Game Show Memories – Takeover Bid.

Takeover Bid (BBC1, 1990-1991)

When I put together my tribute to Bruce Forsyth a while ago, I realised that I still hadn’t reviewed his game show Takeover Bid, which was the first show that Bruce hosted after he returned to the BBC in 1990, so here it is. One of the highlights was the opening of the show which was as fun to watch as the actual game. Bruce would come on and try to throw a hat and umbrella on to a hatstand. Sometimes he would succeed, and sometimes he wouldn’t, and wondering what would happen was rather enjoyable. vlcsnap-00003

Bruce’s store was now open and three contestants took part, hoping to bag themselves some bargains, because there were plenty of prizes on offer. The first round was called Fact Or Fib. The contestant was given a choice of one of four prizes worth different values to bid, with the the four star prize being rather decent, and the one star prize being rather daft and useless. If they got the true or false statement right, they keep the prize which would help them in the next round, and they get a bonus prize too! If they got it wrong, they lost the prize that they bid, which could be to their disadvantage. vlcsnap-00148

The second round was Crazy Cryptics. The contestants now answer quirky questions against one another with six categories available, to earn the chance to steal prizes from their opponents. Bruce always encouraged them to be ruthless with their choices at this point, as owning the better value prizes really was worth it. This was because the contestant whose prizes had the highest value of stars at the end of the round went into the final. To help them out, at the start of the final, they are given a bonus ten stars, with their stars total then being rounded up to the nearest five. vlcsnap-00149

The final was Star Spin. There was a wheel with ten categories on it. The five-pointed star was then spun, and the five categories that the points were at when it stopped would be the ones that questions would be asked on. The contestant picked a category and could bid an amount of stars on getting the question right, winning them for a right answer, and losing them for a wrong one. If they had got at least 100 stars by the time they reached the final question, they could gamble for the star prize, which was usually a holiday, plus keeping all the prizes that they had already won. vlcsnap-00154

A couple of months after Takeover Bid launched, Bruce hosted his first edition of The Generation Game for 13 years, which turned out to be much more successful, because it was definitely the better of the two shows. However, although Takeover Bid wasn’t a huge success it still ran for a couple of series in the early-90s and it was always a pleasure seeing Bruce do his thing.

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The YouTube Files – The Polkadot World Of Strawberry Switchblade.

After having a look back at the careers of Shakespear’s Sister and Danielle Dax, I wondered if there were any more charismatic female singers with a distinctive look who made some unusual songs in the 1980s. I then remembered that there was a group who I felt fitted that description who turned out to be one of the more extreme examples of how quickly fame can come and go.

Strawberry Switchblade were a female duo who consisted of Rose “the black-haired one” McDowall and Jill “the red-haired one” Bryson who were both born in Glasgow in 1959 and 1961 respectively. They both had an interest in punk music in the late-70s and formed the group in 1981. They wrote their own songs and had some of their earliest exposure in 1982 when they recorded some sessions for various BBC Radio 1 programmes, and their first single “Trees And Flowers” was released in July 1983. It wasn’t a hit but it was well received. Around this time they also moved to Muswell Hill in London. It wasn’t until their next single was released a year later that there started to be a buzz around them. This piece will look back at their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube because it’s a story worth telling. Strawberry1

The decision was made to give their new single “Since Yesterday” which had been released in October 1984 to a quiet reception a big promotional push, and this started when in December 1984 they appeared on the cover of fortnightly music magazine Smash Hits for the first and only time. This was something of a surprise because also in this issue there was a behind-the-scenes article on Band Aid, and the fact that the pop music exclusive of the decade was passed over for the cover in favour of an almost unknown band does seem something of a curious editorial decision. It did give them a boost though, little did these self-described “scabby witches from Scotland” know that 1985 would be their year, they wouldn’t be unknown for much longer. 

