Game Show Memories – Television Scrabble.

Television Scrabble (Channel 4, 1984-1985)

Following on from my reviews of Challenge’s attempt in the early-2000s, and of the American version that ran for most of the 80s, this is a third attempt at bringing the popular board game Scrabble to the screen. Now this is a game that is played to a level where there are international tournaments and championships, and lots of skilled people have competed in these.

But can the idea of this really be turned in a TV game show? The host for Television Scrabble was Alan Coren, and of course his children would later go on to host some game shows too. Two teams of two took part, usually consisting of one contestant, and one celebrity (like what it used to be on Cross Wits). But there would be no real board or tiles used here.

Instead, games would be played out on a computer-generated version of the familiar 15×15 board, which looked rather impressive for the time. Teams would be given their seven letters, and then they would have 30 seconds to determine what their word would be, and where it would go on the board. They had to do this by moving a cursor that was on the screen.

Their score would then be revealed, and then the opposing team had to the chance to challenge them on the word, or if they had calculated their score correctly. This would carry on with the teams taking it in turns, until time was up. The highest-scoring team would progress to the next stage, and various prizes were on offer including a version of the board game featuring gold-embossed letters.

Television Scrabble was a show that was in the early days of Channel 4, when they were trying out various things, but it would seem that even they couldn’t turn this idea into a spectator sport. It turned out that this just wasn’t hugely interesting to watch, however skilled the contestants might’ve been, and however much of his dry humour Coren tried to put into things.

They didn’t really realise it at the time, but the word game in an afternoon slot that would endure would turn out to be Countdown. They probably shouldn’t apply to be in the Olympics just yet. There were two series though, and this was co-produced by Celador, who would later become best-known for being behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, one of the biggest successes in TV history.


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