“Where Is He?“
Edmonds was eventually coaxed into returning, apparently with the promise of better programmes than he’d presented prior to Christmas.
While the format was revamped, the first show of 1998 was a live Gotcha highlights special,
and despite relying on old material featured an impressive guest list and a livelier atmosphere
than had been present up to this stage of the series.
This included the return of a still-very-angry Dave Lee Travis, winning viewers’ vote against
Lionel Blair and Eddie Large as the most popular Gotcha by a large percentage.
It was on the whole a reassuring 50 minutes – almost as if they had worked out where they’d
been going wrong, though the special in the long run only hit home further that the series
had seen better days as had the Gotchas themselves.
Finally by 17th January the show returned in full, having been completely reworked.
The programmes were clearly packed with more content and featured less aimless filler material, with the audiences also far better warmed up.
However the first show didn’t represent a great start with an embarrassing pre-titles sketch
with the guests attempting to crack jokes to complete silence.
It was as if they were aiming to be deliberately corny, with Noel’s opening monologue setting the scene in Crinkley Bottom now swapped for out-of-context gags which appeared to be lifted from Tony Blackburn’s joke book.
An ambitious double-hit NTV was beset by technical difficulties and marred further
by an explicit off-camera outburst that left Noel full screen, speechless and looking
very much like he was regretting the decision to return.
Bravely another soap parody “The Bottoms” was attempted, this time live in a small set built in the performance area (which was often sitting empty given how few bands could be persuaded to turn up). After a disappointing start the plot was immediately ditched in favour of a recurring set of farcical sketches each in a different location in Crinkley Bottom that almost resembled the plays on the Generation Game in getting random audience members to participate.
One improvement was the return of an ensemble cast with Bradley Walsh, Leslie Grantham, and Shane Richie, though the latter’s character of Sebastian the French make-up artist became more disruptive than supportive.
Walsh on the other hand put 110% into his roles each week and often lifted these sketches through sheer enthusiasm alone.
The first show back proper was also notable for Jim Davidson being the first (and only) celebrity
to be granted a “Gotcha Amnesty”. Filmed after a pantomime earlier that week, it involved Davidson being granted freedom from ever being Gotcha’d in return for performing a forfeit.
The item appeared to have been concocted to provide a quick and easy Gotcha slot filler but also left you wondering whether it was due to concerns over how he would have reacted if secretly filmed for a standard Gotcha, which in no doubt would have displayed his real and not so family friendly persona, as later exposed on Hell’s Kitchen.
Other new Gotchas filmed on a quick turnaround included a rush-job in show 16 for
Melinda Messenger whilst standing in on Channel 5’s “Jack Docherty Show” which appeared
with no set up or reason for the viewer to buy into it.
Boyband 911 were “got” in a straight repeat of the Lionel Blair lift setup from the “100th” show
but their surprise reveal on the show, apparently whilst intending to gunge Noel before
performing on the National Lottery Draw, seemed a little suspect and oddly complex.
Did they really believe they would be able to move to the lottery studio in time to perform? And how were they able to perform on the House Party stage that they hadn’t rehearsed on with a moment’s notice? Similarly an NTV in the penultimate show where the victim ripped the camera out and put it in a mug was revealed in a casual aside a week later to be a hoax on the viewers.
Other shows still left without Gotchas often resorted to further padding, notably particularly lengthy live sketches which involved Mr Blobby variously having fights with Noel.
On one occasion his pink friend imprisoned him in the upstairs area of the house (with Edmonds presumably now regretting his nonsensical dead-end layout), resulting in Noel jumping out of the window and being soaked for an unclear reason given there is clearly no lake directly in front of the house.
The sequence cost him his clip mic, and rounding off the show with Englebert Humperdink performing “Release Me” may have been an unintended metaphor.
Also put to use was the otherwise talented Sarah Alexander, knocking on the window each week to deliver curious quick-fire gag observations in another iteration of the weird writing since the relaunch. This led one to questioning if she should be more embarrassed by that,
or co-hosting the final series of Channel 4’s “11 O’Clock Show”.
This half of the series also saw the introduction of a coming up menu, (as soundtracked by Led Zeppelin) learning nothing from the New York special by including short clips of guests to appear on the show, and rendering the surprise element of guests at the door redundant.
