Ten Forgotten Number One UK Box Office Films Of The 90s

When we think back to “90s cinema”, Trainspotting is probably one of the films that stands out from the decade as a truly iconic, huge movie that swiftly entered the national consciousness regardless of whether you’d seen it or not, much like Reservoir Dogs, The Matrix or Fight Club. Those slightly older readers will remember the utter disarray that was attending a cinema in the 1990s before the modern chains for better worse took over. Video shops were decimating the audiences who were put off by the prices, sticky carpets and poor regional distribution with London getting premieres often months before the North. And those films that did get through? Yeesh, its fair to say that while there’s always been bad movies, the British film industry was at a real low point throughout much of the decade. Say what you like about “Nativity 8″ or “The Guernsey Piss Pog And Pie Society”, they’re no “Ladder of Swords”

There’s the opening trailers out of the way, time for the main feature. Here are ten films that were once genuinely big deals, reaching number one in the UK box office that are now forgotten by the nation as a whole. (That’s my get out if you read one and say “I remember that!”, alright?)

10. Waking Ned (19/03/99)

It would be fair for anyone wishing to argue that the British film industry was alright in the nineties thanks to the heart-warming and undoubtedly BRITISH likes of Brassed Off and The Full Monty. Small scale stories with great ensemble casts that America lapped up. Added to that list would be “Waking Ned” (extended to “Waking Ned Devine” in the US bafflingly, thus spoiling the rhyming slang gag), a gentle comedy set in Ireland about the entirely inhabitants of a small village covering up the fact that the Lottery has been won by a dead man. Britain loved it but the huge buzz was undoubtedly because America took to it so strongly in a typical example of “Well, if the Yanks like it, it must be alright…” ITV showed it as a big New Years Day film two years later after which…nothing really. Repeats have been few and far between and director Kirk Jones, once feted as the next big thing, wouldn’t have a film reach cinemas until 2005’s “Nanny McPhee”, his last feature to date being “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”. Perhaps “Waking Ned” is so laid back and sweet as to not leave much of a mark on the national conscience but this is definitely worth reawakening.

9. Dead Again (25/10/91)

Speaking of Nanny McPhee, here’s the wonderful Emma Thompson with ex-husband ‘Chuckles’ Kenneth Branagh from the era where the two were seen as inseparable (going as far as a Spitting Image sketch where Ken couldn’t eat something because Em wasn’t in it) in an intriguing thriller about past lives and regression. (You know the past bits are in the past because its black and white.) Its an enjoyable bit of fluff which will involve you being able to get past the ‘AH’M AN AMERICAWN’ accents both main actors use but coming mere months after the genre-defining “Silence Of The Lambs”, its hard to think of it as anything more.

8. Jack and Sarah (02/06/95)

Despite a decade of solid work with appearances in “LA Story”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Prêt-à-Porter”, critics and fans always seemed to feel that Richard E Grant‘s star had never quite risen sufficiently after the tour-de-force that was and remains “Withnail and I”. Looking at the state of the film industry in this country at the time and the relative failure of his second feature with Withnail’s writer / director Bruce Robinson “How To Get Ahead In Advertising”, its easy to see why Grant took second banana work in the US rather than stay and headline something British. “Jack and Sarah” briefly changed all that with Grant starring in an occasionally dark and moving but ultimately uplifting comedy about a grieving father bonding with his newborn daughter. Not that looking at the cover would tell you that with its bleedin’ Friends-esque posing and thin non capitalized fonts. Growl. (Oh and spoilers: see her there, she’s not Sarah…)

7. Quigley Down Under (05/04/91)

Regularly one of my comedy go to names for utterly forgotten fare, this comic Western released a year before Clint Eastwood refined the genre with “Unforgiven” was one Tom Selleck‘s last starring roles (anyone remember “Mr Baseball”?) in a big budget film. Alan Rickman plays Naughtyman McBadness (or near enough) who employs Selleck‘s Quigley to shoot Aborigines. As we know rule two is no mistreatment of the Abbos so Quiggles refuses and becomes enemy number one. Its a perfectly serviceable Western that my granddad would’ve loved but I was always confused by the title which feels like the second or third in a series. “Oh that Quigley! Where’s he off now? The Australias?? Now this I gotta see!”

6. Black Rain (26/01/90)

A huge film at the time, directed by Ridley Scott and featuring the still very much in prime Michael Douglas as a cop chasing a Yakuza member through the “Japanese underworld” (Copyright Cinema Alan’s Big Book Of Movie Writing Shortcuts), its strange how forgotten “Black Rain” has become. It could be that none-more-generic title that gives little about the plot away – then again what’s a “Blade Runner” when its at home? More likely is the fact its just a fine but forgettable run around, occasionally shoot someone and pout action movie of the sort that were ten a penny seemingly back then. And frequently involved Steven Seagal

5. Out For Justice (04/10/91)

Oh bollocks, I had to go and invoke the spirit of facekickingness past, didn’t I? From the sweet spot period where Seagal had climbed up through the VHS rental mountain to become an indicator of brainless but enjoyable big screen tut which the self-respecting action fan could happily spend a few quid on without fear of being ripped off (“How many killings?”, as Henry and Ally from The League Of Gentlemen might say.)  but before everyone realised he was bat shit crazy and nobody wanted to work with him. That said, with an impressive seven films under in his belt in 2016 alone, somebody must still be watching his stuff. Just not at the cinema…

4. What About Bob? (15/11/91)

A fun but occasionally quite unpleasant Frank Oz-directed comedy where Bill Murray (in his pre-walking deity on Earth days) plays a psychiatric patient who annoys his therapist (Richard Dreyfuss) on holiday to the point of insanity, but with the added twist that this time the Bill Murray one will be a woman called Barb. Nothing like jumping on a property when its hot, eh?

