The YouTube Files – Six Pairs Of Pants.

Six Pairs Of Pants (ITV, 1995)

One of the aims of this blog is to track down and review TV shows however famous they are, anything that I think sounds interesting will be considered to feature. I remember reading some people talk about this comedy show online, and it made me want to see some for myself. Thankfully, I found a few editions on YouTube. This is a show that I don’t remember watching at the time… but I have a good excuse.

This is because Six Pairs Of Pants wasn’t shown in my ITV region. Having a look at some old TV magazines again recently, I noticed the show featured in the regional variations column, it seems that it was shown only in the Anglia and Meridian regions, rather late on Friday nights. Although it may be a little-seen and low-budget sketch show, it is actually rather significant as a lot of the cast went on to much bigger things and this was one of the earliest opportunities for these promising talents to appear on TV. vlcsnap-00155

The super sextet who starred in Six Pairs Of Pants were Simon Pegg (long before his other 90s comedy shows Spaced, Big Train, We Know Where You Live, and even Faith In The Future), Jessica Stevenson (Pegg’s Spaced co-star and co-writer), Katy Carmichael (another future Spaced cast member who also appeared in Coronation Street), Sally Phillips (Smack The Pony among many other things), Neil Mullarkey (who was in a comedy double-act with a pre-fame Mike Myers), and Simon Schatzberger (who was also in CITV’s Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It, and that Yellow Pages advert. No, not that one, the other one). vlcsnap-00094

A wide variety of things in modern life were targeted, and regular sketches included all six cast members appearing together sharing a flat, an Australian man living in England, two bickering teenage girls, and a rather scary film superhero called Mallet. The cast were also among the show’s many writers. Of course, as is always the case with these shows, the quality of the sketches varied somewhat, but it was good seeing a group of young comedy talent on the brink of a lot of success in more recent years showing off their potential. vlcsnap-00092

Only one series of Six Pairs Of Pants was made consisting of six editions, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, there has been no DVD release, and I’m fairly sure that it hasn’t been repeated on any TV channel since. But from what I’ve seen of it the cast definitely made the most of having their own comedy sketch show on ITV, and it isn’t very likely that the current generation of up-and-coming comic talent will get that chance now.

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More TV Memories – 5’s Company.

5’s Company (Channel 5, 1997-1998)

It’s time to look back at yet another show from the earliest days of Channel 5 that fits into the “it wasn’t that successful, but at least they tried” category. When Channel 5 launched in 1997, they had a stripped schedule (a bold move at the time), meaning that a show of the same genre would be in the same timeslot every weekday. These included soaps (Family Affairs), late-night comedy (The Jack Docherty Show), and game shows (Whittle). 

One of the shows that was at the core of the afternoon schedule that would turn up from Monday to Friday was 5’s Company, so called not only because it was on Channel 5, but also because it had five hosts, they could barely fit all of them on the stage. 5’s Company (a Thames production, or what passed for Thames by this point) was shown live on weekdays from 2pm-3:30pm. vlcsnap-01069

The five hosts for every show were chosen from a pool of about eight or nine who rotated, and some who went on to bigger things, including John Barrowman and Nick Knowles. Also among the hosts were Paul Roseby, Rhodri Williams, and Steve Allen, who was at the time (and indeed still is) a long-serving host on LBC radio (usually at around 4am), and this seemed to be an attempt to break into TV. vlcsnap-01063

5’s Company was a show that was a mix of celebrity guests, entertainment, and music, described as “a pleasure post-lunch potpourri”. It also featured a live studio audience, and plenty of famous guests. There would also be games played, comedy routines, musical performances from pop stars, and a phone-in competition for viewers at home. The guests would also be encouraged to join in with the features and there were some rather amusing moments (usually featuring Steve), you didn’t know what would happen next. vlcsnap-01072

I suppose that 5’s Company can be described as the closest equivalent on Channel 5 to a This Morning-type show. Indeed, as well as being shown in the afternoon, it also returned later in the day as 5’s Company Late Extra, but not really because of popular demand, it was simply to fill the awkward ten-minute gap between the end of a film and the start of the evening news. vlcsnap-01064

5’s Company went off for a Christmas break at the end of 1997, and I don’t remember it returning in 1998, instead it was replaced around this time by the similar Open House which occupied the afternoon slot for a year or two. It seems that the show doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but I definitely do remember watching it, and surprisingly there are rather a lot of clips of the show online. As I said at the start, it’s a shame that Channel 5 don’t put more effort into making some original shows for the afternoon timeslot now.

