That Puppet Game Show

Series 1

 

Episode 1: Katherine Jenkins and Jonathan Ross.

First Broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday 10 August  2013, between 18:45 and 19:30.

 

All I can say is wow! Henson’s really have come up with a little bit of magical entertainment. it is rather well written, and the puppetry is in the capable hands of the experts, including two of the great stalwerts of British television puppetry, one of whom was actually among the Eight main puppeteers on that legend of legends The Muppet Show itself. It was with some apprehension that I started watching. I like the fact that although there is a strong backstage theme, it is about trying to put on a TV game show, rather than a Music variety show, even if a few bits of singing do happily wander in along the way. I think this is important, because Music Varity Shows were so 1970s, and also that market was cornered by The Muppet Show, to the point that any TV puppet show needs to be decidedly different. I also really like the fact, though driven partly by necessity, that the characters are new for this show, rather than characters that are already known. It is important, because it means that the puppeteers have a proper chance to create characters of their own, characters who could well be an extension of themselves, and they are not trying to fill another puppeteer’s gloves, by performing a well established character that was originally created by someone else. It should be remembered that with the exception of Kermit The Frog and Rowlf most of the famous Muppet characters were created new for The Muppet Show, and then went on to feature in other programmes and films, initially at least in the hands of their original puppeteers (of whom they were an extension, and later on by alternative performers).

 

So things are off to a good start. The show opens with a lot of swinging search lights, all very much the sort of thing we would expect with an early 21st century game show. Things have come a long way from the more genteel 1970’s. Although there was one little moment in the opening theme music when I was momentarily reminded of TMS, but only fleetingly.

The ‘Host’ Dougie Colon (pronounced Cologne) introduces tonight’s guests Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins, and then explains a bit about the format of the show, with the various “experts” who will host each round.

The first round involves music expert Eddie Ross who gets the guests to play “Saucie Song”. This involves a group of singing sausages (Hot Dogs), whom the guests have to squeeze with barbeque tongues. The Hot Dogs appear to be Scottish, and two of them are female, I am fairly sure one of them (though I’m not quite sure which) was puppeteered by that great singing puppeteer Louise Gold. The game very much put me in mind of both The mazing Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone, and Lew Zealand’s Singing Fish. In fact I find myself wondering, could this be the first time we’ve had a musical episode like this on prime time television since that memorable occasion in the final weeks of The Muppet Show, when a certain muppeteer was “drowning” attempting to perform n that gargling fish number?

A backstage interlude finds  Mancie-The-Producer being first trying to deal with a Scientist performed by Brian Henson, and then with a tortoise who delivers an “urgent” message from the boss. There seemed to be a good interplay between Mancie and the tortoise, as though they know each other well. I find myself wondering who puppeteered them. Mancie has an interesting accent, and it’s not one that I recognise. Meanwhile the tortoise sounds vaguely familiar.

We then have a scene between Mancie and The Boss Udders McGee, who wants someone to be fired. And after that Mancie has to deal with her sister Amber, the show’s ShowBiz Correspondent.  – Amber is one of those female characters with a certain kind of voice and character that we see a lot of in both British and more often American puppet shows. The kind of cute girl character that a number of women puppeteers among the Henson performers can and have done over the years, people like:  Fran Brill, Stephanie D’Arbruzzo, Louise Gold, and, Karen Prell amongst others. characters such as: Zoe on Sesame Street, Mimi in The Ghost of Faffner Hall, Raisin in The Secret Life Of Toys, Sally Spook in The Spooks Of Bottle Bay and Kate Monster in Avenue Q amongst many others. the result is it is often pretty hard to identify who is performing a character like that, as so many female puppeteers are capable of that kind of voice, sometimes there are subtle giveaway clues.

Now back to the game show itself and time for round two, with ‘expert’ Jemima Taptackle,. And suddenly we get a character that there is absolutely no doubt at all as to whose capable hands this is in. THAT VOICE!  is a giveaway for a start. Louise Gold is voicing the character as though she were playing a G&S Battle Axe Contralto Honestly we have a character who sounds like a mixture of Katisha from The Mikado, The Duchess of Plaza Toro from The Gondoliers, and Baroness Bomburst from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And, although it is hard to tell, when you have a character that has an assistant doing the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking that stylistically is might well be Louise’s distinctive left-handed puppeteering. And then the absolutely giveaway, is the way that in the middle  of watching and encouraging the contestants in the game she sings a bit, truly a start turn.- Just typical of Louise, who is after all a singer-actress as well as a puppeteer, and also the only one of The Muppet Show’s three top singing talents left.  The game, is a sporting one, ‘Punch Your Lights Out’, in which the guests are covered in lights, which they have to punch out, to time, using boxing gloves.  Somehow, though the guests do well, during this round at least they are rather overshadowed by the ‘expert’, who clearly has presonce! – One of Louise Gold’s great gifts, is to have inherited the Unity Theatre actress Una Brandon-Jones’s extraordinary presence, and to be able to transfer that to her puppet characters.

We then get some backstage interludes, involving the crab score keeper having a conversation with his daughter, whose off-stage voice we hear, she sounds uncannily like Tatum O’Neil as portrayed on Spitting Image (so could that be another little voice role for Spitting Image’s doyenne).

The backstage interlude continues with Ian the Armadillo talking to Producer Mancie, meanwhile the pair of them are almost upstaged by Jemima Taptackle’s performance in the background, she is working out with dumbells. –at which point I found myself wondering if this was one of those in-joke subtle references, the sort of things Henson productions used to be very good at working into productions for themselves. Could this one be a little touch about Spitting Image’s original puppeteering consultant, who made the team of puppeteer’s assembled for that show’s pilot episode get fit for the job, by working out with dumb bells?

After the Armadillo hops off, Mancie then has a few words with Miss Taptackle, involving the subject of the latter having previously been a school mistress, in a bitchy all girls school. Watching, this I couldn’t help noticing Miss Taptacke’s nose, which reminded me a little of the Dark Crystal Skeksis.

Back to the Game Show, and Round 3, the expert is Amber O’Neal, and in this round the contestants have to read out an acceptance speech that Amber has written for them, but Amber has deliberately left some things out, which the contestants have to insert.

I’ve already mentioned about Amber’s voice being of the cute sort that quite a number of female puppeteers are good at., and looking at the puppetry, I couldn’t tell for sure any noticeable clues there as to who was performing her. It’s one of those things which could be Louise, but could be someone else. Whoever it is is doing a good job though.

Katherine Jenkins went first in this round , and Jonathon Ross second. I couldn’t help laughing when Jonathan managed to forget the name of the pub in EastEnders (after all one of this show’s puppeteers just happens to have a brother who played the armed robber in The Vic Raid of 1994).

Round 4, called Nosey Neighbour swiftly follows. Ian The Armadillo is the Expert – and we see him drinking a cup of coffee, in a paper cup which he quickly tosses away, to sober up just before the round. This round finds the contestants bouncing up and down on trampolines looking at the sausages who are in their (the sausages) garden, and being asked questions about what they can see. For once Katherine does rather better than Jonathan (who claims he found it unfair because he kept wanting to look at his fellow contestant).

The final Backstage scene is perhaps the most impressive of the Backstage scenes. It involves Mancie telling The Boss that she can’t fire any of her team, and therefore she will have to resign herself, if he insists on someone going. At this, much to Mancie’s surprise, all the experts rush in the rally round her and insist that if she quits then so do each of them. Faced with that, Udders Mcgee lets on that he had a back up show, each week (with different guests and experts) but he will have to cancel that to save money.  Whoever puppeteered mancie delivered the line “I can’t believe you all did that for me” jolly well, with warmth and feeling.

 

The final round is called That Puppet End Game, it is hosted by Dougie, with all the Experts as a panel and they in some sort of rotation get to set questions, which the contestants have to answer. Amber O’Neal set one question about Take That and another about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. while Jemima Taptackle set a question about bowling.

