“I hope your memory will be very kind to us”
These were Noel’s departing words at the end of the final live House Party in March 1999,
with the passing of time has providing ever fonder for memories of the long running show.
With the honourable exception of Strictly Come Dancing, subsequent similar live studio-based shows in the BBC’s Saturday slot never quite reached the same heights, the same possibly applying to those that topped and tailed the goings on at Crinkley Bottom over the eight years.
Despite importing much of the content of the Saturday Roadshow, the House Party ignited
in a way that eclipsed the modest success of its predecessor and was immediately
a surprise smash hit.
It managed to bring together a formidable coalition of viewers. The very young would love the gunge and slightly older kids would also identify with Wait Til Get You Home. Parents would love the Gotchas, and everyone would hide behind cushions as NTV came on.
It wasn’t just a hit across the age ranges though – it bridged social divides too, with all sectors of viewers finding something to appreciate in the show.
The ability to get a more learned audience watching BBC1 on a Saturday night was a particular masterstroke as the programme benefited from vocal and valuable PR in the broadsheet press. It wasn’t for nothing that controller Alan Yentob once described it as “the most important programme on BBC1”.
The first three series were solid, all down to sticking to a tried and tested structure. You knew what item was coming when, and if you weren’t sure about one, you’d anticipate what was going to come next.
As Tony Blackburn mused on Sky One’s 50 Greatest TV Endings, “overnight it started to look old fashioned”, resulting in continual efforts to modernise the show with forced spontaneity involving the studio audience and live band performances, therefore removing what made it stand out in the first place.
A well-intentioned attempt to revamp proceedings in series 6 saw the newer features ditched two thirds of the way into the run, to be replaced by more interaction with the studio audience often involving food being thrown over them.
This was a massive turn off for the more upmarket end of the audience, and ratings began to drop.
The issues with content began almost from the start in series 7, ultimately leading the host to walk out mid-series abandoning his own show.
There were still standout moments which reminded you of the brilliance of the show when at its best, but they reduced in number each series.
Noel’s speeches and press quotations in defence of the show amongst falling ratings stated that it was the only live entertainment show on television that didn’t set out to offend or upset audiences, but increasingly this didn’t tally with the content of the show, which in the final series involved children in distress both pre-recorded and live in the studio and showering the audience in what appeared to be blood.
Despite promise of a new format for Autumn 1999 at the time of the axing of the show,
this was in fact beaten to a commission by new National Lottery format “Red Alert”
from Chris Evans’ Ginger Media, hosted by a returning Lulu to Saturday nights.
Edmonds’ four year contract therefore had little chance of being renewed, leading to him quitting the corporation in August 1999 after 30 years, dismissing their output as “boring”.
His last year at the BBC comprised a new BBC One weeknight series “The World of the Secret Camera”, a Radio 2 series about children’s radio, and a retrospective of ten years of Noel’s Christmas Presents – as well as the final edition of that series’s original run.
It all ended unceremoniously in March 2000, with two half hour compilations of House Party series 8 hidden over two consecutive Sunday mornings on BBC One, between The Heaven and Earth Show and Countryfile.
One was a retrospective on NTV’s “Gullible Travellers” which provided insight from various location directors and “clients”.
The other was a Series 8 highlights package that was saved by a more polished edit of the closing montage from the final show, incorporating more archive clips and Noel’s farewell speech, but not a fire extinguisher in sight.
The brief snapshots of Gotchas from the Saturday Roadshow (including the first ever with Gloria Hunniford) nicely bookended the 11 years evolution of essentially the same format.
To paraphrase Edmonds himself, for a generation of television fans, this was the end of an era.
And there we are at the finish.
The crazy history of a show that changed television, hit heights of greatness before plumbing the depths. A programme that many remember fondly, more so following the extensive YouTube uploads that inspired this website.
But if you are wondering if the nonsense you’ve just read was all worth it, the legacy of the House Party is perhaps given a more succinct summing up in the Tweet below;