Game Show Memories – Incognito.

Incognito (BBC1, 1995-1997)

This is another BBC daytime game show that I watched in the mid-90s. There doesn’t seem to be a full edition online unfortunately, but I shall try to put together as much as I can remember about the show for this piece. Incognito was hosted by Peter Smith, who at the time was best known for being the smooth news presenter on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfastvlcsnap-00674

Three contestants took part and played various rounds where they had to find the words that were hidden in the wheel (this is a similar idea it seems to the game show Now You See It, although I’ve never really seen that one myself). The first round was called the Quiz Wheel. There were six general knowledge questions on offer and the contestant would have to pick one, the wheel would then slowly spin round with the answers hidden somewhere, with ten points for a correct answer. Getting it wrong gave an opponent a chance to steal. vlcsnap-00691

The next round was the Puzzle Wheel, where this time there was a choice of six cryptic crossword-style clues instead of quiz questions, with again ten points on offer for a correct answer. Then there was the Word Wheel, where contestants had 30 seconds to make and spell as many words as they could see in the wheel, with one point per letter for every word that was accepted (this round was a little similar to one played on Catchword). vlcsnap-00694

The final stage of the game featured the Quiz and Puzzle Wheels again with six questions, but this time every question was on the buzzer, with ten points for a correct answer, and ten points now deducted for an incorrect answer. Whoever was in the lead when time was up progressed to the next round, with the losers taking away the consolation prizes of a dictionary and polo shirt. vlcsnap-00697

If I had one criticism of Incognito it would be that there was clearly no live studio audience because every correct answer seemed to be greeted by the same prerecorded applause over and over again to the point where it did begin to get irritating. Also, the set design featured what appeared to be a lot of oversized gold coins that did remind me of that other BBC daytime game show Going For Gold a little. vlcsnap-00690

Incognito worked on a knockout format, with the final featuring three contestants competing against one-another to win the overall series star prize of a trip around the world. Incognito ran for only two series on BBC1, and it didn’t achieve the fame or longevity of shows such as Going For Gold, but it’s yet another 90s game show that has stayed with me.


The YouTube Files – A Prince Among Men.

A Prince Among Men (BBC1, 1997-1998)

This is a sitcom that I do remember watching at the time, and I have wanted to review it for a while, and this is why. In the 80s, Chris Barrie came on to the comedy scene and appeared in various TV shows, he was also an impressionist and provided some of the voices on Spitting Image, most memorably the one of President Reagan.

He then went on to have success in the sitcoms Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire, so when it was announced that he would be starring in a new sitcom on BBC1 in 1997, there was a lot of interest. Would this character become as popular as the likes of Rimmer and Brittas… well as it turned out, no, not really. Some of the episodes have recently been uploaded to YouTube so I thought I would take a look. vlcsnap-00543

A Prince Among Men was written by Tony Millan and Mike Walling, who were behind ITV’s sitcom Not With A Bang (that I reviewed on here recently), and they also wrote five episodes of The Brittas Empire. Barrie starred as Gary Prince, an ex-footballer who considers himself to be among the best that England has ever produced (although many don’t agree with him), but now he has retired, and he has decided to do something different with his life and try to give something back. Barrie also picked up a perm and a scouse accent somewhere along the way to play the role. vlcsnap-00545

But no, he doesn’t join Sky as a pundit as most ex-pros seem to do now, he has become a successful businessman who manages to irritate everyone around him. Gary now lives in a nice house with his glamorous German wife Lisel (who he met while he was playing for Bayern Munich), and he often spends his time opening supermarkets and attending award ceremonies. Also appearing are the dozy secretaries Sonia and Beverly, his agent Mark, and Vincent who discovered his talent. Minty off EastEnders turned up too so it can’t be all bad. Des Lynam also made a guest appearance in an episode as himself. vlcsnap-00561

A Prince Among Men was something of a flop with viewers and critics, but in 1998 it did return for a second series. Most people remained unimpressed though, and halfway through the run it was moved to Sunday afternoons, meaning that the 12th and final episode kicked off at 3:45pm, and it has practically never been seen or spoken of again since. To add to the disappointment there has been no DVD release either. vlcsnap-00544

The Comedy Vault – Smith And Jones.

Alas Smith And Jones (BBC2, 1984-1988)/Smith And Jones (BBC1, 1989-1998)

Not The Nine O’Clock News was one of the most successful British comedy shows of its era, and among the cast of this groundbreaking show were Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. After that show ended in 1982, they decided to continue working together and form a comedy double-act, and in 1984 the first series of their sketch show launched on BBC2, when it was known as Alas Smith And Jones.

