Back in those innocent days of the 1990’s Channel Four used to be a great tv channel, commissioning some of the best tv comedy ever made including Brass Eye, Father Ted, Vic Reeves Big Night Out and The Mark Thomas Comedy Product among many others, and a lot of their output was experimental and unusual. There was a lo-fi DIY ethic to some of their series and none more so than with Takeover Tv, a show which allowed viewers to create their own short films, skits and sketches and send them in to be broadcast to the nation.
The big thing to come out of it was the careers of Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, Adam started on the show as a researcher before being promoted to presenter, as he explained in a a recent interview with The Guardian: “I was hired as a researcher for Takeover TV, sorting through tapes the public had sent in. There were a few good videos: Edgar Wright sent in a short film, and Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) did a funny thing dressed up as Björk lying in the shower in his pants making funny noises. But a lot of the submissions were total dross: people going on about the council not collecting their bins on time, art students hammering nails into their cocks, so it was suggested that I make some videos, too, and I got Joe to help me. I ended up presenting it, and after that we were asked to make our own show”. In the first series in 1995 he only presented the first and last episodes, but he was the host for all of the 1996 series, with Joe joining him for series three in 2002.
Unfortunately the show itself was never given a video or dvd release and only certain clips are on youtube, so this review is based on the latter rather than an entire series. Which is a real shame as what is on youtube is a mix of the bizarre, the strange, the pointless and dull and the very, very funny, and it’s captivating television as even the poor parts are oddly endearing. Fortunately there is one episode on youtube which is almost complete, missing only the final ten minutes, which gives a great idea of how the show worked and that’s what the following review is based upon.
Opening with a voice over from Adam, he promises us that we’ll be impressed by one woman’s commitment to maintaining her jugs (which isn’t as rude as it sounds), the twisted world of jumping kids, space cakes, pastry porn and much more. The episode itself is introduced by Hatstand, an am-dram group from Hampshire who claim they’ll be offering up some fruity melodrama, and they do, acting out a farcical script in a very over the top manner with clips of them doing so interspersed throughout the episode. While not the best comedy drama Channel 4 has ever given the world it’s entertaining enough not to be annoying, and some pleasure can be had from the ridiculously tongue in cheek performances from some (but not all) of those involved.
The best part of the episode surprised me by featuring a pre-fame Graham Norton, where he plays a roving reporter trying to investigate what the mysterious liquids found in council flat lifts are. After tasting it (stating “It’s fruity and fresh…No, it’s still a mystery”) he interviews one of the tenants who is of course Norton once again, but dressed up as a woman this time, and he plays a third character as well, with the sketch ending with the revelation that it was Norton himself who was pissing in elevators. It’s not the most inventive or intelligent of scripts but it is fairly funny, Norton performs it impressively and it’s decently directed given it was shot on a camcorder with only one actor and no budget. Funnily enough two other comedians who went on to become famous also feature in this episode, Ben Miller and Alex Armstrong, with the duo pretending to be Scandinavian buskers and rambling on about busking at shopping centres and British women with the line “Some girls…very nice…Some of them are pigs…” being particularly dodgy. As you might have guessed I didn’t find it that amusing, but I guess it was still very early days for the duo and they did quickly get a lot better as their sketch show proved.
Other sketches that worked really well included one from Chris Head & Paul Muir which was a fake dating video, with a man selling himself to potential dates by explaining “I’ve got an arm here, and a hand at the end” and then continuing to describe the rest of his body, and he makes a return later on in the episode wearing a weird costume and saying that he’s a “Very caring man, very gentle, very understanding” before screaming “I know how your hands work”. Both made me laugh a lot and were almost as good as Norton’s effort, and it’s a shame there’s not more of him here. There’s also a very low budget contribution from Adam and Joe which is essentially an advert for books, where we learn that “Each book comes with literally dozens of pages”, “Each book can offer you a different picture on it’s cover” and that they’re “An ideal place to store compact discs”. It’s a great sketch and it’s easy to see why Adam was hired to host the show off the back of it.
