What Can We Learn from Preston Walking off 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' Ten Years Ago?

The time has come to take a deep dive into one of British television's most iconic moments.

|
Feb 16 2017, 1:15pm

Ten years ago this week, something historic happened on British television. Preston from The Ordinary Boys went on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He went on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and then he walked off Never Mind the Buzzcocks after Simon Amstell rinsed him one too many times, leaving a gap on Phil Jupitus' team that would be filled by a well driller called Ed from the audience with a vaguely similar bone structure. An entire decade has passed since these events took place, and not a day has gone by where I haven't thought about it. 

There is something extremely compelling about a celebrity flailing – like a normal person who price-compares toilet cleaner – before your very eyes, their emotions overriding their intensive media training in a cavalcade of embarrassment. Jupitus, Bill Bailey and guests Anne Charleston, Ed Byrne and Fyfe Dangerfield from the Guillemots watch in a sort of awkward horror while Preston navigates the banter as gracefully as a handkerchief in a wind tunnel, and you have to wonder: why?

Why did Preston do this to himself? Why did he, a clear non-appreciator of banter, go on a pop quiz based exclusively on bantering the shit out of every single person in, around and otherwise pertaining to the studio? Why did he tell NME immediately afterwards that Amstell was a "snotty little posh boy" who didn't write his own jokes, only to backtrack two years later in an interview with the BBC calling him "funny, charming and likeable" and saying "I'm struggling to think why I would have acted so weird [...] I would love to go on there and show them that I'm not a tantrum-y person"? I'm afraid time has come, friends, for a deep dive. Why did Preston act so weird? And what – if anything – can we learn from his actions?

I suppose the key thing to understand before we get into the meat of it all is the kind of person Preston is. Preston – whose real name is Samuel Dylan Murray Preston, except he chooses to go mononymously like the pop icon, classical composer or ancient philosopher he is not – is the kind of person who agrees to be on a comedy pop quiz hosted by a man famous for allegedly making Britney Spears cry, expecting to be addressed respectfully. Preston is a man who cribbed his band name from a Morrissey song, lyrically references The Smiths in The Ordinary Boys' most (only?) famous banger (still bangs tbh) and is at least partially responsible for letting Olly Murs happen. Preston is a man who wears cardigans made of sequins. Preston is a man with such a low tolerance for piss ripping that upon being read excerpts from his then-wife Chantelle Houghton's autobiography his eyes wither and disappear into his skull like two raisins in a food dehydrator.

Preston, circa 2007 at least, is what in today's terms we would call "a basic". Now, there are two primary forms "a basic" can take. The first is the combination hair, face and shower gel sort of basic who has "One Dance" as their Tinder anthem and shares memes from The Lad Bible on Facebook accompanied by the Face with Tears of Joy emoji. We'll call that the "cheeky basic". The second is the kind who keeps a copy of Infinite Jest on their bedside table "for reference" and can't recognise how funny it is that they have earnestly modelled their entire adult self on Morrissey. We'll call that the "humanities degree basic". Preston 2007, of course, is a "humanities degree basic" through and through, with his lack of humour about it explained at least in part by the fact he's half-American – but not enough to make it excusable.

In the greatest rendition of "What's That About My Missus" ever televised, Preston 2007 glowers his way through Simon Amstell's quips about his appearance on Big Brother and nobody liking The Ordinary Boys, even managing to doot-doot his way through BeeGees' "Night Fever" and Gorillaz' "Dirty Harry" to a reasonably decent standard. But things really go south when the aggressively annotated copy of Chantelle Houghton's Living The Dream comes out. Preston could have styled it out. He could have squeezed a withered "ha ha" past the unimpressed gridlock of his lips or at least worn a facial expression that conveyed something other than "I was told by Applecare…". 

Instead, he sat there looking like he was either about to vomit or punch someone, said "see ya later," and waltzed off. Now, I don't know if you've ever watched someone attempt to storm out of a room in a sequin cardigan and matching silver boots, but let me tell you Stuart Little has made more menacing exits. Then again, this is Preston. Preston whose charisma begins and ends with his unnervingly symmetrical features. Preston whose response to a game of "who can catch the most nuts in their mouth" inside the Big Brother house was: "you know, every time we do this there's loads of nuts on the floor".

I often wonder why these sorts of people end up on panel shows, but this is episode 3 in Buzzcocks' twentieth season so we're way past scraping the barrel at this point. Still, it must really sting to come across as so dry, so without humour, such a cavernous vacuum of banter, that you are upstaged by Fyfe Dangerfield and Madge Bishop off Neighbours. I think the essence of the problem Preston grappled with in 2007 is entirely represented by his shit cardigan. See how it is trying to pass as quite glitzy but you can still see the bits of thread poking out all over the place? That is Preston's career in this very moment. Preston 2007 is a post-Britpop normie packaged in reality TV glamour; a former Premier League footballer in new rave clothing. His sequin cardigan is him and he is it, and both are walking out the door to the tune of every "just leave it mate" that has ever been spoken urgently outside Wetherspoons.

Upon reflection, Preston told the BBC: "I wanted the floor to swallow up and eat me, so I did the next best thing and ran away, which is terrible, because I'm really not the sort of person to walk away from confrontation, I'm normally the sort of person to talk it out." Fair play. However, at the same time, can you imagine a rational discussion going down between Preston and Simon Amstell on an episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks? I cannot conceive of five drier minutes of television. Simon Amstell is, among many other things, a stand-up comedian. One does not "talk it out" with a stand-up comedian. Your job is to sit there and have a go back or simply accept that this is the degrading fate you have chosen for yourself. Like Ed here. See. Look at him. Graciously accepting the ebb and flow of time that has swept him up and plonked him on prime time TV in two t-shirts.

As far as awkward Buzzcocks moments go it's right up there with short-lived-band-member-turned-Big-Brother-contestant Donny Tourette, whose parade of dick jokes were far worse than silence, although he does take it in his stride, which is more than can be said for Preston. As for what we can all learn from this experience, collectively, as human beings, I don't know what to tell you lads. We all make mistakes. Perhaps, though, if you're not accustomed to getting parred, don't go on a national comedy pop quiz expecting to be given a break when you have previously appeared on breakfast telly playing a melodica while wearing a chunky turtleneck and holding a chihuahua?

Follow Emma on Twitter.