Game Show Memories – Box Clever.

Box Clever (BBC1, 1986-1987)

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

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

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

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

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

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


More TV Memories – In At The Deep End.

In At The Deep End (BBC1, 1982-1987)

I thought that I would try and get another blog piece out of Bananarama… you might remember a while ago I did a piece about what they meant to me where I discovered something rather remarkable about them, it’s really great. So I thought that I would take a look back at one of the more unusual moments in their career that was first shown on BBC1 on 10 February 1987.

In At The Deep End was a documentary series where Paul Heiney or Chris Serle who alternated as hosts (and were also on the panel of That’s Life! around the same time) had to learn a new skill. In one edition Heiney was challenged to direct a music video for a major pop act, even though he had no experience in that area (and he wasn’t exactly familiar with all the big names in pop music at the time either). There was also an article promoting the show in that week’s Radio Timesvlcsnap-01031

Paul began by talking to various people in the business for advice including Top Of The Pops executive producer Michael Hurll (and we also had a brief behind the scenes look at TOTP which was good) and film director Ken Russell. All he needs to do now is find a record label with a pop group that will agree to take part and put their trust in a total novice, knowing it could be a case of “nice song, shame about the video”… now who’s that going to be? vlcsnap-01032

Bananarama were a big deal around this time, they recently had a Number One single in America with “Venus”, and many people were looking forward to their next move. Paul was on board to direct the video for their new single “A Trick Of The Night” (on the “True Confessions” album, and this 50-minute documentary is featured as an extra on the DVD of the deluxe edition). banana5


Bananarama appear in Radio Times in February 1987

In his role as director, Paul also has to assemble a crew to make sure that everything is to his liking, and learn the words to the song. It clearly looks like there might be more to this than he first thought. When Paul shows The ‘Rams (as they were called in Smash Hits) his storyboard for the video their response to his ideas is rather a lot of indifference (oh to have been there when Siobhan saw the storyboard for the “Stay” video for the first time, that would’ve been something). vlcsnap-00039

They don’t seem to be too excited about it, but will Paul be able to get the job done in time behind the camera and make them look and sound good as required? He takes his seat in the director’s chair and tries to get things going. Paul informs us that two hours on the shoot have already been lost while the ladies decide on the colour of their makeup, even though the video’s going to be in black and white. Not a good sign. vlcsnap-00040

And well, if you thought they were indifferent to start with, the ladies were practically horrified by the end product (“I’m not sure it’ll hold people’s attention from start to finish” said Siobhan, who definitely wouldn’t be having that problem with her music videos five years later). This edition of In At The Deep End was shown as a one-off to coincide with the release of “A Trick Of The Night” in February 1987. Hurll and Russell thought that he didn’t do too badly for a first attempt, but how did it all turn out? vlcsnap-01033

The single reached No. 32, the ladies were reported to have not enjoyed the experience at all, they promptly went off and made another video with a tried-and-trusted director, and this is now considered to be the official video. This version wasn’t even included on the DVD of their best-of compilation released in 2012. Oh dear. Thank goodness it didn’t finish off their career. vlcsnap-01028

More TV Memories – Chockablock.

Chockablock (BBC1, 1981)

Just like there was a strand on ITV for shows aimed at younger viewers earlier in the day separate from the main CITV afternoon strand, there was also the equivalent on the BBC, and in the 80s this strand was known as See-Saw. One of the most memorable shows in this strand that aimed to make learning fun was Chockablock, which was originally shown in 1981.

