This is someone who has hosted a huge amount of game shows in his long career, and while he has always been enjoyable to watch, I am surprised by how many I didn’t really like or don’t remember at all, but the triumphs far outweigh the failures. Chris Tarrant started out as a local news reporter in the mid-70s, and he soon became known to a national audience as one of the hosts of successful Saturday Morning show Tiswas.
By the early-80s, he had left that show and gone on to OTT, an attempt at making a late-night version for older viewers, although despite his lively style, it was soon realised that this wasn’t really a great idea. By the late-80s, he had got into radio, becoming the host of Capital’s breakfast show for 17 years. He hosted plenty of TV shows including Tarrant On TV, and he also went on the game show circuit, as a host and panellist.
In the early-90s, he hosted various game shows including Cluedo, PSI (later renamed Crazy Comparisons), and The Main Event. A good one for me was Everybody’s Equal, where studio audience members had to use their keypads to answer multiple-choice questions against the clock to win money. Sound familiar? This was later recycled for Channel 5 as Whittle, and also forms the basic idea of one his later game shows…
Another good one was Lose A Million, where contestants were given a million pounds worth of prizes, and had to lose them as quickly as possible by answering silly questions. Well at least it wasn’t Man O Man. Going into the mid-90s, he hosted a revival of Pop Quiz, just when we wanted it! But it was in the late-90s when he really caused a sensation. After restrictions on how much prize money could be given away on British game shows was lifted, someone clearly thought that it was worth going to the extreme, and created a show where the top prize was a million pounds, which was totally unthinkable even five years earlier.
I think that he was the perfect choice to host this show, and here’s why. On his Capital show, there was the feature The Birthday Bonanza, which gave away cash prizes that still weren’t possible on TV at the time, so this attracted a lot of interest, as up to £50,000 could be won. There was a TV advert shown rather frequently promoting this, where he deliberately teased the contestant and paused before revealing that they’d won (interestingly, he also used the phrase “your final answer”).
When Who Wants To Be A Millionaire launched, he used this hosting style for the show, which really worked, and helped to finally bring the game show into a new era (and I’m surprised at how few people seem to have realised that this is practically a big money version of Everybody’s Equal). He was a great host, being serious when needed, and when he said that he wanted the contestants to win lots, you could tell that he really meant it.
Unsurprisingly, this soon did very well in the ratings, and he insisted that the format was good enough to run for years, although the production schedule was tough, and as he was continuing to work on his radio show, he was briefly committed to having no sleep at all. It took a while, but the show did eventually get its first millionaire winner. After this, despite more wins, the ratings then began to descend, although I can’t imagine that people thought “well there’s been a winner, so it’s boring now”, as if winning seven figure sums had suddenly become old fashioned.
Going into the 2000s, he also hosted The Colour Of Money, The Door, The Great Pretender, and It’s Not What You Know. About a decade on from the launch, there was some tinkering with the format of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, including endless celebrity specials, and he did begin to look like he wasn’t enjoying hosting as much as he used to. When he finally departed after almost 15 years, few seemed to notice, which was a real shame. After this, he just about retired from TV hosting, and it’s his 75th birthday soon, he is a great star.