NHP30 Meets Rob Curling

Rob Curling became a familiar face on BBC TV in the last eighties, effortlessly helming schools programmes, daytime series such as Bazaar and his own long-running quiz Turnabout and regional news in the South East.  The crowning glory however of this stage of his career was no doubt the recognition of being chosen to receive a certain gold statue.  Here in his own words is Rob’s Gotcha story, including all the bits you didn’t see, exclusively for NHP at 30.

“My Gotcha Oscar (an original by the way, before they were banned by the Oscars for using the word “Oscar”), was on The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow in September 1990. 

I first worked with Noel when I was up in front of him in ‘Clown Court’, a regular pre-recorded segment for ‘Roadshow’.  This was where actors and TV presenters etc appeared in the dock in front of Noel, the judge, on trial for a number of bloopers they’d made in their
normal line of work.
I’d only been a presenter for just over a year by this stage so it was either an illustration of just how bad I was or a nice bit of publicity, as the outtakes from a series I fronted called Noticeboard were all quite amusing. I mean that’s the point of course! Murray Walker was also on that day to record his own Clown Court appearance, so that was fun meeting
the King of the blooper!

By the time I got my Gotcha I knew Noel quite well, as I was working as a presenter/reporter on the BBC airshow coverage which in those days Noel was hosting. In fact he was always quite nervous whenever he saw me after my Gotcha, as he was convinced that one day, one, or many of his victims, would get their own back on him. So he never quite trusted me, or at least was always on the lookout for something strange to happen that might just be him getting his come-uppance from the fraternity of Gotcha victims.

My agent called me a few weeks before my Gotcha, to book me for what she told me was a corporate video about the food and drinks vending machine industry. Thrilling. But it’s all work, and I was delighted to have been requested. I was told it would be recorded at the BBC studios at Milton Keynes -home of the Open University – but also where I had worked quite a bit, firstly on BBC training exercises when they were training up studio directors, production assistants etc and needed a presenter to host their makeshift programmes.

I also co-presented a programme called ‘Bazaar’ with the wonderful Judi Spiers, again at BBC Milton Keynes. As a result I got to know a lot of the cameramen and technicians which could have been very unfortunate as far as my Gotcha was concerned, because as soon as I walked into the studio I treated them like old friends, chatting away, while they all had to try and keep a straight face and not say too much at the risk of giving the game away. I thought it was slightly unusual to be shooting a corporate video in a BBC studio, but things like that may have been starting to happen, if not quite then, then not long afterwards.

On the day they sent me a car. I’d said I would drive, but they wanted and needed full control, so I was happy enough to be chauffeured. As we proceeded up the M1 from my flat in West London, the driver took a phone call (this was the early days of car phones), after which we began to slow down, quite significantly. He looked a bit concerned.

I was sitting in the front seat, as I never liked travelling in the back as I felt it gave the impression that I was somebody who had delusions of grandeur. I much preferred sitting up front and chatting to the driver. Poor sod. As we got ever slower,  I asked him if everything was ok, and he sort of shrugged it off. ‘Something at home’, I think he said, but he didn’t want to expand on it. He then said he needed to pull over into a service station as he said he was getting an oil warning light.

He took a while to buy a can of oil, and when he came back to the car with it I offered to help. (I must have been so annoying!) He declined my invitation but was very grateful. The thing was this was all a ruse to delay my arrival, as they were running behind at the studio (that was the phone call) so he’d invented the story about the oil leak. The problem is though, if you start pouring oil into an engine that already has plenty of oil you risk causing it some serious damage, so he didn’t want me anywhere near him while he was pretending to top it up hidden under the bonnet.  Eventually we got going again but he was driving very slowly, because of the ‘engine problem’.

Once we arrived at the studios in Milton Keynes, I was shown to my dressing room, where I then had a meeting with a real person from the food and drinks vending machine industry.  Goodness it was tedious, but of course the poor chap had been brought in to brief me all as part of creating the right atmosphere to help me believe what I was about to do was genuine. It’s exactly what we did when I worked on Beadle’s About some years later: create the illusion in the ‘victim’s’ mind that there’s nothing suspect going on.

