“Introducing Bearded Spice!”
Introduced later in the series “Who’s In The Wardrobe?” was initially a TFI-esque feature where a random celebrity would be hidden in a wardrobe, and do little other than be revealed. After a week where the tables were turned and the star was not the one Noel was expecting this became the regular format of the feature.
In the New Year 1997 edition the person emerging from the wardrobe was in fact Noel’s 88-year-old Auntie Olive, turning up because she’d be unable to visit over Christmas
due to poor health.
It was a rare moment to see Noel rendered completely speechless and a lovely surprise
from his production team.
Her appearance was quite fitting given she was almost certainly the real life inspiration for the episodes of the Saturday Roadshow set at “Auntie Olive’s house” which in turn heavily influenced the evolution of the format into the House Party.
The wardrobe later bequeathed Gary Wilmot to reveal Noel’s “revenge stunt” for this series, performing with the Spice Girls in an outfit to match. This was the fourth out of five series to surprise Noel with a musical performance – and this came with the rather nice addition
of an Ernie Dunstall arrangement of “Wannabe” to top and tail the performance.
However with the five piece having already performed their Comic Relief single,
and spread throughout the show beforehand, it didn’t feel much of a surprise.
But this was still the point at which the show could attract the biggest group in pop,
something that would not remain the case for much longer.
There were also occasions where they did push the boat out, such as the opening of Show 10 with an elaborate musical piece based on “Master Of The House” from Les Miserables, attempting to outdo the High Society homage that ended series 2.
The Gotchas this series were ambitious but the outcomes didn’t necessarily live up to expectation.
A low point was Uri Geller, spotting the set up within given time (including long-standing stooge Amanda Wise) with occurrences more ridiculous than what would be expected in his act, leading to a finish which didn’t even have a reveal. This was played up on the programme by implying the rumbling was another of Geller’s supernatural traits.
Having travelled to Europe in the last series, a number of series 6 Gotchas went Stateside, with even one or two American stars getting caught despite their lack of awareness of the show.
“LA Law’s Corbin Bensen” was barely known to UK audiences outside the police drama, and he was certainly unaware of Noel – two factors that should naturally have suggested he wasn’t the best victim.
The transatlantic obsession led to the show itself travelling to New York for a live show in March. The timing appears to have been to alleviate the conundrum of TC1 being used for Comic Relief the night before, though the programme had managed to work around Children In Need the previous November with a truncated set and certain items on location.
Despite being heavily promoted for over a month prior to airing, the first House Party to be held outside of Crinkley Bottom received a mixed reception with all the guests trailed in advance at the start of the show, which took away the surprise element of the front door appearances.
The set itself was an apartment-style creation apparently slotted into the space usually occupied by David Letterman’s nightly chat show.
It was also another addition to the pantheon of “Gotchas where the victim hadn’t heard of Gotchas or indeed Noel himself”.
“Cash For Questions” with David Hasselhoff however proved visually entertaining, even if it may have been somewhat rehearsed beforehand.
With Mr Blobby now a permanent fixture on Live & Kicking (almost going full circle with regards to what he was lampooning in the Gotchas) it was believed his House Party days were numbered, even hinted in the blurb for the series opener in the Radio Times.
Yet the show still couldn’t escape his occasional appearances, including a big part in the plot of the final episode alongside Russ Abbot and a returning Roger Moore.
Centring around a melodramatic megalomaniac plot to take over the world, it was an entertaining almost pantomime-esque finale in which Moore clearly relished playing the bad guy. This was particularly apparent in segments depicted as breaking into transmission, speaking to camera whilst sat in a throne and featuring the brilliant ad lib to the studio audience “why do I feel like Ronnie Corbett?
Continuing the theme of “old ideas on a bigger budget”, the plot culminated in the Great House being destroyed again, this time depicted via intentionally dodgy model work as if to say “yeah we’ve run out of the location stuff”.
As with three years earlier, it appeared that the next series would debut a new set. This time it would go further – March 1997 would be the last time viewers saw a set resembling to any great extent by the original Great House of 1991.
The run had ranged from hugely entertaining episodes in the best tradition of the show to lengthy padding involving the studio audience.
The series also saw the Unique credit moved right to the start of the credits for the first time in a move that was almost certainly a compromise after not being allowed to have it at the end. The respective company logos added a few weeks in.
It also became apparent that the new set was not as good a construction as the two previous incarnations, with the window by the door looking extremely tatty by the end of the series following encounters with Norman Wisdom and Mr Blobby, and a very basic extension into the space formerly occupied by The Hot House.
It would be the start of a lengthy period of problems with the design of the house.
Two major new features hadn’t made it to the end of the run, and perhaps more alarmingly the stalwarts of the format, NTV and particularly the Gotchas were showing their age.
It appeared once again the next series would begin with big changes.