BONUS ANECDOTE FROM MY FRIEND TIM: “I once saw Drop Dead Fred and What About Bob next to each other on a hoarding at a time where Freddie Mercury and Robert Maxwell had literally just died.” Ouch.

3. Memphis Belle (07/09/90)

Now this bastard. If there’s any film on this list you’ve gone “OH YEAHHHHHHH” to, it’ll probably be this based-on-a-true-story-but-not-really yarn of annoyingly handsome US army boys with unique but endearing quirks and their flight in the titular plane. This was absolutely everywhere at the time of release with the cast cropping up on TV – Harry Connick Jnr in particular crooning his guts out wherever permitted – and in the still not-deemed-only-for-girls-yet magazines TV Hits and Big! I recall our excitement of finally getting a copy at the video shop only to be bored rigid within about half an hour and longing for a crash.

2. Shooting Fish (17/10/97)

Before I talk about this one, here’s the trailer for Shooting Fish:

Gadgets! Cons! Swish camera angles! Yes, its Britpop “Hackers”!

Thankfully, “Shooting Fish” is thankfully a slower and all together nicer film than the trailer would have you assume. Two orphans scam the rich and clueless to live out their dream of owning a mansion before one of those GIRLS gets involved and both fall for her. It is twisty and turny in places and indeed does have a wonderfully Britpop soundtrack with The Divine Comedy, Space, Dubstar and The Wannadies among others but feels at home with the Ealing capers that were a regular sight on UK television on a Saturday afternoon. Why its disappeared is anyone’s guess as its far from terrible and features a series of familiar British actors including Annette Crosbie and a wonderfully slimy Peter Capaldi. The director and co-writer Stefan Schwartz didn’t trouble the big screen much after this but is seemingly in big demand on TV with recent gigs on The Americans, Fear The Walking Dead and Dexter.

1. Curly Sue (27/12/91)

Few things have ever kicked me in the gut as a movie fan than after years of slagging off this thin, horrendously sentimental treacly old bollocks about a pre-teen con artist than finding out it was written and directed by John Hughes. Just a year after his magnificent script for Home Alone and now iconic 80s favourites “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Weird Science” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. And that’s not even mentioning “Uncle Buck”, “Planes Trains And Automobiles” or the “Vacation” films. But this shower of saccharine shite, whilst a hit both here and America, was the last he ever directed for the big screen and while it’d be wrong of me to suggest its because of this violently eye-soaping, gut-emptying hollow spew-barrel of Jim Belushi headlining family guff, it is truly a hateful cotton candy made out of hair and tears that no right human should ever have to sit through from start to finish. Hughes would write many more films (including the solid if equally toothless “Flubber”, “Dennis”, “Beethoven” and “Baby’s Day Out”) before his death at the tragically young age of 59.

Still, Curly Sue (or rather her actress Alisan Porter) won America’s version of The Voice the other year so that’s…an ending? ….Right?

“Now they’re going from the poorhouse to the penthouse…” Oh FUCK OFF.

So, did I just ruin your favourite film or is there something burning inside you that you need to share? Should I instead have featured other forgotten No.1 box office hits if the 90s? Is Dick Tracy forgotten enough? Did anyone go see Circle Of Friends, A Walk In The Clouds, Six Days Seven Nights or Practical Magic at the cinema? And did I actually honestly pay to see Forces of Nature and The Jackal? Let me know via Twitter @ThatBenBaker or in the comments below.

And remember: Jim Belushi is just a fictional character. He can’t hurt you now.

Don't Lets Chart

Don’t Lets Chart 109 – No-One Voted For ALF

(right click to download)

We’ve taken the bin box time machine back to 1987 again for the second and final part of our entirely listener-voted chart. 

Along the way, we pump up the volume, drown some Pound Puppies, chart the rise of Jonathan Ross, make Phil listen to Big Black for the first time, fail to get over how great Withnail and I is in the edit, chase away Mike Read and his new jingles, enjoy some wind, Ben reveals his biggest musical fantasy, Wax get lyrical, there’s a New Years visit with Predator, Phil bangs on about The Living Daylights, we wince at the continuing relevance of The New Statesman, admire Keith Houchen‘s header, guide a stupid child through a chroma key dungeon, tune into Network 7, say oo-er something a bit rude and, most controversially, Phil ranks the 1987 Doctor Who season. Plus, what made it to the top of your 1987 list! 

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Don't Lets Chart

Don’t Lets Chart 108 – McKellen For Robocop

Download it here.

Presenting The First Annual 32 Fabulous Years of 1987 Show. 

Why? Dont worry about that. Just be dazzled and wowed by the bright colours and flammable materials of the era as Ben and Phil run down the first half of our listener’s selections for the best things of ’87 – thats right, FIRST! – you lot sent in some fantastic suggestions and we didnt want to skimp on the best so its our first exciting two-parter. Like Timelash. Ok, maybe not that…

In this one there’s grudging acceptance of The bloody Raccoons, we meet the Son of the Invisible Man, indulge the finest side of Prince, question Corey Feldman‘s career choices, predict a riot, get bored senseless by Willy Fog, give Stephen and Hugh a warm hand on their entrance, fail to get the point of M.A.S.K, see Johnny Marr run, delight in Martin Short being a bankable movie star, count down choose our contender for the Spectrum vs c64 top ten from this week thirty two years ago and two very different movies go head to head in perhaps the strangest quiz yet. So prick up your wossnames, pump up the volume and listen up! 

