Game Show Memories – Swapheads.

Swapheads (Channel 5, 2002)

This is yet another game show I remember that was shown on Channel 5. Its idea has turned up in a few shows, but this one took it to its most extreme. Swapheads was hosted by the disembodied head of Johnny Ball, someone who was a popular figure on TV for many years and hosted various shows that aimed to make learning fun, but it was a shame that only his head appeared, maybe the budget wasn’t big enough to hire all of him.

Swapheads took place in a house (a very big house in the country) and two contestants were challenged to answer questions about a subject their opponent is an expert on. What made the show stand out was that the two subjects were usually at just about the most opposite ends of knowledge as possible, so shows included Madonna v the toilet, Britney Spears v The Third Reich, and Marilyn Manson v The Krays. vlcsnap-00665

The contestants would be assisted by two people who were experts on the subject, and they would give them a crash course about everything that they would need to know, and they also had access to various books and the internet for further research. This meant that in just one day they had to become an instant expert on a subject that they previously had no knowledge about. vlcsnap-00676

So for example you would get an old man who would be taught the names of things like Marilyn Manson’s albums by rock music magazine writers, while a young woman was told the story of The Krays which all happened very close to where I live in London (The Blind Beggar and all that) by people who have written books on the subject. The contestants only had eight hours before the big test so they’d better get learning quickly. vlcsnap-00672

Then came the big moment (cue tense music). The contestants are asked questions by Johnny that are worth different amounts of points based on how difficult the experts have rated them, and they also have to recite a list of ten things for one point each. They receive no further help from the experts at this point, all they can do now is simply watch on and hope that they have taught well. The contestant with the highest score wins the star prize of £1,000. vlcsnap-00674

I still have a newspaper review of Swapheads from the time, and overall it’s very positive, being described as “a highly watchable game that’s simultaneously ridiculous and educational”, and “inventive and original”. Swapheads had a short run in prime-time on Channel 5 before disappearing from the schedules never to be seen again, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. I know I am repeating myself but it’s a shame that Channel 5 aren’t attempting to give more quirky shows like this a go nowadays. swapheads0001

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