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“Since Yesterday” eventually peaked at No. 5 in its 11th week on the chart and in January 1985 they made two appearances on Top Of The Pops. Unfortunately, both of these editions have been “Smithed” so it seems that they won’t be repeated and viewers will miss the chance to see their three minutes of fame on TV again, although these performances have been shown in more recent years on TOTP2 and the Goth At The BBC compilation. vlcsnap-00173

They were now famous and suddenly they were everywhere, being interviewed on various TV shows including The Paul Coia Show, TV-am’s Wide Awake ClubBBC Breakfast Time, and many others, and also frequently performing this song, including one where they seemed to be stood on a snooker table for some reason. Also around this time they featured in various other music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, plus Lookin and Jackievlcsnap-00170

I was only 18 months old when “Since Yesterday” made the Top Ten, my first memory of seeing the video was a while ago on The Hits Video, a VHS that was released in 1985 which featured 23 music videos of the biggest hits of the year, Hits being a rival to the Now compilation series at the time. The video has also had about two million views on YouTube so clearly some people out there remember them. Of course, I do have to refer to their famous look. They both had rather long hair with multicoloured bows in it along with heavy makeup and lots of fancy jewellery, and they both wore polkadot dresses. You certainly couldn’t mistake them for anyone else, and their music stood out just as much. Because I enjoyed this song, I thought it would be a good idea to find out more about them and was I pleased to discover that I liked their subsequent singles. 

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How could they follow the success of “Since Yesterday”? In March 1985, the next single “Let Her Go” was released. In the same month they appeared on the cover of weekly music magazine No. 1. Although it was seen by some as simply “Since Yesterday Part Two”, this was another good one with a fun video. They also performed this on CBBC’s Saturday SuperStore, but it reached just No. 59 on the chart. In April 1985, their self-titled debut album was released which reached No. 25. vlcsnap-00154

In May 1985 the next single “Who Knows What Love Is” was released, which was a ballad with a nice video where the ladies were featured in a strange dreamy world. They performed this song on various shows, they were also interviewed on CBBC’s The Saturday Picture Show, and they even appeared as contestants on Sandi Toksvig’s Sandwich Quiz on CITV’s No. 73! However, this song reached a rather low No. 84 on the chart. vlcsnap-00181

In September 1985 there was still hope that they would have another big hit when their next single “Jolene” was released. This was a cover of the Dolly Parton song. Now I must admit that Country music isn’t one of my favourite musical genres, but this electropop reworking was much more to my taste, and this was accompanied by a video that was made in Paris. They also performed this song on Channel 4 music show Bliss, CBBC’s Cheggers Plays Pop and BBC1’s Pebble Mill. “Jolene” reached No. 53 on the chart to become their second-biggest hit, but it was still rather disappointing. vlcsnap-00148

Although their fame in the UK was just about over, the ladies did have some success in other countries. Although they never broke America, they were rather popular in Japan, where they released a couple more singles exclusively in that country, made a few more TV appearances, and for a short while a lot of young Japanese women liked to dress like them. By the start of 1986 though, just a year on from their breakthrough, it was all over. vlcsnap-00234

It was another case of the all-too familiar story in pop music of a up-and-coming group at the beginning of the year being eager and looking forward to success, and then after having it a year later being left frustrated and with a broken friendship. After the split, Rose and Jill went their separate ways and haven’t worked together since, although they have continued to perform in various bands in more recent years, and a best-of album was released in 2005. vlcsnap-00166

They are both still around and nowadays also have something of a presence online with various fansites dedicated to their work. Although they are all but forgotten now and they only had one Top 50 hit over 30 years ago I do think that Strawberry Switchblade were something terrifically different and their brief moment in the spotlight is one of the more interesting stories in 1980s pop music.

Game Show Memories – Happy Families.

Happy Families (BBC1, 1993)

This isn’t a review of the mid-80s BBC1 comedy series, nor is it a review of the late-80s CBBC series either, Happy Families was a short-lived 45-minute long game show that was shown on Saturday nights on BBC1 in 1993 which was hosted by Andrew O’Connor and Sarah Greene. This review is a little different as I have no memory of watching this show at the time (I don’t know where I was in 1993), so why am I reviewing it?

