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A mixture of conventional sketches, brief non sequitur punchlines of the type later popularised by The Fast Show, musical numbers and biting political satire, it was so called because The BBC put it on BBC Two opposite their own BBC One Nine O'Clock News. After a long fallow period during the post-Monty Python era it was the next big thing in British TV sketch comedy, and inspired a boom in the genre during the rest of the 1980s.
The team had a particular fondness for taking real footage and inserting their own around it - for example, having a drunken, swearing Atkinson go put on a blonde wig and blue dress, walk through a door, and then switch to some real footage of Margaret Thatcher leaving Downing Street.
Contains examples of:
- Aluminium Christmas Trees: Foreign viewers may not realise that the "Get a TV licence--it's cheaper than a funeral" parody (in which the TV Licensing Authority hunts down and murders people who don't pay their TV licence fee) is only a slight exaggeration of the real PSAs it was based on, and indeed ones that came later on were even more extreme, almost indistinguishable from the parodies.
- Angry Mob Song: "All-Out Superpower Confrontation"
- Car Fu: The truckers in the "I Like Trucking" song (a parody of then-common Yorkie chocolate bar adverts) keep a tally of their casualties on the side of the cab. They're particularly fond of hedgehogs.
- Defictionalization: The show was the first to use the term "flange" to describe a troop of baboons; the word later made its name into serious studies. (The official name for a group of baboons is a "congress" which, as Rich Hall can tell you, is funny enough on its own.)
- Eagleland: Complete with Country & Western music in the parody song I Believe
- Incessant Music Madness: Gryff-Rhys Jones plays a colonial planter, driven to drink by the noise of the jungle, who staggers drunkenly onto the verandah and demands, "Will you shut up! Will this damn noise never end!" The camera pans back, revealing that what we have taken to be the chittering of night insect noise is really 30 or 40 natives, each of whom is playing with a Rubik's Cube...
- Intellectual Animal: Gerald the Gorilla. "Wild? I was absolutely livid."
- Mile-High Club: From the song "Do Bears" by Rowan Atkinson and Kate Bush (originally performed at Comic Relief 1986 and later included on one of the Not the Nine O'Clock News albums):
- Missing Episode: Only two Greatest Hits DVDs have been released, which included the most famous sketches ("Gerald the Gorilla", "Kinda Lingers", "the deaf telephone" etc.) and those which don't rely too heavily on the current affairs of the early 1980s. Much like Spitting Image, some of the references and sketches would probably be somewhat impenetrable for viewers without much knowledge of that period. The full episodes probably are somewhere in the BBC archives, but if they are it remains to be seen if they'll ever see the light of day.
- Mondegreen: The point of "Kinda Lingers"
- Mood Whiplash: Often played for laughs. Also the show was capable of going from incisive biting satire to crude slapstick humour (e.g. Rowan Atkinson walking into a lamppost) and back again very rapidly.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Billy Connolly pub sketch.
- Constable Savage isn't the most decent of people either.
- Romance on the Set: Billy Connolly and Pamela Stephenson.
- Skewed Priorities: One sketch is about an episode of Question Time being recorded shortly after the Soviets have just started World War III; aside from an Only Sane Man panellist whose contribution is "Help! We're all going to die!", the others focus on the 'real issues' such as blaming the crisis on the appalling record of the previous government.
- Surreal Music Video: Parodied in "Nice Video, Shame About the Song".
- Take That: Aimed at all sorts of media formats.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley.