TV Cream

It's Saturday Night

98. You’re BBC, you shouldn’t be here




ITV also came up with a new Saturday night banker in 1991. Michael Barrymore had already established himself a big success thanks to Thames game show Strike It Lucky, where he’d become noted for his ability to send up and insult members of the public without causing offence. However his other television ventures were less successful. During the 80s, he’d presented the BBC quiz Get Set Goand landed his own ITV sketch show, both of which flopped. Michael Barrymore’s Saturday Night Out had proven more successful, but Barrymore wasn’t able to do much with the format and the whole idea of seaside variety shows seemed to have gone out of fashion. LWT’s new show, however, had the man very much at the centre of events – as illustrated by the name, Barrymore. Drawing on his strengths interacting with ordinary people, the format, such as it was, saw Barrymore welcome members of the public who had interesting or unusual talents onto the set, introduce their acts and then engage them in brief, informal interviews. Of course, this was basically an excuse for more prancing about and rooting through old ladies’ handbags.

The programme’s pilot was scripted by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. “Barrymore really liked (the scripts) as they were taking the piss a bit,” the double-act later claimed, “but all his court of advisors and hangers on dissuaded him from using any of it. He was a really good bloke though and very funny when left to his own devices, ad libbing.” According to John Kaye Cooper, LWT’s controller of entertainment, the pilot was a disaster, but the station decided to stick with their man. “We knew through Strike It Lucky and his abilities as a comedian, that he was very much a man of the people and we had to build a show that was probably one of the first real people shows,” remembers Kaye Cooper.

More established writers were hired to pen the transmitted programmes. The first instalment was a Christmas special broadcast on 21 December 1991, where the guests included The Rumburgers, a seventy-something married couple who travelled the nation’s working men’s clubs performing deadpan, slapstick dance routines. The first show was also notable for a bizarre opening where Barrymore spotted BBC Sport executive Brian Barwick in the audience and made great play of throwing him out of ITV premises (“You’re BBC, you shouldn’t be here”).

A regular insert was “My Kind Of People,” where the Barrymore roadshow would set up in a shopping centre and invite members of the public up on stage to sing songs, tell jokes or perform magic, as long as they didn’t mind the host messing about behind them, with the best (or worst) being invited onto the main show. “I knew from what I’d seen of him that Michael would even make the ones who weren’t particularly talented, entertaining on the stages around the shopping centres of Britain,” says Kaye Cooper.  “I knew instinctively that Michael would cotton onto the really talented ones and we would bring them back into the studio, it was clear that was part of the format.  But we of course got great fun and great entertainment out of the wonderful characters he found around the country – sometimes they just wandered on stage and he spoke to them, or he would do some of his outrageous routines with them and get great entertainment.”

The special pulled in 13.4 million viewers, and similar figures were achieved by the six-part series that followed in January. So pleased were LWT with the show it was repeated in full during the summer months – one of the few occasions when a light entertainment series has been shown again in its entirety.  But unlike Blind Date or Noel’s House Party, Barrymore didn’t really have a strong format at its heart, and the meant it was a risk. “Some of the problems I always used to say Michael Barrymore had, is actually there was no format and it was all on him,” says LWT’s Alan Boyd. “The pressure was on him nightly to achieve.”

By the end of 1991, then, both the BBC and ITV had found brand new bankers for their Saturday evening schedule, shows that would prove to be continually successful for most of the rest of the decade. But one show doesn’t make a schedule, and much needed to be done. Worse still, even though they’d managed to replace some long runners this time, it didn’t mean they could do it again.

Next Monday: If this doesn’t work out, we’re both snookered!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Glenn Aylett

    August 5, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Regardless of events in his private life in the noughties, Barrymore pressed all the right buttons for ITV on Saturday nights in the nineties. Since the station appealed most to older, more small c conservative type viewers, Barrymore was just right for an audience that would appreciate the Rumburgers and Barrymore’s trips to shopping centres to wind up old ladies and children in a nice way. Certainly someone like Ben Elton would never work with a Saturday ITV audience, and for nearly ten years Barrymore was LWT’s answer to Noel Edmonds.

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