They were a double-act that didn’t consist of the usual funnyman/straightman roles, they were able to play a wide range of characters, and they would begin most shows by coming on stage to introduce themselves. Most of the sketches were about contemporary life, and there were many parodies of various TV shows and films. Lots of guest stars turned up to help out with the sketches, Mel and Griff were also among the writers, and their production company TalkBack made the show. vlcsnap-00518

But what the show is best remembered for is the head-to-head discussions, where they would offer their views on life, but they never really seemed to be sure what the other one was on about. Because of this, Smith and Jones had become rather popular, and around this time they appeared in the films Morons From Outer Space and Wilt, and Smith also directed a few films including the first Mr Bean film. vlcsnap-00510

Also in the 80s Smith and Jones worked on a few other projects including the BBC2 Smith sitcom Colin’s Sandwich, and ITV’s The World According To Smith And Jones, plus lots of adverts. So after four series, in 1989 the show was promoted to BBC1, this time simply called Smith And Jones, although it really carried on in the same style. There were six more series, with the tenth and final one being in 1998. Some critics felt that the show was a little past-it by then, but there had been plenty of highlights over the years. vlcsnap-00517

Bonus points also go to the show’s rather bizarre opening sequences which in the 80s included a parody of BBC1’s ident, and in the 90s and parody of BBC2’s ident. In 2006 they reunited for a BBC1 series called The Smith And Jones Sketchbook where they took one last look back at the funniest moments. You would expect that there would be some demand for these shows to be released on DVD, yet the situation is rather curious. vlcsnap-00493

There were plans to bring some series out, but then this seemed to be abandoned. However, a DVD was released featuring the first four series, but these had been condensed into two half-hour compilations, meaning that about four or five editions’ worth of sketches from every series aren’t available on the DVD. What are included though as extras are the 1987 Christmas special The Home-Made Xmas Video, the 1988 Christmas special Alas Sage And Onion, and the 1989 BBC2 series Smith And Jones In Small Doses, consisting of four 20-minute comedy-drama films. A decade on we still await the second volume containing anything from the 90s shows (although some were released on VHS), they definitely deserve a release.

The Comedy Vault – The Royle Family.

The Royle Family (BBC2, 1998-1999, BBC1, 1999-2000, 2006-2012)

This is a sitcom that started out fairly quietly, before it went on to become one of the most successful of its era. The Royle Family was mostly written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who previously had some success in the mid-90s working together on BBC2’s chat show parody The Mrs Merton Show. It is one of those shows where it is rather hard to describe what happens, because nothing happens really, it was simply highlighting the lives of ordinary people.

The Royle Family was set in Manchester and mostly concentrated on what the family got up to at home, which was usually just watching the TV and remarking on it. The parents were Jim and Barbara (played by Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston who had previously appeared as a couple on Channel 4’s soap Brookside about 15 years earlier), along with their two children, Denise and Anthony. vlcsnap-00461

Along the way a few other characters regularly appeared, including Barbara’s mother Norma, and Denise’s boyfriend (and later husband) Dave. The next-door neighbours would occasionally turn up too. Even though it seemed like little happened, it was always engrossing to watch, and Jim could always be relied on to get his banjo out to liven up a dull episode, and the character quirks and catchphrases became much imitated and admired. vlcsnap-00460

The Royle Family is one of those shows that I didn’t see that much of at the time, once again I discovered the show by watching some episodes late at night on the great digital channel UK Play, it was a channel that introduced me to so many great comedy shows from this era, and I’m very grateful for that. More recently, the show has been repeated endlessly on Gold, people just want to see it again and again. vlcsnap-00458

By the end of the second series, the show had become so popular that the third series moved to BBC1. It continued to intrigue, but then that was the end. However, because the show continued to be held in affection by viewers, after a long gap, The Royle Family began to return for one-off specials, mostly at Christmas, seemingly filling the gap where Only Fools And Horses used to go as a long-running and much-loved show that now only turned up once a year to please us. vlcsnap-00457

Some viewers felt that these specials weren’t as good as the regular series, although it was always nice seeing some familiar faces doing their thing again (so I suppose the show ended up like Only Fools And Horses in that respect too), and the final special was in 2012. The Royle Family also won many awards and highlighted Aherne and Cash as talented comedy writers, and all of the 25 episodes have been released on DVD. vlcsnap-00456

One other notable thing about The Royle Family was that after it ended, Aherne and Cash went on to narrate the Channel 4 series Gogglebox, and I can’t imagine that’s a coincidence as this was also a show that mostly featured people watching the TV and commenting on what they saw, although I’ve not really ever watched it much myself. As it approaches its 20th anniversary, The Royle Family remains held in high regard.

The Comedy Vault – The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin.