There was also more fiddling with the titles, with the last few shots darkened to match the reality of a winter evening and at one point swapped with the door approach footage from series 6. On the plus side, this was filmed in darkness. On the downside, the crossfade
to this year’s porch area showed just how little this year’s set resembled the location.
Further attempts to portray a real party atmosphere from behind the scenes saw Noel’s entrance cue replaced by a current pop tune that would remain in the background throughout the show, including the front door sketches, and extras stood in the back of shot
chatting and drinking.
The “House Party” name had always been a play on words so why at this stage they were trying to recreate a noisy gathering was unclear.
The trope of dropping crap on the studio audience meanwhile took a literal turn with the addition of plastic seagulls hovering above the punters and then defecating all over them. This persisted throughout most of the second half of the series, despite being at best questionable humour.
A vending machine, as branded “Crinkley Snacks” was later installed to provide a similar purpose despite being a one-gag idea.
The solution to saving the show in throwing more celebrities and gunge into proceedings culminated in “Panel Beaters”, a game that was a cross between “Tell The Truth”
and “Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks”. This was built into the left-hand side of the set
and following the pre-Christmas rebuild had the unintended consequence of making it
look like a TV studio again.
It did add another much-needed regular format point to the show (if shifted around in the running order), but with the climax being a gunging it highlighted the preamble as a very pedestrian “guess the imposter” parlour game.
The gunging itself, in the first tank to be built into the set in nearly two years, appeared better suited to a horror movie with the seating area entering a set piece resembling a torture chamber with a matching over-dramatic musical underscore, completely jarring from the light-hearted antics that led up to it.
The overload of gunge at one point lead to three drenchings in one show, with even the “ornate” box from series 1 re-emerging from storage in an attempt to liven up an otherwise uneventful NTV.
It also seemed to be stretching the budget as many would be poorly executed, none more so than the “Lucky Dip”, a tub of foam which was a less impressive visual effect than the average bubble bath.
But not content with gunging just celebrities or undeserving members of the studio audience, in show 16 a viewer’s phone vote was held on whether or not to gunge a kitten.
A real kitten.
It also became clear when setting the item up they had expected the audience to be against the idea, but the over-hyped crowd in fact ended up baying for gunge on fur, exactly as in a similar previous item where a little girl had been put in the same position.
It was an animatronic kitten that eventually got drenched, but giving the illusion they would do so for real, and Edmonds’ remarks on the outrage it would provoke suggested attempting to use this kind of stunt to raise the show’s profile.
Frustratingly, in the very same show that year’s “Noel Gotcha” was a very effective NTV double cross with Bradley Walsh disguised as a Scottish bus conductor being subjected to fake hypnosis by Paul Mckenna. The viewers were in on it early on which made the eventual reveal at the door and Noel’s incredulous reaction one of the best moments of the season,
if not the programme itself.
It showed that when they wanted to they were still capable of delivering the kind of superb TV that the programme had become famous for, but when juxtaposed with the low of the kitten incident it became less of “must see” for many viewers.
The show continued in this manner before bowing out as scheduled on 21st March. The final show had an air of relief at having got to the end, and climaxed with an almost old-fashioned gunging for the host and a bizarre musical performance by no less than four Mr Blobbys.
Notably the programme was referred to by Noel a number of times as “the final House Party”,
with his closing words adding to the suspicion that this may in fact be the end of the line.
In fact, another series was already commissioned, referred to in the Radio Times that week
and by Noel himself in recently published footage from after the show had gone off air.
It’s highly likely though that Noel suspected that given the seismic events of the run
that the next may not take the same form or even go ahead at all.
House Party would in fact return but with none of the newer items or supporting cast
(let alone the production team).
“That was the House Party, thanks for making it so special!”
The end of series 7 also marked the end of many eras: the last outing for the Broughton Castle titles and Stephen Green theme tune, for the traditional audience seating and for the controversial set. It was also farewell to the village of Crinkley Bottom and, barring cameos,
Most notably it marked the end for the entire writing team headed by Charlie Adams, who had been with the format since the Roadshow days and done so much to establish the running gags in the show’s heyday.
After all that had occurred during the preceding 22 weeks, could viewers be persuaded to tune in again come October?