Game Show Memories – Call My Bluff.

Call My Bluff (BBC2, 1965-1988, 1994, BBC1, 1996-2005)

It’s time to review another celebrity panel game. Call My Bluff launched on BBC2 in the mid-60s and it became very popular, but the era I will be looking back at is when the show was revived on BBC1 in the mid-90s and was hosted by Bob Holness until 2003. Bob of course also hosted Blockbusters which is one of my all-time favourite game shows, and it was a pleasure seeing him on TV again.

This version of Call My Bluff was shown in a weekday daytime slot. Two celebrity teams of three took part, and when the revival began they were captained by regulars Sandi Toksvig and Alan Coren. This was a show that was all about some of the more unusual words in the English dictionary. A bell would be rung by Bob and then the word would appear on the screen. vlcsnap-00006

All three of the panellists on the team would then give a definition of what the word actually meant, and some of these could be rather far-fetched, but only one of them would be telling the truth. A member of the opposing team would then be challenged to determine which one of the definitions is correct. The chosen panellist then reveals on a piece of paper whether they gave the true definition, or if it was a bluff. If they get it right, they score one point. If they don’t, the opposing team gets the point on offer. vlcsnap-00012

After this, Bob would ring his bell to reveal the next word and the cycle begins again. There would be about six words in every show so every panellist would get at least one chance at trying to find the right definition. And although points were on offer, this was one of those shows where it didn’t really matter that much who won as long as everyone joined in. vlcsnap-00013

The revival ran for almost a decade on BBC1 to go along with the almost 25 years it ran on BBC2, and Call My Bluff is among the small amount of UK game shows of which there have been over 1,000 editions produced, and as it ran for a combined 35 years on TV it was definitely an idea that endured. I only really got to watch the show in the 90s during the school holidays sometimes but I do remember enjoying it. vlcsnap-00011

One interesting thing about the show was seeing who the panellists where. For example you knew that there were laughs guaranteed when comedians like Tim Vine who always had funny stories to tell were taking part. Another impressive thing was the remarkable amount of strange words that were featured where it really would be a challenge to determine the correct answer. It was a show where you could learn some quirky things and it had the “really, is that right, I never knew that” factor. vlcsnap-00005


The Comedy Vault – Hippies.

Hippies (BBC2, 1999)

Hippies was a sitcom that was co-created and written by Arthur Mathews who was one of the writers of the classic Father Ted along with Graham Linehan, so when it was revealed that he was working on a quirky sitcom that was going to parody life in the late-60s there was a big buzz around it as there was a chance that it could be another success with viewers.

Hippies was set in London in 1969. It centred around three young people who worked together on a counterculture magazine called Mouth, Ray (Simon Pegg), Alex (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Jill (Sally Phillips of Smack The Pony fame). The basic idea of the show was that they thought they were at the cutting edge of everything trendy and they were really going to cause a revolution in society by publishing this magazine, but of course they totally failed in this area. hippies0001

Ray is the editor of Mouth which he puts together in his fancy Notting Hill flat, and he is helped by Alex and Jill, who Ray insists is his girlfriend, although she doesn’t seem to agree with this. Also occasionally appearing is Hugo who has a rather spaced out attitude to life even by a hippie’s standard. It’s probably not too much of a surprise to discover that most of the episodes ended up taking an unusual twist. vlcsnap-00299

Hippies was yet another late-90s BBC2 sitcom that I missed first time round that I got into after seeing a repeat run on UK Play. I know I am still going on about it but it was such a great digital channel, it repeated a lot of great sitcoms, and along with some of its original shows featuring comedy and music, it is still a channel I think fondly of even though it closed down 15 years ago now, and its nearest relative still on air is the channel Dave. vlcsnap-00307

There was only one series of Hippies made, as it received fairly average reviews from critics, and the planned second series was scrapped. There was an almost decade-long gap between Hippies ending on TV and being released on DVD. Although it doesn’t feature many extras, the DVD does come with a copy of Mouth, and there is also an amusing article looking at where the cast are now (well, in 2008 anyway when the DVD was released). vlcsnap-00310

About a couple of months before Hippies launched, another sitcom starring Simon Pegg began which was Channel 4’s much more successful Spaced, which unlike Hippies has remained popular and is fondly remembered. And while I would probably stop at saying that Hippies is a lost gem or in the same league as Father Ted, I didn’t think it was that bad at all really.