Game Show Memories – Box Clever.

Box Clever (BBC1, 1986-1987)

This is another game show that is a little before my time, but I have seen enough of it online to consider it worthy of reviewing here. Box Clever was a daytime game show that was hosted by ex-footballer Emlyn Hughes (who was also a team captain on A Question Of Sport around this time). Two related teams of three took part and the show made the most of the computer technology that was available at the time.

One thing that was unusual about the show was that the host actually didn’t ask the questions, this was done by Dr Sue Kingsman from Oxford University. The centrepiece of the game was the 9×9 computerised grid (it looked a little like the maze that was used on the later game show Four Square, I’m not sure if they were created using the same computer). The grid is different for every game. There are five categories of questions on offer, and 30 seconds to answer them. vlcsnap-01071

They place their pointer somewhere on the grid using their joystick, and if they get the question right the square turns to their colour (either red or yellow), the way the pointer boinged around the grid looked a little similar to the computer game Q*Bert. The grid is also split into sections, and they have to try to turn all the squares in the section their colour, or their opponents can steal them (once a section is filled it can’t change colour). If they don’t think they can fill a section in time, they can stop the clock. vlcsnap-01067

At this point Emlyn starts offering some analysis of the teams’ tactics as if he is on Match Of The Day. If there is no clear leader after the five categories, another five categories are on offer, this time with 45 seconds on the clock. The idea of the game is to cut off your opponents’ route round the board (or “box them in” the use the show’s phrase). If a team think that they have reached the point where they can win, they say “box clever”, and the computer automatically calculates who has the majority of the 81 squares (a creepy computerised voice confirms the result). vlcsnap-01064

The winning team go into the final, where they play a computer game (one of the few game shows to feature this, along with First Class and Steal). They have one minute, and every team member has to play for at least 15 seconds. If they score over 100 points, it gets converted into pounds. They then stay on as the defending champions to play another team. More than one game can be played in one edition. vlcsnap-01075

Box Clever ran for a couple of series in the pre-Children’s BBC slot when BBC1 finally launched a daytime schedule in 1986. According to the credits there were a Commodore Amiga or two working overtime to achieve the impressive computer effects, and while I wouldn’t put the show in the same class as Turnabout, this was definitely a game with a lot of depth and creativity on offer.

More TV Memories – The Young Doctors.

The Young Doctors (Nine, 1976-1983)

It’s time to look back at another soap, but instead of reviewing a British one, I thought that I would review an Australian one. It’s something of a surprise to realise that Australian soaps seem to have been more popular in the UK than American ones. The most famous examples are Home And Away and Neighbours, but others that have been shown in this country include A Country Practice, Prisoner: Cell Block H, Sons And Daughters, The Sullivans… and this one.

The Young Doctors is a soap that launched in 1976, it was created by Reg Watson who was also behind Neighbours and it was shown five days a week. It was set at The Albert Memorial Hospital in Sydney. However, it was a rather sparse place, it didn’t contain that many patients or staff. The show concentrated more on the love lives of the doctors (who didn’t seem to be that young, really) and nurses. Although they more often seemed to be down Bunny’s for a drink. And the acting? Well, there really was some acting! vlcsnap-01042

One of the more unusual things about the show was the original opening sequence that seemed to feature the cast down the disco having a dance to the (admittedly funky) theme music by The Executives (maybe EastEnders should start to do this to liven things up). There was a rather high turnover of cast over the years, but some of the regulars included Ada who ran the refreshments kiosk, the intimidating Sister Scott, faithful secretary Helen, and the grumpy balding doctor who wore dark-tinted glasses (the only character to appear in the first and final episode). vlcsnap-01049

Also featuring in some of his earliest TV appearances was Alan Dale as Dr Forrest, who went on to play Jim Robinson in Neighbours, and he has gone on to much further success in more recent years in America. The Young Doctors was also fond of its cliffhangers and featured some rather bizarre plots, including characters falling down a lift shaft, being electrocuted on their honeymoon, and a nurse’s long-lost sister (played by the same actress) secretly replacing her at the hospital (doing such a thing is always a sign that a soap is beginning to run out of ideas and become detached from real life). vlcsnap-01040

The Young Doctors came to an end in 1983 after 1,396 episodes, and concluded with an evocative look back and a special sombre version of the closing theme. The show gained something of a cult following when it was shown on ITV (except in the Scottish region), usually before Children’s ITV, but the scheduling was rather erratic. Central was the first region to import the show in 1982, and some regions were still showing episodes as late as 1995 (there was also always a jump in the closing credits to remove the sponsors’ adverts). Episodes were also shown on Sky One from 1989-1992. vlcsnap-01057

Some episodes of the show have been released on DVD, but not in this country. It might have also had something of an influence on the 90s hospital sitcom parody Let The Blood Run Free (shown in the UK on Channel 4). When trying to find out a little more about The Young Doctors online I discovered a video of a Christmas tape containing some rather amusing outtakes, it seems that working on the show was a lot more fun than I ever realised.