One notable thing about Chockablock was that it had two hosts who alternated, Fred Harris (Chockabloke) and Carol Leader (Chockagirl) who both had plenty of experience in children’s TV. Harris also hosted other shows including Play School along with plenty of shows about computing, and he even turned up in ITV’s comedy sketch show End Of Part One. Remember that Fred is an artist who doesn’t like to work with amateurs. vlcsnap-00999

Every edition would begin with the host arriving in the buggy accompanied by the funky electronic theme music and then checking in. Chockablock featured a big machine that had plenty of flashing lights, big buttons, a TV screen, a non-working clock and a tape recorder. It looks like it had about one byte of memory which was a lot in those days. The host would then insert a block from the block stock (trying not to knock them all over). vlcsnap-00998

There would then be a sequence where various pictures would appear on the screen and the host would have to determine if they rhymed, along with some strange noises to indicate if they were right or not. They would also sing a nursery rhyme (accompanied by some illustrations) and viewers were asked to fill in the gaps with the words that rhymed as the tape recorder was rather unreliable. vlcsnap-01002

Another feature was Rockablock, which consisted of two segments that the host spun round until they could find the pictures that were words that rhymed. As this was a show that was presumably fairly short on money and time, the “make do and mend” attitude that had to be applied in those days came in useful when in one edition the wheel started to squeak loudly and Fred just carried on by saying (presumably an ad-lib) “er… I think the wheel needs some oil”. That’s the spirit! vlcsnap-01000

There were then be another song which would contain a lot of the words that had been featured in that edition, and it was a real chance for the host to show off their singing skills. Then that would be it, the host would check out, put their hardhat on, get back in their buggy and drive off. The show would then end with a shot of all the lights still flashing in the now empty studio which I always found a little eerie. Come back! vlcsnap-01004

Every edition of Chockablock was 15 minutes long, it was repeated regularly in the See-Saw slot on BBC1 and BBC2 until as late as 1989, and I’m fairly sure that I saw some of the editions in the latter repeat runs which entertained me in my younger days. Unfortunately, it is rumoured that not long after the repeat run ended some of the editions were wiped. That’s not nice is it.

The Comedy Vault – The Worst Week Of My Life.

The Worst Week Of My Life (BBC1, 2004-2005)

Sitcoms come and sitcoms go, but this is one that caught my attention. I didn’t see too much of it first time round, but there were a few things that attracted me to it and made me decide that it was worth adding it to my comedy DVD collection. Firstly, it was because it had an impressive cast. And secondly, because it featured some rather bizarre situations.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller have been in a comedy double-act for over 25 years now, but they have also appeared in a lot of TV shows separately, and The Worst Week Of My Life was a sitcom where Miller went it alone. There were two series that contained seven episodes with each one showing what happened on that day of the week, so episode one is set on Monday, episode two on Tuesday, and so on, leading up to the big climax. vlcsnap-00485

In series one, Howard (Miller) is about to get married to Mel (Sarah Alexander). Now this can be a stressful experience for most people, but Howard is somehow determined to make it as awkward for himself as possible. Mel’s parents are Angela (Alison Steadman) and Dick (Geoffrey Whitehead, who seems to have appeared in every other TV and radio sitcom since the early-70s, maybe he should win a special award for “most appearances by an actor whose name you can’t remember”), and also appearing are Mel’s younger sister Sophie and Dick’s brother Fraser. vlcsnap-00486

It is not clear if Mel’s parents really approve of Howard, and everything he does to try and make amends with them only seems to make things worse. He soon realises that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and he does things like losing the wedding ring, having a run-in with an ex-girlfriend, and sleeping in the wrong bed. There was also a lot of physical comedy in the Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em-style involved. vlcsnap-00490

This was successful enough for there to be more, so the second series was based around the week of the run-up to the birth of Howard and Mel’s first child, and again it’s a rather disastrous experience, with Howard caught in yet more daft “whose trousers are these?”-type moments. But it was felt that there was still a chance to explore this idea more, so it returned for a third series as… vlcsnap-00518

The Worst Christmas Of My Life (BBC1, 2006)

This was a mini-series that consisted of only three episodes featuring a shambolic Christmas. It featured one of my favourite moments in the series when there was a rather awkward misunderstanding, when Dick needs a rest, and goes and sits in an undertakers, Howard sees him in there and of course gets the wrong impression, and he goes off to tell the bad news to Mel and Angela, and they are upset, but not as upset as when they discover that he hadn’t died at all. It was so horrible but I just had to laugh. All three series have been released on DVD, and extras include some interviews and outtakes. vlcsnap-00523

The Comedy Vault – Harry And Paul.

Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry And Paul (BBC1, 2007)/Harry And Paul (BBC1, 2008, BBC2, 2010-2012)

Harry Enfield first came on to the British comedy scene in the mid-80s, and he quickly became popular with his range of characters (he even had a Top Ten hit single in 1988 as his character Loadsamoney). In 1990 he got his own sketch show on BBC2 that was very well received, and Enfield was now a big name. And there was much surprise when one of Enfield’s support cast Paul Whitehouse went off to his own BBC2 comedy The Fast Show in 1994, and arguably had even more success.

Enfield then went on to feature in a few flop comedy shows including Sky One’s Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show, so there was much anticipation in 2007 when Enfield and Whitehouse reunited for a BBC1 sketch show called Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry And Paul (they wrote the sketches and they were also supported by Morwenna Banks and Laura Solon). vlcsnap-00440

Enfield and Whitehouse always like to leave behind their characters however popular they have become, so this series introduced a whole new range of characters, including the American Tourists, the man who ran the antiques shop I Saw You Coming, the Posh Scaffolders, a bizarre impression of Nelson Mandela, the Old Surgeons, and pop stars Madonna and Bono. vlcsnap-00442

The response to all of this was rather middling, so they went off and had a rethink and returned with a much-improved second series (now simply titled Harry And Paul, and with a different support cast), with even more new characters, including a multilingual football manager, a cultured fisherman, and a parody of BBC2’s Dragons’ Den (a show I have never watched much myself but I still enjoyed this). The characters that returned from the first series were also in much funnier sketches, and this series won a Bafta. vlcsnap-00443

However, despite the acclaim the second series wasn’t that much of a ratings hit, so the third series moved to BBC2, and by this point it had started to fizzle out a little, with the fourth (and final) series only consisting of five editions, which were directed by Enfield. And once again, there was yet another wave of new characters, with Enfield and Whitehouse continuing to show off their ability to play a wide range of unusual people. vlcsnap-00451

It didn’t end there though, as in 2014 Enfield and Whitehouse appeared in The Story Of The 2s, where they parodied various BBC2 shows for the 50th anniversary. In 2015 there was An Evening With Harry And Paul, where they looked back at some of their favourite sketches and were asked questions by the celebrity studio audience, and this was then followed by a stage tour across the country. vlcsnap-00452

Although all four series have been released on DVD, they don’t contain many extras. And as good as some of the sketches were, none of the characters became as popular with viewers as ones from their previous series, but Enfield and Whitehouse’s reputations in British TV comedy remain impressive, and hopefully they will be around to entertain us for a while yet.

The Comedy Vault – The Office.

The Office (BBC2, 2001-2002, BBC1, 2003)

This is one of those sitcoms that has been so documented and analysed over the years I have put off my own review for a while because its story is well known and I wasn’t really sure what angle to take on it. Is there anything I could say about this show that people didn’t know already? I’ve decided that I might as well do the piece and begin with how I became interested in this sitcom.

I had heard of Ricky Gervais before The Office launched, I remember that he used to have a programme on radio station XFM which was rather notable for his shouting and endless laughing, and he then went on to appear on various Channel 4 comedy shows including The 11 O’Clock Show and his own Meet Ricky Gervais, so when it was announced that he was working on a sitcom for BBC2 I was rather interested.

At first it didn’t sound that original an idea, there had been comedy shows set in offices before, and there had already been a sitcom called The Office on ITV in the 90s (that I reviewed a while back). Gervais teamed up with “lanky goggle-eyed freak” (as he was described in an episode) Stephen Merchant to create an sitcom that would go on to be a big success. vlcsnap-00991

The Office was set in Slough and was a spoof documentary about working at the Wernham Hogg paper company. The main character in all of this was played by Gervais himself, the self-styled “chilled-out entertainer” David Brent, and he was accompanied by a great cast full of memorable characters, including Gareth and Tim who didn’t get on and spent a lot of time bickering and doing unusual things with staplers, and Dawn. The characters would also often tell us their feelings on working in such a crazy place. vlcsnap-00990