The Comedy Vault – Happiness.

Happiness (BBC2, 2001-2003)

Happiness is a sitcom with some comedy-drama elements that starred the great comedy talent of Paul Whitehouse, who also co-wrote and co-produced the show, and he was supported by a great cast. Danny Spencer (played by Whitehouse) is the voice of the popular children’s TV character Dexter The Bear. It has made him a minor celebrity and is steady work, but he is approaching the age when all the things that he feared would happen to him when he turned 40 are beginning, including losing his hair and needing glasses. And then as his wife dies suddenly, he begins to wonder what direction his life is going in. Can he find some happiness? vlcsnap-00277

We also meet some of Danny’s friends who try to help him out during his confused time, including the couple Terry (played by Mark Heap who it’s always great to see, you can’t go wrong if you’ve got him taking part on your show) and Rachel who is Danny’s ex-girlfriend (played by Fiona Allen of Smack The Pony fame) who are having some marital trouble, and his work colleagues including the two young sound engineers who are both called Toby who Danny has trouble getting on with whilst working on his show. vlcsnap-00279

Danny also often spends time with the down-and-out pair Sid and Charlie (played by Johnny Vegas). This is one of the first comedy shows that I remember seeing Vegas in, and I was rather amused by his acting which mostly seemed to consist of him being drunk and falling over as he suffered various mishaps (a style that has served him well throughout his career it seems), and such was his impact on the show he won a British Comedy Award for his work. vlcsnap-00280

One of the interesting things about Happiness was that because of his voice-over work Danny sometimes bumps into celebrities, usually because they were providing a guest voice on his show, and they sent themselves up in the show by playing variations of themselves. These included Kathy Burke, Angus Deayton, Cat Deeley, Ricky Gervais, and Steve Wright. Also making some brief appearances as various characters in the show were some of Whitehouse’s mates from The Fast Show including Simon Day, Charlie Higson and Mark Williams. vlcsnap-00281

Happiness ran for two series and like most other BBC2 sitcoms from around this time the first time I remember watching the show was when there was a repeat run of the first series late at night on the great digital channel Play UK, and that’s when I became a fan. Both series have been released on DVD, although there aren’t many extras and the first series is classified 18 surprisingly. Although this is one of Whitehouse’s less-remembered comedy shows, it was definitely a worthwhile project and it’s still a great piece of work.

The Comedy Vault – Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible.

Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible (BBC2, 2001)

I know that Halloween has recently been and gone but here’s a look back at a particularly spooky comedy show that I remember. In 2001 Steve Coogan decided to try something a little different. This was Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible, a six-part series which featured horror stories set in various times that were introduced by the mysterious and rather creepy Dr Terrible who invited you to fill your mouth with fear. vlcsnap-00123

Each week a different story would be told, and Coogan played the main character in all of them, so along with Dr Terrible he played seven characters in the series. Coogan also co-wrote the series, and he was joined by various actors throughout the episodes including Ronni Ancona, Alexander Armstrong, Sally Bretton, Warwick Davis, Ben Miller, and Simon Pegg, along with a few veteran actors who appeared in the original films being parodied for a little touch of authenticity. vlcsnap-00214

There really were some moments that were rather gruesome, including the story where an award-winning ballroom dancer from the 1930s loses his feet in a freak accident, and he then has a foot transplant, but his new pair seem to be cursed, the 1880s doctor from Edinburgh who is having a lot of trouble trying to find a cure for various diseases, and the story set in the 17th century which featured rather a lot of witchesvlcsnap-00215

