Big Break (BBC1, 1991-2002)
“It’s only a game”, said pop star Captain Sensible in the opening theme, but it was a very good one. Big Break was essentially the BBC’s equivalent of ITV’s very successful Bullseye, taking a popular game and combining it with a general knowledge element. Like Bullseye it was even hosted by a comedian called Jim, that’s Jim Davidson, who was assisted by John Virgo, a professional snooker player and the referee for the show.
Snooker was very popular around the time that Big Break launched. This was because a lot of the players were charismatic, lots of people liked to play the game, and coverage of tournaments could entertainingly fill endless hours of airtime and get big ratings. So unsurprisingly Big Break went on to be a big success for over a decade, and I always watched the show regularly.
Every week, three contestants took part and they would be paired with a professional player. The first round was Red Hot. The contestants had to answer quirky questions to win time for the player at the table, the maximum being 40 seconds. The rules for this game were the not very complicated “pot as many balls as you can”.
The players would then run around the table as they battled against the clock to pot the ten reds. Six-times world champion Steve Davis once scored only one and he was reminded about it on every subsequent occasion he was on the show. The lowest-scoring team were knocked out, but before they went they were given the chance of a consolation.
Virgo’s Trick Shot was where John would perform a trick and the contestants had to copy it to win a prize. At this point John would often need about nine attempts to get it right to much amusement as seen in outtake shows, and he usually also wear a horrid waistcoat whilst imitating other famous players. The two remaining teams went into round two.
In Pocket Money the teams had to work together again for 90 seconds. All the balls had a equivalent cash value, £10 for one of the six reds, £20 for a yellow and so on. If they pot it, they win the money. Look out too for those double pockets, meaning the most you could score in one pot is £140! If they missed though, a question was asked to the contestant on a category corresponding to the colour. Again, at the end of the round the lowest-scoring team were out.
The final was Make Or Break. Again there were 90 seconds on the clock and six reds on the table, along with the six colours. The contestant was asked five questions. For each one they got right, one red was removed from the table. The player then had to complete a clearance in the remaining time. The more balls they potted, the better the prize. And what prizes they were. If they completed the clearance, the Mystery Star Prize was won, which was usually a luxury holiday.
Big Break was popular, with just about every famous snooker player of the time appearing on the show, and lots of funny moments, before I realised that Jim might not have been so much like the “cheeky chappie” persona that he had on the show, and he also went on to host The Generation Game in the mid-90s, before both those shows finally ended in 2002. There was also a board game released and several spin-offs, even including a VHS of the most memorable moments.