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Now, Then

Last year I was asked to take part in TV Cream‘s lookback over all the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations in their wonderful weekly mailout Creamguide (subscribe here). However, being a bit stupid, I misunderstood the intitial request – pick one song from each of the pop music collections from NOW 26 to 30 – and wrote up a whole piece on the first of those albums. Understandably unpublished at the time, here is that noise in full….

Ask anyone over a certain age with a love of popular rock and beat music about the year 1993 for pop sounds and you’ll most likely get a reaction somewhere between utter blankness and murderous intent. It was a year of bland cover versions, radio-ragga and the unfortunate rise in room-related boomings in the localised area. Now 26 with its “stuff it, let’s just chuck a few twinkly lights on a red background” cover is testament to that slightly dubious year. You can see why so many disenfranchised youths flocked the moody sounds of The Other Nirvana, Bjork and one hit wonders Radiohead as disc 1 flounders to connect tracks by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Chaka Demus and Pliers and The Spin Doctors. Do you like the Spin Doctors? Well you should, they’re good.

SWV – “Right Here”

Specifically the “Human Nature Radio Mix” which added that slick, soul pop sound to 85% of chart bound sounds coming from America in the early 1990s. Not that the original wasn’t a head bobbing little treat of its own but Teddy Riley decided to slow the mood down a few tempos and add a looped sample of Naughty Michael Jackson‘s “Human Nature” – apparently to the distaste of SWV themselves, which as we all know stands for Sis Masters Voice (ED: Erm, Sisters With Voices, surely?) And did you know that the person calling out “S…The double! The U! The V!” bit was Pharrell Williams? Oh. You did. Sorry to have bothered you.

Jamiroquai – “Too Young to Die”

When young Jamie Rockway (real name: Jason Rockway) was still a fashionable name to drop as part of your record collection (as long as you didn’t mention his appearance talking stoned gibberish on late night ITV programmes) thanks to the genuinely uplifting soul pop mix which with this single – only the bands second – comfortably broke the top ten. The album “Emergency on Planet Earth” would become a regular sight at parties although, let’s be honest, the songs don’t ‘alf hang on a bit in full.

Leftfield & Lydon – “Open Up”

With its abrasive big name guest vocal and simple, pounding floor-friendly backing, “Open Up” feels now like the blueprint for the next decade of chart-friendly dance music. (Indeed, the Chemical Brothers provide a remix on 12″, still at that point trading as The Dust Brothers.) Just missing out on the top 10 in the UK, the song was unfortunate in that Lydon couldn’t promote it heavily due to conflicts with his record company whilst a series of forest fires in Southern California lead to its steady radio playing being abruptly stopped as the repeated line “Burn Hollywood Burn!” didn’t really seem ok…

Stakka Bo – “Here We Go”

AKA MTV Europe in song form. Despite its 70s-throwback feel and none more 90s “light rap an’ a sample” arrangement, “Here We Go” is oddly timeless and whilst it might not be the banger it once was, there’s a lot of pure joy in its construction and it can still get the party, um, go-ing. Also: Ace of Base are shit.

Belinda Carlisle – “Big Scary Animal”

One of Belinda‘s more “Pointless answer” tracks, this had the misfortune of dropping between ‘the first wave MOR star’ success and the 1996 ‘reinvented pop queen’ eras but still has a lot of fun on its way. Also: ooft.

BEN’S TOP CHOICE: Björk & David Arnold – “Play Dead”

This haunting and beautiful use of Bjork‘s ‘thousand spurned lovers’ vocal with Arnold’s huge, swaggering orchestration warly in both artist’s careers is the only memorable thing from Danny Cannon‘s stepping stone to Mega City One “The Young Americans” which had slumped into UK cinemas briefly in all its The Actor Keith Allen-appearing glory that October 1993. To a wider audience however its simply the always-welcome theme from a million increasingly desperate chill out albums. Dead good. Play on…

And here’s my picks for the next four albums once I’d realised my actual brief…

NOW 27

BEN’S CHOICE: Credit to the Nation – “Teenage Sensation”

Having made a bungalow-shaped impact with their debut release “Call It What You Want” in part due to the marrying of of a Public Enemy-beat to a smart “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample, Credit To The Nation and frontman MC Fusion – or Matty to his mam – were quickly clasped to the bosom by the more outspoken sector of the British indie rock community and touted as the next big thing for a number of years by the music press. Sadly this was to be their only top 40 hit although it still sounds as fresh as it must have blasting through the nation’s walkmans in early 1994. It even manages to get ahead of the curve by sampling the Incredible Bongo Band before half of the planet did similar. And it makes whistling thoroughly cool to boot.

NOW 28

BEN’S CHOICE: Let Loose – “Crazy For You”

The second best “Crazy For You” to hit the British pop charts, this is a perfect example of a song that would have been a chart smash no matter which shirtless, flop-haired shithouses fronted it. So its somewhat of a surprise to learn that it was actually written by frontman Richie Wermerling himself and had taken a re-release and a slow two month climb to hit its No.2 peak, just behind That Effing Song from That Effing Film. Its not for everyone and by mid-1994 I’d have sooner listened to the sound of my own spine cracking than have it ooze out of my radio one more time but here in the moon future, its one of the better non-Barlow boy band hits of the era. Crazy I know.

NOW 29

BEN’S CHOICE: Kylie Minogue – “Confide In Me”

An obvious pick perhaps but, much like Bjork and David Arnold a few releases back, here comes another track drenched in strings and a sultry, almost-whispered vocal that still sounds like few other pieces of music before or since it. Very nearly the song to finally end Wet x3’s appalling grip of the top spot (the honour would go the following week to Whigfield‘s “Saturday Night”), this is the one that send headline writers into a frenzy as Kylie was ‘reinvented’ and apparently now was smart and even had a sense of humour. Of course, she’d always maintained those abilities but, free of Pete Waterman and pals, we were getting the Kylie we wanted and felt we always deserved. It didnt last and after the unfairly maligned (and Diana-dented) “Impossible Princess” era, Minogue was quickly back in the arms of Classic Pop Classics for a third, incredibly successful chapter full of great material but would never unearth another track as breathtaking, exciting and unusual as “Confide In Me“.

NOW 30

BEN’S CHOICE: Scarlet – “Independent Love Song”

And so we enter 1995 and its the dawn of something clearly happening with an explosion of pie-eyed guitar pop (The Boo Radleys, Oasis, Rednex) nestling comfortably at the bottom of disc one with a number of cool “This Life”-imminent dance-influenced tracks (Massive Attack, Portishead, The Outhere Brothers). For me however though, I’ve gone with “Independent Love Song” because…well, I just really like it. And sometimes thats all you really need, innit?

With thanks to all at TV Cream and Simon Tyers for including me in this project.

For more pop and telly prattle, my book “Kill Your Television” is full of articles on everything from Saturday morning telly to unaired pilots, obscure Teletext relationships, comedy shows as computer games, dangerous kids TV, theme tunes in the top 40 and much much more. Available in paperback here: or for Kindle here:

Don't Lets Chart

Don’t Lets Chart 107 – Slimer Stinks Of Onion IDST

Sponsored by Nixon’s Crisps. “The crisps that are crisps”.

It was the philosopher Ian Reelbigfish who once sang “Sell out / with me oh yea / sell out / with me tonight”. And never has a truer word been skanked as your hosts Ben Baker and Phil Catterall decide it’s time to cash in on the giant success “Don’t Lets Chart” clearly is and try and hook one of those big sponsors. So why they decide to mention ghosts, “On the Buses” and controversial stamps is anyone’s guess.

Also in the mix are such topics as fancying a toilet ghost, podcasts vs. Blakey, Roger Taylor must die, a promotion from the American Wheat Council, Pacmanology, David Bowie does a terrible thing, a haunted mattress, when Harry S. Truman is the better option, the stench of Slimer, Robert Johnson enjoys a delicious Zoom lolly, terrible atrocities by mail, the first episode of “Get Bent Phil“, John Barrowman is confused for his TV character and all the fictional crisps you can eat. Plus: your chance to help us fund this stuff as we can’t work in fast food all our lives.

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Don't Lets Chart

Don’t Lets Chart 106 – Rotating Hannigans

It’s a bank holiday special as for the first time Ben and Phil are in the same room to record one of these. We enter “The Meet Zone” (or is that “the Meat Zone”?) for a rundown of what Nottingham has to offer, the strange world of beer naming and our second listener-voted chart as you decide the worst double acts of all time, a mixed and occasionally very wrong list.

Plus: visiting Batman‘s house, the new Alan Bennett play, Horne and Corden‘s body swap adventure with Foster and Allen, windmill facts, the original Planeteers, Frank Sidebottom helps the natural body processes, Spitting Image Vs. Hale and Pace Vs. Oasis, the other Chuckle Brothers, volunteering is questioned, Big Breakfast wars, Ben has some opinions on Cannon and Ball, more jokes about Just Juice and somebody mentions Noble and Silver for the first time in fifteen years.

Music featured in the beer section is “Fisticuffs With Magic Ben” by Foxes Faux which you can and very should listen to here:

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And give some love to our special guest @InvaderAce1 from the highly recommended Simpsons and modern history podcast @_Retrospecticus here.

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Confidentially Speaking: Jasper Carrott’s Walks To Work

Maybe its his ubiquity on TV in the 80s and 90s or the repetition of those bloody Australian car insurance forms. Perhaps its the later years presenting the most baffling game show on British television or maybe its simply just the fact “The Detectives” was a bit bobbins but nobody really discusses Jasper Carrott much these days, do they?

For my generation, the appearance of Jasper on a Saturday night was always a welcome sight even if we didn’t get all the jokes. I was far too young to understand the folk culture he’d come from and indeed helped create, why being “In The Club” was so hilarious or that people only bought his 1975 hit single “Funky Moped” for the naughty B-side spoofing the Magic Roundabout (Fact Courtesy Of My Dad, My Entire Life.) I similarly, due to a lack of being born, missed the original ITV shows that made him a household name, especially 1979’s “The Unrecorded Jasper Carrott” where he brilliantly proved he was live by showing what was on the other two channels on a portable set (“Shakespeare…he’s dead y’know”). Even his transfer to the Beeb for the more topical and slightly naughtier “Carrott’s Lib” (written largely by the duo of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor before they joined the team of Spitting Image and then did something or other about space) was just that bit too before my time.