One of my favourite stories was the one set in London in 1970s where three rather different people are trapped in a lift and their dreams become nightmares, and there was another memorable one set in the 19th century where a newlywed couple encounter some curiously lusty vampires on their honeymoon, and at the end of every story, Dr Terrible would simply conclude “that was truly diabolical”. vlcsnap-00213

The show also featured various characters who were named after production companies that made horror films, and most of the stories were parodies of real films in the horror genre, mostly from the 60s and 70s, and it was clear that the writers were fans of these films and enjoyed the chance to parody them. The show has been released on DVD and features some extras including a look behind the scenes, and some interviews with the cast. vlcsnap-00219

Although Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible was a creative show that did have some scary and funny moments, it received a rather modest response from critics and viewers, meaning that after only one series, Dr Terrible was never seen again and he is forgotten now, but a year later, Coogan returned to BBC2 for another series of his sitcom I’m Alan Partridge, one of his comedy characters that has definitely endured with viewers.

The YouTube Files – The Mysterious World Of Danielle Dax.

When I remembered that this year is the 25th anniversary of “Stay” by Shakespear’s Sister’s epic run at Number One on the singles chart in the UK, I decided that I wanted to do a blog piece sharing my memories of that song and give the group a reappraisal. Whilst putting the piece together I discovered something about Siobhan Fahey that I couldn’t believe and I ended up writing about that remarkable story instead. I then started to wonder if there were any other women with an extrovert personality who made similarly spooky or just plain weird records around the same time, and I was very pleased when I discovered someone who just about perfectly fitted the criteria of what I was looking for.

When I decided to review the Channel 4 interview show Star Test recently, I was very pleased when I discovered that Siobhan had appeared on the show as a guest. Whilst trying to find some other editions to watch on YouTube, I found one which featured a musician called Danielle Dax. I must admit that I knew nothing about her beyond remembering seeing a couple of her videos played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart in the late-80s on YouTube, but seeing her on this show finally made me curious to discover more about her, and I was very surprised by what I discovered. It seems that Danielle could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in British music in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax was born (in the same month as Siobhan in an almost interesting coincidence) in Essex and throughout the 1980s she made several creative albums. She was also in total control, writing her songs (which sometimes featured rather hard-hitting lyrics), playing a wide variety of rather unusual instruments, and she even organised her tours and interviews, not settling for any interference from record labels or anybody else on the direction of her career. In the articles that I found about her work online, words such as “unique”, “experimental” and “cult” turned up several times, and she was often compared to the likes of similarly out-there singers Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux. However, despite her obvious talent, pioneering work and interesting personality being acknowledged, she had precisely zero hit singles and albums in this country, before she dropped off the scene, and a lot of people still can’t believe that she was never a huge success. This piece will take a look back at the small amount of Danielle’s TV appearances and music videos that I have found on YouTube as I wondered why she never hit the big time… dax

1983: After leaving the Lemon Kittens, Danielle released her first solo album “Pop-Eyes” (which had a famously grotesque cover) and made one of her earliest TV appearances on the BBC2 music show Riverside shown on Halloween where she was simply described by Radio Times as “mysterious” and performed her song “Pariah”. I must admit that my jaw almost dropped the first time I saw this. Not only because it’s a very odd song featuring strange squeaking and buzzing noises with bizarre lyrics that showed off her remarkable vocal range (“walking sick sick they walking the town“), but I was also surprised by Danielle’s distinctive look with her massive red hair and heavy make-up which made her look like a long-lost cast member of post-apocalyptic drama The Tribe, or maybe pop group Strawberry Switchblade (ask your dad), which is a great thing of course. It was a fascinating performance and it was the moment that I realised what an intriguing talent she was. Who knows, maybe in a parallel universe somewhere “Pariah” spent eight weeks at Number One on the singles chart. vlcsnap-00010


