Game Show Memories – Masterchef.

Masterchef (BBC1, 1990-2000)

As I have said before, I am not really interested in cookery shows, but I do remember regularly watching this one, it may have something to do with the timeslot. Masterchef always seemed to be shown on Sunday afternoons when there weren’t really many alternatives. Well, we only had four channels in those days. This was the show that described itself as the “grand prix for amateur chefs”, which was odd because I never noticed any cars.

Masterchef was hosted by Loyd Grossman, taking a day off from poking his nose around people’s homes on Through The Keyhole. Every week three contestants would take part. They would be given a budget of £10 to create a three-course meal in 2½ hours. Loyd would be joined by two guests, a chef and a celebrity, and they would also be the judging panel and talk to the contestants about what they were making. vlcsnap-00819

When time was running out, a big “10” would appear on the screen, indicating that there wasn’t long left. When time was up, the judges would taste the food. Mmm, tastes nice. They would then go off to a big empty room to determine the winner. The winner progresses to the next round, and the three best chefs in the series compete against one another in the final for the overall series trophy. A lot of talented people took part over the years. vlcsnap-00820

Masterchef isn’t really a show where you would expect anything odd to happen, but I remember one series where the series trophy was being held by a mannequin of Loyd at the back of the studio, so it was rather strange when Loyd was talking to the contestants and you could also see him stood there in the background if that makes sense. It also survived the wonderfully peculiar parody by Reeves And Mortimer on their comedy show. vlcsnap-00825

Masterchef did well enough for there to be a spin-off series for younger contestants called Junior Masterchef which ran from 1994-1999. Indeed, it seemed to return year after year (with the exception of 1998) and there were almost no changes to the format at all, I remember one critic saying something like “it got to the point where you knew what camera angle was coming next”, and you could practically recite Loyd’s script along with him, including his famous “we’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested” catchphrase. vlcsnap-00821

By 2000 the show had been running for a decade and had become rather stale, it was stuck in a timewarp while the TV landscape had changed around it. So in 2001 Loyd was pensioned off and the format was relaunched on BBC2 as Masterchef Goes Large. I must admit that I never really watched this version, and I don’t really have any interest in the current version on BBC1 where apparently it gets no tougher than this (along with its additional celebrity series), I will always prefer the original.


More TV Memories – The death of Diana.

The death of Diana (BBC1/BBC2/ITV/Channel 4/Channel 5 etc., 1997)

I wanted to do a piece on here about UK news presentation, so I’ve decided to review this, because it was an historic TV moment. This piece isn’t going to analyse the politics of the event, such as the role that the monarchy plays in this country or attitudes to grief, it’s just going to concentrate on the TV coverage on various channels on 31 August 1997, and I’ll also reveal for anyone interested where I was when it all happened.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about it really was its timing. It was at the end of August early on a Sunday morning, a time when not much is usually happening, and it’s when lots of people are usually away. If there really is a time of year when news departments can deal with having fewer people around because it’s quiet, it’s this. What’s the worst that can happen?

The first report about the crash interrupted a film on BBC1 at about 1:15am. It was hosted by Martyn Lewis as it seems that he was the presenter who lived closest to the studio and they needed to get someone on air as quickly as possible. There was another news report interruption before the film ended at around 2:30am (which was rather late for a BBC1 closedown in those days, I wonder what would’ve happened if they had gone off air around 12:30am that night?). There was also a news report on BBC2. vlcsnap-00683

When it was time for the planned closedown, BBC1 actually stayed on air, and for the first time they handed over to BBC World News for continued coverage (the BBC’s own rolling news channel didn’t launch until November 1997). Having watched the story develop all night, it must have been a remarkable moment for people when it hit them that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending, the moment when you realise that something has gone horribly wrong. vlcsnap-00729

BBC1 returned at about 6:30am with Martyn Lewis presenting again. It was clear that this was an occasion where they had to get the balance right as unlike most news programmes it could be repeated for years after. It’s reported that channels do rehearsals of royal deaths coverage so that when the time comes everything is carefully planned and scripted. But they really did seem to have nothing ready for Diana, it was just so unexpected. vlcsnap-00723

Because of this news, coverage was also shown on BBC2, meaning that for the first and only time a special generic “BBC” ident was used, along with a rather alarming announcement that regular programming had been suspended, bad luck for people waiting to watch the EastEnders omnibus. Another thing about news is that presenters mustn’t get too emotionally involved in a story, but it was clear that it was difficult in this case, you could really sense the disbelief coming through. vlcsnap-00721

