TV review: Never Mind The Buzzcocks? Never quite funny enough

Phil Jupitus, Jack Whitehall, Noel Fielding on Buzzcocks. Photograph: BBC / Talkback / Brian Ritchie
11 Nov 2013 @ 10.28 am
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Phil Jupitus, Jack Whitehall, Noel Fielding on Buzzcocks. Photograph: BBC / Talkback / Brian Ritchie
Phil Jupitus, Jack Whitehall, Noel Fielding on Buzzcocks. Photograph: BBC / Talkback / Brian Ritchie

Review: Never Mind The Buzzcocks (BBC2, Mondays)

I occasionally have what I call Charlotte Brontë moments when modern life seems so odd that I find myself thinking: “What would Charlotte have made of this?”

One such occasion occurred on a flight to Naples a few years ago. There we were, about 100 of us, in a large metal tube 30,000 feet above sea level, watching a screen above our heads on which a well-known actor was singing a song with frog and pig puppets.

Never Mind The Buzzcocks, which seems to have been with us forever, was surely designed to have a perplexed Charlotte scratching her head. It’s the first time I’d seen it for a couple of years and it seems to have got weirder.

Wearing my Charlotte bonnet, I wonder whether the programme’s host really is a famous singer who does not belong to these shores, or merely some kind of impersonator? And why does a rather sensitive-looking young boy have all those tattoos when he is neither a criminal nor a sailor?

That’s just for starters. More to the point, what on earth is anyone talking about?

I must accept that, despite getting past first base (unlike my wife) by understanding the programme’s title, I am no longer the target audience for Buzzcocks. In any case, even in its early days during the last century, it always suffered from never being quite funny enough, which makes its survival a mystery.

It doesn’t help, of course, when you are no longer in thrall to rock and pop music. There comes a time when you begin to lose patience with its many absurdities. This isn’t quite throwing away childish things.

I’ll be listening to some stuff until I breathe my last. Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground and I Wasn’t Born To Follow by The Byrds are on my funeral play-list. And, unlike some of my peers, I still take on board a few new names, especially from the roots-folk world.

Pretentious, moi? Morrissey of The Smiths. Photograph: Wikipedia
Pretentious, moi? Morrissey of The Smiths. Photograph: Wikipedia

It’s more that there comes a point when the pretentiousness and posing become too much to bear. For the novelist Sebastian Faulks it was the release in 1981 of the maddeningly trite “Don’t You Want Me Baby?” by The Human League. For some reason, Faulks found the lyric “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / that much is true” particularly loathsome.

So much so that he grumbled about it in his column in the Independent On Sunday newspaper and then, many years later, put exactly the same complaint into the mouth of his psychotic protagonist in his 2007 novel Engleby.

For me, the final straw was a South Bank Show programme in 1987 about a group called The Smiths. I loved this spoof. Here we had a British film to supersede the glorious This Is Spinal Tap.

It featured a young actor I’d never previously seen playing Morrissey, the group’s lead singer and a prat of the very highest order, pontificating quite ludicrously and always wildly off the mark about everything from George Formby to the Moors Murders.

The likes of Nick Kent and John Peel deadpanned magnificently as they sang the group’s praises. The music was cleverly done, by no means incompetent but as dull as having corn flakes for breakfast every morning, and the lyrics suggested a modest talent.

Much care had been taken to make this a more subtle affair than Tap. It was one of commercial television’s finest hours.
Imagine my astonishment, then, the following morning when I went into work and my mirthful colleagues provided me with a Santa Claus-in-reverse-explanation. I have never lived it down.

And now I learn that Morrissey’s autobiography has been published as a Penguin classic to sit alongside the likes of George Orwell, Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.

That really is one to boggle the mind of Charlotte.