Series: They Think It's All Over
Sport-themed Panel Show
which aired on The BBC
from 1995 to 2006. The series was initially presented by Nick Hancock, and featured two teams of three panellists captained by former England cricketer David Gower and former England footballer Gary Lineker, with regular spots taken by comedians Lee Hurst on Gower's team and Rory McGrath on Lineker's. The guests were generally either athletes or comedians, although occasionally politicians (such as Alastair Campbell
or Jeffrey Archer) or broadcasters (such as Chris Tarrant
or Richard Hammond
) would appear as the third member of the team. Hurst left the series in 1998 to concentrate on running his comedy club in Bethnal Green, and after a series of guest comedians, his place was permanently taken by presenter Jonathan Ross.
The series was to sport what Have I Got News for You
is to politics and Never Mind the Buzzcocks
is to pop music: ostensibly a quiz about the people and events in sport, but really a showcase for the comedic talents of the regulars and an excuse to poke fun at the world of sport. The basic rounds included:
- Excuses: The teams would be shown footage of sporting failure or controversy (or, occasionally, success) and asked to identify the excuse the people involved gave when asked to explain themselves.
- Celebrations: The teams would be shown footage of an unusual goal celebration in a football match (or similar celebratory moment) and asked to explain the bizarre antics of the people involved.
- Sing When You're Winning: The teams would hear the first part of a song sung on the terraces of a particular football ground as rendered by a group of fans, and have to guess what the next lines were.
- Sporting Bluff: The teams would hear three possible explanations for a sport-related story, and have to guess which one is correct.
- What's Going On?: The teams would be shown an unusual piece of sporting footage, and have to answer the question in the round's title: what's going on?
- Photo-fit: The teams would be shown a bizarre composite picture of three sports personalities, and have to identify the three people whose faces/bodies had been cut and assembled into the picture. (Rory McGrath would frequently claim to have slept with the "subject".)
- Injury Board: The teams would be shown a grid of twelve numbers, and behind each number would be an athlete and an item that had injured him/her in an unusual way; they would then have to explain how the injury happened.
- Feel the Sportsman: Perhaps the most well-remembered round of the series. The team captains and resident comedians would don blindfolds, and a guest athlete or team would then be brought onto the stage and have to be identified by touch alone. This was the source of many of the series' biggest laughs, both from blindfolded panellists (especially Rory McGrath and Jonathan Ross) getting overfamiliar with the person (or people) on stage or from the production team finding excuses to pelt the blindfolded panellists with projectiles or otherwise assault them.
- The Name Game: The closing round of each show; the regular comedians would be given a set of cards with the names of sporting personalities on them and have to give their teammates clues as to their identities (the only rule being that they could not use rhyming clues, such as "Rubbish cricketer, hair as white as flour" for "David Gower"). Variations included requiring the comedians to give clues in mime, as impressions, or as Pictionary-style drawings. Generally, the first few names would be relatively familiar, and the rest would be obscure and often suggestive, leading the comedians to come up with increasingly creative ways to convey the names.
Gower and Lineker both left the series in 2003, and were replaced by cricketer Phil Tufnell and goalkeeper David Seaman. Seaman only stayed for two series before being replaced by his former Arsenal teammate Ian Wright, while Tufnell left after another series and was replaced by German tennis star Boris Becker. Hancock stepped down as presenter at the same time Tufnell left and was replaced by Lee Mack
, and finally Ross left the series and was replaced for two specials by comedian Sean Lock. This frantic revolving door of personnel and the gradual shift in tone of A Question of Sport
(of which They Think It's All Over
was conceived as a parody) from serious game show to light-hearted comedy contributed to the series' cancellation in 2006.
This show provides examples of:
- All Germans Are Nazis: Invoked by both teams in the 2002 Christmas special, in which the clues for "The Name Game" had to be given in mime. When giving a clue for Boris Becker, Jonathan Ross mimed playing tennis, then put his finger on his upper lip and did a Nazi salute; when giving a clue for Michael Schumacher, Rory McGrath mimed driving a car and then made the same finger-on-lip-Nazi-salute gesture.
- Call Back: In several episodes, one of the guests in "Feel the Sportsman" would be at the centre of a story referenced earlier in the episode. For example, the 1999 Christmas special referred to a magazine article in which gay cabaret performer Paul Hull named Gary Lineker as a celebrity crush; Hull was then brought on for Gary and Rory to identify during "Feel the Sportsman" (Rory seemed to be in on the joke, as he mostly left the identification up to Gary). Gary eventually started writing down the names of people referenced in the early rounds in case he needed to remember them for "Feel the Sportsman".