His follow up series in 1987 “Carrott Confidential” on the other hand felt hugely exciting as I’d sometimes be allowed to stop up for it (Carrott’s Lib generally started around ten to eleven, Confidential was 9:05pm, straight after Paul Daniels and Bergerac.) Ask me to tell you a joke or recall a sketch from it and I’d look at you as if made of teeth but enquire about the title sequence and the memories suddenly flood. These titles were incredibly simple – Jasper walks from his dressing room in BBC TV Centre onto the studio floor – but also unspeakably exciting for a TV spod in training like me who thought the BBC seemed the most exciting place in the world to work. Adding to the fun was a series of topical gags mostly missed by the oblivious Carrott on his way to the audience.

Lets look at those 24 walks to work, shall we? Starting with series one…

Episode 1 – January 3rd 1987

Radio Times Synopsis: “The show comes to you live from BBC Television Centre and the format is a closely guarded secret for very good reasons. ‘Because it’s so brilliantly original’, says Jasper. ‘He hasn’t got one yet’, says Michael Grade.”

Accompanied by the sounds of “Rockin’ All Over The World” by Ver Quo, Jasper takes a relatively sedate walk for this first episode, the highlight being a colleague walking by.

As a bonus, here’s the series one set, minus some odd 80’s industrial pipe things to the right. Those exciting TV screens behind Jasper are reduced to just one the following week showing the live feed of the show going out whilst are all turned off by show 3.

Episode 2 – January 10th 1987

RT: “At the time of going to press, there was no information forthcoming on the second show because the first show’s format depended upon how the second show was received.”

Another standard one with Jasp strolling onstage to the sounds of “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” by his old pals ELO. They do get more exciting, I’m sure….

Episode 3 – January 17th 1987

RT: “Reassemble these words into a well-known phrase or billing: see, watch, hear, gasp, squirm, wriggle, ludicrous, very, gerbil, bedwetter, hierarchy, commie, goose-stepping, morbid, ointment, appliance.”

“Layla” from Dad’s Big Book of Qualidee Rock this time and a bit of frost on Jasper’s sign plus a comedy c-c-c-cold sounding producer knocking indicates Britain might have been going through a bit of a cold snap. The snow covered halls and snowman adding more to this before the opening monologue mentions “so much snow” and Birmingham putting in a bid for the Winter Olympics. Arf.

Episode 4 – January 24th 1987

RT: “This edition of the series will be reviewed on See You Did Sid, Ludovic Kennedy’s special edition for dyslexic gas-share holders.”

Robert Palmer‘s “Addicted To Love” is the Brut-smelling track of choice for the walk on today and despite Jasper apparently communicating with someone off-camera, we never get to see them before he makes his way into Studio 3. Very poor.

Episode 5 – January 31st 1987

RT: “With Ian Rush injured, Jasper Carrott makes his debut as centre forward for Liverpool’s home game against Everton and Luton. Jasper will play sideways across the pitch while Bruce Grobbelaar will perform the comic routines. A live commentary can be heard next Thursday.”

An aggressive off-camera “Come on Carrott, shift yer backside!” (Carrott‘s retort: “Oh that’s a sign Alasdair Milne’s gone, isn’t it?” referring to the resignation of the BBC Director General that week) suggests we’re in more interesting territory than the previous few weeks although Jasp nodding at a few genuinely confused looking people in the corridor is the limit for this episode, other than the fact that we’ve moved from Studio 3 to Studio 6 which seems a much nicer walk all in all. Music is back to Status Quo but “Caroline” so that’s….something.

Here’s that week’s Question Time discussing Milne‘s resignation…

Episode 6 – February 7th 1987

Before this episode began there was an upheld complaint about the previous week’s programme. It would be remiss of me to say what the grievance was about but needless to say the Rt Hon Denzil Davies MP was clearly not pissed up at any point when he had to leave the House of Commons early so….oh wait, he’s dead now. Never mind.

RT: “Live from Television Centre, J. Carrott will expose the New Statesman’s expose on government plans for a Cardiff/Dublin tunnel….”

Oh thank christ, its “Hocus Pocus” by Focus leading Mr Carrott out of his dressing room this week, where he is immediately met by a policeman laded with tapes, reels and important looking documents. Several more pepper the journey along with a mass flinging of more papers catching Jasper before making a police guarded Studio 6. This is likely a direct reference to Special Branch heavy-handedly raiding offices at BBC Scotland the previous week in regards to material worked on by journalist Duncan Campbell about a secret British spy satellite. (For more: read the HANSARD transcript of the House Of Commons discussion on the subject here.)

Episode 7 – February 14th 1987

“Dear Bunny Wunnies – I’m still glowing from our weekend in Chernobyl. Watch prog tonight for special Valentine’s woggle. Signed Periscope.”

A female voice at the door this time to knock Jasper up, leading to the reply “coming Madam Cyn”, referring to alleged “luncheon vouchers for sex” brothel keeper Cynthia Payne who had been acquitted of nine charges of controlling prostitutes in her home on February 11th 1987. Obviously the idea of two human beings having sex is exceptionally hilarious to British audiences so the reference gets a huge laugh as does the vicar in suspenders and ladies in lingerie out in the corridor celebrating her release. “Down Down” by Status Quo soundtracks the BBC filth.

Episode 8 – February 21st 1987

RT: “Live from the BBCtv Centre, this is the last show in the current series…. Brian.”