Game Show Memories – Breakaway.

Breakaway (BBC2, 2012)

This is a 45-minute daytime game show that was shown on BBC2 after the departure of The Weakest Link. The rules did seem to be a little complicated at first, but the basic idea was would you work together as a team to try and win a share of some money, or go it alone for the chance of winning a bigger amount of money all for yourself. Breakaway was hosted by Nick Hancock.

Firstly, the set design is impressive, the centrepiece is the track on the floor that is split in 30 parts (one for every question). Six contestants take part. There are questions asked on seven categories (that can be taken in any order) at first, and this changes to general knowledge for the end stage. They stand on the first space and are asked the first question (with a little help from Nick’s friend ERIC), and have 15 seconds to answer. vlcsnap-01042

They can confer, and if they think they know the answer, one of them steps forward, and then they discover if they were right. The studio turns green if they are, and red if they aren’t. This is a nice effect, but practically every game show uses it now and it has become a little cliched. There are three questions in every category, and Nick will constantly remind them how much money is on offer. vlcsnap-01052

There is an opportunity before the first question is even asked to breakaway, and this can be done by pressing a button. This means that instead of giving answers together for £100 each, they can answer the questions individually without any help for £300. If they get to the end, they are given a bonus £1,000, meaning that the most that one contestant can win is £10,000. vlcsnap-01061

So the earlier you breakaway, the more you can win. The categories on offer could tempt someone. There are five seconds for anyone to buzz if they want to do this (I think at least one contestant tried this tactic, and got a long way down the track, leaving their ex-teammates way behind, but then they got one wrong near the end, so the others all had to walk along as they were suddenly back in play). vlcsnap-01051

At the end of the category, there is a chance to win a life. There are five of these on offer. A “who am I?”-type question is read, and it is on the buzzer. Get it wrong and you are frozen out, get it right and you get the life (which magically appears on their name badge), and it was possible for contestants to steal one another’s lives, but this was changed in series two to if you get a question wrong there is a chance for the money to stay in the game if a contestant buzzes in to sacrifice a life. vlcsnap-01047

When someone does breakaway, they have the option to take a teammate with them, although they can turn this offer down. They will share the money but it reduces their chances of elimination. If they get it wrong though, and they have run out of lives, one of them has to leave. For the final stage of the game, all of the questions are on general knowledge, and there are now 30 seconds to confer. vlcsnap-01057

There is one final chance to breakaway on the penultimate question which can make things rather tense. There is a tactic where a contestant can have a teammate, and then deliberately get questions wrong near the end to eliminate them and take the money for themselves. There have also been scenarios where people have cocked-up with one question to go, leaving one remaining contestant to win £100. There have also been games where all the contestants were eliminated before the end, meaning nobody won any money at all. vlcsnap-01058

And the end of the series the highest-scoring contestants returned for a champions special. There were also some changes made in the second series, such as 25 questions being asked instead of 30, and fewer categories and lives on offer. It took me a while to warm to Breakaway, but I did find it interesting once I understood the show’s strategies and it seemed to get a positive response from viewers. So it was rather surprising that after two series, it didn’t return, just when I thought that there was the good chance of it becoming a long-runner. vlcsnap-01040

When you pitch a game show to a TV company (something that I haven’t ever done), I presume you have to consider things like, how long will it take for all the scenarios to be covered? Is there enough variation for it to run for over 1,000 editions? Will it be popular enough to be repeated on Challenge until the end of time? I feel that Breakaway had more potential than most shows of this era to fulfil these criteria, but BBC2 didn’t.

Game Show Memories – The New Sale Of The Century.

Sale Of The Century (Challenge, 1997)

A while ago I wrote about Sale Of The Century, a popular game show that launched on ITV in 1971 and ran for over a decade. It has since been revived twice, firstly in 1989 in the early days of Sky One when it was hosted by Peter Marshall, who was also an announcer on Thames at the time. But this piece will concentrate on the second revival in the late-90s, the ultimate in TV shopping.