Watching some coverage again, one thing that strikes me now is just how straightforward and sombre it is, there are no oversized captions or tickers on the screen, and little use of that increasingly devalued phrase “breaking news”, and the whole presenting team weren’t all bussed out to stand outside Buckingham Palace or some such place all day, and it does still pack an emotional punch. vlcsnap-00730

For the rest of the day on the BBC, Peter Sissons took over as presenter at around 1pm, and joint coverage ended around 3pm when BBC2 showed some sport. There were also some special programmes on BBC1 including documentaries, and the day seemed to turn into an endless edition of The Nine O’Clock News. What had started out as a quiet summer Sunday ended as the biggest operation in the history of BBC News. vlcsnap-00714

As for what happened on ITV, they also had a few news reports throughout the night, before at around 5am The Chart Show was famously interrupted to begin the coverage from ITN that was hosted by Dermot Murnaghan and Nicholas Owen, before at 6am they had to join GMTV. When that ended at 9:25am, it was back to ITN for most of the day. The only scheduled programmes I remember surviving on LWT were Coronation Street (minus its Cadbury’s sponsorship) and Heartbeat, which was followed by a special programme hosted by Trevor McDonald. vlcsnap-00712

Also, it seems that Channel 4 showed some news reports throughout the day along with The Art Of Landscape, but I think most of their schedule stayed the same, although there was an hour-long special edition of Channel 4 News in the evening with Jon Snow. Channel 5 eventually pulled their programming to be replaced by Kirsty Young and Rob Butler in the studio with a desk and everything. vlcsnap-00728

As for where I was when this all happened… I was in bed. Well I was, no-one knocked on my door overnight to tell me what had happened or anything like that, this was how I found out. The summer of ’97 was really the only time that I regularly listened to Capital FM, and it meant that I must have heard the biggest hits of that time including “D’You Know What I Mean?” and “Freed From Desire” hundreds of times on that station.

It was a Sunday morning and I was going back to school a couple of days later so I thought that I would have one last chance for a lie-in. I decided to put Capital on at about 10am but instead of music I heard a news presenter talking about Diana. I wasn’t really sure why, I didn’t know why they were talking about her yet again, then I wondered suddenly… had something happened?

So I went downstairs and saw the BBC News coverage along with newspapers such as the News Of The World and I was rather shocked. It was so unexpected, my first thought was “she won’t be in the newspapers or on the TV any more”, although that wasn’t really how it turned out of course. There had been so much constant speculation (maybe too much) around this time about Diana’s next move that for all of it to end so suddenly really was the most unusual and unforgettable experience.

Game Show Memories – Fast Friends.

Fast Friends (BBC1, 1991)

Les Dawson had been a popular figure on TV as a comedian and presenter for many years, but by the end of the 80s his game shows Blankety Blank and Opportunity Knocks were coming to an end, so maybe it was time for a new show to bring his career into the 90s, and Fast Friends (which was based on a pilot of a 1984 American game show) was the result.

After a mildly embarrassing opening sequence that seemed better suited to Top Of The Pops (indeed it seems that the people who did the theme music also did the new theme for TOTP that was introduced in 1991), Les opened the show with some of his jokes, mostly about his poor old mother-in-law. The basic idea behind Fast Friends was that the teams who played would be formed on the show as part of the game. vlcsnap-00321

There are two teams of 30 people that have a team captain. The captain comes on stage and is given 30 seconds on the clock. They are given four questions and must determine who on the team would get it right and how many of the seconds on offer it would take them. If they get it right in time they join the captain on stage. Get it wrong, and the captain has to quickly ask someone else on the team who might know. vlcsnap-00322

Hopefully when both teams had their turn, the captain would be accompanied by four team members (or indeed “friends”) to help them play the second round of the game. This time they are asked multiple-choice questions. Get it right and they stay in the game. Get it wrong and they were banished by Les with much sadness to the Dump Dock, although the captain can rescue then if they get an extra question right. vlcsnap-00490

This carries on until one captain loses all of their friends, but they all take away the consolation prize of a camera and a Fast Friends address book, which really is something. In the final round, the winning captain is joined by their friends. There are eight choices on the screen, the question is given (such as “which of these men have won an Oscar?”), seven choices are correct, one is incorrect. vlcsnap-00489

The captain chooses a friend to give an answer, although they can overrule it. If it is right, they win some money. If they get all seven right, they also win the star prize of a holiday. Find the wrong answer though and it’s game over, although along with their address books the finalists take away the extra prize of a pocket TV along with whatever money they made. vlcsnap-00493

Fast Friends was one of many new entertainment formats that flopped on BBC1 around this time (has a flashback to Caught In The Act), and it only ran for one series, although this may be partly because Les died not long after. However, he did well at making this mildly ridiculous show worth watching with his deadpan sense of humour and sending the whole thing up.