Also on the plus side is a woman called Sarah Lee who talks about injured bats. It’s a straight and supposedly informative piece about the joys of helping bats out, but also bizarrely funny as for a good part of the video the bat is quite happy to stay down her top as it’s dark and warm there. She has a clear and endearing love for the animals, informing us that they’re “Very docile and very affectionate…She purrs on contact…Most people don’t realise that bats purr” and then the best bit is at the end where she’s sitting in bed and explaining how “I will take a bat to bed and sit up in bed watching television, drinking a cup of tea and feeding the bat”. It’s genuinely hilarious and the kind of thing you’d never get on tv outside of a show like this.
The most surreal moment came towards the end of the episode though when I found myself loudly exclaiming “Fuck, I know him” as a video from Damian Jennings was shown. Jennings was at the same school as me and I was vaguely friends with his brother, so it was quite a surprise to see him suddenly appear on screen. It’s a decent skit too where he plays a roving reporter talking about how after video nasties, porn and snuff movies there’s a new form of dodgy video going around – gluttony films, where people eat food in various sexy ways, and there’s a funny interview with Jennings and a very nonchalant importer of the videos in a sequence which is pretty strong in general. Also on the surreal side of things is a video from Adam Barker called Bath Time where a man has a bath while a tiny man swims around him, and a fish and a submarine also float by which is odd but likeable, as is a clip of a man putting an action figure’s hand up his nose while the Twin Peaks theme plays in the background. God knows why, but it amused nonetheless.
Some of the videos have aspects which kind of work but aren’t anything amazing, including Gary Dorking pretending to be a woman who has had too much plastic surgery, a clip from Penultimate Productions where a goth talks about how “You’re standing at the brink of self destruction and that is the true creativity of mankind”, and Roger Goy wanders around Lincoln, talking about local nature in an inane sequence which I have to admit that I did find funny due to his ongoing obsession with birds. Other mixed skits included Katherine Monbiot discussing what we should eat to function properly, a guy called Arthur Uther Pendragon who believes himself to be the reincarnation of King Arthur going on about how people should stand as an independent candidate at local elections, while the short film Valentine’s Day is packed full of cleavage and innuendo and is nicely shot but rarely funny. Still, despite not always being successful I’ve no issue with any of these being included as they’re short and inoffensive.
On the downside there are a fair few weak or plain rubbish films. Helen Smith’s documentary “A fat person’s guide to food” trades in cliched jokes about overweight people’s relationships with food and what they consider to be good for them (orange and strawberry creams being vegetables, supposedly), an advert for the Monster Raving Loony Party is strangely boring considering the subject matter, and in Groovy Movies a man interviews someone with a weird mask about charity work in an all but joke free segment. Other bits which didn’t really work for me were Ben & Joe Dempsey’s Space Cakes, which featured dodgy stop motion animation of Battenberg cakes in space which felt a little pointless, and the same applies to Woks Up where Christopher Pugmire tries to get a wok out of a cupboard but it just falls on his head, while Will Hate and Pot Bellied Man is sub-Vic and Bob stuff. Worst of all is a bit where Peter & Katie Ashton jump up and down a lot, one in a dressing gown the other as a gnome, in a sketch which I can only presume was included as they had nothing else to put in.
Despite these negative aspects I feel it’s a real shame that there isn’t a programme like this on a major channel anymore, yes, youtube now exists and I’m sure that you could curate a similar programme with the content found on the site, but this is different in that members of the public created some weird and wonderful (and occasionally awful) videos in the hope of it being screened on national tv, and so we’re presented with clips that are truly unique and absurd. Plus a lot of the stranger content on youtube is never seen due to the fact that there are millions of videos on the service, whereas this would be a chance for them to be witnessed by a much bigger audience, so I only hope one day someone revives the format.