More TV Memories – Stay Tooned.

Stay Tooned (BBC1, 1990-1996)

Now one thing that I really do like to watch on TV are cartoons, as I’m sure you’ve realised by now. I’m fairly sure that this show wasn’t ever shown as part of CBBC, as it was usually on weekend afternoons, but it definitely contained plenty that was enjoyable for younger viewers. Stay Tooned was a show that was all about the history of cartoons from all over the world.

There would be a look back at various characters, along with the stories about how they were created, and the people who worked behind the scenes to do this. The host was Tony Robinson, who had just finished the final series of Blackadder, and he was becoming known to CBBC viewers for his great sitcom Maid Marian And Her Merry Men.

A lot of cartoons from the archive would be shown, and these included what was produced by Warner Brothers, who were behind a huge amount of very successful and enduring characters, Bugs Bunny being one of them. The world of animation has definitely changed a lot over the years, and there was a look at the early days, right up to the present of computer-generated films.

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And of course the people who provided the voices of the characters were profiled, as they played an important part in the whole process as well. There was also a look at less famous characters, trying to work out why some simply failed. But whether it was Woody Woodpecker, or Betty Boop, or anyone like that, there was a interesting story behind all of them.

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Thinking about Stay Tooned again reminded me of when there would be some rather old cartoons shown on the TV, usually in the afternoon, to fill a small gap in the schedule. This almost always seemed to be Tom And Jerry, and they must’ve all be shown eventually, right into the 90s. I also remember Popeye being shown a lot, along with many others.

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It really does go to show you what you can do with some pens, a few tins of paint, and your imagination. Stay Tooned ran for about six years, I’m not sure why this came to an end, maybe it was time for Tony to go off and rehearse for My Wonderful Life, but his enthusiasm for these cartoons was clear. There was also a repeat run in a morning slot on BBC2 in 1997.

More TV Memories – The Paul Daniels Magic Show.

The Paul Daniels Magic Show (BBC1, 1979-1994)

Although as you should know by now I have always preferred the game show work of Paul Daniels, I thought that I might as well review his magic show too, because this formed a major part of BBC1’s entertainment line-up for an impressive 15 years, and I did watch occasionally. This was the show where Paul would perform various spectacular tricks.

It was no surprise that viewers were soon calling him “the terrific trickster” or “the super sorcerer” (or maybe not). They definitely did call him “the man who excels” though. Some tricks were rather basic and traditional, and some were rather daring and ambitious, and really did make viewers think “how did he do that!”. Well it was magic.

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He couldn’t do it all by himself though, and people from around the world also featured to perform their act, including jugglers, mimes, ventriloquists, and much more, anything from the straightforward to bizarre. Now they really have got talent. And of course we mustn’t forget his terrific assistant (and eventually wife) Debbie McGee.

One of the most famous moments was on a live Halloween special where he did a trick that appeared to go rather badly wrong, and he had to assure worried viewers by returning later in the evening to prove that he was still all in one piece. Along with this, there were also Paul-endorsed magic kits released where people could attempt a few things at home.

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The long-running Saturday Night show was also accompanied by various Christmas specials and compilations of highlights. However, after such a long run, the format began to be a little tired, and TV was changing, meaning that after several other old-school variety shows had already ended, this one had become outdated too and was just about hanging on.

The Paul Daniels Magic Show finally came to an end in 1994, but a year later, he was given another chance with Secrets, a similar show combining magic and variety in a more modern nightclub setting, but this ended after only one series, and as his third and final game show Wipeout ended around the same time, he wasn’t seen on TV that much after this.

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The only time that he was really on the screen in the years after this was mildly embarrassing himself on sub-Big Brother-type shows which was disappointing, although he clearly knew his stuff about the history of magic, and he continued to tour the country and perform his show, producing coins from behind people’s ears and the like I’m sure. At least it wasn’t Wizbit!

