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“Network, we’ll have to come back and do the draw…”

Posted 3rd December 2016

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BBC 1, 30th November 1996, 7:50pm, The National Lottery Live. And a 15-year-old John Hoare, already over-excited from Noel’s House Party, watches in wonder as his other very favourite thing in the whole world happens: the telly goes wrong.

Yes, it’s the infamous 107th draw, where the lottery machine failed to act as a lottery machine and draw some damn balls. Like many TV moments I didn’t record on VHS, the memory faded over the years… until some kind soul uploaded it to YouTube back in 2010. Brilliantly, the video includes both the initial failure of the machine, and the hastily-improvised update show which aired after Casualty, where the balls were drawn successfully.

It’s been endlessly pointed out over the years how brilliantly Bob Monkhouse deals with the situation. I’ll just pick out three of my favourite bits, all from the successful draw show 50 minutes later: his admission at 4:04 amidst apologies that “I must say, I’m enjoying this”; his Vic and Bob reference at 4:57 (reminding you that Monkhouse was a true comedy fan, across all eras of comedy); and most importantly, the brilliant setup and tag of the extra show. He starts the programme by pointing out Mystic Meg had been predicting the machine’s failure all day. And the end?

MEG: I told you this was going to happen…
MONKHOUSE: Belt up, Meg. Belt. Up. Meg.

That would be a fun enough gag even under normal circumstances. But as something improvised whilst Casualty was on, it’s utterly amazing. Not just because it’s funny – although it is – but because it gives a hastily-improvised update show a real structure. It’s brilliant.

And so that video lived on, on YouTube.1 I’d watch it a couple of times a year, occasionally link to it on Twitter, and then go about my life. And my life was taking a rather unexpected direction. After years of failing university, failing to run a web design consultancy, and failing to find any kind of career at all… I ended up working in my beloved television.

Oh, I started right at the bottom: working as a VT Operator for some channels very low down on the EPG. I worked my way up to Scheduler, Transmission Operator, Transmission Supervisor… and then left to work on some channels rather higher up on the EPG, with plenty of live events. This felt like almost a completely different job: all of a sudden, a major part of my work was talking to live productions.2

Which leads us to Gold’s three-part documentary from last year: Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man. It had its faults – the cropping of 4:3 footage made me want to throw things, and it oddly glossed over his Central years as a failure when they’re some of the shows I remember him best for – but on the whole it was an excellent set of programmes. And it contained one bit which made my mouth absolutely drop open. Here’s the section on that National Lottery breakdown – and note the bit at 3:04:

Talkback from the production gallery, over the final moments of the show.3

And all of a sudden, two disparate parts of my life suddenly welded themselves irrevocably together. The gawky teen which sat and watched that National Lottery show go out… and the gawky adult whose job it is to listen to production talkback, and actually has to act on what they are saying. From someone who could never really comprehend what that job would actually involve, but was just fascinated with breakdowns… to someone who calmly has to cope with the evening’s carefully planned schedule being torn apart.

Life is odd. Despite running around the playground with a camera over my head – albeit a camera made from an ice-cream tub, stickers, and a toilet-roll – I never really thought I’d get a chance to peek behind the curtain of my favourite thing in the world. And then suddenly, without knowing it… I’m on the other side. I’m network.

Though I must admit, I still love breakdowns. I just want to be safely sitting at home when they happen.

  1. Incidentally, amazing though it is, it’s not even the best lottery cock-up on YouTube. That honour goes to this extraordinary video

  2. For a detailed look at this kind of job, take a look at this piece I wrote last year

  3. It’s amazing this even survives, incidentally. You can only assume that this is thanks to the archive of a certain Mr. Bob Monkhouse. The same guy who recorded both the teatime and late-night versions of TFI Friday, just in case they were different edits. And thus Bob Monkhouse becomes the only comedian who would have been better at writing Dirty Feed than I am. 

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cwickham on 3 December 2016 @ 6pm

It seems strangely appropriate that this article was posted just as it was announced (well, around the same time as it was announced, at least) that the Saturday night draw is being dropped from television and relegated to the iPlayer. The draw feels much more like an event in the 1996 video, and even the 2000 one, whereas these days it’s just a bit of an afterthought to the gameshow bit.

Andrew Bowden on 3 December 2016 @ 7pm

I love the fact that most of the audience don’t even get the Vic and Bob reference!

David on 4 December 2016 @ 1pm

There is also this fun moment from abroad.

Steve Williams on 4 December 2016 @ 3pm

The Vic and Bob reference is my second favourite bit of the whole thing, it’s fantastic, but my favourite bit remains when Deadly asks Bob to ask John Willian exactly what we’re going to do with the draw, and Bob takes him exactly at his word. Great fun. The thing about that night, though, is that the draw finally took place opposite the Comedy Awards, which at the time was absolutely the highlight of the telly year for me with Jonathan Ross’ rude monologue and all the swearing and in-jokes and cock-ups. So I was very much torn between the two. Of course, since then and 2000 Today, the lottery draw has ballsed up on a number of occasions, but nobody’s bothered about it.

I love the other stuff in this post, as well, because it’s similar to how I’ve gone from writing my own synopses of TV shows in my own made-up TV guide and noting the names of producers, to actually writing real synopses of TV shows and talking to those same producers. Still feel like I’ve won a competition. It’s certainly justified all those hours I spent in the nineties reading the Radio Times from cover to cover, to the extent it sometimes feels like I did my degree in the Radio Times.