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-2 opposite their own BBC-1's 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.
Smith and Jones went on to continue their partnership with Alas Smith and Jones, Atkinson struck out on his own, notably with Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and Stephenson continued working on stage and screen throughout the 80s before switching careers to become a psychologist and university lecturer.
The series inspired an American export, Not Necessarily the News, which ran on HBO from 1982 to 1990.
This TV show provides examples of:
- Angry Mob Song: "All-Out Superpower Confrontation".
- Ambivalent Anglican: The various portrayals of the Church of England in the show, where the cleric is almost always played by Rowan Atkinson. Examples include:
- The Form of Solemnisation of Divorce, in which the Church of England officially blesses and solemnises the break-up of a marriage, even creating a formal ritual for this. The Reverend Atkinson presides.
- Are you A Gay Christian?. in which the Reverend Atkinson plays a seemingly liberal vicar, trying to talk about homosexuality and to welcome gay people into the Church;
- Songs of Praise, in which the Reverend Atkinson notes he only has a full church because the BBC are there to film the weekly religious service.
- The Devil: Is He all Bad?, in which Mel Smith plays a trendy vicar arguing that Satanism is compatible with Christianity.
- 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."
- Bigot with a Badge: A sketch called "Constable Savage" features a Chief Inspector giving a dressing-down to a police officer who has repeatedly arrested the same man on a variety of ludicrous charges, culminating in him being held for "possession of curly hair and thick lips". He tells Savage "There's no place on my force for officers who use their position to uphold their bigotry! I'm transferring you to the Special Patrol Group!"
- 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''
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season not only featured Chris Langham while Rhys-Jones was a minor player, but it also had more outside scenes and a more numerous cast than the later seasons (sometimes by the inclusion of material from the unaired pilot). There was also a higher amount of shock value, which later on was used sparingly.
- 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... Either that or he was looking for a comedy number. With a pair of Jerkass Deadpan Snarker hi-fi store clerks portrayed by Atkinson and Rhys-Jones. 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, grandad.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!
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Gerald the gorilla explains he and the professor live together, "but not in the Biblical sense". Doesn't stop their arguing getting a bit domestic later on...
- 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, who has attended evening classes, likes the music of Johnny Mathis and has a low opinion of the teaching skills of the professor who captured him.Professor: When I caught Gerald in '68, he was completely wild.Gerald: 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):
- 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. Fanservice: 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.
- Nepotism: The entire point of the "Football Team Manager" sketch, where the team in question is so absolutely hopelessnote because the manager has stacked the entire team with his own family, irrespective of their ability to play, right down to making his dog the goalkeeper. At the end, it turns out that the only reason hopeless manager is getting one more chance is because the board representative chewing him out is his uncle.Representative: I suppose that's why you hired our new Left Winger?
Manager: Sir, that Left Winger is there for reasons of skill, tenacity and experience!
Representative: And because she's your mother?
Manager: ...there is a family connection, sir.
Representative: She's your mother, Rawlinson! And she's eighty-one!
- 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"
- Sermonette: One sketch is a parody of poetry readings that were sometimes delivered in lieu of a sermon at the end of the broadcasting day, with a reading of the poem Abou Ben Adhem with multiple readers. It's all pretty standard except that Rowan Atkinson's lines are completely unintelligble.
- Shout-Out: Gerald's mother got on well with David Attenborough, apparently.
- 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.
- Snooty Sports: In one of the episodes a Gag Dub of a televised golf tournament's announcer makes it seem like what's being shown is really a dumb trousers contest.
- Special Guest: Comedian Billy Connolly was the most notorious of them; he later married Pamela 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.
- Stark Naked Sorcery: A sketch dealing with Satanism in suburban Britain has an interviewer speaks to two Satanists in their living room.Satanist: Well, every full moon we do go up to the Heath at midnight, and we do strip ourselves completely naked, and we do passionately ravage each other till dawn.Interviewer: And this helps summon up the forces of Evil, does it?Satanist: Who cares?
- 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 bananas, peanuts and carpet cleaner". The interviewer denies thinking this, only for Gerald to confirm that he does in fact spend "about 95% of it" on those things.
- 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.
- Unions Suck: A recurring joke. Sketches included a shop steward filing a complaint about a dead employee's "unfair dismissal", and a group at a TUC conference using their proxy votes to determine whether tea or coffee was going to be served during a break.
- 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.