- Censored for Comedy: As detailed in Product Placement, when Gary Lineker was replaced as the face of Walker's Crisps by Michael Owen (or, rather, recast as the villain of the ad campaign with Owen the hero) in 1998, Nick Hancock announced at the beginning of an episode with Greg Rusedski and Fred MacAulay that the word "Walker" would be treated as a swear word and bleeped; the bleeping was done in such a way that the beginning and end of the word were still audible, making it sound as though the word being bleeped was "wanker".
- Cheaters Never Prosper: The teams were not above bending or breaking the rules in the interest of getting points (especially if it provided laughs), but they weren't always allowed to get away with it. In the 2002 Christmas special, while the six panellists were trying their luck with a "Test Your Strength" machine, Gary Lineker decided to sneak a look at his team's cards for "The Name Game". His team were promptly docked ten points, putting them 6-2 behind guest captain Steve Davis. However, this did not stop him from reading off the list he had copied down when the game actually began (in one case admitting he couldn't read his own handwriting), causing the producers to end the round early when they were trailing by just one point.
- Christmas Episode: Once a year from 1995 to 2002, often heralded by having the panellists dress up in pantomime-style costumes (in 1997, Gary Lineker was dressed as the title character from Oliver!, while in 2000, Jonathan Ross was dressed as a pantomime cow).
- Cross Over: In both 1999 and 2001, the series crossed over with Have I Got News for You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks for a Comic Relief special entitled Have I Got Buzzcocks All Over. Nick Hancock was a captain on both specials (accompanied by Phil Tufnell and newsreader Carol Barnes in 1999, and by David Gower and Stephen Fry in 2001), and in both specials his team played variations on "Feel the Sportsman" ("Feel the Pop Star" in 1999 with guest Samantha Fox, "Feel the Politician" in 2001 with guest Roy Hattersleynote ), while the 2001 special finished with "The Name Game" but with names from politics and pop music as well as sport.
- Fandom Rivalry: Frequently referenced in-universe in "Sing When You're Winning", and not just limited to top-flight sides; for example, in the 1996 Christmas special, David Gower's team had to complete the chant with which Scotland's East Fife FC taunt their local rivals Cowdenbeath FC (sung to the tune of the theme from The Addams Family):
"They come frae near Lochgelly
They havnae got a telly
They're dirty and they're smelly
The Cowden family"
- Filk Song: Sometimes found in "Sing When You're Winning", with the terrace chants of various clubs set to the tunes of folk or pop songs or television theme tunes. For example, in the No Holds Barred video episode, Sunderland fans sang the following spoof version of the folk song "In My Liverpool Home"note :
"In your Liverpool homes
In your Liverpool homes
You speak with an accent exceedingly rarenote
You all wear pink shell suits and have curly hair
In your Liverpool homes"
- Man of a Thousand Voices: Inverted with Jonathan Ross, as evidenced by his performance in "The Name Game" when he had to give his clues as impressions; David Gower described his approach as "One voice fits all." Halfway through the round, he forgot he was supposed to be giving the clues as impressions.
- Name's the Same: Acknowledged in-universe; when Lee Hurst was a regular on the series, there was a player at Southend United FC also named Lee Hurst. Inevitably, he was the subject of David and Lee's round of "Feel the Sportsman" in the 1996 Christmas special. There were also several rounds of "The Name Game" with this as the theme (athletes who share their names with other famous people).
- Off the Rails: The "electronic pencil" round which showed up in a few early series frequently wound up here as the panellists simply scribbled all sorts of random nonsense on the picture instead of drawing the correct configuration of Bobby Charlton's combover or Kevin Keegan's atrocious 1970s fashion.
- Product Placement: Gary Lineker's sponsorship deal with Walker's Crisps led to a number of comic plugs on the programme.
- Perhaps the shining example comes from the No Holds Barred video, in which the four regulars take part in a mock school sports day and Lineker's shirt and shorts are festooned with Walker's Crisps logos, while his sack for the sack race looks like a giant crisp packet.
- In a 1998 episode, after Lineker had been replaced as the face of Walker's Crisps by Michael Owen, Hancock declared at the beginning of the programme that the word "Walker" would be treated as a swear word and bleeped. Inevitably, every athlete Gary and teammate Fred MacAulay had to identify in "The Name Game" was called "___ Walker", which was asterisked out.