Jasper is roused from his room with an offer for £36,500 which turns out to be from an estate agent. “Rockin’ All Over The World” returns as we see FOR SALE signs on every room in the BBC and an incredibly well timed gag with a lift door opening to show another tenant in his pyjamas. No doubt hilarious referencing the price of living in London in the 80s, the jokes is now a bit sour when the iconic Television Centre has now actually being converted into wanky over-priced housing.

Series Two

Continuing the Carrott Confidential TV Centre hi-jinks with series 2 (as I sadly don’t have access to June 1987’s “Election Confidential” one off special) from January 1988 which moved back by about an hour in the schedules, just after Cagney and Lacey. But first a word from erm…

Ah proper new-material trailers for comedy programmes, you really don’t see those anymore. Nor to mention it, many comedy programmes…anyway, its Saturday night, its 10:10 and its time for..oh, whatsisname…?

Episode 1 – January 16th 1988

Radio Times Synopsis: “Jasper’s back with his live show, taking his usual quirky look at news of the week, with social comment and political satire – even.”

A swankier door sign in Jasper‘s own hand greets us to series 2 but is it Quo or ELO on the soundtrack? Well done if you said the latter whose “Do Ya” plays behind a series of rapid jokes which kicks off the real era of pre-recorded topical nods including a Mike Gatting lookalike having an argument with an umpire, some BP workers having hung themselves,some men in classic BBC brown coats removing a painting of Michael Grade (who had just left the BBC in order to become chief executive at Channel 4) and a chap in an Australian hat selling copies of the controversial Spycatcher in front of a disgusted Thatcher impersonator. And that’s all before a Reagan and Gorbachev lookalike get to stab each other (literally) in the back and ‘a jockey’ in comedy prisoner clothes on a horse is lead away. It could be anyone! Phew!

Here’s Mike Gatting behaving appallingly to umpire Shakoor Rana in a move that stopped England facing Pakistan for over a decade…

And here’s the rather awful new set…

Episode 2 – January 23rd 1988

RT: “‘Confidential’ – Webster’s Dictionary definition: ‘containing information whose unauthorised disclosure could be prejudicial to the national interest’. Carrott’s Dictionary definition: ‘sneaky, irritating muck-blending’.” 

Show 2 and blimey the door sign’s changed again! Made of money these BBC lot! This one actually stays for the rest of the series so god knows why last week’s was different, perhaps the starry hand-signed nature belied the “man of the people” stance Carrott took in this shows in order to remain an outsider. On today’s show, Jasper is greeted by a “royal highness” who gets his sandwiches brought by a woman in a green wax jacket towing a corgi, presumably referencing Prince Edward‘s desire to work in the media. Elsewhere in the corridors of the Beeb, a Ronnie Barker (who had just announced his retirement on “Wogan”) lookalike (Ronnielike?) shakes Jasper’s hand after putting a “Vacant” sign on his dressing room as “Keep On Running” leads Carrott to Studio 8.

Episode 3 – January 30th 1988

RT: “Live, live, live, live, live, live, live from Television Centre.”

American Footballers fill the corridors of the Beeb as Jasper leaves his room ahead of the following night’s Superb Owl between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos which Channel 4 would show live. There’s also tribute to all things antipodean as “Down Under” plays over a Dame Edna lookalike with a birthday cake marking Australia’s bicentennial on January 26th, plus a Paul Hogan expy wrestling a croc, “Rolf” doing a mural and a kangaroo. Just because.

Oh and this tribute to Royal sperms proving the British fascination with the Windsors sticking it in a bit has never even slightly wavered…

Episode 4 – February 6th 1988

RT: “In association with Radio Times, Carrott Confidential announces an exciting new competition giving you the chance to win Robert Kilroy-Silk’s suntan! For full details, just lie naked in front of your TV and tune in to Jasper this week – live!”

The Eagles sing “Life In The Fast Lane” whilst Peperami get a free plug as Jasper is greeted by a surgeon holding the meat-esque product. We soon learn it is being dragged out of a nearby patient…for some reason. (Possibly it being linked to salmonella that week….) Then he bumps into two people with bandaged shnozzles and a third having their nostrils squeezed – baffling until you realise the previous day was the first ever Comic Relief telethon on the BBC. Geddit? Red Nose Day. Ba-boom Tschh. (Jasper had appeared during the show doing one of his…ahem…classic bits, which you can see here) There’s also some young women attacking two judges which I’m less sure about. If you do, drop me a line…

Episode 5 – February 13th 1988

RT: “Jung or Freud? Dialectical Marxism or Free Market Capitalism? Darwinian Evolution or Creation Theory? Who gives a monkey’s? Well, Cheetah for a start! Live from Television Centre.”

A knock up from the Speaker of the House…who immediately goes into a song and dance routine for a nearby camera….must be the televising of parliament for the first time (February 9th to be precise), something every comedy shows of the era seem to have a take on. Van Halen‘s “Jump” kicks in as a woman buys a drink from a tea lady in full Nazi uniform (a nod to an enquiry into Nazi war criminals supposedly hiding out in Britain) before a storm starts up hitting Jasp and a delighted nearby Ian McCaskill.

Episode 6 – February 20th 1988

RT: “This week Jasper attempts to impersonate Phil Cool, Mike Yarwood, Rory Bremner, Bobby Davro, Chris Barrie, Jessica Martin, Faith Brown and Janet Brown juggling.”

