Happy 30th Birthday To TV's Stupidest, Smartest Show

Tom Nicholson
·5-min read
Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

From Esquire

If you turn on ITV2 at any time of day on any day of the week, you’re never more than 45 minutes away from You’ve Been Framed. For the last three decades it’s been the great unsinkable of British TV, surviving wave after wave of changes of taste, of presenter, of format, of leaps in technology. In that time it’s been many things: primetime ratings winner, comfort blanket, cheap schedule-filling sawdust, time capsule, ghostly premonition of the future.

I’m not saying it isn’t also incredibly dumb. It is incredibly dumb. It bypasses the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain, the synapses which stop you laughing every single time you meet the word ‘knob’, and punches you straight in the gut. Nobody is immune to You’ve Been Framed. It’s been my constant companion since last March. Those little slivers of normal time have been very comforting.

But without wanting to get too Yentob about it, it’s way more interesting than a programme where people fall over continuously for half an hour has any right to be. Jeremy Beadle and Lisa Riley kept the flame – we’ll gloss over Jonathan Wilkes, who, the first line of his Wikipedia entry witheringly notes, “is famous due to being a close friend of Robbie Williams” – but it’s the Harry Hill era where it hit its peak. No audience, no studio, no chit-chat; just a firehose blast of sub-three-second clips of grandparents tumbling into paddling pools set to ‘Young at Heart’.

It’s pared back comedy to its absolute nuts and bolts: here’s a situation and a character; here’s the complication; here’s the resolution. A skateboarder tries to grind on a rail, overbalances, and whacks himself in the nuts. A bridesmaid makes a speech next to a candle, doesn’t notice her hair going on fire and is saved by the bride chucking wine on her head. A baby sleeps, but is woken by the rumbling sound of its own fart, and shock crosses its tiny face. They’re beautiful little vignettes.

The programme’s changed a lot since Beadle first chortled his way through a link, but You’ve Been Framed is built on a few core content pillars which still stand strong. My personal favourite is People Falling Down Very Very Slowly, which has taught me more about physics than school ever did. For anyone worried that Britain’s folk traditions are being eroded, the sheer number of clips from bank holiday booze-ups leading to Spinning Around A Broom Handle And Staggering Straight Into A Garden Pond must be encouraging.

Sporting Mishaps is a very broad column: within it you’ve got Trying And Failing To Start Water-Skiing, One-Handed Water-Skiing Failures, Child Pings Football Into Dad’s Groin, Genuinely Sickening Downhill Mountain Bike Catastrophes, Somersaults Which End In An Accidental Kick In The Face, and so on. There’s the Poorly Executed Dance Move, and its subgenres: Old People’s Trousers Falling Down; and Flimsy Tables And Chairs Collapsing Under Drunk Revellers. And, of course, Kids Eat The Darnedest Things.

There’s a whisper of melancholy there too though. Who knows how many more shattered collarbones and smashed ribs we've witnessed, how many most painful days of people's lives. Look at the most successful clip You’ve Been Framed ever showed. You’ve seen Woman Falls Down Hole. It’s a classic.

It was first shown on You’ve Been Framed in 1998 and it became one of the first YouTube clips to go viral back in the mid-Noughties: behind an empty bar someone opens a trapdoor, a distracted woman steps straight into it, and vanishes. But we later found out, the woman wasn’t looking where she was going because she was watching Princess Diana’s funeral on TV. Imagine that: you're getting choked up over Earl Spencer's eulogy, and then suddenly you're on your arse and covered in scampi fries. What a day.

Between the clips’ fuzzily Nineties aesthetics and the extremely 2005 slip-on Lonsdale trainers on display, You’ve Been Framed captures the recent past but I reckon it also pointed to the future. The format started in Japan, birthplace of the home camcorder, on Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen TV in the mid-Eighties. In chunking up slivers of real life to sit alongside each other these shows prefigured what gifs would do first and YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Vine would do later. Pratfalls, embarrassment and pain are cheaper to come by now everyone has a camera in their pocket. (In more ways than one: the £250 fee hasn’t changed since 1991.)

All that said, I’m not sure You’ve Been Framed needs reclaiming from the landfill or dressing up as something secretly subversive lurking in the Freeview badlands. It's a lot of people falling over, and however far we manage to advance as a species that's always going to be funny.

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