Game Show Memories – Ready Steady Cook.

Ready Steady Cook (BBC2, 1994-2010)

Some types of programming that you shouldn’t really expect to see me sharing memories of on here are ones that are about things like cookery, gardening, fashion and so on. There seemed to be a big craze for home makeover shows and so on about 20 years ago, although I was never really interested in them, and that also counts for game shows about those genres.

This meant that I never had any interest in shows like Can’t Cook Won’t Cook, and I occasionally watched the original version of Masterchef in the 90s, the only cookery game show that I really remember watching regularly (partly because it was shown so frequently) was the daytime show Ready Steady Cook. This was the against the clock challenge so make sure that those pots and pans are at the ready. vlcsnap-00687

In every edition two contestants took part and they were paired with a professional chef (usually taken from a pool of about ten regulars) as the green peppers team and the red tomatoes team. They were given a budget of £5 and had they to use their five ingredients to make a meal in 20 minutes, and the host would often check how they were getting on. When time was up the studio audience voted on who they thought should win based on how creative they were, with a special prize for the winners! vlcsnap-00690

Ready Steady Cook was originally hosted by Fern Britton, and one of the regular guest chefs who made the biggest impact on the show was Ainsley Harriott. He had appeared in a few comedy shows in the early-90s, and he brought his enthusiastic style to this show. He ended up becoming so popular with viewers that when Britton left the show 2000 he became the new host (at which point the show was extended to 45 minutes), and stayed until the end. vlcsnap-00694

Ready Steady Cook was successful enough for there to be an inevitable spin-off celebrity series (which ran for about 100 editions on BBC1 from 1997-2003), and there also a lot of books released featuring the best recipes from the show. There were some changes made to the format in the later series, and by the end every edition featured celebrity contestants, with one edition featuring none other than the two ladies from Bananarama competing against one another (I have to go on about them all the time! I might take a look at their game show appearances in a separate piece). vlcsnap-00693

To fill the extra 15 minutes sometimes the chefs made an additional meal, and there were a few twists to the rules, such as the ingredients being chosen at random or the ingredients budget being less or more than £5. By the time that Ready Steady Cook came to an end in 2010 I didn’t watch it so much, and almost 2,000 editions made been made, making it one of the most successful BBC daytime game shows.

More TV Memories – Room 101.

Room 101 (BBC2, 1994-1997, 1999-2007, BBC1, 2012-present)

This is the show where celebrities take part and try to get the minor things that irritate them in life banished to “Room 101”, and they have to argue that the world will be a better place without their choices, which ranged from the straightforward to the strange. There have been four different versions of this format, the first being on BBC Radio 5 in 1992 which was hosted by Nick Hancock, but I don’t remember ever listening to it.

But because it was a success, in 1994 it transferred to BBC2 where it was still hosted by Hancock (about a year before he went on to host BBC1’s They Think It’s All Over). Mostly comedians took part, with the guest on the very first TV edition being Bob Monkhouse. In each edition the guest made six or seven choices of items that they didn’t like and then gave their explanation for why they had to go. Whether they actually went into Room 101 or not was entirely the decision of the host (although they did occasionally consult the studio audience on tricky ones). vlcsnap-00606

If they were successful, the entrance to Room 101 would open, and we would see the item go along a conveyor belt and disappear. If a guest got the majority of their choices in, they could choose a bonus one to put in too. Any rejected items they would have to take home with them, but on a few occasions a guest managed to get all their choices in. Every edition would also end with a rather cheesy song from the archive that had long since been banished. I would have to say that this was my favourite version of the format. vlcsnap-00640

After Hancock left in 1997, there was a brief break, and Room 101 was then revived in 1999 with Paul Merton as the new host. The only real variation in this version was that there was a different set design, and Merton would pull a lever to open a trapdoor and banish items. There were lots more series made, and this version carried on until 2007, but it doesn’t end there. vlcsnap-00643

After a break of five years, Room 101 was revived again, this time on BBC1, and with another new host who was Frank Skinner. This time there was a different format as it had been turned into a comedy panel game, as now every week three guests took part, all trying to beat one another to get their choices in, leaving Frank with a lot of tough decisions.

Room 101 is still a popular show and earlier in the year the 18th series came to an end. It is regularly repeated on channels including Dave (also including some extended versions called Extra Storage and best-ofs also featuring previously unseen material), although they only ever seem to show the Skinner version, it would be good to see some editions from the 90s again.

