NHP At The Movies

Noel’s House Party At The Movies was 1997’s second Stateside outing for the show.  Following on from the New Year visit earlier in the year, this took the show to Universal Studios in Florida. 

The show has become somewhat infamous as one of the most controversial episodes of the show’s entire run, in no small part due to comments made since transmission by the host himself.

Noel’s New York House Party had aired the previous March, with the inspiration seemingly coming from their new home of TC1 being occupied by Comic Relief
the same weekend.

Whilst November 1996’s Children In Need had shown the show could cope being relocated to a smaller studio by truncating the set and sending certain items on location, over the winter the decision was taken to make something of the next opportunity and take the show out of Crinkley Bottom for the first time. This was given over a month of buildup, with much of the show promoting the trip and Cash For Questions revamped to instead offer to take viewers to the Big Apple.

Depsite criticism, the show was still evidently Noel’s House Party. Set in a New York apartment with a door and a gunge tank, it had numerous familiar format points including NTV, My Little Friend and a Gotcha all given a stateside twist. It also repeated the success of the “100th” episode the previous year in building the series to a climax, with the show netting 10.35m viewers – more than most of the preceding series.

Given this it is perhaps unsurprising the team looked to do a similar trick over Children In Need weekend that November, though it would ultimately succeed only in making the New York show more watchable.

The first problem was with the Florida show taking place barely a quarter of the way into the series, the lack of build up on a par with New York gave very little opportunity to get viewers excited about the trip.

After being announced in show 2 of the series, week 3 saw “Russian Omelette” – a play on Russian Roulette that didn’t even work when read out – where punters in BBC regional studios took turns to splat eggs into their heads with each soft-boil getting them eliminated,
and the last one standing at the end of the show off to the Everglades.

That was the intention. Down to blatant cheating and overrunning the first ever edition of House Party to climax without a Gotcha instead ended with this game not managing to complete, with the game rolled over to the following week much to the confusion of Noel himself. This time all three contestants were in the studio, with guest Kevin Woodford cracking slightly bigger eggs over the lucky/unlucky hopefuls leaving no room for fowl (sorry) play.

Show 4 also saw “The Florida Cocktail”, a cross between “Light Your Lemon” from Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and the “first round proper” from Going For Gold.  Aiming to replicate the former (along with many other traits from the mid 90s Channel 4 show elsewhere in the series) the contestant podiums barely resembled cocktails at all, therefore further confusing viewers
at home. 

Yet the game was formulaic enough to be revisited 7 years later alongside other superior
BBC quiz shows as part of the Bruce Forsyth helmed “Didn’t They Do Well?”

The edition of House Party preceding the Florida special left any mention of it right up to the last few minutes, via a rushed viewers’ photo competition with yet another appearance for Michael Winner – though managing to take pictures, get them developed and in the post in time to be chosen and flown out for the following Saturday seemed quite a task in itself.

In contrast to the New York show there was no special set built, instead borrowing the soundstage from “Animal Actors On Location” at Universal Studios. There was little practical use for something so big, with the closeup camera shots throughout the majority of the show not having much backdrop of note to look at.

There was also no door, meaning guests had to just wander onto set.

The show’s stars included Brigette Neilson, with her segment introduced by Noel making a telling statement that “House Party is not a chat show”.

The following few minutes with the two sat on stools resembled just that, with the host looking more frustrated than at any other point in the 50 minutes. 

John Ratzenburger was there solely to introduce an elaborate movie parody VT, and George Wendt appeared too, of whom Noel attempted to back reference his appearance at the turntable bar in series 3. For a show based around films, having two of your guests best-known for appearing in the TV show “Cheers” didn’t represent a great lineup.

There were technical problems from the start with incorrect music cues played in crucial points, including the show’s theme instead of the intended piece during the Wendt sketch, resulting in Noel ad-libbing “well they were playing my tune and now they’re playing our tune”.

A lengthy sketch involving Mr Blobby translating between Lassie and Mr Ed reduced Noel to exclaiming “has it come to this Mother?  All I need is The Osmonds to come on”, somewhat eerily predicting how much further his series would fall a year later.  Blobby’s voice was also clearly something they had been unable to recreate properly, sounding far too high-pitched.

The late Margarita Pracatan was brought on with no introduction, with the punters being serenaded completely bemused by it all, as were any viewers who hadn’t stumbled over Clive James’ show.

NTV was left to do the heavy lifting in making the 50 minutes resemble the usual format but was beset by technical difficulties, prompting Noel to recite “Night Mail” after suffering a huge delay and a monosyllabic “client”.  The surprise house guest being a continuity announcer from Grampian Television also provided an amusing contrast with the promise of silver screen celebrity.  NTV and the show itself climaxed with a game of what was essentially charades, which was summed up by Noel with “well that was illuminating wasn’t it?”.

There was however a better musical act than in New York with Sister Sledge providing a decent couple of performances, despite audience members making gestures and bellowing into the mic during one track.

Noel’s House Party At The Movies perhaps appeared too much At The Movies and not enough Noel’s House Party.  With only one regular feature one viewer on YouTube commented “It was a talk show, with NTV tacked on to it”. The content and setting that replaced the usual features was too much of a change from what viewers expected. 

The temporary obsession with film also sat out of place on a show that with the sole exception of Charlton Heston’s phone call had never really cared about it before. Curiously there was a My Little Friend filmed at an American school presumably during this trip that would have helped with the format but ended up being screened the following week.

Edmonds later summed up the Florida special as “one of the most embarrassing shows I’ve been involved in”, even suggesting such derision on air in the throw-forward to next week’s show;

“It won’t be this hot, but it will be fun!”.