The reason is because if you are a regular you will know that I have enjoyed a lot of shows hosted by Andrew O’Connor over the years, such as the children’s shows and game shows that he hosted throughout the 80s and 90s before he went on to have further success behind the scenes as a producer and director, and I’ve no idea why I would have never watched this at the time, so now I have finally seen an edition on YouTube here’s what Happy Families was all about. vlcsnap-00086

Happy Families featured two family teams of 11 taking part in various games in a big arena, Andrew and Sarah would also commentate on these games. One odd element to the show was that the granny from the family would sit in a cage on a crane, and every point scored by winning a game would crank the granny up one notch (leading to the show’s remembered by nobody catchphrase “crank up your granny!”). Every week a different celebrity (such as Keith Chegwin) would keep the score and also be the granny cranker (is that a word? I think so). vlcsnap-00079

Rounds included The Podmobile, where one team member was in a pod, and then had to move along to hook the next pod on and then go back, until ten pods had hooked on to one another and then they all had to race to the finish line. There was also Remote Control, where someone was in a car and gave instructions for another team member to drive it, and the team that hit the most bollards against the clock won. vlcsnap-00082

There was also Sticky Mountain, where team members wearing Velcro had to climb a wall, and the first one to plant their flag at the top won, which started giving me flashbacks to the 1995 series of The Krypton Factor somewhat. A game played more than once was Terrorball, where a team member was strapped in a rotating ball and then had to answer Mr & Mrs-style questions about the rest of their family. vlcsnap-00083

After a few more games, then came the final challenge. Teams had to get some gunge and fire it out of a cannon. For every opposing team’s target they hit, the granny went up another notch, so winning a lot of the earlier games would come in useful as it would mean they’d need to hit fewer targets to win. The first team to 15 notches released their granny and won the game (did the losing team’s granny have to stay in the air?). An added incentive was that the teams who reached their target in the quickest time went through to the next round, with the overall series winning family receiving a big trophy. vlcsnap-00085

Gladiators was a show that was very popular on ITV at the time, and it seems that this is the closest that the BBC ever got to having their own version, with Happy Families coming across as sort-of like Gladiators with teams, or a prime-time version of Run The Risk. However, the show was something of a failure and seems to be completely forgotten now, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but it was definitely an ambitious and somewhat unusual show, a curious one-series wonder if ever there was one. Oh well, at least because it never came back grannies across the country were well relived. vlcsnap-00081

Game Show Memories – a tribute to Bruce Forsyth.

After I had competed reviewing all the game shows that I wanted to on this blog, I planned to take a look back some of my favourite hosts too and some their best shows. I decided that I might as well do this one now as we still come to terms with the fact that we are now living in a post-Brucie world. Here’s a quick look at ten memorable shows which featured the great talent of Bruce Forsyth throughout his long career.

The Generation Game. (BBC1, 1971-1977, 1990-1994) One of the best shows that Bruce ever hosted, he was the original host, before he came back in the early-90s to host the era that I remember. Just about all of his famous catchphrases were in use and I remember really enjoying this entertaining show. vlcsnap-00289Bruce’s Big Night. (ITV, 1978) This is a curious one. After leaving the BBC, Bruce went to ITV and was given his own big-budget Saturday night ITV entertainment show. Despite lots of things being tried it wasn’t a big success.

Play Your Cards Right. (ITV, 1980-1987, 1994-1999, 2002-2003) Another one of Bruce’s classics which he ended up hosting three versions of. Again, I remember the 90s version which was always great to play along with and this show is definitely up there with Bruce’s best. vlcsnap-01396

You Bet(ITV, 1988-1990) Although Matthew Kelly is the best-known host of this show, Bruce hosted the first three series, where people tried to complete extraordinary challenges. Bruce would also begin every show with “the You Bet! rap”, hopefully he didn’t realise that as a single. You Bet 10

Takeover Bid. (BBC1, 1990-1991) This was a rather short-lived game show that I haven’t got round to reviewing yet but it was much inferior to The Generation Game. If the highlight of the show is when Bruce comes on at the start and tries to throw a hat and cane on to a hatstand then the actual game might not be so great. Takeover Bid 4

Bruce’s Guest Night. (BBC1, 1992-1993) This was an entertainment show where Bruce would interview various guests such as comedians and musicians.

Bruce’s Price Is Right. (ITV, 1995-2001) Another game show revival. Bruce replaced Leslie Crowther as the host of this classic show where a lot of big prizes were won. vlcsnap-01496Tonight At The London Palladium. (ITV, 2000) Viewers are always saying that they should bring back variety to TV, so who better to do it than the man who hit the big time hosting a show at the Palladium in the late-50s? Lots of variety acts joined Bruce, and he even revived his famous Beat The Clock game. Also around this time on ITV Bruce starred in an edition of the An Audience With series, and also took part in a special show celebrating his 70th birthday.