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (BBC1, 1976-1979)

I’m not really that big a fan of 70s sitcoms (before my time etc), but this is one of my favourites from that era, and here’s how I discovered it. In the early-90s something rather strange happened to BBC1, they seemed to have run out of comedy shows, and around this time a lot of old ones were repeated in primetime. These included Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and Citizen Smith, well over a decade after they had ended. Another sitcom given this treatment was The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin which I remember had something of an impact on me has I had hardly seen another comedy show like it.

Reggie (played by Leonard Rossiter) works in an unrewarding role as a manager at Sunshine Desserts. His routine is always the same. We see him walking along the same streets, he always arrives to work 11 minutes late because of a problem with the train, he always has to deal with his boss CJ whose observations on life are rather baffling and he uses the show’s most famous catchphrase “I didn’t get where I am today…” by justifying them. He also has to put up with his family including his wife Elizabeth and his brother-in-law Jimmy who has always “had a bit of a cock-up”. vlcsnap-00225

At the age of 46, Reggie is beginning to get rather frustrated with where he is in life. He begins to have increasingly odd thoughts about his wife and his secretary Joan, and he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to some strange fantasy sequences including imagining his mother-in-law as a hippo. He has had enough of being trapped in this never-changing world of nonsense, train delays, and tiresome yes-men who think that everything is “super” for what becomes weeks, months, and eventually years, and he finally decides to do something about it. vlcsnap-00344

So one day Reggie fakes his own death by leaving some clothes on a beach and walking off to a new life. He does eventually return to his family however and starts a new business selling useless items, and the show eventually ran for three series as he struggles to try and make some sense of his life. Around the same time as this show Leonard Rossiter was also starring in Rising Damp (widely regarded as one of ITV’s greatest sitcoms), but I always preferred his performance in this show myself. vlcsnap-00206

After concluding in 1979, in 1996 it was decided to revive the show as The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin. Reggie has died for real now and most of the original cast (and catchphrases) returned to discover that they could only inherit his money if they combined to do something absurd. This series was something of a letdown by comparison though. All of these series have been released on DVD, and extras include the Comedy Connections documentary made about the show. vlcsnap-00322

The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin was based on a book that was written by David Nobbs, who went on to further success by creating more comedy shows including Channel 4’s Fairly Secret Army (starring Geoffrey Palmer in a role very similar to his Jimmy character) and ITV’s A Bit Of A Do (which starred David Jason). He was also behind a sitcom on BBC Radio 4 called The Maltby Collection that I enjoyed listening to recently which again showed how good Nobbs was at capturing the British eccentric and their strange turns of phrase. vlcsnap-00362

In the 80s there was a short-lived version on American TV called Reggie, and about a decade ago the series was revived again on BBC1, this time called Reggie Perrin and starring Martin Clunes in the lead role. This was justified by saying that the struggles that the original Reggie went through are still as relevant today, but it just wasn’t in the same league as the original and it ended quietly after two series.

More TV Memories – That’s Life!

That’s Life! (BBC1, 1973-1994)

That’s Life! was a long-running show that had the rather unusual combination of consumer/campaigning information, along with comedy moments reflecting on some of the stranger moments of British life. It’s Watchdog with laughs, yes! The show was hosted by Esther Rantzen (who was also one of the producers), accompanied by an ever-changing line-up of co-hosts, such as Gavin Campbell or Adrian Mills.

The show became known for highlighting things such as jobsworths and bureaucracy and for trying to help out viewers. It also led to the formation of the Childline charity, and in 1988 a double A-side single featuring covers of Beatles songs by Wet Wet Wet and Billy Bragg went on to be a chart-topper and raised a lot of money. vlcsnap-00037

The funnier moments would usually consist of misprints in newspapers, along with the seemingly never-ending supply of strangely shaped vegetables. This segment was often hosted by Doc Cox. There would also be some songs performed about what was currently happening in the news. The show would also become famous for its talking dogs, crazy cats, and people showing off their rather unusual talents. vlcsnap-00036

Another memorable thing about That’s Life! was that every edition would end with several cartoons of highlights from the show (which were by Rod Jordan) along with the credits (where Rantzen was always simply credited as “Esther”), and the show became popular enough for there to be several one-off specials made looking back at some of the most memorable moments. vlcsnap-00011

Also notable about That’s Life! was the scheduling. It was shown for many years on Sunday evenings (I have seen lots of people say that they are familiar with the famous opening theme as being their “time for bed” cue). Around the time of the 20th anniversary the format was starting to get a little tired, so the show was moved to Saturday nights, which actually hastened the show’s demise (see also ITV’s Bullseye that suffered a similar fate). vlcsnap-00024

So in 1994 the decision was made to finish off the show after 21 years with an 80-minute special called That’s Life! – All Over, which looked back at some of the funniest moments. A lot of the co-hosts also returned to share memories, and even the Prime Minister contributed to pay tribute to the show’s influence. By the time it came to an end there had been over 400 editions and it is still well remembered to this day.

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.