The Comedy Vault – Porridge.

Porridge (BBC2, 1973, BBC1, 1974-1977)

As I have said before, I have never really been a huge fan of 70s sitcoms, mostly because I wasn’t there to watch them at the time, although I am definitely familiar with this one because it is one of the successful sitcoms that this country has produced, and it is also one of the few from this era that is still in the repeats loop, and is probably on Gold right now.

Porridge started out as a pilot episode called Prisoner And Escort. The writers had hoped to develop this into a series, but when the BBC were unsure, they took the idea to ITV, which became the sitcom Thick As Thieves. But this only lasted for one series, by which time the BBC had finally decided to give this one a full series, which turned out to be a very good idea.

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The thing that really made Porridge stand out for many was that this was set in a prison, which didn’t seem like it was a suitable place for a sitcom at first. But mostly, it’s because the main character was played by Ronnie Barker. Now I personally have always preferred Open All Hours, as this is a sitcom with a much harder edge than that one.

But it really is remarkable to think that the smart-talking Fletcher and stingy shopkeeper Arkwright were played by the same person (or indeed the same person who was in The Two Ronnies), and that really is a tribute to Barker’s ability to portray his characters. Fletcher is a criminal who is in prison once again, although he insists that this will be the final time.

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Over the years, he has certainly learned how to hold his own and deal with things, always hoping to talk his way out of situations and get one up on his fellow inmates and wardens. But then he is joined by the younger Godber, who is in prison for the first time, and Fletcher soon realises that he has to somewhat steer him through this difficult period.

There were also lots of other memorable characters, including an appearance by David Jason as an elderly prisoner, it turned out that there were indeed plenty of laughs to be had, and a Bafta for best comedy was deservedly won. There were three series of Porridge, including two specials, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD.

There was then the spin-off series Going Straight, where Fletcher adjusted to life after prison, although this was less successful with viewers, and I plan to review that one soon too. After this there was a film, and then for some reason, in more recent years the format of Porridge was revived, and it clearly runs in the family as this time Fletcher’s grandson was in prison, but this was a one-series wonder.

Game Show Memories – House Of Games.

House Of Games (BBC2, 2017-present)

Recently I reviewed Two Tribes, a game show that was hosted by Richard Osman (after his appearances as co-host on Pointless raised his profile, although he had been working behind the scenes in TV since the 90s). That didn’t do too badly, but then he went on to host another game show in the same timeslot that has gone on to do even better.

I must admit that I didn’t see much of the earliest editions of House Of Games, but then I did eventually get into it and realise why this has become popular with viewers. Four celebrities take part, who appear in five editions throughout the week, and they play various rounds that are a little more creative than the usual general knowledge questions.

Five rounds are played in every edition, and Richard presses the button to reveal what they will be. These have included What’s In A Name, The Answer’s In The Question, and there have now been dozens of variations. There are also rounds where the celebrities have to play as a team, or write their answers on a screen. The final round is usually Answer Smash.

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There are lots of points awarded (or deducted), and unusually for a game show with celebrities taking part, there are some prizes on offer, but they are amusingly small, such as maybe an umbrella, or some binoculars, but they really do want to play for them. The maximum score is 24 points, and the highest-scorer at the end of the week also receives a special trophy.

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A lot of people have become fond of House Of Games, and it is rather clear to me why. Even though there is a competitive element to some extent, there is also a warm atmosphere with plenty of amusing moments, viewers can play along, and it is interesting seeing the celebrities showing off some of the more unusual areas of their knowledge thanks to the creative questions and challenges.

This has done well enough for there to be a spin-off series on primetime BBC1 called House Of Games Night, which features more rounds, and a band in the studio and everything! There have also been specials where weekly champions have played against each other, there has been a book released, and there have been lots of repeat runs on Dave.

More TV Memories – The Best Show In The World… Probably.