So, when I was called into the studio I greeted all the cameramen, which must have made them a bit jittery, and took my seat. I was introduced to the director over talkback, and he explained we were under quite a tight time constraint because of the ‘satellite feed from Germany’.  Satellite feeds had to be booked and were pretty expensive, so you had to get everything done inside that booked time as it just cuts off when the metre runs out, and that’s it. Although of course it was just a man in the next door studio. I never met him.

When my guest appeared on the screen, I was asked to introduce myself to camera and then start the interview. Nothing too strenuous as I had been given a list of questions to ask. However after my first question, there’s something of an outburst from Herr Schmidt, and he seems less than pleased. In fact he stormed off in a huff. The director then told me that Herr Schmidt was expecting the interview to be conducted in German, so could I please do so.

At that point my stomach churned and I had to admit to them ‘I don’t have a word of German in me…’ I felt terrible, but also slightly annoyed as I remembered having this very conversation with my agent, who even asked me if I spoke German, and of course I told her I didn’t. She assured me there was no requirement to speak German, and yet now look! Of course my agent was in on the act and needed to make sure that I couldn’t converse in German. But knowing none of this of course, I felt slightly let down, because I felt I was letting everybody else down, although I think I may have had an inkling that something may have been up. Was there something here that didn’t quite ring true? But I soon snapped out of that, and certainly didn’t even consider it might be something like a Gotcha.

I then suggested that as we were at the BBC’s Open University studios at Milton Keynes, there would almost certainly be a German speaker in the building, and that perhaps they could feed the questions into my ear in German for me to try and repeat. They could also translate my guest’s answers for me. The production team must have thought that was quite funny in itself although it was edited out, because of course this was exactly what happened.

Having said that, and what I didn’t know until a few weeks later when I was in studio 8 at Television Centre in London, was that all the questions I was being given to ask and all the answers were utter nonsense. I was being told one thing in my ear during the interview, and only discovered when I watched it back for the first time live in the studio with Noel, that it was all utter gobbledygook. For example, after one of my questions in German, or as close as I could get it, I was fed not a translation of what Herr Schmidt was saying, but some boring answer that would have made sense in reply to my question.

What I didn’t know until I watched it back with Noel on BBC1 in front of millions was that what Herr Schmidt was actually saying was ‘…A Robin Reliant has just driven up my trouser leg, and the exhaust is tickling me‘.  Of course I was nodding along quite seriously thinking he was saying something completely different, and really rather sensible and boring about the state of the drinks vending machine industry.

As the interview went on I got a bit tongue-tied with some of the German, they told me to look at the screen as Herr Schmidt wanted to show me a graph that was supposed to illustrate sales or something. His camera then panned off to a graph on a board, and from behind it this bearded face appeared. It was Noel, who then came bounding in through the studio door, brandishing my Gotcha Oscar. I was absolutely thrilled of course and flattered to have been the subject for a notorious Gotcha. I was also slightly relieved that I hadn’t let everyone down, let alone angered the guest by failing to speak or understand a word of German.

The same driver who had delivered me earlier in the day, took me home, and when I told him what had happened to me he said ‘I know. I knew all about it. In fact you were being so kind and considerate about the problems I was pretending to have with the car, that I phoned my wife because I felt absolutely awful being so deceitful to you.’

Honestly, the emotional turmoil those Gotchas caused. But it was all immense fun. I then moved onto the other side to be part of the Gotcha team tricking some other poor unsuspecting Gotcha victims. I was part of a joint Gotcha for Tessa Sanderson and Bobby Davro.
There was a whole cast of us who were in on it and part of the decoy, such as Linda Lusardi, Paul Coia, Keith Chegwin, etc… (if my memory serves me correctly). It involved going
to a stately home in Somerset or somewhere West Country-ish, and a fair bit of driving around supposedly on a sort of treasure hunt searching for clues. That’s as much as I can remember!

I’m sure it was brilliant!  I’m not sure which was more fun. Mine I think…

Sadly my Gotcha statue got mislaid in a house move…but may be recoverable. I hope so.”

Rob’s Gotcha went on to be included in the first commercial release of Roadshow and House Party material – the VHS “Noel’s Gotchas” in 1993, in which context you can watch it on YouTube. A big thank you from us to Rob for sharing his experience. If you were Gotcha’d, appeared on NTV or indeed were on the House Party or Roadshow in another context, do get in touch – we’d love to hear your story!