The $64,000 Question (ITV, 1990-1993)
Because I have enjoyed a lot of game shows hosted by the great Bob Monkhouse, over the next few days I’ll review a trio of shows that he hosted on ITV in the early/mid-90s. The first one is The $64,000 Question, which is based on an American format that was very popular in the 1950s. Of course, $64,000 wasn’t the maximum prize on offer in the British version, but the title of the show wasn’t changed because Bob insisted “you don’t fool around with successful catchphrases”.
Indeed, the top prize on offer was £6,400 which was the biggest cash prize on British TV at the time. When the show began in 1990, this was actually higher than the amount of cash that could be given away in every edition of a British game show, and they had to ask the regulator to make an exception for them which they did, but even then they could only give the star prize away in every other edition.
The set of the show was very impressive and futuristic for the time, and every edition began with Bob telling some more of his great jokes before the serious work began. The idea of the show was that contestants would answer increasingly difficult questions on a specific subject that they were knowledgeable about, doubling their money with every correct answer. Contestants would also appear over a few editions as they tried to succeed.
When the contestant began to play the show used some new technology with the questions appearing on a screen on the floor that Bob would read by refracting the image on a piece of glass in front of him. I never realised this when I was younger and I was always confused as to why Bob always started every round by seemingly trying to rev a motorbike. The first question was for £1, yes really.
In the first stage of the game contestants answered questions which doubled their money every time. Then the questions would become more difficult as they started on the next stage of the money ladder which began at £100. Questions would become longer, and if they did get one wrong at this stage they took away a consolation prize of a money clip. The £1,600 question was in four parts, which each correct answer revealing part of an image on the screen. If the contestant got the question about the image right they could now play for the big money.
From the question worth £3,200 things would begin to get exciting. For this question the contestant entered an isolation booth, and as they entered there would be this rather fancy sequence as dry ice shooted everywhere and the tense music played. Contestants had to answer a five-part question at this stage. Succeed here and they were guaranteed a chance of playing for the star prize.
In the final, the contestant entered the booth one final time. This time the question was in six parts, but contestants did have the chance to come back to parts if they weren’t sure, and there was a seventh part in reserve if they got one wrong, and if they failed they dropped back to £1,600. If they did manage to complete the challenge though everyone would get very excited and then Bob would congratulate them and present them with a briefcase full of money that in one famous out-take he couldn’t open.
Looking back The $64,000 Question now comes across as a sort-of more highbrow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with people having to answer increasingly complicated questions for doubling amounts of money. Bob was always on good form and was clearly impressed by the knowledge of some of the contestants under pressure. The show was produced by Central and ran for four series on Friday evenings and was even popular enough for a board game to produced, plus a phone-in competition that people could play at home.