The Best Show In The World… Probably (BBC1, 1998)

I do like comedy panel games, and I also like old adverts (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), so when the two were combined, how could I possibly resist? The Best Show In The World… Probably was hosted by Tony Hawks, who has had a varied career. As well as being a comedian, he has done lots of rather quirky things including having a Top Ten hit single in the 80s, and playing tennis against fridges or something like that (he isn’t a skateboarder though).

Two teams of two took part. The team captains were Alan Davies (and this was long before he was a regular on QI) and Fred MacAulay (who now hosts every show on BBC Radio Scotland). Every week they would be joined by panellists from a variety of areas. Those who took part included Terry Wogan, along with rent-a-comics like Dominic Holland and Alistair McGowan (who as also done a lot of advert voiceover work), and that guy who was in that Blackcurrant Tango advert.

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There were various rounds played, although they weren’t hugely original, and some critics thought that it was something of a surprise that Angus Deayton wasn’t credited as one of the writers, put it that way. These included what is this an advert for, what does this mystery object do, having to fill in the blanks in famous advertising slogans, having to guess the year, and so on. There were points on offer (if anybody got any of the answers right).

But really, this was an excuse to go through the archive and show some unusual adverts from years gone by, some famous, some not so famous (which makes it all rather strange that this was shown on BBC1, not exactly a channel that was known for featuring adverts). I’m sure it was hoped that The Best Show In The World… Probably would take off with viewers and be a long-running success.

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But as it turned out, this was a one-series wonder that didn’t end up running for years on end. This is probably because the TV market was rather overcrowded with various comedy panel games at the time, and there have actually been a few other games based around this subject, including Commercial Break on Sky One (although I never watched that at the time). I am pleased that they had a go though.

Game Show Memories – We’ve Got Your Number.

We’ve Got Your Number (BBC1, 1999)

This is yet another game show that was tied into The National Lottery, you can find out what the numbers were after you sat through half-an-hour of this. The original plan was for this one to be called Your Number’s Up, but at some stage there was a rethink, and this was renamed We’ve Got Your Number. The host was Brian Conley, who was always able to get a studio audience cackling at his antics.

The idea behind this one was that various games would be played, but their results would be determined by what balls came out in the National Lottery draw. Brian would often begin by running on stage and shouting “it’s Saturday night!”, which was just as well, because as this was a live show, indeed it was. He would then start to sing, whether you wanted him to or not.

The games included Odd Or Even. This was where a dispute was settled between two people, based on whether the bonus ball was odd or even. These were fairly petty squabbles, but you could definitely feel the tension as the ball was about to be released. Some of these were done on location, and hosted by Julia Bradbury. And there was Second Chance. This was where someone had missed out on something, and could get another go, but again, the numbers determined the outcome.

Finally there was The Magnificent Seven. There were seven people with a talent, who were assigned the numbers 1-7, 8-14, and so on, up to 43-49 (back in the days when there were 49 numbers in the National Lottery draw, before going up to 59, which is why barely anybody wins nowadays, but this isn’t really the place for that rant). Again, the bonus ball will determine which one of them will get a small amount of BBC1 primetime to show off their act.

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This means that Brian spends rather a lot of time shouting “the balls will decide!”. And there were lots of other memorable moments, including Conley’s Current Affairs, where Brian took a look at the latest news, and just general messing around really. There was only one series of We’ve Got Your Number, but this was definitely one of the better National Lottery tie-in game shows.

More TV Memories – Sportsnight.

Sportsnight (BBC1, 1968-1997)

This is another look back at how sport used to be covered on TV. One of the main sport shows was Grandstand. But as this was only on BBC1 once a week, there would be an additional show in a midweek slot that took a look at the events that had happened in the days since, and this would be shown in a late-night slot. As long ago as the 50s, there was Sportsview, and this eventually became Sportsnight (not to be confused with the later American sitcom with the same name).