There’s a bob sled team in the corridor so it must be Winter Olympics time! (Sadly its not the Jamaican team.) There’s some bot fondling by some rich looking young men that positively screams “Bullingdon Club!“, some terrorism funnies with a kidnapped Arthur Scargill‘s ransom being repeatedly reduced and a “snooker player” snorting some chalk (Kirk Stevens had just gone to rehab for cocaine addiction.) Then Ronnie Barker‘s back selling…antique bog rolls? All this accompanied by the most obscure song of the run so far, Bon Jovi‘s “Raise Your Hands“, an album track from “Slippery When Wet“. Great.

[Sidenote: Lets just have a lovely warm nod to that Radio Times capsule which mentions Carrott’s Lib cast member Chris Barrie – whose new sitcom “The Red Dwarf” had started five days earlier – and close friend Phil Cool with whom Jasper co-wrote “Cool It!” series two in 1986.]

Episode 7 – February 27th 1988

RT: “Last week, light years from earth, Barf Faxnumbra – evil tyrant in the Telexbureau Galaxy – picked up Carrott Confidential through a spacewarp. His brain exploded. So join Jasper, live, for the show that liberated a galaxy.”

Those zany Beatles are straight in with their rendition of “Money (Thats What I Want)” as Jasper finds the Queen shoveling gold, Benny Hill flashing some lingerie-wearing ladies with a mac full of pound notes and Elton John playing a piano spewing currency very possibly alleging to a libel suit against The Sun. A crying evangelist wants money too as long as that pesky prostitute keeps schtum.  While Prince Charles says down with this sort of thing.

Episode 8 – March 5th 1988

RT: “Live from TV Centre comes what would surely be the penultimate programme in the series. Unfortunately, it’s the last one, but Jasper couldn’t remember the word ‘penultimate’ in time for last week’s billings.”

A red glove belonging to a piss poor Spiderman outfit (its got a cape FFS!) knocks on the door and says “Happy 50th birthday Superman” whereupon Jasper emerges dressed like the comic hero who takes to the skies. He flies over a maid peeping in the “Royal Bedchamber”, an aged Batman in a bathchair being pushed by Robin (This would be around the time of the desperate space-filler TV-AM repeats of the sixties series and a year before Tim Burton took it in a very different direction) before changing back to regular clothes in a phone box as typical. Time for a quick Pepsi from a very familiar figure then its off to work…

Series Three

Carrott Confidential started its third and final series on February 4th 1989 at 10:25pm, between American drama series “Midnight Caller” and still-not-yet-stolen-by-Murdoch football fun in “Match Of The Day“. Punt and Dennis get more to do this series which is lovely to see and the weekend after the run ended would greet folks tuning in for a obscure radio comedy series on Radio 1 called “The Mary Whitehouse Experience“.

Episode 1 – February 4th 1989

Radio Times Synopsis: “Jasper Carrott returns for another series of shows from BBC Television Centre. As usual, the humour is fast and furious. Steve and Hugh are his regular guests, and there are some surprise visits too.”

Series 3 kicks off with not a knock on a dressing room door but a trunction on a jail door which proves THE BBC KNEW EVERYTHING!!!! ILLUMINATI 9/11 LIZARD PEOPLE!!!! ALAN WAS THE REAL THIRD MAN!!! And…wait, is that Elvis? Better play “Jailhouse Rock” then! On release to “slop out for 35 minutes” Jasper encounters a chocolate cake scoffing Fergie on skis because fuck it its 1989 then is measured up by a surgeon in front of a butcher and what appears to be Zoltar from the movie “Big” before being saved by two NYC Guardian Angels and led to Studio 8.

And for continuity, here’s the set for series 3. Better if massively generic.

Episode 2 – February 11th 1989

RT: “The man who put ‘ella’ into ‘salmon’. The programme that’s Clive James (E 605) free. No canned laughter, genuine live organic carrott.”

The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s “Summer In The City“, a Dulux dog and some lovely blooms greet Jasper from his dressing room this week. Then its past a “Bring and Di Sale”, Elvis again pushing a trolley, a BT (at the height of their useless yet unopposed reign) engineer cutting off customers with a big pair of shears and people meet the “Commons Select Committee”…to throw eggs what I assume is meant to be Edwina Currie over her part in the salmonella scares over eating eggs upsetting farmers and suppliers hugely. Wouldn’t it be strange if she was vindicated many years later? Oh.

Episode 3 – February 18th 1989

RT: “People, events, issues, arts, the media, a pound of mushrooms, 20 Woodbines, a Pot of taramasalata and three Pints today, please, milkman.”

Ah, now there’s a topical gag that needs no introduction as a post-Brit Awards shambles Sam Fox lookalike struggles to read the idiot boards introducing the show in front of a beaming Mick Fleetwood lookalike (bet there’s not much money in that job..) “Rock Around The Clock” starts up just in time for Jasp to avoid some nuclear French cheese (presumably referencing that country’s decision to start resume nuclear testing), break up the Queen and Elvis having a boogie and see the Ayatollah get hit by a penguin days after he sentenced Salman Rushdie to death for writing “The Satanic Verses” (published in the UK by…Penguin.)

Episode 4 – February 25th 1989

RT: “Not featuring the rock and roll years. 1842: due to a lack of newsreel footage…. please complain to the research department.”

