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.

The Comedy Vault – The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin.

The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin (BBC1, 1996)

I have decided to review this one as it does have a rather curious idea for a sitcom. In the early-90s, BBC1 repeated some classic sitcoms, including The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, and this is when I saw this one for the first time. By the mid-90s, it was decided to revive a few sitcoms from this era, including The Liver Birds, along with this one too. But there was one big problem with doing this of course.

Leonard Rossiter, who played the lead role, had long gone, so it was wondered how they would get around this. It was decided to kill off Reggie in this series too, although the majority of the original cast members did return. But as it always seems to be in sitcoms, it is rather strange to think that all of these people would know each other all these years on, and still talk the same, as if they’d been switched on for the first time since 1979.

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The idea of The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin was that Reggie (as they knew him) has left £1m in his will, but his family and friends will only receive this money if they do something rather absurd. And cue the catchphrases, but apparently that this was amusing enough. I didn’t get where I am today by having a cup of tea! “I remember when he used to say that on TV 20 years ago, how amusing”, the viewers probably didn’t think.

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After they try out a few things individually, they decide that it would be a better idea to unite, and they form an organisation that plans to march on parliament to try and make a difference for the elderly. By the end of the series though, it is determined they weren’t absurd enough, so nobody gets any money, making the seven episodes something of a waste of time (this is how some critics felt about this show too).

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However, anything that features Geoffrey Palmer doing his thing can’t be all bad, and there was a guest appearance in an episode from Otis The Aardvark, so maybe this was all worthwhile. This was always going to come off second-best to what is considered to be one of the best sitcoms of its era. You could say that it was a bit of a cock-up on the comedy front, oh no, I’m at it now.

This still wasn’t the end though, as another decade on from this, it was decided to do a remake, now with Martin Clunes in the lead role, as it was argued by writer David Nobbs that the struggles that Reggie faced in the original version were still relevant in the present day, but again, it was determined by viewers that it had all been done before, and done much better.

More TV Memories – Nine O’Clock News.

Nine O’Clock News (BBC1, 1970-2000)

Having recently looked back at News At Ten, I thought that it would make sense to also take a look at the BBC’s equivalent main evening news. Again, I hope I can avoid making fairly boring observations about the set design and the like, but the way that this show developed over the years whilst always trying to maintain that the viewers were informed is rather interesting.

After News At Ten turned out to be a success for ITV, the BBC realised that it would be a rather sensible idea to also have a main weekday evening news show in a fixed timeslot. Nine O’Clock News originally featured only one host, although this was soon changed to two. By this point, the newsroom was shown behind them using a blue-screen effect.

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This meant oddly that when the shot changed to the other host, the background remained the same. And this would be long before computers and the like, and it’s rather unusual now seeing only typewriters and telephones everywhere. It does make me wonder how TV shows were able to be put together at this point, waiting for technology to catch up, and I feel it’s surprising that anything ever managed to get to air before 1985.

By the late-70s, this had changed back to one host again, in a rather drab-looking studio. The style was definitely professional, but also very straight, there were standards that were expected to be met, there was no “and finally”-type coverage going on here. By the mid-80s, there was another return to two hosts, along with the famous “exploding fish fingers” opening sequence being introduced.

And then in the late-80s, they returned to one host yet again, and they had another new opening sequence, while the other BBC news shows that had their openings introduced in the mid-80s kept them well into the 90s. There was a new transmitter-style symbol, and the music was rather loud, anyone who might’ve been nodding off by this time would probably have fallen out of their chair with the shock.

The next relaunch in the mid-90s featured the famous virtual studio, and hosts at this point included Michael Buerk, Martyn Lewis, and Peter Sissons. They were all respected, but this was at a time when the BBC took their commitment to news very seriously. By the late-90s, the News 24 channel launched. And then, in 1999, News At Ten came to an end on ITV, which provoked a big change.

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It had always seemed a little unusual to me that the BBC had a news show barely two hours after the last one, but suddenly there was a gap at 10pm that it seemed fairly obvious to move their news to, meaning that more shows could be tried out in a 9pm slot. By now there was a brighter look, along with music that I remember was described by one critic at the time as “self-important tom-toms”. In 2000 the move took place, and the news continues at that time to this day.

More TV Memories – Good Morning.

Good Morning (BBC1, 1992-1996)

There was once a time when BBC1 used to have some trouble creating a popular daytime schedule. Indeed, there wasn’t really one at all until as late as 1986. Before that, Pages From Ceefax filled most of the gaps, before someone realised that it might be a better idea to put some actual shows there. Going into the 90s, there were several strands tried, including the little-remembered Daytime UK.

But then it was decided to launch a show that had a rather familiar idea. This Morning launched on ITV in 1988, which was live, was hosted by married couple Richard and Judy, and this had done well. Anne Diamond and Nick Owen were a double-act who helped to restore TV-am’s reputation after the original “mission to explain” rather spectacularly collapsed. They were not married, but clearly had some chemistry. After this, they had gone on to various other things, including Owen becoming a host for ITV Sport.

They were persuaded to reunite for this daytime show. Good Morning was a live weekday show that had a mix of lifestyle features and interviews. There were experts who appeared regularly, who would offer their advice on cookery, gardening, and so on. And there would also be celebrity guests on the sofa, along with phone-ins and competitions. The slight problem with this idea was that just about everybody noted that this was little more than a clone of This Morning.

Curiously, there were even breaks, but as this was the BBC, they didn’t contain adverts. They were practically PIFs that offered us advice on various things. It seems that This Morning didn’t exactly feel that this was anything of a threat to their ratings. Host Richard Madeley later said in an interview that it was all rather bizarre, as if the people that had moved in next door started to dress like you, and wanted to be the same as you.

It turned out that Good Morning ran for almost four years, which is longer than I thought because there were always reports that this show was struggling in the ratings, indeed, some critics said that they might as well have continued to show Pages From Ceefax, it couldn’t have done any worse. BBC1 then realised that it might be a good idea to try and do something different with the slot, while This Morning continues to run to this day, and in more recent years Anne And Nick have worked in regional TV and radio.