“If You Don’t Come To Us, We’ll Come To You!”
Unusually for a long running show, the first series was faultless. This was perhaps unsurprising bearing in mind the presenter and producer/director had three years to fine tune it via the “Saturday Roadshow” where many of the items originated, but the regular setting avoided the expense and distraction that each “location” provided and allowed running jokes to build around the fictional village of Crinkley Bottom.
Following a similarly impressive sequence at the start of the Roadshow the opening titles for the House Party were a stop motion tour around various rooms of a house. Despite bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the house as it eventually appeared on screen the sequence opened the show well and was accompanied by another composition by Ernie Dunstall, clearly in the same style as that of the show’s predecessor.
Guests appearing at the door as part of the narrative for sketches felt more natural than just showing up as they did on the Roadshow. Much of the humour in these sketches was now at the host’s expense, a clever move that neutralised a lot of the audience’s
animosity towards him.
The show going live also played straight into Noel’s strengths and made it at least appear unpredictable. Even so, the way in which the ratings dramatically leapt up compared to the Roadshow took the production team and the BBC by surprise, with ITV reshuffling their Saturday night to try and compete. In the final series of the Roadshow, not a single episode made BBC1’s weekly top ten. In contrast the House Party, in a similar slot, was immediately hitting 11 million, eventually peaking at 15.47m for the long-awaited Dave Lee Travis
NTV’s simplicity and innovation made it the show’s main talking point and the clear divider between the House Party and the Roadshow. It also drew upon Noel’s clear talent, seen throughout Swap Shop, for communicating with viewers.
A few early misfires aside (the rather pre-prepared enormous group in show 1, the people at a wedding reception rather oddly watching Noel’s House Party and the infamous victim who ran out of the room and never came back) the feature eventually settled on the winning formula of a lengthy chat with the main star followed by returning for a musical performance
later on in the show.
The mechanics of the gunge tank (with further additions to come in later series) were the only real change. Previously the centrepiece of a clever game on the Saturday Roadshow, now the drenchings were mostly at the behest of viewers via live phone votes.
This is perhaps an acknowledgment that no-one was bothered about the game itself, and the real interest came when a swap was made to put the celebrity in the tank. Binning the game also guaranteed we’d get a gunging each week. The new 20-second timer clock seemed fairly superfluous though – perhaps an aid for the special effects team to know
when to pull the cord?
Also transferring over from the Roadshow was the highly successful feature Wait Till I Get You Home, though doing this live with young children and embarrassed parents was judged
a step too far.
Instead this was pre-recorded in a “dungeon” set apparently accessed by a staircase at the back of the set (though some of the continuity of how Noel accessed the dungeon was a bit uneven in the early days which were obviously recorded before the main set was constructed).
This part of the house set would largely remain unchanged for the next five years.
The Lyric Game also moved over, taking place in the otherwise unused “drawing room” area on the far right of the set. A fairly unsophisticated game compared to what would follow it, this series saw a number of celebrity and themed specials to lift it from the original Roadshow angle of “laughing at the public singing”.
The Gotcha Oscars (pre Academy lawsuit) were also finally promoted to being the climax of each show, rather than an occasional feature as throughout the Roadshow.
The Gotcha with Dave Lee Travis was not just the standout of series 1, but maybe the show as a whole, resulting in many heavily hyped Gotchas in later series not quite hitting the high temperature of DLT’s rage.
It exhibited a very simple formula: catch the victim in their own habitat to reduce suspicion
and do your research on what winds them up.
Future elaborate Gotchas in outlandish locations with silly costumes would have done well to remember this.
Rounding off the show was the viewer competition “Grab A Grand”, which for the first few shows supposedly used real money, before quickly switching to foreign and later imaginary currency, with the Crinkley Bottom Groats.
The direction of this segment was also changed quite early on when it was realised that watching someone stand in a perspex box for a whole minute wasn’t that interesting, so the handheld cameras, flashing lights and swoops over the audience were born.
All these successful elements meant each episode of House Party had a very reliable structure where you knew what would happen when – gags, gunge vote and a game at the start; NTV,
door guests and Wait Till I Get You Home in the middle and Gotcha, gunging and Grab-a-Grand
at the end. It was a format that the show would rarely deviate from for the first three years
The success of the series resulted in two extra episodes being added, taking it from the standard 16 (as the case with all 3 series of the Saturday Roadshow) to 18, explaining why the last two “Wait Till I Get You Home” inserts were compilations, and two additional Gotchas upping the ante with twice the number of victims.
These were the spoof gameshow “Out On A Limb”, which proved popular enough to be spun off as its own (genuine) series two years later as “Hit The Road”.
The series as a whole is remarkably consistent, with only a few elements being changed mid-way. After what appeared to be a one-off walk-on part (or more accurately shutting-the-door-in-his-face part) in show 2, Tony Blackburn became a regular for many years.
Felix Bowness, who performed the role of warm-up before the show (along with many, many other BBC programmes) also became an on-air regular with the role of Bert the Bugler
– a generally mute village idiot type.
Ronnie Corbett appeared sporadically as Noel’s butler, Howe-Green.
In addition this series was unique for the occasional presence of game show-like “hostesses” escorting people from the audience. These were wisely judged surplus to requirements
after a few weeks.
Set-wise, the only change mid-series was the addition of a staircase to access the balcony
on the far left of the set early in 1992.
It’s also worth mentioning that the new feature “Icebreakers”, which had a call to action in the penultimate show, never made it to air in series 2.
The only weak part of the run was “Pub Games”, also carried over from House Party’s predecessor. The Roadshow seemed to enjoy featuring random segments filmed on location watching the general public doing something silly so viewers could laugh at them, which given how inventive House Party became seems rather unsophisticated and even
a bit mean-spirited now.
The final episode set the standard for Noel getting his comeuppance at the end of the series, inspired by previous attempts on the Roadshow that were inevitably hampered
by being pre-recorded.
This time around DLT disrupted the programme by hi-jacking the gunge vote to be between himself and Noel (which ended up being a lot closer than the production team no doubt intended).
Despite ending the run suffering from bronchitis, soaked to the bone and covered in streamers, Noel was visibly proud with how well the new show had been received, as seen in studio footage from after the show had finished where he embraced Michael Leggo.
“I like to think it will run for a long time”