This launched in the late-60s, and the original host was David Coleman (to the point that the original title was Sportsnight With Coleman). Hosts in later years included Steve Rider and Des Lynam, who were all hoping that we would be able to stay up late. Of course, because of the timeslot, very little would actually be shown live, so there would be a lot of highlights shown in various sports, anything they could get to fill the time really.

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It’s no surprise to realise that football featured rather regularly. There were highlights of top-flight matches (there was no MOTD2 back in those days). There would also be highlights of various European competitions, long before the Champions League came along, and English teams were progressing to the later stages. And FA Cup replays often featured too. This was back in the days when if the replay ended in a draw, then there would be a second replay, and so on, until there was a winner. Someone finally decided that penalty shoot-outs might come in useful.

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Some of the other sports featured included boxing, or maybe some snooker as well, several familiar-sounding commentators would always be on standby, along with all of the latest results and analysis. For many years, ITV also had an equivalent show, which was Midweek Sports Special. However, Sportsnight came to an end in the late-90s after almost three decades and wasn’t replaced, and also around this time the BBC’s other live sport shows Sunday Grandstand and Sport On Friday ended too.

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Grandstand did manage to continue for a while though, but as there were now so many sport channels providing viewers with just about anything that they wanted 24 hours a day, the BBC lost the rights to several high profile events, and suddenly filling the time was a struggle. It was still a surprise when Grandstand did come to an end though, it was one of those long-running shows that you thought would never leave the screen.

Game Show Memories – The Link.

The Link (BBC1, 2014-2015)

This is yet another daytime game show from a few years ago now that didn’t really cause a sensation, but kept me interested enough to be a regular viewer. The Link (not to be confused with a mobile phone shop from the 90s) was based on the format of a board game. Contestants were challenged to make the link between various things, and some viewers felt that this came across as a sort-of simpler daytime version of Only Connect, which is known for its very tough clues.

The choice of host was a little unusual. Mark Williams (not to be confused with the Welsh snooker player) was better known as an actor, being one of the cast members of comedy The Fast Show, along with appearing in the Harry Potter films. He often hosted wearing a big coat, and some viewers thought that this made him look like a caretaker who had just gone for his lunch. I’ve no idea why I remember people saying that. He did have plenty of wit though.

Two teams of three took part. They are asked a question on the buzzer to gain control. They are then given the first of a possible four clues, which all have a link. There are also six money amounts with varying numbers of strings. So the earlier they give a correct answer, the more strings they can cut from the amounts. And the higher the amount, the more strings there are. If they can cut all of the strings on the amount, they get that money.

This round ends up taking up rather a large part of the show. There also is a lot of pretending that there is a lot of tactical play in use here, but there isn’t really. The amounts on offer are always the same, so there are only so many score combinations that can be achieved. The lowest-scoring team is eliminated. In round two, the money that they have so far is attached to seven strings. The four clues are now in the “who am I?” or “what am I?” style and play alternates between the teams, choosing how many strings they want to play for.

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Again, the quicker you get the correct answer, the more strings you can cut. The first team to get their money goes into the final. There is £2,000 added to what they have already won, and this becomes the jackpot. There are 60 seconds on the clock. There are clues revealed one by one, with a maximum of ten. They have to buzz in to stop the clock and guess their answer. After Mark says “is the link…?” for about the 50th time, they discover if they have gone up the six steps of the money ladder.

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If they run out of time though, they get no money at all, as seems to happen on so many game shows now, so they have to stop at the right time. And unfortunately the difficulty level means that achieving the jackpot is almost impossible. It just goes to show that you can lose what you thought you had earned rather quickly. A few teams did manage to win a four-figure sum though. There were two series of The Link, and there was also a brief repeat run on Challenge.

Game Show Memories – Sudo-Q.