The final score gave Katherine Jenkins 8 and Jonathan Ross 13, so Jonathan won,  £10,000, and his chosen charity was Macmillan Cancer.

There followed the credits, which went by relatively quickly. too quickly for me to note the names of the puppeteers easily, though I did notice that they included two very very familiar ones, those of Louise Gold and Nigel Plaskitt, who puppeteers who begin their respective puppeteering careers about 35 years or so ago (actually more like 36 years ago) in adjoining studios at Elstree (then owned by ATV, nowadays BBC), on The Muppet Show and Pipkins respectively. They have both come a long way since those days. Louise in particular, in her thirty six year on off puppeteering career, she has finally achieved some much deserved success as a singer-actress, but also as a puppeteer, and it’s good to see her back performing on television in something worthy of her puppeteering talent.

Finally, after the credits, a little add on, the tortoise wandered on and said that he quit. – He sounded familiar, could it be Nigel Plaskitt, I wonder?

 

All in all a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment.  It is NOT a new Muppet Show, and thank goodness, it is very much it’s own thing, and in my humble opinion that is exactly as things should be.

I love TMS, but TMS was of it’s time, the late 1970s, and this new puppet game show is very much something for here and now. Yes TMS had brilliant characters, but characters who matched very specific performers.  This programme has brand new characters, who are clearly also devised to be suited to their particular performers, it will be interesting to see the characters develop over the course of the show. At this stage I can’t see any of them necessarily becoming big stars, but one never knows, and when TMS started I bet no one envisaged what household names some of the characters in that (such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo The Great, Scoot, Rizzo etc) were going to become.

I look forward to watching more of this series, and well it’s good to witness Nigel and above all Louise so well used as puppeteers.

 

 

Episode 2, Gary Linekar and Freddy Flintoff

First Broadcast on Saturday 17 August at 18:35

 

Strangely the BBC decided to schedule the first broadcast for 10 minutes earlier than the previous week. I found this irritating, because if a programme is a regular one, ie part of a series, it is easier if it is broadcast at the same time each week. I also think 6:35pm is a little too early for evening entertainment viewing, the extra ten minutes has its uses. But I expect the onetime Postmaster General Charles Hill would completely disagree with me (as he believed that it was up to families to organise their lives, and not something the television companies should make any concessions to people’s convenience).

The pre Opening titles sequence is full of action, what with Dougie inviting Freddy, but not Gary, to his birthday party, and then Jake wanders on chasing birds.

I noticed that the first round this time was Punch Your Lights Out, and while there is some justification for having one of the best rounds first, to grab an audience’s attention, the downside is that anyone tuning in late may miss one of the best bits of the show. Of course the best thing about this round is the character of its host Jemima Taptackle. What presence, and enthusiasm and a big loud battleaxe, particularly when she sings.  She’s also quite schoolmisteessy, which reminds me a bit of Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid in the musical of The Waterbabies. Gary wins the round, but its kind of hard to pay attention to who wins, when we’ve got such a strong character as Jemima Taptackle.

Backstage, the team are discussing Dougie’s party, Ian says he’s not going, at which Jemima, asks “Why ever not” and then adds that last years was “such fun”. Ian explains he hasn’t been invited, and then tries to remember why, thinking back to various working meetings he had been at (the game show), a segment which didn’t really didn’t make much sense to me.

Round 2, find Eddie Watts in charge of another edition of Sauciesong. I immediately noticed that this was a different group of Hot Dogs to last week, with different names, though again we had four male and three female hotdogs, and I would imagine that with her vocal abilities Louise Gold must’ve performed at least one of the female Hotdogs, possibly both. This week the Hotdogs song was Take On Me, by Aha.The song was not as much of an earworm as last week’s Proclaimers song. After some difficulties, Freddie won the round. Meanwhile Clyde the crab scorer seems rather distracted about problems with his motor car.

There followed a backstage interlude, involving Mancie chatting to Ian the Armadillo, the latter is annoyed that he has apparently not been invited to Dougie Colonge’s birthday party. Especially when he discovers that even the new janitor has been invited. Ian sends Dougie another email, and then nature expert Jake Hamilton-Jones, finds Ian’s invitation, It was stuck to Ian’s back all the time.

Meanwhile, Dougie is teasing the guests, and it is rather amusing, when he tells Freddie that he’s seen him in café’s and noticed how good he is at “ordering sausages”, then in turn he teases Gary saying that if it was crisps he’d probably have done alright, and they would have been quavers. – All in all some rather witty dialogue, almost worthy of the legendary comedy writers such as Jerry Juhl and company.

Time for Round 3, this one is called ‘Bird Droppings’, and we have Jake Hamilton-Jones as the expert. This turns out to be a really intriguing game. There were three “trees” and in each is a female puppet bird. Each bird has three distinct calls. The contestant has to work out which bird has called out, repeat the call back and stand under the correct nest to catch an egg which the bird will throw when the call is answered. I couldn’t help but feel such that Louise must be at least voicing at least one, quite possibly more of those birds. I reckon she was pretty likely to have been the first one and quite possibly the third one, but I don’t know for sure. While Gary is taking part in the game, Freddie goes to wait backstage where Udders Mcgee mistakes him for a plumber, or the new janitor, and orders him to clean the gents toilets. Just typical of the kind of things that used to happen in the old days on TMS. And there’s another throwback to TMS, when a little interlude of persons “watching at home” are two men friends, though unlike TMS not old men.  I can’t help but note that Udders Mcgee has ais developing as a character, in a way that JP Grosse never quite did. Udders has an oily voice, which reminds me a little of Walk On actor (and noted trade union negotiator) Roger Morgan, hey he’d make a great voice double if one was very needed.

Meanwhile Freddie has clearly been given a script about appearing rather flustered during the game, when it is finally his turn. The round incidentally is a tie.

Gary, on going to wait backstage, has a rather different encounter, his is with sports “expert” Jemima Taptackle. It was a joy to watch this scene, mainly because it was so well performed. Gary has not been invited to the party. Meanwhile, Jemima has wrangled a “plus 1” invitation to Dougie’s party, and she wants Gary to call Alan Hansen to ask him to go with her. Gary is disappointed, but then as he is going, Jemima asks if Alan can jive, Gary replies no, with a parting shot, and it is Jemima’s turn to look disappointed. This was one of those moments, where we can really see what Peter Fluck meant when he described (in an article in The Independent in 2008) just how good Louise Gold is at giving a puppet facial expressions.

The following scene also finds us with another reminder of how the glorious Gold made her name as a puppeteer. This scene has Udders McGee talking to both Mancie and Amber. Udders complements Amber on how well she has dressed up for the party. Amber’s reaction of “Thank you Mr McGee Sir” is a very cute one, in a manner instantly recognisable to TMS fans, it’s just like Annie Sue, whenever she wanted something. Remember the way she asked John Denver for a swimming lesson? or the way she’d speak to “Mr Kermit sir”, or even on occasion to Miss Piggy (that time during the legendary Leo Sayer episode  in Piggy’s dressingroom when Kermit told Piggy to “be nice”) – I use the word legendary there on the basis of the episode’s contribution to television puppetry history. Anyway, back to tonight’s show. Udder’s then turns to Mancie and asks her when she is going to get changed. Mancie drily responds she is already changed for the party. Udders though clearly not impressed, rather wittily remarks that “no one else will be wearing a dress like it”.

I can’t help noticing two things here, the first is that Udders, though the “big boss” type character, isn’t that unpleasant, he has some redeeming features, an oily welsh wit, perhaps.

Dougie is trying to introduce Round 5, but there as distractions, mainly Ian the Armadillo who is trying to prevent Dougie from reading his smart phone.

Round 5 finds this show’s real boss puppeteer Brian Henson in charge, as the Expert is Science expert Dr Strabimus. The game is Paddle Star Galactica, this involves various coloured balls set up on a table, one colour for each contestant. These hover in the air when a fan is turned on (by the tortoise). The contestants have to use ping pong balls and bats to knock their opponents balls “out of orbit”. It seems fast and furious, but unfortunately the backstage plots rather get in the way of us watching what is going on. We have a scene between Ian and Dougie, involving Ian trying to apologise to Dougie over the email he sent him. Then there is Clyde the crab and whiplash problems, and finally an interlude with the monkey by the garbage cans. And then Ian wants to send Dougie a text, at which Mancie and Jake promptly have to stop him.

