When Noel Edmonds troubled the Oscars

At the height of its early success, Noel's House Party got in trouble with the organisation behind the Academy Awards...

Amongst the pantheon of television stars who found fame on Saturday morning childrens’ television programmes in the 1980s, there aren’t too many movie trivia stories to uncover. Keith Chegwin was in a Roman Polanski movie, of course, so there’s that. But then there’s the small matter of Noel Edmonds, who managed to get on the wrong side of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – AMPAS – in the US.

That’d be the same AMPAS who dish out the Academy Awards. And it was an Oscar-related issue that they weren’t happy about.

It all centred on Noel’s House Party, the Saturday evening light entertainment show that for some time was an absolute ratings juggernaut. All concerned have freely admitted that it was allowed to run for many years too long, but in recent times, there’s been far more respect for what it was at its peak. Ant and/or Dec, when they came to make their successful Saturday Night Takeaway show, freely admitted that they were looking to capture the spirit of the House Party at its peak.

One of the centrepiece segments – and certainly amongst the most expensive to film – of the House Party were the Gotchas. These were the packages where an unsuspecting ‘celebrity’ – and to be fair to the show, they often were celebrities – would find themselves pranked by Noel in some way. Some of these were very, very good too (as much as Mr Blobby became an irritant, this is where he begun, spectacularly managing to wind up a queue of famous people). But notably, it was this segment of Noel’s House Party that led to legal attention.

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When the show first launched, it picked up the spirit of The Late, Late Breakfast Show (a similar show, that was taken off air following the tragic death of a viewer taking part in a special challenge for the programme), and scaled things up. Thus, there were what were originally known as ‘Gotcha Oscars’. It’s not always easy to find a picture of what a Gotcha Oscar looked like, as the BBC has worked very hard to scrub said imagery from existence. But the trophy that was handed to the victim of the prank was a fist clutching a figure – I’d best be on the right side of legal here – that appeared to be ‘heavily influenced’ by the Academy Award statue.

Here’s Richard Branson with the newly designed one, where the figure clutched in the fist is flailing instead…

AMPAS, then, soon got wind of Noel’s House Party – there’s a sentence I never trained to write – and it turned out that the BBC hadn’t got the necessary permissions to either subvert the look of the Oscar trophy, nor use the heavily-trademarked Oscar name. The legal threat, from scary American lawyers, came very quickly. The Noel’s House Party team realised they needed to move quickly.

In a flash, the Gotcha Oscar was dead, to be replaced by the far more homogenous Gotcha award in its place. The rest of the segment remained unaltered, but the trophy was changed, and the word Oscar was never uttered again in relation to it.

However, this did present further challenges when the BBC aired earlier footage that did have the Gotcha Oscar involved. At one stage, for instance, it put out a fun-for-all-the-family Noel’s Gotchas video for Christmas, and any on-screen sighting of the Gotcha Oscar was not very subtlely blurred out. Digital technology was not quite at the level it is now.

One more piece of pub trivia on the Gotchas for you.

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It’s inevitably not too much of a surprise, but the order in which you saw the footage was rarely how things played out in real life. But one thing you may not know is that the prankee didn’t always have to wait until the end of the stunt in question to find out what was happening.

An old friend of mine was an extra on a particularly celebrated Gotcha, that of Derek Jameson. This was such a big deal for the show – not least because Jameson had warned they’d have to get up early to ever catch him out – so much so that Jameson’s Gotcha was run over two weeks.

For the second part, the plan was to set off an evacuation in a hotel in the early hours of the morning. Skip to around 12 minutes into this clip, and you’ll see how it played out…

What you didn’t see is what really happened.

According to my friend (one of the Egyptian dancers, he said it helped him towards his Equity card), Jameson was told pretty much from the off, as soon as he exited the hotel, what was going on. He was thus told to act surprised as the antics played out in front of him. He did.

Then, the moment where Noel Edmonds comes bursting out of the hotel with his arm in the air? It took several takes to get that shot, all the while as everyone waited outside the front of the hotel. You have to say that, amidst his many talents, Derek Jameson had acting potential too.

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At its best, Noel’s House Party was, I maintain, terrific fun, at a time when Saturday evening TV didn’t involve ridiculing people, asking us to vote, or moaning about how they’ve changed the transmission time of Doctor Who again. Such was its impact that, somewhere in Los Angeles, a bunch of millionaire lawyers even sat down to watch an episode or two…