The fascinating footage from the beginning and end of the archive tapes has leaked online in recent years but this is the first time it has appeared in an “official” context. Was it difficult to include it in the anniversary documentary? “This is what I had to look into very carefully with contracts because with BBC staff you’re fine because it’s part of a job. With the audience and contributors and anyone else, it’s said in there anything that is recorded…obviously the general assumption is that stuff wouldn’t get seen.
But there’s nothing contentious in there, and we’re not portraying anyone in a bad light. If anything it’s complementary and it’s heartwarming and it’s positive. I did have those conversations with Rights and lawyers and they basically said “so long as you’re not showing anything that’s a bone of contention for anyone”. Also there’s a difference with an unsolicited recording where you’ve accidentally recorded someone in a radio studio where they think that everything is switched off and being in a TV studio full of cameras and an audience and people would expect that there is a possibility this stuff would have been recorded.”
“There is some stuff I didn’t use, not because it was contentious but because I thought people wouldn’t want to see them. There’s some really lovely personal things where Noel very kindly thanks specific members of the cast and crew. They bring out a cake or champagne, have a toast and sing Happy Birthday…I thought, I don’t have time to research whether that person is still with us or is happy, so best to leave it out. There was one where some friends of his from the West Country said can we come and watch House Party come out, our son is the biggest fan, only a young child of about ten years old, and after the show they got him on stage, made a fuss of him, gave him a present – that kind of stuff. I thought “that’s really really lovely, but I think that’s a bit too personal to include in something like this”.
The main ones in the off air footage I have used is Felix Bowness who was paid and contracted to be doing that and he was also part of the show at points as well. Noel obviously, Guy Freeman, Michael Leggo and the last producer, there’s a bit of Freddie Starr who’s obviously no longer with us. The Bee Gees were in there but they didn’t say anything!”
The lack of any kind of narration was popular when the programme was finished. “There were some nice comments from people saying you don’t need to have talking heads, it can kind of speak for itself. There is a knack to trying to get purely archive to tell its story. But the great thing about House Party was that it has to be the best represented live programme in television, because you’ve got the rushes pre/post the show, but also you’ve got all the mentions on other shows like Points of View, things like the award ceremonies, and the Late Show piece that was really well considered.
Isn’t it interesting that Noel says in that interview that the British public delight in building someone up and knocking them down, and he references Wogan. I think the same was always going to happen with any long running series. Maybe that’s why Takeaway is only on 7 weeks a year!”
The finished programme credited a number of people from the original production team. “It was a polite nod. I had to go through a lot of clearances and contracts – the majority of people were staff, it gets very complicated when you get to things like the divide between Unique and the BBC, but we’d shown due diligence by reaching out to Noel and Michael Leggo gave us his backing which was incredibly kind.
I thought it was incredibly important to tip our hat to people who had been directors and producers of the programme out of respect really. It would be lovely to credit everyone who was involved but that would be such an incredibly long long list!” There was also a credit for Andy Pearman, whose YouTube channel featuring every episode of the programme is credited with much of the recent revival of interest in the show. “Bizarrely our careers have intertwined over the years, he knows loads of people I know. For years I was watching his YouTube channel and thinking ‘this is amazing.’”
When published on 23rd November 2021, the positive response on social media was immediate. Did it take Richard by surprise? ” Yeah it did actually. I knew it would get a reaction. I said “you do realise every year it usually trends on Twitter because on the anniversary someone usually puts up a photo, so it’s going to do well”. But because of the History of the BBC guys who then get it on BBC Archive and spread the word that way, it did just boom, and of course there are people who come out of the woodwork and say “it was rubbish”, but the vast majority of people, 99%, were incredibly affectionate and grateful. That was lovely because it made valid how many hours I put into making it! It was incredibly satisfying.” Since our interview, the programme has also received a nomination for “Best Entertainment” at the RTS Southern Awards.
There was also praise from those involved at the time. “What is lovely is when I posted it up on TV Centre groups on Facebook, the number of people who worked on the programme who came out of the woodwork were very complimentary. There’s one who used to work in visual effects and now runs a brewery down here and actually kept a lot of props that were thrown out, so in amongst the beer kegs he’s got a full gunge tank and loads of Mr Blobbys and bits of pieces, so I’d love to do a piece on him. So many people messaged me after that House Party doc that it’s a bit of a blur!”
Richard firmly believes that programmes like this should be able to have a life in their own right, as well as in archive compilations. “It’s one of those programmes a bit like Going Live and Live and Kicking where it’s incredibly nostalgic but you never see it being used for nostalgia, it’s not like Doctor Who or Batman or The A Team. Wouldn’t it be great to have a channel like Talking Pictures or Forces TV that showed live stuff that would never go out?” The reaction to Andy Pearman’s YouTube channel also convinces him this would be successful. “The thing that convinced me is when you look at how many people watch what he puts up on his channel, and it makes it all the more strange that there isn’t a [TV] channel putting this stuff out.
I know you’d have to change the competitions, block the phone numbers, but there’s ways to do it. He’s shown maybe there is a hunger somewhere for this material. I think you’d find people watching old editions of Noel’s House Party, Swap Shop…I don’t see why with the Top of the Pops repeats so successful there shouldn’t be a place for House Party. It’s such a window to the past of that era.”
Latto is keen to work on more of this sort of thing in future. “I’m not going to lie, the reaction was satisfying, and I’d love to do more of that sort of thing. It does take a lot of time, it does take a lot of effort. It’s not a core part of my job so it has been something I’ve pieced together in my own time – that awful phrase “labour of love”! But I think there should be more of that kind of thing.”
At the time of our interview, his Radio 2 documentary Wogan: In His Own Words is a couple of weeks away from airing. “I’m doing a Wogan thing for Radio 2. I’ve found an interview that was missing in an unlabelled can about his life and his kind of history in broadcasting.”
But returning to Noel’s House Party, Richard believes the reaction to his superb documentary points to a positive future for the show’s legacy – perhaps even involving a new production. “It’s one of those things that I think will come back in some form. There’s such a feeling of passion I genuinely think that even if it’s not Noel doing it I think it will be back at some point. Look at when Blobby is on any programme, just the reaction it gets is incredible. I think it’s a matter of time!”