 

The final round is That Puppet End Game, hosted by Dougie, I couldn’t help thinking that Louise’s experts had been a little underused during the ‘games’ this time. But at least for That Puppet Endgame, the first expert to pose a question was Jemima Taptackle, with a question about Tiger Woods, and then followed by Amber with a question about Madonna. After that Eddie Watts posed a question about ABBA. there was another question from Miss Taptackle a little late, this time it was one about weightlifting, a subject which seems to fit her like a glove., Then Ian posed the question “who asked the first question in this round”, and when one of the contestants got it right it was Jemima Taptackle who said “correct”, in a tone that reminded me a very little tiny bit of the delightful way a certain British musical theatre actress sang the words “Ridin’ high”, either in the Cole Porter song of the same name, or in another even more obscure Cole Porter song of the opening prologue to Something For The Boys’.

The show ended with Gary Lineaker scoring 8 points and Freddie Flintoff scoring 10 points, and saying that the money would go to his own foundation.

Dougie then did his That’s all we’ve got time for sign off, and invited the panel to say goodbye, but instead of goodbye they said “happy birthday” to Dougie. There followed the credits.

Post credits, a final little scene, or Ian trying to enter the party, but not being able to find his invitation (which is stuck on his back again), interestingly the security guard puppet seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to one of the “long haired hippies” look of the TMS puppeteers, could it have resembled Jim Henson? Closer inspection suggests it is likely to resemble, Jerry Nelson. Could that be pure coincidence, somehow knowing the Henson puppets, it could be an in-joke, of the sort they often had on TMS and also on Sesame Street.

 

All in all it was good to watch the show. on first viewing I felt that Louise was not as heavily used as she had been the week before. But then again, to make an impact in the first episode it would make sense to get one of the most charismatic of the puppeteers, and the only one who happens to be an old stalwert of TMS itself, to take some of the limelight, into the second episode it is clearly time for some of the others to come more to the fore. On TMS I recall that apart from Kermit obviously, and usually one of either Fozzie or Piggy, the other characters tended to take turns at sharing the limelight, and you could sometimes see that in a given week , apart from Jim Henson and Frank Oz, one of the other puppeteers (usually either Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt or Dave Goelz) would also have a major role that week. While on The Secret Life Of Toys for example it was noticeable that the puppeteers seemed to take it in turns as to who would be dominant in a given episode. It’s good to see this show following along similar lines. However, on watching the repeat the following day, I felt that while Louise might not have been quite as obviously prominent as the week before, she was pretty noticeable, with her presence that isn’t too surprising.

 

 

Episode 3.  Jack Dee and Alex Jones

First Broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday 24 August, from 18:25.

 

The programme starts with a backstage scene involving Dougie, Mancie and the two guests, and some interactions quite reminiscent of TMS, with Dougie teasing Jack Dee about his charity work (seeing his records in charity shops, and then Manice saying that they sent are car for Alex, who  complains it was a bus pass.

Watching the opening titles I couldn’t help thinking that Amber’s enthusiastic mannerisms were a bit like quite a few TMS characters (and not just Louise’s).

Dougie introduces the guests to the audience, and here we learn that Alex has had some fighting talk from Matt Baker (which gets me thinking, Matt Baker is clearly one of the Ex-Blue Peter Presenters who has managed make much more of his subsequent career than merely being Ex-Blue Peter).

A backstage scene finds Udders with some witty lines, on the telephone “I don’t care if it is The Prime Minister’s official residence, make an offer”. He’s becoming quite a character, with that wonderful oily welsh voice; the scene continues with him asking Manice if she could find some bigger celebrities (he turns out to mean size rather than status, and Manice suggests he looks at them on a larger monitor). I can’t help but notice that Udders and Mancie are becoming something of a puppet double-act. The Jim Henson Company has long had a reputation for developing great double acts: Jim & Frank, Jerry & Richard, Dave & Steve, Jerry & Louise. It looks as though for this programme Nigel & Colleen are well on their way to becoming a good pairing of puppeteers.

 

Round One, strangely is another edition of Paddlestar Galactica. I thought it odd that the first round was another bout of the penultimate game in the previous week’s show, Paddlestar Galactica. However, at least this time the audience was was actually able to concentrate on watching the game, and notice that Jack Dee was rather good at it, the script also gave Mr Dee the names of several famous ping pong players to rattle off. Perhaps not too surprising that he wins, meanwhile our crab scorer is rather preoccupied by a forthcoming visit from a brother.  In this round, I couldn’t help noticing Fenton the tortoise, The little looks he gave the camera when turning on and later off the fans, particularly turning them off “kill the fans” (as Dr Strabismus said), were really noticeable. You can’t help but be aware of Nigel Plaskitt’s skill as a puppeteer here, to do those little nuances.

Another puppeteer really skilled at those nuances shines as bright as her own name, or indeed a “borrowed” broach in the next scene. Manice sees Amber with their Grandma’s broach, and on questioning, Amber says “She gave it to me just before she died”, at which Manice points out that their Grandma “isn’t dead”, to which Amber nonchalantly replies “Whatever”, with incredible charisma and charm. Louise is really putting her skills at bringing a puppet character to life to good use with the creation of this character.

We then come to this week’s main backstage plot, namely Jake coaching Eddie in how to “get” a girl. I’m not quite sure why Eddie was seeking help for this in the first place. But anyway Jake instructs him that he must “Ask the most masculine person in the office” for help. At which point Eddie goes over to Jemima Tapackle, who seems to be polishing a knife! (presumably for some sporting purpose), at which Jake drags Eddie back and explains that he means himself.

The battlexe, as it happens, features heavily as the Expert, for the next round, Round 2, which is of course a bout of Punch Your Lights Out, or as Miss Taptackle says “Punch YER Lights Out”. We’re in a steady old pair of hands here. That accent and that presence, with a great deal of enthusiasm , could only be one puppeteer, The English Muppet is in her element. The round opens with the usual showing of all the experts ending with the one whose round it is, though in this particular shot, it includes a clip of Miss Taptackle boxing with Fenton the tortoise! Though silent there is obviously some chemistry at work there, by two puppeteers who clearly make a good team (but then again Louise and Nigel have worked together on and off for many years, and Nigel has also directed  Louise’s cabaret act, so they know each other pretty well and it shows in that brief moment.  Before the round starts properly, Dougie has his introductory words with Miss Taptackle, asking her how her week has been, and she informs us that at an athletics event she set a new record, as Britain’s “oldest streaker”.There is a brief interlude, with the pair of male viewers commenting about boxing, then back to the round, and we find that our battle axe contralto is now singing, again. At the end of the round, the Hot Dog scores reveal the number of lights out, this time without any attempts at fudging it, and it turns out that Jack Dee has won “Jack well done” says Jemima, there is something about the way she pronounces his name “Jack”, as though she almost attempts to pronounce it with a softer J than it is. That something is even more apparent in the next round, when Amber is speaking.  Of course the fact that she has such amazing presence makes any little things like that all the more noticeable.

Backstage in the Gents toilets, we find Jake busy coaching Eddie on how to approach a girl for a date, and in the interests of scientific research he has enlisted Dr Strabismus as a volunteer to help, dressed in drag (Jake didn’t ask for that, but Dr Strabismus said he didn’t often get a chance to drag up, which he clearly wants to). Udders on wandering in, asks, oily curiously “What is going on”, at which a quick thinking Jake replies “A team building exercise”.  Victor Yerrid is really creating quite a character with Jake, even better than he did the previous week with Clyde.

 

Round 3 is a bout of Like A Speech, so it is Amber’s round. If anyone can follow Miss Taptackle;’s Punch Your Lights Out with ease it is Amber with Like A Speech, after all she too has that tremendous presence. Amber explains that this week their speech will be a retirement speech.

