By Jason Wright (Entertainment Expert)
THROUGHOUT the eighties, the BBC had discovered a great entertainer in Noel Edmonds. First was the daring Late Late Breakfast Show before the more applauding Saturday Roadshow. Then in November 1991, the Saturday Roadshow became Noel’s House Party, the BBC’s first live Saturday night show for a long time.
Broadcast from ‘The Great House’ in Crinkley Bottom, a fictional Westcountry village, the idea behind the show was to have fun, play pranks, make famous people fools, embarrass members of the public and of course, some rewards. This was in a period where all kinds of Saturday night entertainment were rolled into one. A bitter ratings war was subsequently launched with ITV’s common Saturday offerings of Catchphrase, Gladiators, Family Fortunes and Blind Date up against BBC’s line-up of Big Break, The Generation Game, House Party and Casualty.
The features of House Party usually featured Gotcha! where members of the public and sometimes celebrities were fooled with hidden cameras and had to endure a series of practical jokes. To prove that the show was well and truly live, NTV placed a secret camera in a living room of someone watching the show, and again, celebrities were caught out in this segment on some occasions, most notably Chris Evans, the late Richard Whiteley and Dale Winton.
The Gunge Tank was yet again no escape for anyone. Starting off as a phone-in poll between two celebrities to decide who should get the gunging, it later evolved into a tour around the house whilst being soaked in the slimy mess. The show did give away some prizes, with Grab-a-Grand. A celebrity would spend up to 60 seconds, depending on the amount of questions a viewer answered correctly, collecting foreign banknotes in a fan booth. The cash collected was converted into a prize total using the exchange rate rule. People could also win money in Number Cruncher. A special phone booth was placed somewhere in Britain and the first person to find it would play the game, a big cash prize if successful but failure resulted in…you guessed it…a gunging!
|DUO: Trouble often followed Noel Edmonds and Mr. Blobby!|
However, the best known character of House Party was Mr Blobby, a spotted mascot who would so often or not get himself or Edmonds into trouble in one way or another. His popularity spurned a large merchandise line and the Christmas Number One in 1993 with his own title song. With the show pulling in usually around ten million per week, Crinkley Bottom was given its own park at Pleasurewood Hills in Lowestoft, Norfolk for people to experience it firsthand.
As the show continued to screen throughout the years, drastic improvements were made to try and keep it up-to-date with the growth in other modern gameshows and newer programmes. However, they didn’t have a great effect; people left disappointed as they believed House Party would be one of the shows that should never have had its format tampered with. Viewers turned off in their droves and Edmonds went into a contractual dispute with the Beeb, claiming they were responsible to making the tweaks that sent the show downhill. Eventually, he agreed to try one more series in 1998, with a raft of new features, but designed to try and make House Party look original again. Sadly, only die-hard fans were watching and the BBC decided enough was enough and axed the show. The final episode was broadcast on March 20, 1999.
“It's an overworked expression when people say it's the end of an era but for BBC Television, the Entertainment Department, for me and possibly you, it really is the end of an era. I hope your memory will be very kind to us. After 169 . . . bye.” Those were Noel Edmonds simple but effective final words on the show. Following the show’s axing, the BBC has not attempted to launch another show that has similar borderlines to House Party whilst Edmonds vowed never to work for the BBC again. He has kept that vow to this day, with the exception of presenting a one-off National Lottery special in 2006. Noel can now be found every weekday presenting the Channel 4 show Deal Or No Deal.
There can be no question that House Party changed the face of Saturday night television for the BBC but if it wanted to survive longer than eight years, it needed to follow the golden quotation of revamping shows, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Sadly, it seemed the BBC weren’t paying close attention.