Not the Nine O'Clock News

Not the Nine O'Clock News
Not the Nine O'Clock News
DVD cover. Left to right: Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones.
Format Sketch comedy
Starring Rowan Atkinson
Pamela Stephenson
Mel Smith
Griff Rhys Jones
Chris Langham
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 27
Running time 25 min
Original channel BBC2
Original run 16 October 1979 – 8 March 1982
Followed by Alas Smith and Jones

Not the Nine O'Clock News is a television comedy sketch show which was broadcast on BBC 2 from 1979 to 1982.

Originally shown as a comedy "alternative" to the BBC Nine O'Clock News on BBC 1, it featured satirical sketches on current news stories and popular culture, as well as parody songs, comedy sketches, re-edited videos and spoof television formats. The series featured Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, as well as Chris Langham in the first series. Its format was similar to Monty Python's Flying Circus, including sketches that lasted from a few seconds to several minutes.

The series launched the careers of several high-profile actors and writers, and also led to other comedy series such as Blackadder and Alas Smith and Jones.



A total of 27 episodes of 25–30 minute duration were produced over four series.

  • 16 October–20 November 1979: six episodes
  • 31 March–12 May 1980: seven episodes
  • 27 October–15 December 1980: eight episodes
  • 1 February–8 March 1982: six episodes


Not the Nine O'Clock News was produced by John Lloyd. Lloyd pitched the idea to the heads of BBC Comedy and Light Entertainment and was given a six-show series on condition that he collaborate with Sean Hardie, who had worked in current affairs at the BBC.

The original cast was Rowan Atkinson, Christopher Godwin, John Gorman, Chris Langham, Willoughby Goddard and Jonathan Hyde, and the show was planned for 2 April 1979. As the show was originally scheduled to air after Fawlty Towers, John Cleese was to have introduced the first episode in a sketch referring to a technicians' strike then in progress, explaining (in character as Basil Fawlty) that there was no show that week so a "tatty revue" would be broadcast instead. However the 1979 general election intervened, and the show was pulled as too political.[1] The sketch with Cleese was broadcast later that year, when the final episode of Fawlty Towers went out during the broadcast run of the first series of Not the Nine O'Clock News, though the significance of the sketch was lost. This link is included on the Region 2 Fawlty Towers DVD boxset.

Lloyd and Hardie decided to recast the show, retaining Langham and Atkinson. They wanted to bring in a woman. Victoria Wood turned the show down. Lloyd met Pamela Stephenson at a party and she agreed to join. Atkinson, Langham and Stephenson were joined by Mel Smith.[1] The first series was criticised for being "a poor mix of stand up, and a mild portion of sketches". This left the BBC with sketches which depended upon a second series; seven episodes were commissioned. Langham was replaced by Griff Rhys Jones, who had already appeared in minor roles.[2] The second series won the Silver Rose at the Montreux Festival and a BAFTA award for Best Light Entertainment Programme in 1982.[3]

The series has rarely been repeated; eight re-cut and condensed (to make it "faster and funnier than ever"[4]) "episodes" are shown instead. This is primarily because the original episodes in their entirety lampooned events that were in the news at the time.

The main writers included David Renwick, Colin Bostock-Smith, Andy Hamilton, Peter Brewis, Richard Curtis, and Clive Anderson.[5] However, the producers accepted scripts for sketches from a wide range of writers and ensured the show remained topical by recording sketches only days before broadcast. Howard Goodall (subsequently composer of the Red Dwarf, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley theme music) was musical director. Bill Wilson directed the first three series, Geoff Posner the fourth.

Not the Nine O'Clock News became a stage show in Oxford and London in 1982, but the main performers decided to end the project while it was a success: Stephenson began a Hollywood film career, Atkinson recorded the first series of Blackadder in 1983, and Smith and Jones became a double act in Alas Smith and Jones. An American adaptation, Not Necessarily the News ran for seven years, from 1983–90 on the Home Box Office cable television channel.[1]

In 2005, Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, Chris Langham and John Lloyd reunited to talk to Sue MacGregor about the show. Langham's departure was touched upon, with Lloyd seeming to take the blame, though Atkinson had campaigned for Langham to be kept in the cast. The Reunion was broadcast on Radio 4 on 31 July 2005.[6]

A documentary featuring the cast reminiscing about the making of the programme was shown on BBC 2 on 28 December 2009,[7] before one of the 1995 compilation shows was aired (despite a "complete episode" being billed in television listings).