Alex is first up, and asks Amber to “cross everything for me”, to which Amber sweetly replies “I have my legs crossed”- one can’t help laughing here, as Amber is a puppet, and most puppets only exist from the waist up and so consequently don’t have legs. I wonder how many people noticed this little joke. Meanwhile  Jack Dee goes backstage, where he has an encounter with Ian The Armadillo, who tries to suggest they team up, but is basically after money. Cut to Amber, who sends Alex backstage “While we welcome back Jack”. One can see from the nuances in Amber’s body that we are in the very capable hands of an experienced talented puppeteer, and vocally, there is an even more pronounced something about the way she says the guest’s name, as though she really wants to pronounce it another way, even good voice artists can’t always completely hide accents that come naturally to them. It is quite obvious to the audience Jack Dee is not so good at this game, or as Amber rather sweetly puts it “You may need to read that speech sooner than you think”.

Meanwhile, backstage, Alex encounters Fenton, and here we can really notice how Nigel Plaskitt is trying to develop and make something of this not all that significant character. And being, himself a rather experienced stalwert of British television puppetry, Nigel too knows exactly what he is doing.

Meanwhile the backstage plot involving Eddie, has him fall onto Manice and practice asking her out, his next task, set by Jake will be to ask Amber out. Mancie is quite cross at finding she has been used as an exercise.

 

Before, Eddie can do any more practicing to get a date, however, he has Round 4 to preside over.  This round is called ‘Cheek To Cheek’, much as we are all enjoying SaucieSong, it made a nice change to have a different music round in week three.  Meanwhile, Manice takes Jake to task, telling him that she doesn’t think Eddie needed any coaching from him.  Back to the round, Fenton the tortoise is playing songs, at slow speed, which the contestants have to identify, and write down what they think it is on a notepad positioned on their fellow contestant’s behind, while dancing together. At the end of each song, after Eddie has asked the contestants what it is, the Hotdogs are summoned to bring the wastepaper basket on to collect up the used sheets from the notepads. Alex does rather better than Jack in this round, and at the end of the round the scores are a tie.

 Although it seems from the script as though he is a secondary character, Fenton is really noticeable in this scene, he is very well performed, and has lots of little nuances of expression in Nigel Plaskitt’s capable hands. He even seems to be singing along to the songs, and certainly makes his presence felt.

On The Muppet Show, puppeteers performing background characters often attempted to upstage the main characters, ruthlessly, and this seems to have been very much encouraged. Now some thirty five years later, on That Puppet Game Show, I notice that while the script and direction clearly gives the puppeteers opportunities for this, so far only two of them seem to truly take advantage of this, and those two, who began their TV puppetry careers in adjoining studios at Elstree (on The Muppet Show and Pipkins respectively) are of course the British puppetry legends: Louise and Nigel.  

Backstage we find Manice speaking to Eddie, about the fact that he tried to ask her out. In the background however, we can’t help but be aware of Jemima Taptackle, even though she isn’t saying anything specific, but she has such a strong presence none the less.  However, she moves out of shot, just shortly before Amber comes on the scene and Eddie tries to ask her out. Even when tuning him down Amber is charismatic, and kind of charming. Into the mix of the plot, involving tickets for various things, we also get Dr Strabismus (still wearing a dress) and Ian The Armadillo. Eventually, Colleen suddenly flashes into action, as Mancie takes charge and orders everyone now that they have sorted out what they are doing after the show, could they finish the show.

 

Round Five as usual is That Puppet Endgame, hosted by Dougie, with all six experts. As with last week, Jemima Taptackle asks the first question, this time it’s one about cricket.

Even more noticeable is Amber with a showbusiness question, which when Alex only gets it half right, Amber with full command of the scene, says very sweetly, but firmly “I can’t accept that”. A little later, Miss Taptackle is again at the fore, with a question about the Fosbery Flop”. At the end of the round Alex Jones has 7 points but Jack Dee has 10 points, and says that this weeks charity is the RNLI.

Then its time for the credits, and after that the final scene. This one has Eddie making one more attempt, genuine this time, to ask Mancie for a date tonight, but it turns out that tonight she is going out with Jack Dee.

 

All in all good fun. One can really see the characters developing. Also one can begin to see how each week one or other of the characters will take centre stage in the backstage plot. The first week it was Colleen Smith’s Mancie (rather appropriate to have Mancie first, given her position as “producer”), the second week it was Brian Henson’s Ian The Armadillo, and this week it was Dave Chapman’s Eddie Watts. I wonder who it will be next week?

Meanwhile, I am so glad to see the work of those two great British puppeteers Louise Gold and Nigel Plaskitt in the show, I keep enjoying seeing them performing characters so well, that seem to suit their talents. One of the great things about the traditional Henson’s work was that characters tended to be an extension of his or her puppeteer. In recent years I have felt that Henson’s didn’t seem to pay much attention to that element, an element which helped make them great. But with this show, once again, they are happily back on track, perhaps it is getting away from ‘The Muppets’ that has actually done the trick here. Getting rid of characters that people seem to “expect” has freed the company to just do what they do best, develop characters to suit the puppeteers, rather than trying to fit puppeteers to previously developed characters.

I look forward to next week, though I note that the scheduling time of the programme is all over the place.

 

 

Episode 4: Shane Richie and Claudia Winkleman

First broadcast on BBC 1 on Saturday 31 August 2013, at 17:15.

 

The broadcast times for this programme really are all over the place. This time we’re over an hour earlier. A better time for family viewing, though I’m not exactly sure how suitable the content of this episode was for something that is supposed to be family entertainment.

Pre opening titles we have the becoming familiar scenario of Dougie speaking backstage with the guests. Though just prior to this he has a word with a Hot Dog named “Steve”, who I got the impression might be the show’s announcer. Dougie asks the guests about how competitive they are,  and Shane Richie makes a comment about it reminding him of being in the bar in EastEnders!

We then have Amber, being rather cute, as usual, asking Mancie where Jake is, as she is running out of fake tan, it’s not quite clear what this has to do with Jake. Meanwhile Manice seems rather cross that Jake isn’t here and hasn’t prepared his round yet.

And then it’s time for the opening titles sequence.

Dougie’s introduction of the show is one we are becoming familiar with, and soon its time for Round 1. This week Round 1 is Mental Agility, hosted by Ian The Armadillo. They are playing Nosy Neighbour, which we saw a few weeks ago in the first episode. Again we see the “garden” that Ian has built for the Hot Dogs in the studio, and our contestants are bouncing up and down on trampolines while answering Ian’s questions. It soon becomes apparent that Shane Richie really doesn’t like trampolining, though he still manages to win the round. One might also note that two of the Hotdogs are ballroom dancing. Clyde the crab scorer, is as usual preoccupied with his family, in this week it is his wedding anniversary and he hasn’t yet got his wife a gift.

It is now Ian’s turn to ask Manice where Jake and Eddie are, apparently they went off on a hiking trip to Snowdonia, and haven’t come back yet. Manice is worried. Overhearing this Jemima Taptackle recalls one of Jake’s previous adventures, which he came out of alright, although as Manice reminds everyone “Bristol Zoo still haven’t forgiven him”. Just then there is what appears to be a thunderstorm outside, and Jake enters. But no Eddie, several of them including Manice and Miss Taptackle ask him about that, but he won’t say.

Meanwhile, the host of the show, Dougie offers Claudia Wincklemen the two dancing Hot Dogs. Dougie then “reminds” Shane Richie that they met once before, there cuts to a scene of this, which the script calls for Shane Richie to say “I thought that was a nightmare”.

