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Series / Room 101

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Even celebrities have pet peeves.
Room 101 is a BBC comedy show that has been running on-and-off since 1994 (although it began on BBC Radio 5 in 1992), named for the Room 101 from the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which itself was named after a conference room at Broadcasting House, the BBC's headquarters.

It was first hosted by Nick Hancock (1994-97) and succeeded by Paul Merton (1999-2007). During this period, it was a chat show where that week's featured guest nominated some of their pet hates (people, objects, experiences, whatever) and argued why they should be consigned to Room 101; the host then had to decide in each case whether or not they had made a persuasive argument. If so, the item got condemned and placed into Room 101; if not, the guest had to take it home with them.

In 2012, a revamped edition hosted by Frank Skinner began, with the programme now taking the format of a Panel Game, with three different celebrity guests arguing across a series of categories to try and get their chosen items into Room 101; only one guest's item in each category is consigned, with Frank being the adjudicator at the end of each round. Series 5 of this revamped edition ditched the categories and placed no restrictions on what could be entered into the vault. As with many British panel shows, it's largely used as an excuse to rant about whatever the guest brought in.

The show is normally 30 minutes long, with an "Extra Storage" episode running for 45 minutes that has more jokes and an extra round, which airs the following day (and fixes the weird Plot Hole of a celebrity winning after only two rounds). Like with Top Gear and QI, the show is often repeated on Dave. In 2018, Skinner revealed that the show has been cancelled.

In 2023, the show returned to its original format and medium with Merton hosting a new season on Radio 4.

As mentioned above, don't confuse the show for the trope Room 101, despite the show using it as the roots of inspiration. Also, don't confuse it for the Subject 101 trope (which is about introductory study courses that anyone can do), the TV series Room 104 (an unrelated mixed-genre anthology series set in a hotel room), or the unrelated videogame Pirate101 (which is an MMORPG about pirates), though in theory, all of these could be put into Room 101 if a celebrity hated them so much.

This show contains examples of:

