monty Python’s influence.
Naturally, Morecambe and Wise are featured heavily.
The Two Ronnies next – This sketch was one I always remember – German with initial letters.
I used to love Dick Emery
At this point, there’s a Victoria Wood sketch.
I was watching this, enjoying its meta wordplay, and it took me a minute to realise that the reason it wasn’t that familiar to me from As Seen on TV is that it was made specifically for this programme.
Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith talk about Not The Nine O’Clock News. They describe how the BBC hadn’t done a new sketch show since Python because they couldn’t top Python, “These two guys went to see them and they both came and said why don’t we do a topical sketch show so he gave them a fiver, and sent them off to have a curry. And they had a curry together and came up with the concept of doing Not The Nine O’Clock News”.
Lenny Henry, who was doing Three of a Kind at around the same time: “We were very jealous of Not The Nine O’Clock News because they could be much ruder than us.”
On Spitting Image, Ian Hislop: “Spitting Image very briefly sold one series to America, and we presented the first script, and the man from NBC called Nick Newman, who I used to write with, and myself in to explain the script and his view was ‘Are you suggesting that the President of the United States is an asshole?’ and we said Yeah, that was very much the view.”
I used to love Kenny Everett’s shows. There was always such imagination.
Lenny Henry tells of how people would repeat Joshua Yahlog’s catchphrase to him when they saw him in the street, but they would often mispronounce it.
Julie Walters thinks Victoria Wood is completely unique. And she loved getting all the best lines in her sketches.
On to A Bit Of Fry and Laurie. “I don’t think we had a grand scheme.”
Stephen Fry: “One of Hugh Laurie’s extraordinary talents is being hit.”
Dawn French: “It’s almost criminal that we can earn a living doing this.”
Jennifer Saunders: “I think our first series was particularly poor.”
Moving on to Harry Enfield, he explains “Only Me!” as his antidote to the annoying mother-in-law character.
Smashie and Nicey were the best.
Charlie Higson outlines the Fast Show style. “The idea was to just cut the fat out. At its simplest it would be a character coming on, doing their catchphrase and coming off.”
Sanjeev Bhaskar talks about the ‘signature sketch’ of Goodness Gracious Me, ‘Going For an English’. When I worked for Douglas Adams (have I mentioned that before?) he once told us that this was one of his favourite sketches.
There’s a brief discussion of Smack the Pony – Julie Walters loves it.
And that’s about it. Apart from a final specially written sketch. This really is like finding a Monet in your attic.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 25th October 2001 – 21:00
We briefly see David Dimbleby trailing Question Time, and then the recording switches. At this point, the recordings on this tape stop making any kind of sense.
There’s the end of a programme, Body Briefs, about ageing. Then there’s a trailer for Linda Green.
Then, the start of the first episode in the second series of Attachments. Remember when a trailer for this came up a while ago, and I said I was a bit sad I didn’t have any episodes recorded, because, although I remember hating it at the time, I’d be interested to see it now. Well I should be careful what I wish for.
It’s about as bad as I remember. A dull office drama which could just as easily be about an office of chartered accountants, as there’s absolutely no interest in what they’re supposed to be working at, and it’s all about who’s sleeping with whom. I’m disappointed that, in the bit that’s here, there wasn’t a single instance of a character typing furiously saying “I’ve got to get the coding finished or the client will go ballistic” when their screen shows some HTML in Notepad. Oh wait, it wouldn’t be Notepad because it’s always Macs in these shows. Still, at least we can see a young David Walliams not being given anything funny to do.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 25th October 2001 – 22:00 which means this was directly on the other side just as the Victoria Wood Sketch Show Story ended, so I presumably just switched over.
Which is when it gets even odder. because after about 8 minutes of this, it switches to another recording. It’s not an older recording underneath, it’s a brand new recording, from later the same evening, It’s the last ten minutes of the film Viva Knievel! starring motorcycle jumper over things Evel Knievel. This is all we had to entertain us in the dark days before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Middle-aged men jumping motorcycles onto very large trucks while wearing a star spangled helmet and a gorgeous Orange jumpsuit.
Leslie Nielsen is one of the bad guys.
The movie co-stars Gene Kelly, and yet at no time does he do any dancing. I don’t want to live in that world.
The end credits feature a song about the eponymous Mr Knievel, and it’s a banger. Here it is on the opening credits. “A King of the Road with a Helmet for a Crown.”
BBC Genome: BBC One – 26th October 2001 – 00:40
After it, there’s a public information film about the importances of reading (shown in the wrong aspect ratio).
Then, BBC One joins BBC News 24, and the rest of the tape is just the news. I have no explanation why this particular recording is here. What did I think I was taping?
However, there were a couple of reports of interest. Most of the news was the ramping up of the American war in Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11th, but there was other stuff going on – like the launch of Windows XP, which took place in New York, which explains why then Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears on stage with Bill Gates to thank him for bringing some business back to the city.
There’s also a later item which features Steve Ballmer making a promotional video, always a toe-curling sight.
Here’s all three WIndows-related items.
The tape ends at 3:30am.