On to Round two with sports expert Jemima Taptackle. Dougie greets her as “Jemima”, to which she commandingly corrects him “Its Miss Taptackle”.  As usual he asks how her week has been, to which she replies she has been doing an extreme sport of “Tandam Skydiving”. Dougie asks how it was, to which she replies that she’s alright “But the chap at the front of the bike landed rather awkwardly”. Miss Taptackle then introduces the round’s game. It is “Punch Yer Lights Out”. So far this game has featured in every episode. I am glad of it, simply because it gives a great character, performed by a great British puppeteer a chance to shine, though I do wonder in the course of making this series, just how many times did Louise Gold have to deliver the lines “The aim of the game is to punch as many of your own lights out in forty five seconds. The round will begin on the sound of the bell” ?  This time the round as very slightly different, in that I noticed Miss Taptackle encouraging the contestants by yelling the words “Come On”, but she did not sing this time (as she had done in previous rounds), and I kind of missed that, if only because she is one of the great singing puppeteers, and the only one TMS’s three great singing puppeteers left. In the end Shane Richie wins the round.

As soon as the round ends Miss Taptackle goes backstage, and we see her briefly enter the backstage area, and pass by Amber and Mancie, who are worrying about Eddie. Amber suggests to Manice that they try ringing Eddie’s mobile phone, but this turns out to be in Jake’s rucksack, along with Eddie’s coat and glasses, and some miscellaneous bones. At which point, actress that she is Amber says very dramatically “Something very peculiar has happened”. There is something about Amber’s manner at this point which reminds me uncannily of Raisin in The Secret Life Of Toys. Dr Strabismus  coming into the scene hints that Jake must have eaten Eddie. Mancie says she is sure this is not the case, but she is certainly worried.

Meanwhile out on set, Dougie is talking to the guests, He says to Claudia Winkleman that he noticed “MIss Taptackle was quite strict with you” and adds that he hasn’t seen her “that angry since she snapped her sports bra”. Something about the characterisation of Miss Taptackle makes this line very believable, even though we are only talking about a fictional character. Or are we?  Remember in the old days one of the great inner strengths of the puppet characters created by Hensons, was that many of them were extensions of his or her puppeteer, could this one be a rather over the top extension of her puppeteer, one wonders?  (the puppeteer who, after all, lets not forget had the infamous task of training the original group of puppeteers for the pilot episode of Spitting Image).

The announcer has started to announce the next round, it is supposed to be Eddie’s music round. However, as Eddie is missing, Manice hastily shouts into the microphones “Change of plan” and sends Amber on. So Round 3 is a showbusines round, a bought of Like A Speech.  Hey Louise Gold is getting a good chance in the spotlight here, performing the “expert” on two consecutive rounds! And it is quite interesting to note a few points about Amber’s character here. She is very cool calm and collected, yes she’s just been thrust on unexpectedly to do her round, but she isn’t fazed by that, she just gets on with it. Very much like the way Annie Sue Pig saved Fozzie’s act all those years ago on TMS, and maybe too it reminds me a little of her puppeteer, particularly the time Louise did her cabaret act at Lauderdale House, subbing for Issy Van Randwyck at The Hamstead And Highgate Arts Festival in 2002 (even if that was the memorable time Louise got into difficulties attempting to combine piano-climbing with puppeteering!)

Amber speaks very sweetly to both guests, but particularly so to Shane Riche, she always seems to be trying to flirt with the male guests. She is sweet, and yet commanding at the same time. Could one call Amber the Cuddly Glamours type? Hmmm, possibly.  This week the contestants speeches are about launching their own product.

Shane Richie is first up, and he has been given the task of launching his own brand of tea bags! It’s really a very funny speech.

Meanwhile backstage Ian The Armadillo is trying to explain to Claudia Winckleman about what Eddie means to them all. Claudia seemed quite unkind about this, or rather Jemima Taptackle sums it up nicely when she says of the guest “Someone’s got a high opinion of themselves”. That’s the beauty of puppets, they can say things no one else can get away with saying, “even if it is true”. I loved hearing Miss Taptackle say that very much, particularly as I am not exactly keen on Claudia Wincklemen (I wasn’t keen on her the first time I saw her on TV on The Comic Relief Bake Off”). What is also very noticeable here, is Louise Gold’s command of the screen. As an actress Louise Gold has an amazing presence, inherited from her mother, and thankfully Louise has also managed to transfer that presence to her puppetry, such that her puppets also have an amazing presence.

On with the game show, and it is Claudia’s turn to read a speech, launching a brand of clip on fringes for women. Amazingly she actually wins this game. Possibly partly because Shane Richie had a number of mathematics bits in his speech, and mental arithmetic was clearly not his forte.

We come to what I think is one of the most amazing backstage scenes of the episode. It features both Amber O’Neill and Jemima Taptackle. I couldn’t tell which one Louise was puppeteering, but she was having a fine old time vocally switching quickly between voicing the two of them. Brian Henson was also doing double duty on vocals, switching between Dr Strabismus and Ian The Armadillo, but he didn’t have as much switching to do or quite as much to say as Louise did. Certainly it was Louise who was very much commanding the scene. Starting off with Amber exclaiming “Oh this is awful”, and then as they wonder how on earth Jake could have done the deed, Miss Taptackle says “Perhaps starting off with a large G&T and a prawn cocktail”, to which Dr Strabismus joins in, and then Ian remarks “I don’t like the taste of this conversation”.  Amber expresses concern that Jake might try to eat one of the guests, to which someone (possibly Dr Strabismus says something along the lines of they think not after all he’s just eaten, so we should be safe for another 34 hours.  Amber says rather commandingly “Someone should confront Jake”, at which Miss Taptackle immediately says “Any volunteers?”

It is kind of interesting to see Louise Gold and Brian Henson basically tackle a whole scene together, after all early in her puppeteering career, Louise spent an awful lot of time as an assistant puppeteer to Brian’s extraordinary father. (Remember in the book OM&M who had to wear hard hats to perform a newsreader, and who performed a space ship captain in a meteor storm?).

Round four is Jake’s round, Bird Droppings. Jake is not feeling to great, he says he “ate something he shouldn’t have in Snowdonia”.

The birds seem to be of the same three types as before, though their calls are different, I can’t tell who is performing them, though I did wonder about the Essex one. Claudia Winckleman is first up and she really isn’t very good at catching things, and so only gets two eggs.  During the round there is a cut to backstage where Jemima Taptackle is watching Jake and remarks “he looks very … to me”. Miss Taptackle has had a lot of very cutting lines to deliver this week, and that is very much one of Louise Gold’s strengths. Miss Taptackle also reminded me a little of Fughetta Faffner, also a commanding presence with a way with words.  Meanwhile garbage can Monkey also has a remark to make wondering why there are no cannibals anymore.

It is soon Shane Richie’s turn in the round, and while he isn’t quite so good at identifying which bird made which call, he is very good at catching, and easily wins the round with 6 eggs.

Mancie, who more fitting for the task than Producer Mancie, confronts Jake about the Snowdonia trip. Jake explains that him eating something he shouldn’t have was a cream tea which disagreed with him, As for Eddie, well he let Eddie have some of his Black Forrest Gateux,  he went nuts and Jake hasn’t seen him since. “You gave Eddie Chocolate!” exclaims Manice. It seems that chocolate has a bad effect on Eddie, causing strange behaviour.  Just then Eddie turns up, in his vest/shirt,  not wearing his coat/jacket, or his glasses. So all six experts are present for the final round.

Round 5 is as usual That Puppet End Game, hosted by Dougie. I think it was Eddie who had the first question. A little later Amber set a question about Justin Timberlake, followed immediately by Miss Taptackle with a question about high diving. Claudia Winckleman proves to be a bad looser when Shane Richie gets his fingers on the buzzer first, and Amber nearly gets to set the last question, but before she can they are out of time.

I am glad to note that Shane Richie won the episode, he seems a very nice guest for the show, and he says that the money will go to a children’s hospice called Noah’s Ark.

Thus we come to the end credits, and then post credits a scene where Ian The Armadillo is trying to do something with Eddie’s glasses, at which Eddie says “Yes”, to which Ian replies “That ruins it”.