More TV Memories – This Is Your Life.

This Is Your Life (ITV, 1969-1994, BBC1, 1994-2003)

This Is Your Life is a long-running and fondly thought-of show based on an American format that came to British TV as early as the mid-50s, although this piece will concentrate on the later years of the run. The show was originally hosted by the Irishman Eamonn Andrews (who also around this time was hosting the game show What’s My Line? that I also reviewed on here recently).

The basic idea of the show was that the host would surprise a celebrity (sometimes using a rather elaborate set-up) with the Big Red Book (although it seems that the book wasn’t regularly red-coloured until around 1970). Not only was it a surprise to the celebrity that they were going to be the subject of that edition, but it was also a surprise to the viewers as no information was usually released beforehand about who would feature on the show, and most editions in the early years were shown live. vlcsnap-00555

Following the usual sometimes rather awkward “oh I say, it’s not going to be me is it?!”-type response that a guest usually gave to being surprised, they would then enter the studio where they would be greeted by much applause from the assembled friends and family (cue famous theme music). The host would then tell the story of their life which usually began by showing some rather embarrassing photographs of the guest from their childhood years. vlcsnap-00556

Other guests would then be welcomed on to the stage who would usually be introduced with a “do you recognise this voice?” teaser and then share some anecdotes. And most editions would end with a rather emotional big “you haven’t seen them for 20 years, but they’re here tonight”-type guest who would get everyone applauding once again, before the guest is given the Book to keep. vlcsnap-00552

Personalities from just about every area of showbusiness took part, including TV presenters, actors, comedians, sportspeople and so on. After the death of Andrews in 1987, he was replaced as host by Michael Aspel (who himself was a “victim” as they called them in 1980), and between its time on the BBC and ITV (the show usually didn’t feature an advert break even when it was on ITV), there were over 1,000 editions in 43 series, and a small select group of people appeared more than once or in special extended editions. vlcsnap-00558

One twist to the format was that usually about once or twice in a series, a non-famous person was featured as a guest, and it was always interesting to note that the life story of a milkman seemed to go down as well with viewers as the more familiar celebrities. This Is Your Life was always an enjoyable and uplifting show which finally came to an end in 2003 after almost 50 years, although there have been lots of rumours since that it might return one day, who knows if the Big Red Book will ever return to the screen.

Game Show Memories – Bargain Hunt.

Bargain Hunt (BBC1, 2000-present)

Bargain Hunt is a daytime game show that is based around the world of antiques. Two teams of two take part. They are given £200 and they have one hour to buy three items, and an antiques expert is on hand to advise them on what look like the best deals. These items are then put into an auction, and after the gavel goes down, the team that has made the biggest profit on their items wins! vlcsnap-00535

I must admit that antiques isn’t a subject that I’m hugely interested in, but one thing that attracted people to Bargain Hunt was the original host and antiques expert himself, David Dickinson! With his enthusiastic presenting style and memorable catchphrases including “this is a right bobby dazzler” and “it’s as cheap as chips”, “The Duke” as he was known definitely had a lot of personality, and all of this meant that the show became cult viewing in a way that no other BBC daytime game show really had since the heady days of Going For Goldvlcsnap-00531

This meant that Dickinson’s style was somewhat prone to parody. I remember Dick And Dom doing an impression on their terrific CBBC show Dick And Dom In Da Bungalow (as “David Dickendom”) which I thought was really funny. But then, everything they did on that show was really funny. By 2002 Bargain Hunt was popular enough to be promoted to a prime-time slot and there were also a few celebrity specials, and Dickinson even appeared in an advertising campaign for the award-winning Bid TV! vlcsnap-00605

In 2003, the daytime version was taken over by the similarly entertaining Tim Wonnacott, and when the prime-time version ended in 2004, Dickinson left the show to join ITV. By this point Bargain Hunt‘s timeslot had been extended, with some editions running for as long as an hour, and a few twists were added to the rules, including the chance to swap an item, and an increased budget of £300. There was also a bonus prize on offer for a team that made a profit (however small) on all three of their items. After Wonnacott left a few years ago, the show continued by going down the guest hosts route. vlcsnap-00533

Bargain Hunt has been hosted from across the country and it’s still running, viewers still clearly enjoy the excitement of teams possibly winning as much as £2! There has also been merchandise released related to the show including books with advice from Dickinson on how to bag a bargain and even a board game. There have now been over 1,000 editions made and it seems to have been on BBC1 every day for the last 15 years. That really is a huge amount of fast-moving auction action.