- Punny Name: The whole point of "The Name Game". After a few familiar names the teams could recognise from a basic description of their sport, Rory and Lee/Jonathan would then have to give clues for athletes whose names generally involved some sort of pun, frequently a Double Entendre such as "Jesus Arce" (Jonathan's clue for whom was "Son of God's backside") or "Lucky Idahor" (a Nigerian footballer, Rory's clue for whom was "Fortunately, I engaged the services of a lady of the night").
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Stephen Fry delivered quite a blistering one to Nick Hancock and the producers on his appearance in Series 4 when he, Gary, and Rory had to explain a clip of the Albanian game of well defending in "What's Going On?". He asserted that countries all over the "Second and Third World" (as they once were) were deliberately inventing ridiculous "traditional" games so that The BBC would buy footage of them for the They Think It's All Over team to use for easy laughs while the people in the footage pocketed the profits and laughed at how gullible the British were for thinking these were real games.
- Running Gag: Many, as detailed under Take That.
- Relating to the regulars, there were many jokes about David Gower's poshness and inconsistent performance at the crease, Gary Lineker's tendency to score goals after another player had done all the work getting the ball into position, Rory McGrath's weight, Lee Hurst's baldness, Jonathan Ross' extroverted dress sense, and the implication that Jonathan was having an affair with Gary's then-wife Michelle.
- In the wider world of sport, many episodes featured jokes about the ineptitude of the England football/rugby/cricket/whatever team, the popular perception that matches involving Manchester United would continue as far past 90 minutes as necessary for them to take the lead, the sex and drug scandals that had dogged former sport presenter Frank Bough, the idea that champion javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread was really a man, Phil Tufnell's prolific use of marijuana, and more besides.
- Shout-Out: The series' title is a reference to Kenneth Wolstenholme's commentary from the BBC broadcast of the final seconds of England's 1966 FIFA World Cup victory, which is played over the end of the opening titles (though with an impersonator providing the commentary): "And here comes Hurst! He's got- some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over! (Hurst fires the ball into the back of the net) It is now!"note Hancock would also quote the commentary in his closing spiel: "My name's Nick Hancock, they think it's all over, it is now."
- The Swear Jar: In one episode, Nick Hancock announced that The BBC were cracking down on foul language in the programme by instituting a swear jar, with all money collected to be donated to Children in Need. He set the tone for the rest of the episode by declaring this "a (bleep)ing good idea" and immediately making the first donation. The most prolific contributor was Jonathan Ross, who at one point dumped a pile of coins on the desk in preparation for a series of donations.
- Take That: Like most panel games, the series made a habit of getting laughs by poking fun at the people and teams who appeared in footage or stories for various rounds.
- Few sporting figures came under fire as often as David Gower and Gary Lineker themselves. Gower would be mocked for his posh background and unfortunate tendency to get bowled or caught or run out at inconvenient moments (often exaggerated to imply that he was regularly out for a ducknote ), while Lineker would be teased for his "good guy" image and his prolific goalscoring frequently being the result of being just in front of goal after a midfielder had done all the hard work getting the ball into the box.
(after seeing footage of Michael Owen scoring a goal against Newcastle United and then rubbing his hands in celebrationnote )
David Gower: Just thinking, Gary, is it true that in scoring that one goal, he actually covered more distance than you did in an entire career?
Rory McGrath: David, what's the distance from the wicket to the pavilion?
- The regular comedians were not immune either. Rory McGrath's beard and weight were the subject of many jokes, as were Lee Hurst's baldness and Jonathan Ross' colourful suits.
- In one instance, the Scottish FA refused to give the BBC footage of Forfar Athletic in action before a question about the club to avoid inviting mockery. The producers responded with a compilation of embarrassing gaffes committed by the Scottish national side, with Hancock saying they didn't need to mock Scottish football: they could just let it speak for itself.
- The football fandom allegiances of the regulars (or, in Gary Lineker's case, the clubs for which he played) were also often mocked, particularly Nick Hancock's support of Stoke City (when he ribbed Gary for never having scored at Stoke's home ground, Gary sniped back that he had never played in the lower leagues), Rory McGrath's support of Arsenal, and Gary's career at Spurs (when he bristled at the use of footage of Marcel Desailly scoring for Chelsea against Spurs, Rory quipped that goals against Spurs were easier to find).
- Token Minority: Parodied in the 1999 Christmas special, in which David and Jonathan's teammate was Nick Hancock's former Cambridge Footlights castmate David Baddiel, who is Jewish and Lampshaded the bizarre logic behind inviting him onto a Christmas Episode. In "Sing When You're Winning", after seeing a group of Nottingham Forest fans sing, "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed / The little lord Jesus looked up and He said...", Baddiel suggested the next line was "I'm not the Messiah, you know!"note