 

All in all a rather strangle somewhat grisly episode. I’m not sure I liked it very much, Or rather I didn’t like the subject matter. And yet the performances, and the sometimes witty dialogue were well worth watching. In previous episode I felt it was clearly this or that character and therefore performer’s turn in the limelight. In the first episode it was Colleen Smith’s Mancie, in the second Brian Henson’s Ian, and in the third Dave Chapman’s Eddie Watts. So what about this episode? Well true Victor Yerrid’s Jake was a major part of the episode plot. But given that he wasn’t always present and a lot of scenes were characters discussing him without him there, could one really say he starred? Of all the puppeteers, the person whose work seemed to be the most dominant and often almost carry the scenes were Louise Gold’s two characters, Amber and Miss Taptackle. Whether that was intentional on the part of the script writers, or whether the writers did not intend anyone to stand out but Louise did because or her extraordinary presence, it’s hard to tell. Though given the clear element of taking turns to star, it would make sense if it had been intentional. Certainly the script writers gave Louise some terrific lines to deliver (particularly as Miss Taptackle, but also as Amber) and skilled actress that she is, she certainly did them justice. And for her performance at least, and also that of Colleen Smith as Mancie, I actually sort of enjoyed the episode.

 

 

Episode 5: Mel Gidry and Vernon Kay (Episode first broadcast 7 September 2013)

 

Pre-Opening scene finds Dougie asking the Hot Dog called Steve if he has a tan, the hot Dog replies that no it’s Brown Sauce.

During the opening titles I can’t help but notice the way Louise Gold performing Miss Taptackle puts her right thumb into her left hand. I think I’ve seen her do that little move before, puppeteering The Queen from Spitting Image.

On with the show, and Dougie introduces the guests. I’ve kind of liked Mel Gidroy since I first started watching The Great British Bake Off, she is witty and funny without going too far. She appears to be intelligent, and with great television sense. She seems to have the knack for “playing herself” on camera (or a version of herself). Meanwhile back to That Puppet Game Show, much is made of Vernon Kay being Dougie’s dopplegannger. However, I was rather more intrigued to notice that a glance at a Cameraman puppet, who looked like a long haired hippy, and rather uncannily like he might be either Jerry Nelson or possibly Jim Henson.

This week’s backstage plot involves the fact that Ian The Armadillo is currently staying in Eddie’s flat, and Eddie is getting pretty fed up with this. Our introduction to this plot finds Ian telling Mancie about Eddie’s vinyl, signed Beatles records, which he (Ian) has just trashed) on the basis that being signed they are rubbish.

 

Given that owing to the backstage plot he didn’t get to host a round last week, it is perhaps appropriate for this week’s Round 1 to be Eddie’s, and it sees the welcome return, after a two week absence, of SaucieSong. This time the Hot Dogs, are singing Bohemian Rapsody by Queen. Once again, I found myself wondering if Louise Gold might be lending her vocal talents to one or two of those Hot Dogs. When Vernon was taking his turn with the barbeque tongs we could really see Mel concentrating on what he was doing. Vernon himself came up with a comment that was very reminiscent of TMS, when he said “It’s like being at a barbeque with food that sings!”. Given how well she was concentrating on the game, it is perhaps not too surprising that Mel wins, and when she does so she promptly hugs the Hot Dogs.

On announcing the scores, Clyde seems to be unusually upbeat, because he’s got jury service and he is hoping that will get him away from his family for a bit.

Meanwhile, backstage, Miss Jemima Taptackle asks Eddie why he is upset. Eddie explains that he wants Ian out of his flat. Jake tries to comfort him too. Miss Taptackle is for her unusually kind, well sort of. She tells Eddie that he needs to be direct with Ian, and then recalls that she had an annoying housemate once, and was direct about it, “I just sad, Mother I’m putting you in a home”. One of Louise Gold’s talents as a performer, is that if she is given good witty lines to say, then she is very good at saying lines in such a way as to make them immediately memorable.

The is a quick cut to a pair of Hot Dogs, who are also discussing problems with flatmates, one of them once had to share with a beefburger.

 

Just when we thought we had seen all the different games, in this the fifth episode, Round 2 is a new game, hosted by Jake, called Dart Attack. One contestant has a blowpipe and a bunch of darts (to be blown at various score boards, these are situated on a wheel, and also strapped onto the wheel is their opponent.  Fenton the tortoise (as one might expect) has the task of setting the wheel spinning. Vernon goes first, and so Jake explains the game to both him and the audience at the same time, and then reveals the wheel, with Mel strapped on it.

There was a cut to the family watching TV, where the grandmother asked “Where’s Philip Schofield”.  To which someone explains he’s “on the other side” (meaning  one of the commerical channels). I couldn’t help wondering, with the reference to Philip Schofield (onetime presenter of Saturday morning television, in the days of Going Live), whether anyone else had noticed that the lovely Mel Gildroy, by her cheeky manner and likeable personality, is somewhat reminiscent of what Sarah Greene used to be like as a TV presenter (back in the 1980s when Sarah invariably used to end up presenting live Children’s television).

Once Vernon’s turn on Dart Attack is over, it is Mel’s turn to take the blowpipe, she seems to be rather enjoying herself on the show, though as it happens Vernon wins this round.

 

We now have a backstage scene It is rather unclear what exactly Ian and Eddie are doing in this scene to begin with, possibly fighting. Eddie tries to talk to Mancie, he wants her to ask Ian to move out of his flat, as per usual Mancie is not impressed, she was hoping for something else.  Meanwhile on set Vernon and Dougie try to tease Mel, but the quick witted Mel Gidroy simply quips back that Dougie looks like a cake.

 

It’s time for Round 3, and it’s Amber’s turn to host the round, so as one might expect we have Like A Speech. I can’t help noticing Amber’s voice. When the series first started, I thought her voice was just your typical cute girl puppet character, of the sort various woman have done on Sesame Street, the kind of thing that Kate Monster in Avenue Q was clearly a grown up version of the same. But over the weeks a few distinct nuances identify her voice as one of Louise Gold’s contributions. But there is something else about Amber’s voice, as though I have heard it before somewhere, and heard it in it’s entirety, and this weekend I suddenly realised what it is. Despite the blue hair, she sounds just like Lorelei Lee, in the 1997 Barbican production of Gentleman Prefer Blondes! 

Amber is clearly attempting to seduce Vernon Kay. Meanwhile she manages to rather charmingly tell Mel that she reminds her of Manice.

On this occasion our contestants are given the scenario in which they have been arrested, and their speech is to explain why they are totally innocent.  Vernon goes first, so Amber, clearly not all that enamoured of Mel sends her backstage with the words “Mel, why don’t you go away” and then hastily corrects herself “go back stage”. Fortunately the quick witted Mel  is unruffled and giving as good as she gets merely quips back “I’ll go and make a cake”, to which Amber cuttingly adds “Don’t hurry back”.  Up till now I had thought Amber to be the more cuddley-glamourous of Louise Gold’s too main characters in this show, but now I’m not so sure, sometimes Amber can be almost as cutting as Jemima Taptackle, and Miss Taptackle isn’t always all that nasty either. Tonight I also noticed one little giveaway movement of Amber’s, it was there suddenly, without warning, as though it just came naturally in the moment, Amber tossed her blue hair, in a very very familiar manner. That deft flick of her left wrist to make a puppet toss it’s head/hair is something Louise Gold has been doing almost since she first started to puppeteer. It is a movement all her own, for it also is uncannily like the way as a singer-actress Louise would toss her own glorious chestnut mane (back in the days when she had longer hair) How one misses those titan tresses, but it’s great to see her once more recreate that distinctive movement with her puppet.

