Pets Win Prizes (BBC1, 1994-1996)
Having enjoyed the TV work of Danny Baker over the years, when I saw that he was going to host a new Saturday night game show, I was very pleased, and it was one of the oddest that I can remember seeing in the 90s. Pets Win Prizes turned out to be something of an unusual show where the skills of a wide variety of animals would be tested in return for the possibility of some big prizes. Animal expert Terry Nutkins of The Really Wild Show fame was also on hand to make sure that no contestants or hamsters were harmed in the making of the show.
Contestants would come on with their pets, and they would play various daft games, so we would see dogs playing snooker, the excitement of “That’s My Stick Insect!”, or on one memorable occasion, shirehorses pulling pints of beer, and Baker seemed to be so overcome that his vision of what prime-time TV should be was released that his commentary on the game was simply saying “it’s shirehorses pulling pints of beer!” over and over again in a disbelieving voice.
At the end of the games, the owner of the winning pet had a random choice of two envelopes, one containing a prize for them, and the other containing a prize for their pet. The five winners all then went through to the final, where they were asked animal-related questions on the buzzer. For every correct answer, they took one step forward on the track, and whoever crossed the line first or had progressed the most when time was up could then play for the star prize.
In this, there was a podium which had six different prizes on it. Then, a cat called The Professor would be dropped into it, and 30 seconds on the clock would start. Whatever prize The Professor’s front paws were on when the clock stopped was what the finalist won, and this could be things such as a cash prize or a holiday. They could also encourage the cat to sit on the prize that they wanted the most, but this of course almost always didn’t happen, and this turned out to actually be something of a tense endgame.
Another memory that I have of Pets Win Prizes was that the first edition was shown on my 11th birthday, my first one after we had moved house, and I remember just as everything was being organised and I was about to be given my cake to blow the candles out on, this show was on in the background, and suddenly everyone was turning to look at it as it was so unusual. A lot of critics didn’t like the show, and made “well at least Saturday night TV can’t get any worse than this”-type comments, but this was top-class entertainment as I as I was concerned.
However, as always seems to happen with shows where Baker is involved, what happened in the first series was considered to be probably a little too odd for a prime-time audience, so when Pets Win Prizes returned for a second series, although there wasn’t much change to the format, it was announced that Dale Winton would be the new host, and he hosted the show in a much more straightforward and serious style, and I began to lose interest by that point, but the first series really was something.