A mixture of conventional sketches, brief non sequitur punchlines of the type later popularized 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, its mix between alternative comedy and social commentary 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.
The series inspired an American export, Not Necessarily the News, which ran on HBO from 1982 to 1990.
This TV show provides 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 PIFs it was based on, and indeed ones that came later on were even more extreme, almost indistinguishable from the parodies.
- Attack of the Political Ad:
- Parodied with a political ad sketch attributed to the Conservative Party. It 'proves' extravagant spending by the Labour Party through an interactive narrator who instructs a man to do silly things in his bathtub in a particularly convoluted analogy for the economy. It ends with the man having his arms cut off to "cut down on spending".
- Another one, this time for Labour, resembled a movie trailer for the trainwreck of a final term for Harry Wilson, with the slogan "Labour is... never bothering to say you're sorry".
- Rowan Atkinson sits in front of a brightly-painted background reading a fairy tale in which "the wicked witch died" and everyone lived happily ever after, the end. Cue the narrator: "This has been a party political broadcast on behalf of the Social Democratic Party."
- 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.
- Eagleland: Complete with Country & Western music in the parody song ''I Believe''
- Embarrassing Tattoo: A sketch had a skinhead tattooing the word 'HATE' on his forehead. He then turns around and we discover that, because he did it looking in the mirror, it is backwards.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Smith in the "Gramophone" sketch, although he hasn't time-travelled, he's just... out of his depth. With a Jerkass Deadpan Snarker. The result is a Humiliation Conga which climaxes with Smith having a bag put on his head and being squirted with slimline salad dressing.Smith: Excuse me...I wonder if you can help me. I want to buy a gramophone.Atkinson: A what?Smith: A gramophone.Atkinson: Gram-o-phone.Smith: A gramophone, yes.Atkinson: I don't think we got any "gramophones" here, granddad.Smith: [points to a turntable on the counter] What's that?Atkinson: That's a Trio automatic-cut direct-drive turntable, unless I'm very much mistaken.Smith: Well, what's the difference between that and a gramophone?Atkinson: [smirking] About thirty years and a plastic cover to you, chief.
- Groin Attack: Proposed as a solution for football hooliganism.Smith: Well, my team and I have really concerned ourselves fundamentally with a statistical analysis of soccer violence as a whole, in tandem with and related to a psycho-chemical and, broadly speaking, a behavioural analysis of over a thousand individual soccer hooligans. And we've come to the inevitable conclusion that the one course of action that the authorities must take, is to cut off their goolies.noteJones: ...I'm sorry?Smith: Cut their goolies off.Jones: Yes. Well, [nervous laugh] Sally, I'm sure you'll have something to say about that point of view.Stephenson: Look, Jonathan...[sighs] I know these kids. Um, I've worked in the areas we're talking about, around Lambeth, Lewisham, I know their problems, I know their frustrations, lack of community facilities, I know their parents...and in my opinion, Professor Duff's suggestion that we should cut off their goolies is the only solution.Smith: Absolutely. I mean, cut the goolies off. Cut them off.Stephenson: Slice 'em through.Jones: Well, there you have it, er...Smith: Let 'em have it!Stephenson: Whip off the goolies!Jones: Expert opinion certainly seems to be in favour of, er...Smith and Stephenson: Cutting off their goolies!
- 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.
- A similar sketch featured Rowan Atkinson opening a window and shouting "Why don't you grow up, you little bastards!" When questioned by his wife, he clarifies that he was talking to their plants.
- 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):
- 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.
- Ms Fan Service: Pamela Stephenson, often in her underwear and fully nude in one sketch.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Billy Connolly pub sketch.
- Constable Savage isn't the most decent of people either.
- Powersuit Monkey: Gerald the Gorilla
- The Secret of Long Pork Pies: In one sketch, a woman from a youth employment scheme goes to visit the owner of a successful pie factory, who employs a large number of young people from the scheme. He claims to use them for "filling in" ... a bit more literally than the woman thinks.
- Separated by a Common Language: "I believe that lever is pronounced levver / And the best film ever made is Saturday Night Fevver"
- 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.
- Special Guest: Comedian Billy Connolly was the most notorious of them, he later married Stephenson.
- Speak No Ill Of The Dead: Crossing with Hypocritical Humor, Smith and Atkinson are two politicians having a shouting match on a news programme.Smith: This just proves how blind and stupid Denis and his party are! You know, I wonder if you know anything about economics at all.Stevenson: Mr Robins, your view.Atkinson: Well, now that Michael has allowed me to get a word in —Smith: HA!Atkinson: I must say that I've never heard such rubbish! And to think that this man is in the government is quite frightening!Smith: [bellowing] I resent that snide remark, in fact it's exactly the kind of thing I've come to expect from your kind of politician!Atkinson: [stuttering with rage] My kind of politician! If only the public knew to what depths some people will stoop when they enter the house!Smith: This is the kind of politician, this is the kind of politician, who— [Atkinson yelps, clutches his chest and falls dead to the studio floor] ...will, will be...greatly missed. [solemnly, to the camera] A great...a great parliamentarian of our time, and a close personal friend. I am heartbroken.
- Stereotype Reaction Gag: Inverted by Gerald the Gorilla, who makes the stereotypical claims against himself first "I suppose you think I spend all my money on peanuts and carpet cleaner". The interviewer denies thinking this, only for Gerald to confirm "Well I do spend about 95% of it on that."
- Straw Character: Thatcher, Reagan, Prince Charles were the most notorious.
- Surreal Music Video: Parodied in "Nice Video, Shame About the Song".
- Take That!: Aimed at all sorts of media formats.
- Those Wacky Nazis:
- Transatlantic Equivalent: A sort of one for Saturday Night Live (Stephenson was featured in both shows), being similarly groundbreaking and controversial at the time. However, NTNON was more political in tone, aside from not having as many guests or regular sections SNL had.
- Not Necessarily The News is an American adaptation of the show running on HBO from 1983 to 1990.
- Un-person: Chris Langham, a founder member of the performing group and there to establish the show in its first series. Since airbrushed out of the record after a child pornography possession conviction.
- Zipperiffic: Poked fun at with a sketch set in a gents' lavatory with a punk desperately zipping and unzipping his many zips, frantically trying to gain access to relieve himself.