I admit it doesn’t take too much to appear the clever one in a broadcasting partnership with Denise van Outen or Kelly Brook, but Johnny Vaughan has been funny and will be funny again (like our plucky England team, he’s relatively young). It is, however, becoming increasingly difficult to find people who still believe this. Like his recent sitcom ’Orrible, Johhny Vaughan’s World Cup Extra provided fewer moments of pleasure than a motivational talk from a reformed crack addict.
For one thing, the guests seemed to be chosen for their complete and utter lack of empathy, chemistry and understanding. One show, for example, teamed Alicia out of Mis-Teeq with Harvey from So Solid Crew and Steve McMahon. Later in the same week Rodney Marsh was paired with a young woman. What were they thinking of?
You’d assume the researchers were either knowing types whose mischievous sense of humour backfired rather badly in practice, or 500 monkeys sitting at typewriters. David Ginola appeared bemused, as he generally does these days. His chat show career looks like it’s going the same way as his football career, beginning brightly amid wild adulation before dwindling into a meandering, mystifying anti-climax characterised by fewer and briefer appearances.
Vaughan worked at his often monosyllabic guests, tried too hard to jolly things along when it just wasn’t working and was invariably forced to fall back heavily on that mainstay of the thrown-together late night programme, the quirky novelty item. Brian Blessed calling the day’s highlights in the manner of a medieval mummer might have been as hilarious as it was meant to be, if only someone had bothered to write him a script. When Blessed gave up his role to go and shout in a proper play, the replacement of his vignette with John Craven’s World Cup Newsround brought the whole thing down to the same level of lazy thirty-something retro-irony that has Q magazine using a picture of Zippy from Rainbow over their humorous quotes column.
Another favourite technique of this type of programme is to hire serious presenters to act trivially for five minutes while enduring mock tribal veneration and a carefully selected comedy nickname. Peter Snow, therefore, became the “Sultan of Swing” and of course the best thing about his regular slot was the initial idea and the title. On one show Peter used his retro-ironic swingometer and some hand-picked statistics to predict that the scorers of the first goal in the England v Brazil game were almost certain to go on to win. This is not a criticism of World Cup Extra but I’d just like to take this opportunity to say: F**k off, Peter.
To scratch the surface of this programme was to put your finger right through it but there was a detectable core of laddishness underlying the whole thing. Following a quiz feature on freak injuries, in which Vaughan tried – and failed – to elicit some sort of interested response from his guests, the former Coventry player David Busst was called in to give an account of his terrible injury against Man Utd. At first sight, this would appear to be vaguely relevant to World Cup football, but when you consider that one of Vaughan’s guests on his previous chat show series was a farmer who had been forced to saw off his own hand when it became trapped in some machinery, you realise it was in fact just another FHM-style shock feature designed to prod the audience and make them squeal.
As BBC1’s flagship cornerstone figurehead-type-thing for an alternative World Cup round-up, World Cup Extra was bizarrely unwatchable – so bad on one occasion that I turned over to Channel 5 to watch a programme on subaquatic archaeology. Most tellingly, Vaughan’s throwaway remarks were often better than the prepared material, but even then the guests’ and audience’s laughter seemed to go on a little too long.
It’s probably me, but it was almost as if they were trying to run down the clock while minimising actual activity, rather as the seasoned professional dribbles the ball to the corner flag in the 89th minute. It was a relief for all of us when the final whistle blew. I rose from my chair at the final credits with the same heady feeling of emancipation Terry Waite must have felt when he was finally separated from his radiator. Cameron Carter
I love Paul Gascoigne. After the 1990 World Cup, I travelled around eastern Europe wearing a T-shirt with his face on it and the slogan “Gizza Goal Gazza” across the front. Wherever I went, the eyes of men with mullets and snow-washed jeans would light up. “Gazz-scoyne,” they would say, excitedly. “Yes,” I would reply, strangely relieved that this was the entire extent of the vocabulary we shared. In those days, you see, everyone loved Gazza.
