Series 8 – 1998-1999 (Part 2)

“Some people don’t like change!”

A post-Christmas mini relaunch provided an unwelcome memory of the same thing occurring during the previous series.  As well as the aforementioned NTV changes, the opening of the show was changed to the outro of “Having A Party” by The Osmonds, which had been used at the end of a few shows before Christmas to provide a more upbeat ending after the “sad song”. 

The placing of it at the start – accompanied by a bizarre dance routine in the studio which made the Macarena look sophisticated – made far less sense. 

It also meant that along with Sofa Soccer the show was now host to two barely remembered Osmonds songs each week, with a bemused Merrill Osmond making a guest appearance in one episode for no apparent reason.  And yet House of Fun survived during the show itself, presumably as there were no suitable “sting” versions of Having a Party to cue guests on to the set, meaning that for the remainder of its life the House Party had a full-on identity crisis.

An unfortunate consequence of the performance of the series was the vast reduction in celebrities appearing on the show, with this even being addressed on the show itself in a pre-titles sketch opening a show which could only boast Leo Sayer, a lower-league goalkeeper and a cameo from Edwina Currie.

This also meant the complete abandonment of the door sketches, with not a single ring of the doorbell for over two months.  Perhaps inevitable given the downscaling of the writing team this season and the fairly poor quality of the segments that did appear early in the series, though it felt odd to be missing such a key part of the format.  

A concept utilising the BBC regions emerged in the dying embers of the series with “Three To Go”, a “Call My Bluff”-esque game where a punter had to identify the false news story out of three different BBC Regional News teams.

The talk-heavy item only really entertained telly pres fans, giving them a final chance to see the corresponding region’s respective news studios before they all got a generic rebranding
the following year. 

In an attempt to try and get something – no, anything to stick – other random one-off games
were given a try-out in a rush before the end credit roll with predictably shaky results.

A bizarre running gag also emerged during the show’s final weeks involving the exploits of Boris and Ivana, apparently performers from the Latvian State Circus, who each week would attempt a death-defying stunt that would invariably go wrong off-camera.

This would be followed up by a section of the audience having red gunge designed to mimic blood fired at them by a particularly aggressive device described memorably by the writer Stuart Millard as going off “like a nailbomb”. The final appearance of this act, days before the show was axed, climaxed with the gunge cannon being turned on Noel.

The axe itself fell on 25th February 1999, shortly after the programme itself had dipped under 6m for the first time. Although presented as a mutual decision, it was depicted as quite the opposite at the outset of the next programme two days later.

Addressing the axing with good humour gave the sense of a massive weight being lifted off everyone’s shoulders, with the last few shows if not spectacular appearing far less stressful and tense to watch. Tellingly, Y.O.Y.O was immediately abandoned, with NTV switching back to a traditional format. 

In order to manage the usual Comic Relief studio double-booking the live show took a week off on 13th March, instead offering a compilation of Gotchas from series 8 based on a viewer vote, nominally to tie in with the telethon.

This meant the final “regular” show on 6th March saw a number of lasts – Three To Go (bye then), My Little Friend, what was announced as the final NTV and – unheralded but hugely significant – the last Gotcha after 11 years, awarded in a live reveal to Ron Atkinson.

It wasn’t vintage but fittingly it did include a role for Barry Killerby, the longest serving member of the team.

In a brief return to the Y.O.Y.O concept, the final NTV to visit a viewer’s home played the same trick as at Christmas. Helen Woods, who had actually applied to Three To Go to be reunited with a fellow wartime evacuee now living in the US, had her wish granted in a touching spin on a feature most would be happy to forget.

The final show was trailed by a BBC One promotion packed with highlights that actually rather oversold what was planned. 

The throwbacks were ultimately limited to a couple of brief sequences of clips, a revival of Wait Till I Get You Home (showing why this feature was pre-recorded in the first place) and a final visit at the door from PCs Stamp and Quinnan.

This last ring of the bell was also notable as the first proper door sketch since the early weeks of series 8, though throwing out the “I had chips with mine” catchphrase from years earlier no doubt baffled most viewers, as did the bizarre final use of the aggressive gunge cannon on the audience as part of the sequence (though if nothing else this allowed a final use of the famous siren sound effect, as used since episode 1 of The Saturday Roadshow).

NTV did in fact form a part of the final show, but as a bizarre double bluff where an unsuspecting woman in the studio audience was told she was watching live footage of her husband in the bath at home, and was offered cash to have crabs deposited in the water.

This was followed by the reveal that…it wasn’t real, and her husband was in fact in the Great House, with the footage presumably prerecorded.

The highlight of the show was possibly the bit that was most expected: the return of Mr Blobby. Taking part in the final Sofa Soccer and then taking Noel to task for his dropping from the programme, Blobby’s appearance was predictable but in a credit to Barry Killerby actually funny and spontaneous.

It’s often said that if the 1990s had an end credits sequence, it would have “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals underscoring it. Brilliantly, Noel’s House Party actually did this before it was even released in the UK, accompanied by the main montage of highlights including a message from DLT.

Unfortunately this was undermined by the ending itself: after a brief but meaningful and sincere speech from Noel, the final image from the Great House was the late Freddie Starr covering Edmonds in foam.

This faded into a dream sequence sketch on a very good recreation of the Swap Shop set with welcome appearances from messrs Craven and Chegwin, that may have been worth the 45 minute wait. It meant the host of the Swaporama was the only guest to have appeared on the first and last House Party (albeit not in the Great House itself), with the final words spoken
on the show being an aside on his alcohol addiction.

The following morning Lee and Herring’s This Morning with Richard Not Judy opened its second series with a pretitles sketch featuring the hosts dressed as Noel Edmonds and Mr Blobby, informing us they had moved to a new time slot for another eight years of House Party.
Pointing to armed guards patrolling the audience, Stewart Lee as Edmonds intoned “enjoy it you scum, enjoy it or I will have you killed”.

Noel’s closing speech had something of a different connotation back then – a plea to remember the good old days when it was the most exciting, innovative and ground-breaking show on British television.

It’s an overworked expression when people say it’s the end of an era, but for BBC Television,
for the entertainment department, for me, and possibly you, it really is the end of an era.
I hope your memory will be very kind to us. After 169 – bye.