NHP30 Meets Brendan Bugg

Brendan Bugg is a name familiar to anyone who has seen the final edition of Noel’s House Party.  One of the two winners of the “best seat in the house” competition, Brendan’s prize was to see the final show sat on a throne on the balcony overlooking the house set.  Here he talks to NHP at 30 about his love for the show, his admiration for the host, how it has influenced his career and of course being present at the final show itself.

“I didn’t actually win the competition – my Mum wrote a rhyme on behalf of her son.  I thought someone was playing a trick on me!”

Winning the competition – albeit from his Mother’s entry, rather than his own – meant he could conclude the show’s run on the set of the show he had spent much of his childhood completely obsessed with.  “It did feel like a party.  I actually felt like I was there!  The way he constructed the end of the show just made you feel like “this bloke’s amazing.  What a house!”

There was one thing about the show that really inspired him.  “What attracted me to it was how hypnotically beautiful the studio set was.  I only really joined it religiously at the end of series 3, but if you watch the early episodes the studio set from Robert Steer is just remarkable.  I genuinely felt I was going to a house.  I was too stupid as a young boy to establish it was all fabricated!  But the series 2 and 3 set was just stunning.  I would give my right arm to go into that set now, go up on the balcony and have a look around.  When I started to get a bit older, I started to think “how much does it cost to install all of that every week?” as before I thought they left it up for 6 months!”

Brendan’s appearance on the show was accompanied by an incredibly detailed model of the Great House set made out of lego, which actually existed in a number of incarnations.  “The lego model was based on series 4 and 5.  I did do a series 1, 2 and 3…I even did a series 6, but I didn’t have a series 7.  I didn’t have the components…I didn’t have enough lego steel! Series 8 was too big a departure for me, but I still watched it because I loved it – it wasn’t about the show anymore”. 

It wasn’t just the sets that really drove young Brendan’s enthusiasm.  “The title sequence from 1991-94 is the best one.  It’s remarkable, and that title music is what drives my nostalgia.  The disco beat from 96 onwards isn’t really my bag, though I still enjoyed series 6 and 7.  I used to do really silly things. At the start of each episode you remember they used to fire out confetti from the upper echelons of the lighting rig. I used to sit at home at 7 o’clock and the moment the title sequence started I would do the same! Remember on the 100th show you had those fabric sheets that hung in front of the pillar with “100” on them? From episode 101, I used to put one up at home every Saturday. I changed the number every week – 101, 102, and I finished with 168 because for 169 I was there!”

And of course, the worst part of a good party is when it ends.  “My favourites aren’t the end of series episodes. I was always gutted when it went off air.  I remember after the 100th show being very upset it wasn’t back until October.  But at that time, if I had a tough week at school, which I frequently did, it was the highlight of my week.  It’s what cheered me up. It gave me 50 minutes where I could be me. It made me feel happy.”

Like the editors of NHP at 30, Brendan was a young child throughout most of the time Noel’s House Party was on air and a teenager when it ended.  What was it about the programme that gave it such appeal to kids?  “It appealed to a very broad range of people – where you were 8 or 80, there was no swearing, yes some of it was puerile, but that’s what kids like.  Some of the sketches such as with Susan George were quite suggestive – there was enough humour to keep Mum and Dad happy.” 
And then of course, the pink and yellow chap. 

“You’ve got Mr Blobby which depending on your opinion is either the devil incarnate or a genius function. Noel realised that as a performer, owning the rights to your format and your main revenue driver is just a masterstroke.  The fact they were able to make so much out of him from a merchandise perspective is probably why we didn’t see House Party decline until a couple of years after Birt’s budget cuts as there was so much money from Blobby probably reinvested in certain elements of the series.”

“They got to the stage where…I wouldn’t say they were reliant on him, but they clearly owed Barry Killerby a lot of money, or his contract was so many appearances a season so they created that god awful Liam character.  But that was of its time – Liam and Noel Gallagher were hugely popular.  He had so many qualities – they then used him in My Little Friend as well, he would go out on OBs and do a lot of other stuff.  The Blobby suit was not particularly comfortable.  When the head fell off famously, there is a lot of stuff you see briefly and it doesn’t look particularly comfortable.  In one of the Gotchas you can see the head has made Noel’s nose bleed.  He [Killerby] must have been exhausted, and he was doing Saturday mornings at the same time during series 6, 7 and 8!”

Unlike many, Brendan is a staunch defender of the controversial series 6, which gave the show a complete revamp with a new theme tune, new titles and new features.  “I really like series 6. I thought the set that year was fabulous, with the upgrade to TC1, and considering how hugely popular it was, it always surprised me it wasn’t upgraded earlier.  They clearly decided to retain a homage but had a really long balcony, the stage was a circle instead of a square, the fact they could have live music I liked…it made it more of a House Party! thought it was a very good effort to make it relevant. I think what they perhaps ought to have considered is reinventing the previous titles, it was too big a change.

The fact that the 100th show did really well perhaps suggested that 12 million people really liked it, so let’s go to 101 with something familiar. But the Hot House was weak, NTV was getting far too familiar.  They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and the ratings slide during series 5 made them think “something has to be done”. If you look at what Ant and Dec have done with Saturday Night Takeaway it has stayed pretty true to itself but just rested various features.  I really liked series 7 post Christmas too. I’m sounding like an apologist now! The Bradley Walsh and Leslie Grantham sketches were very strong and funny, and Noel was enjoying them and there was good rapport. It was all the other stuff around it that they were starting to struggle with.”

The show’s international trips however get a mixed reception from Brendan.  “The fact that they would go abroad quite a bit…Keith Barron went to Italy.  They went to Rome for Cannon and Ball.  But I wouldn’t personally have gone down that road because it’s like going to New York.  I actually thought the New York episode was very strong…but it’s actually because they needed TC1 for something else!  But why not just have a week off?  Or why not do what they did for Children In Need and go into TC4 and make everything smaller.  Episode 6 of series 7 [Florida] was a disaster.  And the cost of going abroad…why not just show a best of? 

They had a week off when they launched the lottery and the show was incredibly powerful at that point.  They probably got to Christmas [1997] and thought “there’s no money now”.  Noel’s New York House Party, if you squinted, looked like an apartment.  You could just about get away with that.  But to do Noel’s House Party at the Movies…what are you going to do in series 8, Noel’s House Party at the theme park?  London Zoo? It doesn’t make any sense.   

Very few if any fans of the programme will argue it maintained the quality towards the end of the eight year run.  “I think the seismic shift in quality could be determined by Michael Leggo becoming head of LE [Light Entertainment].  I can’t sit here and say that I thought it was incredibly strong.  As a 12 or 13 year old I still found it relentlessly entertaining.  You could see how hard he was trying and how much he cared about it.  You went into it thinking “are we gonna get 9 out of 10 or are we gonna get 3 out of 10?”  The wisest thing is that in hindsight after the 100th show he should have said “let’s call it a day”. 

As Noel said, it’s very difficult to turn your back on success.  You have to remember that whilst it wasn’t at its series 2 peak it was still a very consistent performer.  He defended it to Kirsty Young by saying series 7 actually had a very good market share, but the difference was the comparison with Blind Date was now several million.  The harsh reality was that as you got to 97/98/99 there were more pulls on everyone’s eyeballs.”  But the Bugg family were not distracted.  “We were not permitted to press button 3 on the remote…we stuck with him [Noel] until the very final time.” 

And when that final time arrived, Brendan would be in the Great House.

Part 2