Didn’t They Do Well. (BBC1, 2004) This was a short-lived game show that I don’t remember seeing much of myself unfortunately, but it seems an interesting idea. I’d sooner watch this than that bloomin’ dancing show he started hosting around the same time!

Bruce’s Hall Of Fame. (BBC1, 2014) Bruce hosts another show at the Palladium where he looks back over his career and is joined on stage by various guests. This one is interesting because not only were my parents in the audience for this and they had a great time in his company, but it also turned out to be just about the final show that he ever did.

Beyond these shows, Brucie made a huge amount of TV appearances, and he also appeared on stage, in films, and in various adverts in a career that spanned decades. TV will never really be the same without him. He really was a terrific presenter and a real star, thanks for the great memories.

Game Show Memories – A Question Of Pop.

A Question Of Pop (BBC1, 2000-2001)

For a short while, BBC1 took the successful format of its long-running game show A Question Of Sport and used it for different genres. So we got A Question Of TV, A Question Of EastEnders (yes, really), and a music version called A Question Of Pop, which was hosted by Jamie Theakston, putting all his time interviewing pop groups on The O Zone and Live And Kicking to good use. vlcsnap-00053

Two teams of three took part, and the team captains were Noddy Holder from Slade (Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet in the pilot), and Suggs from Madness, and their good-natured rivalry did help the show to become a sort-of BBC1-friendly version of Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Their two teammates would also be pop stars, and because this show was made in the early-2000s they would usually be someone from a group that was big at the time such as S Club 7 or Steps and the like. vlcsnap-00057

The rounds were just about the same as A Question Of Sport, with a few minor changes. The first round featured the Picture Board, with the first six of the 12 pictures on offer chosen. The next round was called Pop Action, where a few clips from famous songs from throughout the years were shown and then some questions were asked. The Home Or Away round was altered so that contestants could ask for an A-side question for one point, or gamble for a trickier B-side question for two points. vlcsnap-00059

There was also the What Happened Next? round looking back at some unusual musical TV moments, then there was the Mystery Guest round, and then it’s back to the Picture Board. The final round is on the buzzer with quickfire questions, with one point for a correct answer, and one deducted for an incorrect answer. Once the gong goes, it’s the end of the game, and although there are no prizes on offer, the winning team is declared. vlcsnap-00054

A Question Of Pop didn’t endure like A Question Of Sport and there were only two series. Surprisingly it’s another game show that doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry (although the BBC Genome does list all the pop stars who took part), and around the same time in 2001 there was the short-lived A Question Of TV which was hosted by Gaby Roslin and had the team captains Rowland Rivron and Lorraine Kelly. Unfortunately although I do remember this show too I can’t find any clips anywhere so there is no review planned for the moment.

The Comedy Vault – Count Arthur Strong.

Count Arthur Strong (BBC2, 2013, BBC1, 2015-2017)

A variety entertainer from the old school who talks nonsense and thinks that he is still a showbiz star even though he is clearly past his best? No, it’s not Peter Simon… it’s Count Arthur Strong! Arthur is a character who was created by Steve Delaney who is someone who bumbles through life and doesn’t realise that chaos that he is causing for everyone else around him.

Count Arthur Strong launched on BBC Radio 4 in 2005, and although I didn’t hear the earliest editions, I heard some repeats on Radio 4 Extra and found them rather enjoyable as Arthur manages to irritate everyone he meets with his odd outlook on life and bizarre turns of phrase, and in 2013 the show transferred to TV on BBC2, although there were a few differences to the format. vlcsnap-00013

The TV version was co-written and directed by Graham Linehan, who has worked on some very impressive comedy shows over the years including The Day Today, Father Ted, Big Train, and The IT Crowd. The TV version begins when Michael, the son of Arthur’s old comedy double-act partner, tracks him down to interview him for a biography that he is writing about his dad, and he soon realises that he is unable to get any meaningful anecdotes out of him. vlcsnap-00016