More superhero shenanigans as an even more aged Batman is waiting for Jasper outside his dressing room door to celebrate his 50th anniversary, a joke that would be completely moot four months later as Tim Burton’s ludicrously huge smash film hit cinemas. As the classic Bat theme plays, Jasper passes an unfortunate family covered in sewage heading back from the beach and a coffin tastefully plastered with “HIROHITO” followed by one celebrating the death of another powerful world leader…

And another preparing for the (correct) result for the Mike Tyson fight happening that evening in Las Vegas (which gets a huge grumble from the audience)…

Episode 5 – March 5th 1989

RT: “The Chronicles of Barmia: The Hamster, the Dinner Lady and the MFI Corner Unit.
1: Why the BBC needs a bigger licence fee to make decent children’s drama. Starring Jasper Carrott as Aslef the lion who’s General Secretary of the Train Drivers’ Union and Steve and Hugh as a couple of irritating kids who were weaned on E102 and monosodium glutamate.”

A double whammy of late 80s advertising references to kick off with as new neighbour “Madonna” pops round for a spare “cola” which Jasper “prematurely” spills on her. Meanwhile, “Like A Prayer” plays in the background as if the programme has suddenly remembered the decade its being made in after just 21 weeks. Elsewhere, a Thatcher steps out of a fridge (nope) with a baby (son Mark had recently become a father) and an ill looking Humpty Dumpty seemingly bats for Salmonella. The journey to the studio is finished with a booth for signed Scandal programmes (featuring a suitably posed Joanne Whalley / Christine Keeler), the film of the Profumo affair that has been released in the UK the day before.

Episode 6 – March 11th 1989

RT: “After every meal or drink acids attack your teeth for up to 35 minutes. Jasper Carrott, along with Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis and Vicky Ogden knows this, but all of them are still prepared to spend the next 35 minutes letting you watch their teeth rot live, on air, just so you can have a good laugh.”

More Prince Charles funnies as the sunburnt prince knocks our star up then we’re back to the favourite driving hits as “Smoke On The Water” backs a series of events including a smoking tea lady walking past a “No Smoking” sign, some protesting furries (including a mole who Jasper is enraged by, evoking an old routine of his) and some very unfortunate football coaches, following a 2-0 loss to England by Albania that week. Now about this mole…

Episode 7 – March 18th 1989

RT: “Linguini, tagliatelli, ravioli, tortellini … what’s the next pasta in the sequence?
Solve this simple puzzle and you could be eligible for membership of MENSA – which is the Latin word for ‘smug clever dick’. Didn’t you know that? Sorry then, chum … we don’t want thickoes like you in our club. Better stay in and watch Jasper Carrott instead – you might learn something.”

Budget week then I take it. As Jasper gets a big red case shoved in his kisser, our second repeat song kicks in as his old pals ELO‘s “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” plays, could this be a sign the show is winding up? (Yes.) Next the red case spills out money for a nearby Fergie and Andrew who get rid of the baby in order to fit more cash in the pram. Because Royals and 1989. He then passes have-to-blink-to-double-check-it-wasnt-the-real-one milk enthusiast Bob Geldof lookalike awaiting Peaches who was born on March 13th (and who depressingly has been dead for over five years, whilst her mum is nearly nineteen years gone…shudder…), some extortionate water prices thanks to water privatisation and some saucy ladies of the night – one of whom grabs Jasper’s arse, seemingly unplanned – hanging about outside the House of Commons. Because Politicans’ penises and 1989. Sigh.

Episode 8 – March 25th 1989

RT: “Cliffhanger Ending. In the final episode of the series, Jasper discovers the true identity of his parents, fakes his own death and begins a new life of complete anonymity by changing his name to Samuel Rushdie. Just your normal final episode, then.”

And its back to the song from the very first episode, “Rockin’ All Over The World” as Carrott Confidential bows out with one final corridor walk and some pissed up naval types at the door. Princess Diana returns to hand out johnnies from the Mates machine in a sequence designed for both winding up the public and taking delight in knowing its your final episode. John Hurt punches through a door, a tortoise carries a letter from former Secretary of State for Transport Paul Channon (a long story involving Lockerbie and loose lips around journalists) and various booze frontmen appear whilst everything around them is sold off, including Rutger Hauer for Guinness, George the Hofmeister Bear, Fosters’ Paul Hogan and the Oblivion Boys (who were both in the cast of Jasper’s previous show Carrott’s Lib) in ‘naked at the laundrette’ Carling Black Label mode. Its not the real ones though (sadly?)

Its a very strange ending to a series that was quite by chance ended up airing through some big historical events. The whole run is much tamer than “Carrott’s Lib” thanks to a more traditional writing team including Barry Cryer, Dick Hills, Spike Mullins, Neil Shand and Ian Davidson. Carrott‘s natural gift as a storyteller fits the format well as he weaves in and out of topical bits with more straightforward stand up, often for up to ten minutes a time in the opening monologue. A strange sort of act that was alternative yet thoroughly mainstream. I’m struggling to think of any comedian in the current climate who could host a similar sort of programme, which is a shame because TV needs more lighthearted satire for the masses that isn’t Have I Got News For You or, indeed, any bleedin’ panel show.

Its hard not to get sad too for the loss of TV Centre and its many corridors and studios we only got a little peek at as the home audience. Yes, it might have been out of date technologically and archaic in design but it was (and remains) bloody iconic and as far as the UK was concerned, the de facto home of British television. Not to mention absolutely a character of its very own. Remember it this way…

For more TV memories from the 80s and 90s, my book “Kill Your Television” is full of articles on everything from Saturday morning telly to unaired pilots, obscure Teletext relationships, comedy shows as computer games, dangerous kids TV, theme tunes in the top 40 and much much more. Available in paperback here: or for Kindle here:

With huge thanks to John Rain for reminding me I’d written this piece and Simon Tyers who helped me work out several of these topical references. Find him here.