Vernon isn’t too bad at this speech making lark. But then it is Mel’s turn, and she is such a consummate professional that until about the last paragraph or two she was practically perfect. She is clearly intelligent, knowledgeable and able to think on her feet. Plus she also comes across so likeably. She did come a bit unstuck towards the end of her speech, including a bit where she was required to name the seven deadly sins.  I couldn’t help but want to laugh at the inclusion of the Seven Deadly Sins in a game on That Puppet Game Show. After all, over thirty years ago, it was those seven deadly sins that inspired the characters of The Skeksis in that big puppet art film Dark Crystal, only as Jim Henson put it on the ‘Making of documentary, as there were more Skeksis they had to add a few. And it is particularly ironic that the Seven Deadly Sins should find their way into Amber’s round. After all Amber’s “special friend” among what puppets refer to as the “people under us who help us move” , also just happens to have been the principal puppeteer for one of the Skeksis (I think the one representing the sin of gluttony).

While Mel is making her speech, it is Vernon’s turn to go backstage, where he encounters Miss Taptackle, who in her own sporting way attempts to seduce him. This is utterly hilarious, especially given that in only the previous scene it had been Amber trying to seduce him. A rather interesting contrast to find the same puppeteer having to perform TWO completely different characters both trying to do the same thing successively! Quite a contrast. It also says a lot for Louise Gold’s skill as a performer that she did manage to make them both so completely different.

Back on screen, consummate professional Mel wins the round.

Backstage Mancie attempts to carry out Eddie’s wishes with regards to Ian, but is interrupted by the charismatic Amber,  who is having some crisis as she can’t remember the name of the celebrity she is currently dating, and then her phone rings (and it is the person concerned, so she has to bluff).

 

Round 4 is another new round, this time from Ian. It is called Glow Balls. This consists of two rings, each containing thirty balls, ten of which glow in the dark, but with the lights up you can’t tell which is a glow-in-the-dark and which isn’t. The contestants each have to stick their head inside a ring, whereupon the lights are turned off and they have to memorise where the glow balls are. The lights are then put back on and they are each asked to bring one of the glow in the dark balls up to the podium. This is supposed to be done five times, but in fact it only happened three times, because Mel was the clear winner.

Meanwhile Clyde has now been kicked off the jury service.

Backstage we find Ian confronting Eddie for throwing him out, we can’t help but notice, the rather noticeable Miss Taptackle in the background, and then Dr Strabismus enters and reveals that he has helped Ian to find new accommodation. At which Ian and Eddie end up fighting, and somehow end up wandering onto camera. Manicie in the process of trying to stop them then ends up embarrassingly on camera herself, and freezes, having to be hauled off by a studio hand. She then asks “How embarrassing was that?” to which the said studio hand looks up from a monitor and says “Well its already go over a hundred views on Youtube”. – A rather neat demonstration of just how up to date the script of this television programme is, with references to Youtube, people checking email on their mobile phones, the sending of text messages and so on. Or perhaps I notice it more, because I am used to watching now rather quaint television puppet shows, such as TMS, and Spitting Image, which I’m sure were very topical and up to date in their day, but viewed several years later, well life has moved on a bit.

 

Round 5, as usual is That Puppet End Game hosted by Dougie, with all six experts. During the course of this round Amber gets to set two questions, one about Arnold Schwarznegger and one about David Beckenham. Vernon proves to be rather good at this round. The round ends with a question set by Miss Taptackle,  as the bell for the end of the round went in the middle or her asking it I thought she was going to be timed out, but it seems enough of the question was there for it to be included, it was a question about the fungal growth known as Athlete’s foot.

Vernon did slightly better in the round than Mel (5 points and 4 points respectively), but Mel had done well consistently throughout the evening and won with ten points (to Vernon’s seven), Mel said that the money would be going to the Tanzania Development Plan.

Then the credits and of course the post credits scene, which consisted of Manice telling Eddie and Ian off for fighting on screen, at which point the pair fight again.

 

This episode, I think basically starred Brian Henson’s Ian. Unfortunately, unlike the previous time he was centre stage when we were quite sympathetic to him, this time I really found Ian rather unlikeable. There were several changes in the rounds this week. Two new ones, namely Dart Attack and Glow Balls. And for the first time, after having been in all of the previous four episodes Punch Yer Lights Out was absent, but even without her round, Miss Taptackle made herself noticed, but then Louise Gold has a strong presence.  I didn’t care for Eddie and Ian’s fighting, but I thought the backstage plot more enjoyable than the week before’s had been. All in all great fun, and I am glad that Mel won.

 

 

Episode 6, Ronan Keating, and Tess Daly. (episode first broadcast 14 September 2013)

 

So Pre Opening titles scene, as seems to be usual funds Manice and Dougie talking to the guests. Manice wishes them “Break an arm”, one of them queries, isn’t the phrase “break a leg”. – however I can see that Mancie being a puppet would change the phrase.

As soon as the opening titles are over, the camera shows Dougie making his way to his podium. I can’t help noticing there are lots of low scenery wall strategically positioned (so we can’t see Dougie’s performer.

Dougie introduces the show, and the guests, and says to Tess “Saturday night on BBC1 is your second home”, she agrees with this. He then teases Ronan about having won Rear Of The Year ten years ago.

Backstage we find Udders McGee (who was noticeably absent from last week’s episode), asking “Everything Shipshape Manice?”  One can’t help kind of liking this oily character, who frequently never seems to have much clue about the making of television programmes. On this occasion Manice has to explain to him who the sparkly bloke is (Dougie whom he hired), and also that the vision of a cow looming over everything is Udders’s own reflection in the monitor he is watching it on

 

Round 1 Is a music round with Eddie Watts, in fact once again it Is Sauciesong, only this time, just to make it harder, I noticed that the Hotdogs were all dressed very similarly, In stripy sweaters.  I also noticed that one of the female hotdogs was Irish.  As usual I can’t help wondering if Louise (with her glorious voice) voiced any of the hotdogs, surely she must’ve done at lest one of the two female ones.  The song this time is Don’t You Want Me by Human League. Tess finds it difficult and points out that Ronan is  the musical one. he rather puts it down retorting “There is nothing musical about this..” (referring to playing Sauciesong), he does however win the round, and hugs the Hot Dogs.

On being asked for the scores, rather than preoccupied with his family, this time Clyde seems to be stuck on Tess!

We come to this week’s backstage plot. Backstage we find the rather charismatic, but lovely, ditsy girl, showbiz expert Amber reading horoscopes. Amber’s horoscope was one about facing adversity, she points out that it is true, as she broke a nail earlier and it didn’t affect her. Mancie on hearing this, is sort of impressed, since as she said “Last week when you had a split end we had to medicalise you”.  Amber proceeds to read out the horoscopes for some of the other experts. Miss Taptackle’s is “You will be hit in the shoulder by a javelin”, at which the equally charismatic  Jemima Taptackle  wanders across fuming “Shoulder indeed, more like collarbone”, with a javelin stuck out of her body. Amber also reads out Ian’s horoscope, which is something about succeeding (possibly in making money). She then gets to Dr Strabismus, The first part seems not relevant, but then there is something specific involving a person of that star sign “whose name begins with S and who’s mother was a German pretzel maker”, which Dr Strabismus agrees could be him. At which Amber’s voice goes quite dark and serious, and a bit deeper than normal as she says “Dr Strabismus you are going to die.”

Back to the Game Show, and it’s time for Round 2, a Nature Round with Jake Hamiliton-Jones. Dougie notices that Jake is tanned, apparently this is because Jake got trapped in his sunbed. The round’s game is ‘Dart Attack’, only the second time we’ve seen this played. And I must say it’s far more interesting to watch than Bird Droppings (Jake’s other game). Like last week, it is our male contestant who goes first. So Tess is on the wheel, with the seven targets. Fenton (in his usual dogsbody role) fires up the wheel, or as Jake puts it “Spins the celebrity”. Ronan is very good at this game, and gets all 7 targets, with 16 seconds to spare. Then it is Tess’s turn, and she clearly finds this difficult, only getting three targets, so Ronan wins.

On announcing the scores Clyde has got Tess some flowers.