But it turns out that even love has its limits. And Gazza’s appearances as an ITV pundit during the World Cup have been truly heart-breaking stuff. Right from the start, from his first slump-shouldered outing on the sofa, the man looked terrified. Propped up between Terry’s Sta-Prest and Ally’s Man at Gap single-cuff, he looked as though he was sitting in the dock waiting to be sentenced. Remember those advertisements before the World Cup, the ones with a picture of Gascoigne with his mouth taped up? Hmm, nice idea, you started to think, as he kicked off his punditry career with the now-infamous: “I’ve never even heard of Senegal.”
But we could forgive Gazza his dodgy start. Maybe he was just keeping his powder dry; maybe… oh God, he’s trying to say Trezeguet. As Gazza mumbled something about “Trees… are green… tirade”, the most distinctive aspect of his punditry style began to emerge. No one could understand a word he was saying. We’re not talking accents here. This wasn’t a Geordie thing. This was a slur-like-a-drunken-six-year-old thing. When he wasn’t stunned into a palm-sweating silence by the simplest of questions, there were moments when Gascoigne appeared to be quietly gurgling to himself while Des nodded patronisingly from his armchair.
That was when he wasn’t beginning every sentence with the words “Like I said before…” (presumably in conversation with the rest of the lads in the Green Room); or waking up from a quick nap to interrupt a lengthy discussion of Rivaldo’s fine for play-acting against Turkey with the show-stopper: “I’ll tell you what – that ball never even hit him in the face!” Er, thanks for that, Paul.
When he did manage a few sentences, they tended to include the kind of words that are guaranteed to get the Independent Television Commission hot under the collar. Attempts to complete the phrase “I’ve got a lot of admira… adrimation… adminiat…” culminated in a sweating Gazza blurting out: “You know what I f***ing mean” – the last two syllables of which were headed off by a remarkably on-the-ball Gabby.
Of course, ITV must take the blame. I mean, what were they thinking? Gazza Meets the People… Gazza trots around outside the LWT studios collecting vox pops from tourists who have no idea who he is or what he’s talking about. Is he trying to mug them? No, thank God. Now, quick, let’s get out of here.
The most notable of Gazza’s walkabouts ended up with him leaping around in Trafalgar Square after the England v Argentina game, at one point dunking his entire head into a fountain. “Thank Christ,” you could almost hear him thinking, “thank Christ I’m out of that studio. If I can just stay in this fountain, Des can’t ask me any more questions.”
Gazza, of course, is terrified of Des. Picture the scene. The time has come for Des to solicit the “reaction” of his assembled experts to the morning’s action. First up is Ally McCoist: jovial, chirpy, reassuringly Scottish. Speaks with the confidence of a man who regularly makes Sue Barker piss herself laughing just by saying “I’ll go for No 2, Sue”. Next, cut to Robbie Earle: laid back, check-shirted. Not afraid to sit on the fence in a twinkly-eyed kind of way. Jokes lethargically with Des. Could, and probably does, do this in his sleep.
And finally, cut to Gazza. A pair of hollow, red-rimmed eyes gaze into the camera. Sweat is already glistening on his forehead. He grimaces; he gasps. The back of Des’s head looms ominously in the corner of the screen. Just as it seems the silence, all two seconds of it, just can’t go on any longer, Gazza begins, with the air of a man about to climb a mountain: “Like I said before …”
In Hollywood they say you should never die on screen. It’s the first rule of a successful career. Just don’t let it happen. During the World Cup Gazza died on our screens every day for two weeks. And there he was the next morning, miraculously risen and ready to go down in flames all over again.
Gazza, I don’t quite know how to tell you this. But at least we’ll always have the good times. We’ll always have Germany in Turin, that goal against Scotland and, of course, “F**k off Norway”. Unfortunately however – and this really is unfortunate – we’ll also always have Des Lynam saying: “I think you’ll find it’s been part of Africa for some time now.” Barney Ronay
From WSC 186 August 2002. What was happening this month