Brent was known for playing silly pranks on his staff when they had work to get on with, who also included the irritating Finchy, and who could forget Keith, a man of few words yet you couldn’t ignore him. By the end of the first series it was clear that the critics had become rather fond of this show, and there was much anticipation for the second series (it even had a Radio Times cover). The Office concluded with a couple of Christmas specials on BBC1, not bad for a show that had started out so quietly. vlcsnap-00994

The Office went on to win plenty of awards and it was also repeated frequently on various channels including UK Play and BBC Choice. The DVD releases sold very well, the extras included plenty of outtakes, some of possibly thousands that had happened thanks to Gervais and his laughing (the making-of documentary made it seem like a group of comic actors including Martin Freeman watching on bemused at this guy laughing all day). There were also script books released that were fun to read and contained lots of good pictures. vlcsnap-00997

With The Office established as one of the most successful UK sitcoms of its era (and an American version also being very successful), Gervais was now a major name in comedy in the UK and the USA, and the follow-up was BBC2 sitcom Extras, which seemed to feature all of his new showbiz mates who were keen to send themselves up, and it had possibly even more cringe-making moments than its predecessor (and I might review that soon too). We met the Brent character one last time in the 2016 film Life On The Road where he has now focused on a music career.

Game Show Memories – Pointless Celebrities Christmas Special.

Pointless Celebrities Christmas Special (BBC1, 2018)

Now I know that this is from only last month so it’s not very nostalgic, and another Christmas has now come and gone, but it was such a terrific TV moment that I just had to do a piece on it. It’s yet another celebrity edition of game show Pointless, hosted by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, where you are rewarded for your knowledge that would be useless to you in just about any other situation, and they’ve put up the tree specially. vlcsnap-00962

The four celebrity teams taking part are Dave Hill and Rob Davis, Roger McGough and Sally Lindsay, Jamelia and Sonia, and the reason that I am doing this piece, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward of Bananarama fame, making their first appearance on the show since November 2013 when they made the final but missed out on the jackpot by just one point, something that clearly still haunts them all these years later. Can they go one better this time? vlcsnap-00964

I should also point out that Brix Smith who featured in a piece that I did a while back when I found a picture of her in a pub very close to where I live in Bethnal Green alongside none other than Miss Siobhan Fahey that got me very excited appeared on Pointless Celebrities in April 2016 as part of a fashion-themed edition, but she got knocked out in the second round and didn’t win, oh dear. Today’s jackpot is £2,500. vlcsnap-00963

The first round is about cities in the show, can you identify these places at wintertime. Sara and Keren go through with a score of 88, the lowest in the round, and Dave and Rob are knocked out. Next is festive music, synonyms of Christmas carols to be precise. After a couple of good answers Sara and Keren progress with a score of 40 (again the lowest score in the round), and Roger and Sally are knocked out. vlcsnap-00965

The next round is Sara and Keren v Jamelia and Sonia (something of a surprise considering how useless Jamelia was on ITV’s Tipping Point: Lucky Stars recently). First up, pictures of famous people with Father Christmas. Sara and Keren win this 41-65. Second is members of Monty Python, and as Sara and Keren win this 22-96, they don’t even need to go to the third question and they are into the final again and maintain their unbeaten record! vlcsnap-00966

For making the final, they win a Pointless trophy! I presume they would already have one from last time, maybe they could give this one to a friend or just throw it in the bin. They choose the category Things Inbetween. They make their choices on countries alphabetically between the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands, and go for Rwanda, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. They could be in with a chance here! vlcsnap-00968

Rwanda scores four points, and Papua New Guinea scores one. This is their last chance with Samoa. And this time, well look at that, they go all the way and get their Pointless answer and they have won £2,500 for charity, congratulations! That really is terrific. And just when you thought that it couldn’t get any more exciting, the show closes with a song from Alexander. vlcsnap-00967

It seems that Sara and Keren really do know their stuff, and just when I thought that they couldn’t be any more terrific they start winning game shows. And they must enjoy it as they have appeared on another one since in January 2019, this time on BBC2’s Celebrity Antiques Road Trip where again they were very entertaining. Maybe it could be a new career for them if their next album flops.