Talking Telephone Numbers (ITV, 1994-1997)
Talking Telephone Numbers was a somewhat odd mixture of a variety show and an interactive phone-in game show, and it was one of the earliest TV shows where the prizes were won not by contestants in the studio but by the viewers at home. The first three series were presented by Phillip Schofield and Emma Forbes who had already memorably worked together on Going Live! of course.
First of all, an act would appear on the show and do their routine, but a lot of them were somewhat from the old-school of entertainment, with various famous comedians, magicians and so on appearing, most of them seemingly not having been on the TV regularly for a while, although there were a few newcomers taking part too. They would then play a short game which would randomly generate a single-digit number.
After this was done five times, the idea was if that the five-digit number formed the final five digits of your telephone number in any order, then you could qualify to play the game as the phonelines opened. You had to dial the onscreen number and try to get through to one of the 96 telephonists on standby to have a chance of winning.
Because of this, Talking Telephone Numbers had to be a live show, although there was an amusing incident in one show where while Richard Digance (ask your dad) was doing his thing, he suddenly fast-forwarded, taking the show off-air for a few minutes, and when they came back and after Pip’s life had flashed before his eyes, he had to confess that only the final segment of the show was live.
While people were making their call, a pop act usually appeared to perform their latest single, and then it was the big moment. A phoneline would be picked at random and whoever was on the end of it made a loud shriek as they got the chance to win the money. They would be asked three questions which all had a numerical answer, and if they got them all right they instantly won £10,000. But if they got one wrong, another line was picked.
Then came the gamble. The winning caller could risk the £10,000 on what their telephonist was concealing, and this was any cash amount from £1,000 to £25,000, which I think was the largest possible amount that could be given away at the time. Usually by this point they had run out of time though, but almost nobody took the gamble anyway, and on at least one occasion someone did miss out on £25,000.
In later series, Talking Telephone Numbers teamed up with the Daily Mirror who gave away free gamecards so viewers at home could win more money than ever before. Also, for the final series Forbes left and was replaced by Claudia Winkleman. This was the first time that I can remember seeing her host a TV show and almost 20 years later she’s still a popular figure on the screen.
Talking Telephone Numbers was definitely something a little different for Monday evenings, and although it did well at the time with its big cash prizes on offer not too many people remember it now, and there is little about it online. It was produced by Celador, who also went on to make other game shows including the very similar Winning Lines and the megahit Who Wants To Be A Millionaire so they did eventually end up being big winners too.