Compilations And Specials

Until around the turn of the century it was common for the BBC1 schedules during the summer months to be comprised primarily of repeats from the previous winter. Live programmes such as the House Party would rarely be repeated for fairly obvious reasons, but the success of the first run led to a compilation of highlights being commissioned as part of the second series of the show.

The Best of Noel’s House Party aired on the 30th May 1993 – a Bank Holiday Monday, and at 7pm the furthest into prime time the show had aired up until that point. It began with specially shot location footage of Frank Thornton, apparently in his garden, reading the TV guide and reacting in anger that Noel would be on screen again. This footage is also notable as the first time any outdoor location had been depicted as Crinkley Bottom.

The programme contained notable moments from the series including the “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” surprise, lengthy extracts from the Will Carling and Eddie Large Gotchas and the “Well, Did You Evah” number that closed the final show. The compilation was a success and led to a similar one being commissioned as part of series 3, aired again on a Bank Holiday but this time on 29th August 1994.

Meanwhile on Saturday 4th September 1993 BBC1 had screened highlights of two weekends of Noel’s Garden Party at Haydock and Doncaster racecourses earlier that summer. Opening with more material from Frank Thornton’s garden, this was “business Noel” making his first attempt to diversify the brand beyond the small screen, though the collection of physical games and (of course) helicopter challenges bore little resemblance to the programme itself. 

Despite this the show boasted an impressive lineup of stars including many reprising roles from the House Party, and notably an appearance from John Challis over a year before he brought his Boycie-lite character to Crinkley Bottom.  Footage of Mr Blobby meeting the crowds at these events would make it into the video for his Christmas number 1 a few months later.

After series 4 a different direction was taken, and instead of a broad highlights compilation it was decided to revisit older Gotchas that hadn’t been seen for many years. Two 45 minute compilations aired on BBC1 on Wednesday nights in May 1995, with linking material filmed on location apparently in the Gotcha Hall of Fame and featuring guest appearances from Bernard Cribbins as the Vicar and Neil Morrissey as Sammy the Chamois.

Notably the first compilation focused entirely on Gotchas from the Saturday Roadshow, including the very first with Gloria Hunniford. The second featured highlights from the first two series of House Party, and both ended with clean airings of the full closing theme of the show.

The success of these programmes prompted a return visit to the Hall of Fame on 30th December 1995, helping to bridge the gap for the first time the House Party had been off air for two Saturdays over Christmas. This time the linking material was filmed on the standard Great House set but without a studio audience and using very effective dark lighting.

The Gotchas here were mostly from series 3 of the show, with the exception of John Leslie’s Saturday Roadshow Oscar, though this time short sequences of numerous other Gotchas from over the years were also shown. This compilation was something of a surprise success, watched by 12.19m – outrating almost all of series 5.

Another new format raiding the archives followed next in the shape of Noel’s NTV Stars. Airing just weeks after the end of series 5 over two Thursdays in April 1996, these 30 minute compilations covered the history of NTV as far back as show two, but didn’t quite cover all five series. The lighter colour of the house set, the basketball hoop and confetti cannons from the series 4 finale and of course the 1995 copyright date revealed that these compilations had been made over a year prior to airing, though the reference to “a hundred NTVs” suggested they were always intended to air in 1996.

As well as the main Great House set, linking material was filmed in the “NTV Control Centre” – in fact a redressed Wait Till I Get You Home cellar making its final appearance on screen. Noel was accompanied by John Challis and Felix Bowness in the first show and June Whitfield as the Vicar’s wife Monica and Mr Blobby in the second.

A more traditional highlights package returned later in the year with a “Best Of” series 5, aired on Saturday 6th September in an unusually late slot of 8.05pm. This climaxed with an excellent compilation of clips from across the series set to “The Show Must Go On” by Queen, though the slightly uncomfortable similarity between the lyrics of the song and the show’s declining fortunes at this point was no doubt unintentional. The compilation concluded with the first appearance of the new animated “written” version of the show’s logo, promoting show “101” as “coming soon”.

To bridge another extended Christmas break the Gotcha Hall of Fame opened once more on 28th December 1996, this time filmed in front of an audience on the standard Great House set. Unlike previous compilations this time a range of Gotchas were chosen from across the first four series.  Two more 30 minute compilations aired on Thursdays in July 1997 became the final visits to the Hall of Fame – the first looked at Gotchas given to snooker players, and the second remembered the “Life” series from the fourth run of the show.

Series 6’s highlights programme aired as the curtain-raiser to series 7 on Saturday 11th October 1997, though the sheer contrast to what went out seven days later was probably unintended. Also unintended was this compilation airing again in the same slot less than three months later, when the BBC suddenly found a fifty minute hole in their Saturday night schedule for reasons explored at length elsewhere on this website.

The following week the live show returned, but under the title Noel’s Greatest Gotchas.  As an actual episode of the main 22 week run of the series (as was also the case for the later Comic Relief Gotcha compilation in March 1999), it doesn’t quite fit the bill for this article, but is worth mentioning here because the content appears to have been pulled in the most part from the earlier Hall of Fame compilations, complete with the same multicoloured “Gotcha” graphics. It did however feature new segments devoted to Gotchas on Noel and the “sussed it club”.

There was no “best of” compilation following series 7. Whether commissioned and abandoned following the events of the run is unknown, though it would have been a tough job putting it together given the variable quality and the huge changes in the content and style of the show over the run. There were also no further explorations of the archives, perhaps given the show was to be given a complete relaunch in October.

Two half hour compilations of House Party series 8 did however get made – presumably commissioned at the start of the run in a show of confidence in the new format. There could however be no clearer display of how low the show’s stock had fallen than their eventual transmission over two consecutive Sunday mornings on BBC One in March 2000, a year after the show ended, in the hallowed slot between The Heaven and Earth Show and Countryfile. The timing would indicate that they had been left on the shelf and were only transmitted then either due to their rights period expiring or the imminent end of Noel’s BBC contract.

One was a retrospective on NTV’s “Gullible Travellers” and the other was a series 8 highlights package.  The ending was a more polished edit of the closing montage from the final show, incorporating more archive clips and Noel’s farewell speech, and even brief snapshots of Gotchas from the Saturday Roadshow – possibly inadvertently taken from some of the earlier Gotcha compilations. Sandwiched between religion and rural affairs means it was unlikely most viewers even knew these compilations existed – which was probably the intention.