Michael meets Arthur in the cafe, which is run by the rather short-tempered Bulent and his sister Sinem. The only other regular customers seem to be Arthur’s old mates, and although there were some interesting characters some people felt that maybe having one eccentric in the show was enough. However, Michael soon befriends Arthur and meets him regularly, although he doesn’t seem to realise what he is letting himself in for, and often gets caught up in his plans. Also after a while Michael started to date Sinem. vlcsnap-00020

The second and third series were moved to BBC1. Just to pick a couple of examples of my favourite moments in the show. I liked the one where Arthur auditioned to appear in a TV advert for toffees and was completely useless and kept falling off his chair. I just enjoy the idea that Arthur still thinks that he is a useful talent but this is the only work that he can get. There was also another good one where Arthur’s old mate John Shuttleworth turned up. Arthur has also been performed in a stage show and recently he published his memoir Through It All I’ve Always Laughed which is lovely. vlcsnap-00012

Count Arthur Strong wasn’t a huge success on the TV, and you either find the character very enjoyable or immensely irritating. but there were some really good moments, however it was recently announced that there isn’t going to be a fourth series. This is rather a shame, but all three series have been released on DVD, and hopefully Arthur won’t leave us altogether and he will soon be back on the radio. To hear him again really will be mucus to my ears.

Game Show Memories – Just A Minute.

Just A Minute (ITV, 1994-1995, BBC1, 1999, BBC2, 2012)

Just A Minute is the comedy panel game that has been running on BBC Radio 4 for a remarkable 50 years, but my introduction to the show was through the first attempt at a version that was shown on TV. There have been three attempts to bring this show to TV (all on different channels), and just like the radio version they have all been hosted by Nicholas Parsons.

Just A Minute is a great example of a game that is easy to play but difficult to master. Four contestants take part. They are given a category that they must talk on for one minute without breaking one of the three main rules, hesitation, repetition, or deviation. If one of their rivals believes that they have broken one of these rules, they can buzz in and challenge, and if their challenge is correct, they take over the category and must try to talk for the remaining time. vlcsnap-01307

This continues until the minute is up, with bonus points on offer for speaking when time is up, and also for going the whole minute without being correctly challenged. Although there is a winner declared at the end Parsons always insists that the most important thing is the contribution that the panellists make to the show, not necessarily how many points they score. vlcsnap-01309

So if you can think of enough creative categories, and find enough witty people to talk about them, you’ve got an idea can be stretched almost infinitely. The first version of Just A Minute came to the screen in the mid-90s. I’m fairly sure that the first series was only shown on ITV in the Carlton region in a late-night slot (and was also sponsored by the Evening Standard). The four panellists in this version were usually drawn from the alternative comedy scene, and some of the categories reflected London life. vlcsnap-01310

To help the show be a little more visual, there were some changes to the rules. Firstly, there would be a round where a mysterious object would appear, and the panellists had to talk about what they thought it was. There was also a round where the studio audience could suggest the category (a little like what happened on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Also in this version there was never actually a clock on-screen indicating how much time was remaining in the round! vlcsnap-01304

There were some changes for the second and final series. I think that this series was also shown in the Central region (a sign of the forthcoming Carltonisation of that region) and there were two regular panellists. They were Tony Slattery and Dale Winton (who I don’t think has ever taken part on the radio version which is a surprise as he was good value). After this TV version ended, from about the late-90s I began to listen to the radio version and really got into it. vlcsnap-01308

The second TV version of Just A Minute was shown on BBC1 in 1999. This was in a daytime slot and I don’t really remember watching it, but it seems that this version lacked the edge of the ITV one, with fewer alternative comedians taking part and no regulars. The third and final attempt at bringing Just A Minute to TV was on BBC2 in an evening slot in 2012. Again, this was for only a short run, and it featured some veterans such as Paul Merton mixed in with a few newcomers proving that all these years later lots of people want to have a go. vlcsnap-01311

None of the three TV versions of Just A Minute were really a huge hit with viewers, but it remains consistently popular on the radio after half a century. My sister was in the studio audience for an edition of the ITV version, and a while later my mum went to the recording of a couple of editions of the radio version, and they both very much enjoyed the experience. minute0001