Sudo-Q (BBC1, 2005, BBC2, 2006-2007)

Having recently looked back at the career of Eamonn Holmes in my Game Show Stars series, I realised that this was one of his shows that I hadn’t reviewed, so just when you thought I’d done them all, here comes another one. Sudu-Q was a daytime game that combined the sudoku puzzle with general knowledge questions. This was around the time when this was still a rather new idea, and suddenly there was a craze for them.

But this wasn’t a case of just jumping on the bandwagon, this was a format were the two were combined to work well. I must admit that I although I know how they work, I have never really been able to solve these puzzles, and I am in awe of people who can. Eamonn does explain how a puzzle works though, and there is plenty of opportunity for viewers to play along at home. Three teams of three took part (later changed to three teams of two).

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In round one, there is a 4×4 grid, already featuring some numbers. A square is highlighted, and teams have to put the correct number in there as quickly as they can (cue overdone tense music). If they are correct, they are then asked a question for a bonus. This carries on until there are no more spaces left to fill. Round two is almost the same, but this time beaten team members can be eliminated. Once a team loses both members, they are out of the game (cue post-match interview).

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Round three is rather different, as there are no questions, and only one team member plays (although there is the option to buy back the eliminated teammate, but this has a time penalty). There is now a 6×6 grid, and they have 45 seconds each. They take it in turns to guess the highlighted number on the grid. The tried-and-trusted “chess clock” rule is in use here, so play continues until one team runs out of time. The remaining team plays on by themselves as a chance to boost their score, as the highest-scoring team makes the final.

If a one-player team has made the final, all their eliminated teammate can do is watch on “live by satellite”. This round is three minutes (1:30 each for a two-player team, or all the time for a single player). Half the grid is already completed. Again, giving correct answers gives them the opportunity to fill in the highlighted number. There is £50 for every correct number, with bonuses on offer for completed rows and columns, and a total of £2,000 for a completed grid.

Winning teams can come back the next day to play again, and they can appear up to five times before retiring undefeated, meaning that a maximum of £10,000 can be won by them, although I don’t think that any team achieved that. Add into all of this an awkward catchphrase from Eamonn (“be there, and be square!”), and a tie-in book featuring lots of puzzles, and you complete what is a decent all-round package.

The Comedy Vault – Mirrorball.

Mirrorball (BBC1, 2000)

Absolutely Fabulous was a popular long-running sitcom, and at a time when there were no plans for another series, the cast got together to try something a little different. As this is included as an extra on the boxset, I thought that I might was well review this too. Unlike Absolutely Fabulous, which mostly centred around the world of fashion, Mirrorball was all about acting. This carried on in a similar style, with plenty of outrageous moments.

Jennifer Saunders (who was also the writer) played Vivienne (and went on to play a different character with this name in a later sitcom), an actress and dancer who is well past her best, not that her best was ever that good. She is resting most of the time, and wanting to recapture her sparkle, often attends auditions. Her best friend is Jackie, who lives on the floor below. She is a singer and model who is rather past-it too, having a brief moment of fame in the late-70s.

Also featuring are Freda (although it wasn’t made clear if this was Vivienne’s daughter or sister), who is an actress too, and is doing well by comparison, being able to turn down high-profile roles, and she is even a member of RADA. Vivienne takes little notice of her advice though. And there was the rather bizarre Yitta, who had something of a dubious grip on the English language, and just about everything else really.

Vivienne decides to audition for a theatre musical to try and prove that she still has it, and bumps into Bonnie Langford who is trying for the same role. She somehow manages to get the role, but then she has an accident, but she is so desperate to take this opportunity to be on stage that she decides her injuries mustn’t stop her from having her big moment, but of course it does, and she does wonder if she will ever be able to fulfil her potential.

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But we will never know if that is going to happen, because despite being up to the usual standard, there would be no further episodes of Mirrorball. It was decided to leave this and revive Absolutely Fabulous (which would end up running for another decade), meaning that this one is now rather unfairly forgotten by comparison. It did have plenty of enjoyable moments though.