Name and format

The show's name derived from its schedule – it was originally on BBC 2 at the same time as the Nine O'Clock News on BBC 1.

The series benefited from video editing and recording techniques. The pace was enhanced by jump-cutting between library clips, usually of politicians, royalty or celebrities. Margaret Thatcher complained when, by adroit image editing, the show implied she had crashed a car. Effects used in pop videos, provided by the Quantel Paintbox, were often a highlight of the musical numbers.

Commercial releases

Video and DVD

Two highly edited videos of the show, entitled Nice Video, Shame about the Hedgehog and The Gorilla Kinda Lingers, were released in 1995.

In August 2003 these videos were released on DVD under the title of The Best of Not the Nine O'Clock News: Volume One. The Best of Not the Nine O'Clock News: Volume Two came a year later. Both of these are available in one set, unavailable separately, in R1 as well in North America.

The full episodes were repeated in 1993 on UKTV Gold. They have not been repeated since. The eight 1995 compilation shows are regularly shown on Comedy Central X


Three vinyl albums were released at the time the series was screening, entitled Not the Nine O'Clock News, Hedgehog Sandwich and The Memory Kinda Lingers respectively. These albums were very successful, with the first two both reaching the top ten of the UK albums chart, a rare feat for a spoken word album.

The original version of The Memory Kinda Lingers was a double LP. The second disc is titled Not in Front of the Audience and is a live recording of the cast's stage show. Hedgehog Sandwich and the first disc of The Memory Kinda Lingers were later combined on a BBC double-length cassette and double-CD set.

The group re-recorded "Oh Bosanquet" (a tribute to the then recently retired newsreader Reginald Bosanquet) and "Gob on You" for single release. The latter had the same – less hard-hitting – lyrics as featured in Not in Front of the Audience.

"The Ayatollah Song" b/w "Gob on You" (as featured in the TV show) and "I Like Trucking" b/w "Supa Dupa" were also released as singles.

(The 1980 single "Typing Pool" by 'Pam and the Paper Clips' (EMI 5015), is variously ascribed to Pamela Stephenson and NtNON. It was written by Roger and Nigel Planer.)[8]

Books and miscellaneous

Three books were released to tie in with the series; Not! the Nine O'Clock News, a collection of classic material rewritten and restructured as a parody of the short-lived Now! magazine, Not the Royal Wedding (the royal wedding in question being the marriage of Charles and Diana), and Not the General Election, a tie in with the 1983 General Election. The first was reprinted in 1995 as Not for Sale. Not the Royal Wedding was promoted by a little-known radio spinoff, Not the Nuptials, transmitted on BBC Radio 1. The same station had also previously produced a behind-the-scenes documentary on Not the Nine O'Clock News as part of their magazine series Studio B15.

Two 'page-a-day' tear-off calendars, edited by John Lloyd and containing several contributions from Douglas Adams were released in the early 1980s (Not 1982 and Not 1983). Also published around this time was a spoof Orwellian edition of The Times newspaper, Not The 1984 Times, which although widely assumed to be, was not actually connected to the series and involved no relevant personnel.

See also


  1. ^ a b c BBC Guide to Comedy, by Mark Lewisohn, URL accessed 17 March 2007
  2. ^ BFI Screenonline, URL accessed 17 March 2007
  3. ^ Awards at, URL accessed 17 March 2007
  4. ^ The BBC H2G2 Page for "Not the Nine O'clock News". Accessed 17 December 2007
  5. ^ Cast list at, URL accessed 17 March 2007
  6. ^ The BBC's Comedy Blog entry for the 29th of July 2005. Accessed 17 December 2007
  7. ^ BBC Press release for Christmas 2009. Accessed 24 November 2009
  8. ^ Musical Taste listing and clip. Accessed 17 December 2007

External links

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