 

Backstage, the horoscope plot seems to be having an effect. Ian is attempting to make his come true by doing lottery scratch cards and loosing. Dr Strabismus tells him that horoscopes are junk, but he does enjoy reading the cartoons in Amber’s paper. Perhaps it is the cartoons that distract him, for then several items nearly hit him, but miss. First Jake is cleaning the blowpipe used in Dart Attack and a dart flies through their air and lands in the wall next to him. Then a cactus does the same thing, The latter turns out to be Udders McGee who had thrown it out of his office, he then puts in an appearance wanting to know who put that cactus on his disk and have they never heard of Feng Shui?

And then something else, possibly a bullet whizzes past. At which the camera cuts to Jemima Taptackle with a rifle, who explains she was “Clay pigeon shooting”. – See THAT character with a gun, makes me think of the musical Assassins (though I have never seen the fabled London production, where a certain puppeteer played Sarah Jane Moore), of course it also makes me think of one of my favourite musicals Annie Get Your Gun, and slightly reminds me of a few other musicals, such as Oh Kay. Anyway, all three items just miss Dr Strabismus.

 

Time for Round 3, and it’s Amber’s turn, hosting Life’s A Speech. In this episode, Amber is really coming across as a strong character. I have to say that while I thought last weeks speeches were good, this weeks are even better. Amber says with great conviction “As a celebrity you’re always having to take part in grand openings of restaurants etc” So tonight’s speech is about opening some establishment. This immediately made me think of the time about eleven years ago when Claire Sweeney had to perform the grand (re)opening of a showbi z shop, and got upstaged by a puppet side kick (courtesy of a certain Spitting Image Puppet whose “special friend” just happens to be the same as Amber’s)

So tonight we find Tess has to read a speech about opening a bar. I also couldn’t help but be amused that the bar has a snooker table! (Well snooker references do make me laugh, having seen that vampire-film-musicals-about-snooker, Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire).  Anyway, its soon clear that Tess has done rather well in this round.

Meanwhile backstage Ronan encounters Dr Strabismus, who isn’t concerned about the horoscope, but needs someone to hold some isotopes so he can scratch an itch which he says “is killing me” (evidently the character didn’t mean it literally, but in a dark way it’s funny given the backstage plot).

Then its Ronan’s turn to make a speech. Amber is actually being rather nice to both contestants, unlike last week. Yes she’s a bit taken with Ronan, but thankfully comes across as much more of a pro, and a kinder person than last week.  I’m really warming to Amber this time. I think she has a bit of her puppeteers likeableness about her. I also noticed that her voice is developing, it started off as just a cute girl voice, but now I can hear a few of Louise’s distinct growls in it, often as though the character is speaking through gritted teeth. I remember that Raison in The Secret Life Of Toys sometimes used to do a similar thing. Ronan’s speech is to open a Gourmet Restaurant. It soon becomes apparent that he is none to good at this game, especially when he manages to not remember the names of his own albums.

There is a cut to the two make set hands watching, and one of them says “Typical dizzy blond”, to which the other says “and that Tess Daly’s not much better”. It is somewhat unclear just to whom they are referring as a dizzy blond. Since Ronan Keating and Tess Daly both have blond hair, but the blue-haired Amber has the kind of character that might also sometimes be a Ditsy blond type character.

Tess wins the round. Then it’s time for the scores. Clyde is busy working out with dumb-bells (something I guess these puppeteers know a lot about). And then Clyde’s wife yells at him. Something about that Loud voice, I think it might have been Louise, it sounded a bit like her voice for Tatum on Spitting Image.

Backstage, we find Ian telling Amber about how he has recently received an email from a Nigerian offering him an opportunity, it is perfectly obvious to those of us watching that Ian has fallen for a well known scam, but strangely neither Ian nor Amber seem to realise this at all.  Continuing the horoscope plot, having just had Louise being charismatic as Amber, we now have her being equally striking performing Miss Taptackle, who tells Dr Strabismus that someone from the Nobel Prize committee has come to see him, this turns out to be a ploy, as he goes where she says and then she and Jake shut him in a broom cupboard, for his own protection.

Time for Round 4, and it is to be Dr Strabismus’s round. Mancie goes to look for him, to find Jemima Taptackle and Jake Hamilton-Jones  insisting they ‘ve locked him in the cupboard, for his own protection.  Only it eventually turns out not to be Dr Strabismus, but a clone he made of himself. So the real Dr Strabismus goes to take his place on camera. There is a cut to Ian and Amber, where Ian is recalling his appearance on the 1986 Royal Variety Performance (as he says “that was dying –his act). Of course having a puppet, especially one talking to Amber, about the Royal Variety, can’t help but make me think of having read about Jim Henson and company’s legendary appearance on the 1977 one, which Amber’s puppeteer was an infamous part of (even by the standards of Henson puppeteers she was a bit of an extrovert on that).

 

Round 4 is a new game, Blow By Blow. The contestants each have to blow out 100 candles, as quickly as possible. The last of which is under a glass dome, and when they’ve blown out all of the other 99, a Hot Dog will life the dome for them to blow out the last one. It is quite exciting to watch, and Ronan wins, but only just.

Announcing the scores, we find Clyde with a saucepan of spaghetti on his head, some disagreement with his wife, who yells at him “Clyde I can hear you”, she really does sound like a slightly tamed down version of Spitting Image’s caricature of Tatum O’Neal. Could it be her voice-artiste? (the doyenne of Spitting Image puppeteers?).

It is now the point in the show where the backstage plot tends to get resolved. On this occasion Dr Strabismus, rushing off camera after his round, points out to Amber that nothing has happened. He then rushes out a door that opens onto a sheer drop from the side of the building, and falls out of it. Luckily something breaks his fall, and when Amber and one or two others come to find him, he is alright, just shaken, and he says something about “and all because I was born on March 11”. At which Amber suddenly realises he’s a Pisces and not a Capricorn. She then picks up the paper and reads his correct horoscope “After narrowly avoiding death, you will sprain your ankle tripping over a turtle”. At  which point Dr Strabismus promptly does trip over Fenton, and says it’s still not true as Fenton is a tortoise not a turtle, but it turns out as he limps off that he has sprained his ankle.

 

And so the show comes to Round 5, That Puppet End Game. Dougie introduces it as “There they all are, some of the finest minds in Britain, and Amber of course”.

The round gets underway, and presently, a few questions in Amber sets one about The Duchess of Cambridge. A little later it is Jemima Taptackle’s turn to set a question about Archery. Both contestants get this wrong, and Miss Taptackle’s fierce voice on pointing this out to them (along with the correct answer) is well worth hearing.

At the end of the round and indeed the show Tess has scored 5 points in total, and Ronan has ten points. He says the money will go to “The Marie Keating Foundation”, which is a foundation in memory of his mother.

Then as usual Dougie and the panel say goodbye, and there comes the credits. I notice that the ‘Additional Puppeteers’ vary a bit from week to week.

The post credits scene is a tour de force from Brian Henson, as Dr Strabismus confronts his clone, who is off on holiday, it seems strabismus also cloned his credit card as well as himself.

 

All in all though a slightly dark episode, it was much less dark than Epsiode 4 had been. I think there was something about the backstage story, one knew, just knew it was going to have a happy ending somehow. though the twist at the end with Amber having Dr Straismus’s star sign wrong was very funny. Really I guess it was basically Dr Strabismus who starred in the episode, thus a starring role for Brian Henson.  But in a way it was also very much Amber’s turn in the spotlight, as it was she who was reading the horoscopes in the first place. So again. like last week it seems to have been Brian Henson and Louise Gold between them heading the cast. And Nigel Plaskitt certainly got a moments all his own as both Udders and Fenton.

The superstion theme, particularly with Amber being so heavily involved reminded me, just a little of a certain Dynamo who insisted she was “totally not superstious” on the A Week In The West End documentary.

In many ways in this week’s episode, Louise’s performance as Amber really came into it’s own. Amber was much more than a ditsy showbiz expert, much more than just a cute girl character. She was very much a character in her own right. It really is great to see how in this, the third programme on which Louise Gold has puppeteered on prime time television, she truly gets to shine as a performer, with characters that suit her skills perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

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