  • 24-Hour News Networks: Put in by Anne Robinson.
  • Accentuate the Negative: The whole point of the show, really. Much of the comedy is found out of people attempting to put in rather tiny things that annoy them on a day-to-day basis, such as rooks, dioramas, or annoying bar stools.
  • Appeal to Flattery: One of Stephen Fry's choices for Room 101 was collector's plates - decorative crockery with terrible artwork sold at absurd prices (often advertised in the Daily Mail) to people who quite wrongly think they will appreciate in value. Merton then presented him with a plate depicting Fry himself, which he loved, and offered him a Sadistic Choice: he can put all the ghastly plates into Room 101, but if he does then the one of him goes in with them. Fry gave in and kept the plate.
    • At the end of the episode Fry pulled the same thing on Merton: he wanted to put Room 101 into Room 101, and Merton said he wasn't sure he could do it as the programme would then disappear into itself. Fry replied, "But if you don't, I've got to take it with me." Merton: "So it's either give it to you or commit professional suicide. (Pause.) It's going in."
  • Bait-and-Switch: Part of Mark Steel's case for putting Ben Elton in Room 101:
    When he went off and did that thing with Andrew Lloyd Webber, at that point I did think, "Oh, come on, I never was a big fan, but at least at some point you did have a little, tiny sliver of principles and talent. Whatever made you give all that up and go and work with Ben Elton, I just can't imagine."
  • Berserk Button: Often one particular little thing is what causes the guest's annoyance with their nomination. For example Stephen Fry's dislike of 'New Agers' was mostly to do with the misuse of the word "energy".
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor:
    • Various jokes about Dave, the "repeat channel" that often airs Room 101. It's even made fun of in the first episode of the reboot as a reason why Panel Shows should be put into Room 101.
    • Danny Baker attempts to put in Panel Shows, and admits that his own radio show qualifies as one too.
  • Boob-Based Gag: Catherine Tate has a bit that has Frank mention the pen boob challenge, and Serial Escalation shows a lady with massive melons holding a broom underneath her breasts, which absolutely shocked her. For some context, Catherine wanted to put in minimiser bras.
  • Book Ends:
    • Ian Hislop, the only person to appear as a guest more than once in the chat-show version, was one of the first guests and then the very last.
    • Paul Merton's first episode as host ended with a mocking version of the song "My Way". So did his last episode.
  • Catchphrase:
    • In Paul Merton's run he would introduce each episode with "Imagine you could get rid of some of your worst nightmares—what would they be? My guest tonight is here to convince me to banish some of the items on his/her list to Room 101".
    • In Frank Skinners' Run, he would introduce it in a similar manner: "Welcome to Room 101, the show where three guests will be vying for the pet peeves to be put into Room 101, each guest will pick an item in each category, and make a case for why it should be placed in Room 101. The final decision is mine."
  • Colbert Bump / It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: In-Universe, Johnny Vegas reluctantly tells Paul the name of the chatroom he's addicted to: "Beauty's Castle... everyone will start visiting it now it'll be ruined!"
  • Continuity Porn: The title sequence to the Frank Skinner show has items in there that seemingly have been chosen at complete random. Older viewers will notice a fair few items in that sequence have either been candidates for getting into Room 101, or have actually been put into Room 101.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Meera Syal put in cockroaches.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The whole point of the show is people trying to get minor pet peeves locked away in the universe's equivalent of Hell. Always Played for Laughs.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The room once 'vomited' out Piers Morgan, on the grounds he was 'too toxic'.
  • Everybody Hates Math: Richard E. Grant put in maths teachers. Kathy Burke put in mathematics itself.
  • Fictional Constellations: Played for laughs in one episode: When Esther Rantzen expresses a dislike for astrology, Paul Merton shows the audience the stars that make up Capricorn, then says "No way are those stars showing a goat to me, if you can do that, you can take another part of the sky and do this to it", then shows another group of stars linked together to form a TV set, a chair and a lamp.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The dioramas used on the Frank Skinner run often acted as this and a Visual Gag, and it often takes a while for the contestants and audience to work out what it is the person wants to put into Room 101. For example, Sarah Millican's wildcard choice was represented by a stuffed cat with headphones on listening to an mp3 player. She had to clarify a few seconds later, as she was putting in "Cats who ignore her" into Room 101, as it wasn't entirely obvious.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Happens on occasion, but in the first episode of Frank Skinner's run, Fern Britton had nominated Science Fiction to be put into Room 101, on the initial grounds that it isn't real, to which Frank points out: "that's why it has fiction in the name!". Her rebuttal to this also points out that none of the science fiction is set in the past, to which Robert Webb says the first sentence of the famous Star Wars text crawl in response. Fern also apparently finds Doctor Who dreary, and Star Wars too boring to watch any more than the first 12 minutes.
  • Insult Backfire: According to Phil Collins in his interview, he was attempting to mimic American televangelist Ernest Angley in the music video for "Jesus He Knows Me" by Genesis, a satire and criticism of televangelism and prosperity theology. Phil stated that Angley watched the video and was "flattered" by Collins' portrayal, not realizing the portrayal was supposed to be an insult.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: One of Bill Bailey's reasons for hating the 1980s.
  • Lighter and Softer: Paul Merton was far less strict about letting things into Room 101 than Nick Hancock, and the show was more of an excuse for amusing anecdotes.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The show's name is a reference to the room where Winston is tortured in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four. This was referenced when Caroline Quentin nominated rodents. Nick Hancock noted that the clip used to illustrate was actually from Room 101.
  • Logic Bomb:
    • Stephen Fry's last choice to go into Room 101 was Room 101 itself. Paul Merton eventually agreed that it should go in, and pulled the lever — causing an Idiosyncratic Wipe to black, and the immediate end of the episode.
    • Danny Baker attempts to put in panel shows, to who he points out that they'd leave him out of a job as Room 101 itself is a comedy panel show.
    • Ricky Wilson tries putting in new towels, and Joe Lycett points out that if they went into Room 101, then all towels ever made would be put in the room as well, as at some point they would've been considered "new". Frank suggests an out condition here, in that only new, never used towels would be put in; old ones would remain useable, and people would have to conserve the old towels. Frank later agrees that new towels feel awful, and puts them into Room 101.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle:
