Saturday Night: It's ego feeding time at Jonathan's zoo

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'WELL, John wrote off for the tickets and we've come from Sutton to watch the show,' said a middle-aged woman with a tight perm, sipping a shandy and clutching a box of Quality Street to her chest. She was far too excited to stand around chatting and, ushering her friends, she moved off into the melee.

The hospitality bar at the London Weekend Television studios was packed, remarkably inhospitable, and had all the glamour of an airport lounge. An unforgiving neon glare highlighted one's acne and the swirls of cigarette smoke. There was a queue for drinks at the bar and a shortage of stools in the salon.

The audience for Jonathan Ross's The Saturday Zoo (Channel 4) divided visibly into two groups: the day-trippers, who had received their tickets in the post, and the media liggers, who had blagged theirs through


The liggers, dressed in leather and Lycra, circled like birds of prey, picking each other off with a spin of the platforms, a Parisian peck and a 'Darling]' Their red 'Zoo' backstage stickers tacked ostentatiously to their chests, they were smugly confident of an audience with the presenter after the show. The day-trippers hung around in tight packs until the start of the show was announced over the Tannoy.

Neatly filed in rows inside the studio, while being gently toasted under the lights, the audience was treated to the raucous riffs of the, as yet, unnamed band. 'This isn't what you want to hear,' said a girl in front with short cropped hair. 'Especially after a couple of lagers. It's going right through my head.'

As the band retired to be repowdered pending the real performance, the man with one of the most unenviable jobs in television ran on stage. The warm-up man. No one wants to listen because they would far rather get on with the show.

This lot were more interested in the comings and goings of the boys in black, who ran around with cameras and other exciting technical stuff, shifting designer chairs and pouring out the glasses of complimentary water. Their eyes combed the periphery of the set for sightings of Jonathan Ross, having his nose blotted or his hair flicked; they watched him pace nervously in the wings.

However, the warm-up man would not let them do that for long. He invented games that demanded participation. There were shouting and cheering competitions between different halves of the room, and a Mexican wave that rippled from left to right and back again. The media liggers found such jolly communal activity hard to handle and would only raise a token arm or a rolled-up newspaper as the wave flowed past. The woman with her Quality Street found it equally difficult, but she kept with it, as wrappers and fudge diamonds fell all over the floor.

The right side of the room was louder than the left, but after a fire drill run-through, the whole audience screamed the countdown into the show. Ross, looking slick in a pale lilac jacket, wound up the crowd and shouted, 'Don't shout 'Wanker' anyone when I come on,' as he ran behind the screen for his entrance.

They would not have dreamt of doing such a thing. For when the red lights on top of the cameras came on, they did exactly as they were told. Shouting and clapping enthusiastically in the right places, the audience seemed to feel a part of the show and almost responsible for its success.

There was a little chatting among themselves when a couple of the comedy acts went on too long, but other than that they were gripped.

They winced as Penn and Teller, the bizarre American magicians, taught Ross 'Rodent Roulette', which involved a spinning table, mousetraps and fingers - 'the failsafe way of relieving boredom and preventing a future death in a Jacuzzi with a 14 year old'.

They wolf-whistled the sashaying of the supermodel Naomi Campbell but did not listen to a word she said. They applauded Del Amitri and half-heartedly did a few more Mexican waves during the commercial breaks, while still keeping an eye on the backstage proceedings. They laughed as Penn and Teller returned with a trick using a fork and a carton of UHT milk as a stand-in for a skewered eyeball.

But they loved the man they had really come to see, and anything he did brought rapturous applause. And as the lights faded to pink and the cameras stopped, he settled down at the edge of the stage to listen to the last bars of Del Amitri and the audience remained quiet and observed him.

On came the lights and they filed out. The liggers, ensuring their backstage passes were on display, made their way upstairs towards the bar, while the day- trippers snaked outside to street level. 'Did you set the video?' asked a woman, elbowing her husband while putting on her anorak. 'I can't wait to go home and tell everyone that we were on The Saturday Zoo.'