Series 5 – 1995-1996 (Part 2)

A third of the way into the series saw a revamped Number Cruncher, which saw the item lengthened, gain an OB host in Jono Coleman (again) and various additions.

These additions being a load of punters mucking about in a ball pond to find a golden ball with the door code, cutting back later in the show where the two “winners” fought it out in a paired telephone box with the advantage of getting both a winner and a gunging.

The total of money was not shown on screen until the winning phonebox had cracked the code, and the lack of time limit lead to both contestants hitting 9 for a fair while to build up their winnings. 

Thankfully both Coleman and radio partner Russ Williams (along with guest traffic reporter Jeremy Clarkson) got their just-desserts with a triple-headed Gotcha, one of the better ones in the series along with Dale Winton.

The latter left you wondering why it wasn’t saved for the end of the run, until taking previous series into account, and remembering that it was funny.
Or one that stuck to an easy-to-follow premise as well as being entertainingly stupid.

In light of Winton’s passing, it is also quite moving to watch back and see how absolutely lovely he is in dropping everything to help out, in contrast to Lisa Riley in series 8 who when faced with a similar wedding-themed dilemma simply didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

A number of other Gotchas in this series either sent the victim to a European destination for the first time, or (following the success of Derek Jameson in series 4) didn’t reveal it was a Gotcha on the day, saving the big moment until they appeared live on the show under near-false pretences, often to great effect.

Former Late Late Breakfast Show co-host Sandra Dickinson fell victim to both in a double-hit, where a non-appearance on Pebble Mill followed a rainy visit to Paris to shoot an advertisement for English wine.
A desperate attempt maybe to recreate the Sophie Lawrence yoghurt ad Gotcha from series 1
on a bigger budget?

Then there were the Gotchas centred around the nostalgia-based series Time Of Your Life,
which afforded greater credibility with the celebrities involved given it was a revival of a genuine Edmonds-fronted show from the 1980s (the axing of which he would later berate Michael Grade in person about during Goodbye Television Centre, perhaps missing the point of the occasion). 

These featured a memorable running joke where Lionel Blair would turn up as an “old friend” despite knowing none of the subjects, giving rise to a dilemma of whether to play along or object.

NTV continued its descent where more time was spent on the set-up than the subject.
Where many of the Gotchas succeeded, NTV set ups this series faired less well, down to the former being centred around celebrities who viewers were familiar with enough to care about
the chaos about to befall on them. 

One edition featured that familiar Noel trope, the involvement of helicopters, here whisking the NTV “clients” to a football stadium.

Series 5 also featured the first double NTV, aligning Southport and Belfast for “A Song For Bottom” in a more effective return to the slot’s origins with split screening for a musical performance that had come quite a way since the Bucks Fizz location/studio performance on Saturday Superstore some 14 years earlier.

Visits from the villagers were more sparse than in previous series. 
Tony Blackburn appeared a fair bit early on and Bert the Bugler just about survived presumably due to Felix Bowness’s warmup duties, but this run featured just the one appearance from Sammy The Chamois along with a second appearance for his dad Luigi, as portrayed via the clever casting of Michael Elphick.  

Return visits from Tony Britton as the village doctor and Barry Norman as the owner of Lackluster Video, were supplemented in the second half of the series by Noel’s cheeky nephew Chalkie, and “Bobnose”, a gremlin character with little backstory or explanation. 

Symbolically, this series depicted on-screen the departure of the Great House’s butler Howe-Green as played by Ronnie Corbett, who had debuted in the very first show back in 1991. It was also curtains for the previous crew of Frank Thornton, Pat Coombs and Frank Carson who could be relied upon to appear in the house virtually every week – again pointing to reduced funds available for this kind of appearance.

The hit-and-miss nature of the series all built up to the finale billed as the 100th show, but which was actually the 103rd. A possible in-joke referencing this saw the “97th” show begin with a big studio numerical display and minor addition to the opening titles. 

The centenary show also featured that year’s Noel surprise, which Noel himself seemed to have forgotten was due, with “the biggest ever NTV” at a bingo hall being a double-bluff.

The feature was marred with iffy talkback and audio but was the part of the “100th” show that was most of a celebration of the first five years.  Numerous stars of past NTVs turned up to get Noel to do the challenges he gave to them, going right back to Les Brown’s water pistol in show two – and allowing him to get his own back for a second time!

The other highlight was a special Gotcha with six former victims (including one from the Saturday Roadshow) tricked into making a promotional film for the BBC, only to find out it was a Gotcha live on the show itself. 

Leaving aside why they didn’t smell a rat at being summoned to Television Centre at 7pm on a Saturday night, the platinum-coloured Gotchas rounded off the series well.

The run had been the most changeable so far – with “Beat Your Neighbour”, the money hurricane and the “we’re out of time” gags distant memories by show 22.  It also featured more experimentation with the show’s look than ever before, with the house set painted a darker colour at the start of the run and then given multicoloured lighting from January.  

The camera movements became more frantic and the audience wilder, aided by the introduction of cheerleaders.  The finale announced the end for the Number Cruncher and Grab a Grand, whilst eight years of “Wait Till” had come to an unheralded end the previous Saturday along with the final Trip Round The House culminating in two gungings for Jenny Hull. 

It all begged the question, what would replace these elements come the Autumn?

Or would it have been an ideal time to retire on 100 (and 3), not out?

In years to come, Noel himself would suggest this would have been the best time to call it a day.  Unfortunately, it takes a brave person to quit a hit show – and for all the issues, the “100th” show still attracted over 12 million viewers. 

Noel had signed a four year deal with the BBC – and, in the words of the musical compilation
at the end of series 5’s highlights programme, The Show Must Go On…