    • The frequency of these were one of Neil Morrissey's reasons for hating 3-2-1. Nick demonstrates with a clip in which the contestants are given a large wishbone and the riddle "Take something that doesn't change, add a pub and a precious gem". The prize that this was hinting at turns out to be a trip to Istanbul. note 
    Nick: At no point in that did they go, "Ohhhh".
    • Parodied when Nick then challenges Morrissey to figure out a moon logic puzzle of his own in order to get the show in: "A locked-away room with bad things aplenty; is this where you want Dustynote  to be sent-y?" The answer is "footstool".
  • NO INDOOR VOICE: Excessively loud people have been nominated by several guests.
  • Old Shame: In-Universe. Frequently guests will be reminded of their own past faux-pas, such as Ricky Gervais' time as the singer in a 1980s new romantic band (he looked genuinely embarrassed). Guests will often nominate things they're ashamed to have been in.
  • Place Worse Than Death:
    • Meera Syal put in Austria.
    • Mel and Sue put in Leighton Buzzard.
    • Neil Morrissey nominated Germany.
    • Spike Milligan put in his own house and Portsmouth.
    • Peter Cook nominated the British countryside.
    • Desmond Lynam put in France.
    • Sheila Hancock put in Chiswick post office.
    • Bruce Forsyth nominated Yugoslavia.
    • Phillip Schofield put in Southend.
    • Alan Davies put in Liverpool.
    • Jo Brand put in Bonn.
  • Plot Hole: The retool series has an interesting variant. As mentioned above, the show has two versions: the normal show; Room 101, that runs for 27 minutes, and an "Extra Storage" version, which runs for 42 minutes. The "Extra Storage" edition adds more jokes, banter, and more crucially, adds an extra round, which fixes the weird Plot Hole of a celebrity winning after only two rounds in the normal version.
  • Retool: The Hancock/Merton-fronted original run was on BBC2 and took the form of a light-hearted chat show. The Frank Skinner series has moved to BBC1 and has turned it into a more straightforward Panel Game.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Nigel Havers nominates Jeremy Corbyn to be in the room, and Frank shows a clip from a campaign Jeremy was on, and they end up doing this. Not only was the clip set up to embarrass Corbyn, it actually makes him more endearing according to Nigel and Frank.
  • Right Behind Me: After Kirsty Young had used BRIAN BLESSED as an example of people who are too loud, Paul introduced him from backstage. He also pretended to do this to Dara Briain with Gillian McKeith, eliciting an amazing Oh, Crap! face.
    [after saying goodbye to Brian Blessed]
    Paul: You did say he was a nice man before he came on.
    Kirsty Young: I did — thank God I said that.
  • Running Gag: For the final Merton-hosted episode (which proved to be the final episode of the run until the Retooled series), the guest was Ian Hislop, Merton's opposing team captain on Have I Got News for You and the only guest to appear twice in the original run. He deliberately chose items he knew Merton liked, such as The Beatles and Charlie Chaplin, all of which were refused note , culminating in the final choice being Merton himself.
  • Sadist Teacher: Richard E. Grant put in maths teachers, while Mark Steel put in teachers who destroy the confidence of their pupils
  • Sci Fi Ghetto: In-universe, a number of guests during Paul Merton's run as host put in sci-fi and fantasy products for no apparent reason apart from this trope. One dropped the pretence and nominated the entire sci-fi genre.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Pretty much any episode has Frank taking a jab at himself.
    • Jonathan Ross nominated his own dress sense.
    • Stephen Fry put in Room 101 itself, not as a bad show in itself but as a symbol of negativity in the media.
    • Ian Hislop put in the host, Paul Merton.
    • Sheila Hancock nominated herself. She noted that she doesn't hate herself — she's just bored of herself.
    • Rhod Gilbert also nominated himself on account of his own laziness.
    • Jon Richardson nominated his own brain, because it made him hate everything.
    • John Peel nominated men with beards, despite himself having a beard.
    • Catherine Tate constantly made fun of her own boobs and stature when putting in minimiser bras.
  • Serious Business: Nick Hancock (a former teacher) claimed all teachers regard biscuits as this.
  • Sickeningly Sweet: In-Universe. One of Nick Hancock's items was '(annoyingly) happy people', and he gave the example of a bus driver he'd known:
    "Look, there! A tree! Growing! Well done!" (thumbs up) "There's a bloke, getting his shopping—good for him!"
  • Snipe Hunt: When Rich Hall learned that NASA had calculated the weight of the Earth, his first thought was that it was a joke project assigned to a particularly incompetent scientist to keep him out of everyone else's way.
  • Special Effect Failure: Invoked and discussed in Michael Grade's episode, where he cites this trope as a major factor in his push to get Doctor Who cancelled in The '80s (an effort that eventually succeeded in December 1989, a few years after he left the position of BBC1 controller). Paul Merton accentuates the point by cuing up footage from "Warriors of the Deep", to which he, Grade and the studio audience respond by both laughing and cringing at the choreography and effects.
  • Spiders Are Scary: Phil Jupitus went so far as to put in people who aren't scared of spiders.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Room 101 is a no-smoking area, as Nick tells Richard Wilson in order to explain why he won't put in smoking.
  • Swapped Roles: In the first episode hosted by Paul Merton, Nick Hancock was the guest.
    Paul: Are you familiar with how Room 101 works?
  • Take That!: The point of some of the nominations.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Kirsty Young was disappointed meeting Jon Bon Jovi: "He actually made me gag..." (pause) Paul: "So you did get on rather well then?"
  • Too Kinky to Torture:
    • Danny Baker nominated an unnamed man who claimed to be a Robert Redford lookalike despite not looking anything like Redford. Nick Hancock rejected the nomination, claiming that he was so delusional that he would think Room 101 was a lovely place.
    • Nick also rejected Jeremy Clarkson's nomination of vegetarians, on the grounds that since Room 101 is a very austere place, they would like being there.
    • Paul Merton rejected Sean Lock's nomination of Jeremy Clarkson, arguing that Clarkson thrives on being hated and therefore it would be worse for him if he wasn't put into Room 101.
  • Unishment: Mark Steel discusses the fact he was expelled from school for truancy:
    Mark: Brilliant! I'm being punished for doing a thing, by having to do more of the thing I'm being punished for!
  • What Were They Selling Again?: Alan Sugar put in adverts that do not mention what is being sold.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Caroline Quentin put in rodents, noting that she especially hated rats.


Video Example(s):


The effects of Doctor Who

Former BBC controller Michael Grade discusses his motive for trying to cancel Doctor Who in 1985 (prior to its actual cancellation four years later by successor Jonathan Powell), singling out its effects as underwhelming and laughable compared to bigger-budget sci-fi films of the era. Grade and presenter Paul Merton then play a clip from the 1984 Doctor Who serial "Warriors of the Deep" to prove the point, with them and the studio audience both cringing and laughing at the choreography of a fight scene and the execution of the special effects.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / SpecialEffectFailure

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