When Challenge made some original programming it was hardly ratings-topping stuff, but they did try out a few ideas, one of them being a revival of Sale Of The Century, which was hosted by Keith Chegwin, who around this time was turning up a lot on game shows on various satellite channels, either as the host or as a panellist. So how does this compare to the original? vlcsnap-01026

Well, it’s fairly faithful, beginning with a remix of the original theme music (although there’s no organist here). Also, the announcer was Robin Houston, who was also hosting Channel 5’s game show 100% out-of-vision around the same time. Three contestants (including a defending champion) took part and they had the opportunity to bag some bargains. As always Keith was very enthusiastic and encouraged them all the way through, and he also kept his clothes on. vlcsnap-01031

The contestants begin with £15, and in the first round every correct answer on the buzzer (which made the same noise as the ones on Going For Gold) was worth £1 (or £1 deducted for a wrong answer). Then there is the first Instant Sale, where a prize is shown (breathlessly described by Robin) and if a contestant wants it, they can buzz in and it’s theirs. In the next two rounds, the correct answers are worth £3, with a couple more Instant Sales. vlcsnap-01033

After the break, in the next two rounds it’s £5 for a correct answer, along with two more Instant Sales, although contestants seem to be a little more reluctant to buzz in for them at this point. The last round features 60 seconds of questions, with again £5 on offer as one more chance to bump up those scores. When time is up, the contestant with the most money goes into the final to play for the big prizes. vlcsnap-01032

They have the choice of various prizes, the top ones being a holiday (usually reduced to around £400) or a car (around £500). They have to decide if they will come back on the next edition as the defending champion to try and earn some more money, or buy one of the prizes on offer. Buying the car should take about five or six wins. At this point Keith will start jumping around with over-excitement, whether they take a prize or not. vlcsnap-01037

It seems that this version of Sale Of The Century was shown five days a week on Challenge for a while. The prizes on offer weren’t too bad considering this obviously wasn’t a big budget show and they were at about the same level as the original version, and it was good seeing a host who clearly wanted the contestants to do well and make the most of their time inside the magic rectangle. If only Challenge encouraged more ideas like this now.

Game Show Memories – Memory Bank.

Memory Bank (Five, 2004)

This is another game show that was shown live on Channel 5 in the afternoon, although this was only really so it could feature a constantly promoted phone-in viewers competition, but of course this happened on just about every other game show at the time, there was even one inserted into the revival of Going For Gold, but let’s not think about that, let’s concentrate on the game.

Memory Bank was from the same team as BrainTeaser and was usually hosted by Rachel Pierman, it was a big test of memory. Three contestants took part. The first round is Double Vision which is played individually. There are 12 squares featuring things such as flags, Roman numerals, or traffic signs. They have to memorise where they all are. A picture is shown and against the clock they have to give the number containing the matching picture to make a pair, there are five points for every correct match. vlcsnap-01032

The next round is Back 2 Front. There are 16 answers to general knowledge questions that have to be memorised (although sometimes these answers might be themed). The question is then asked and contestants have to give the number that is concealing the correct answer. There are ten points for a correct answer, and if they get it wrong, it gets passed on to the next contestant. There are some amusing moments here when the contestants make a totally incorrect match. vlcsnap-01026

The next round is Double Vision. It’s like the first round, only this time there are 16 pictures, and contestants take it in turns to answer with ten points for a correct answer again. When time is up, the lowest scoring contestants at this point are eliminated, with the winner going into the final called Memory Check. The phone-in competition has been referenced about 19 times by this point. vlcsnap-01037

In the final, there are 20 words that appear on the screen individually. The contestant then has to recall them (in any order) in 45 seconds. The more correct answers they give, the more money they win. There is £50 for the first ten words remembered, £100 for the next five, and £200 for the final five, meaning that a maximum prize of £2,000 can be won. Imagine what you could buy with that. vlcsnap-01033

Memory Bank was extended to an hour in its later editions (meaning there was a slight format change), but it just didn’t have the longevity of BrainTeaser and ran for less than a year. I do miss game shows like this on Channel 5. 100%, Topranko!, Whittle, Win Beadle’s Money… I know that none of them were exactly big-budget award-winning affairs but they were entertaining enough and kept me watching. It would be great of they tried out a few more ideas like these again.