The “mysterious” Danielle Dax appears in Radio Times in October 1983 (image courtesy of @woodg31 on Twitter)

1984: Danielle made a brief but memorable appearance in the horror film The Company Of Wolves. Although she only appears for a couple of minutes and has no dialogue, you certainly noticed her. She played a wolfgirl who is taken in by a priest (played by the old boy in early-90s sitcom Waiting For God, I’ll never look at that show in the same way again). She spent four hours in makeup! According to the IMDB this is Danielle’s only acting credit, I wondered if I would ever see it on TV, and then the film turned up recently late at night on the London Live channel, which was an odd coincidence. vlcsnap-00064

Also in this year, Danielle appeared on Channel 4’s music show The Tube where she was interviewed by Paula Yates and performed her song “Hammerheads”. The only article about Danielle in Smash Hits that I have been able to track down is a paragraph from a November 1984 issue about “Jesus Egg That Wept” including the fact that she likes to play the honkytonk piano. Described as “weird“, unsurprisingly. vlcsnap-00011

1985: Danielle performed a concert at The Camden Palace, which in 1986 was shown on LWT as part of their Live From London series (I haven’t been able to track down when exactly, but probably rather late at night and only in the LWT region). I was rather surprised to discover that this concert has been released on DVD, where she entertained the crowd by playing 15 songs including such bangers as “Here Come The Harvest Buns” and “Yummer Yummer Man”, and it was a great experience to see one of her shows and be in her company for an hour. vlcsnap-00052

1987: Danielle made a video for her single “Big Hollow Man”. She also performed this song on a German TV show. vlcsnap-00058

Also in this year Danielle also appeared as a guest on ITV’s late-night entertainment show Night Network, where she reviewed the latest singles alongside snooker champion Steve Davis which made for an unlikely pairing. And Danielle performed a concert in Tokyo which was shown on Japanese TV. I’m not sure how successful she was in other countries but it seems that she has fans all over the world. vlcsnap-000081988: Danielle’s single “Cathouse” which featured some fancy visual effects was played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on Channel 4. Also around this time, Danielle was interviewed in various music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, although I’m fairly sure she never appeared on the cover of any of them. vlcsnap-00063

1989: Danielle appeared on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on ITV with her great single “White Knuckle Ride”. vlcsnap-00084

Also around this time, Danielle made what must be one of her most high-profile TV appearances when she was a guest on Channel 4’s prime-time interview show Star Test and she faced the computer’s probing questions. She introduced herself by saying “I write and record all my own music, I produce it, I paint, I design record covers, I make clothes”. She revealed some interesting things about herself, for example when asked “which is your best physical feature?”, she said “ooh, my hair!”. Also, when asked “what’s the one thing you don’t have in your life that you would really like?”, she said “a cat”. According to her website, Danielle now owns four cats, so I suppose it is sometimes possible to get what you want in life. vlcsnap-00062

1990: In what was seemingly a final attempt to push Danielle into the big time, she signed to a major record label and released the album “Blast The Human Flower”, which featured a psychedelic cover of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was fairly mainstream by her standards. Her look in the video was somewhat toned down by this point, although she still had a rather large red beehive hairstyle. It seems that also around this time she appeared on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury but that doesn’t appear to be online. However, once again this wasn’t a success and Danielle missed out on fame. She was then dropped by her record label, and about a decade after her first album was released, she practically vanished off the music scene altogether, but it was also rumoured that around this time she became ill. Intriguingly, although there was a best-of album released in 1995 called “Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Career Of Danielle Dax”, there seems to be almost zero audio or visual evidence online of Danielle’s existence post-1991, which just adds to her mystique. Danielle is most certainly still with us though and the story doesn’t end here… vlcsnap-00080

After that..: In more recent years after leaving music behind Danielle’s career took an unlikely swerve and she has gone to have some success as an interior and garden designer, with her Brixton home which she designed herself featuring in several magazines. In May 1997 Danielle featured in BBC2’s interior design show Home Front when she was one of the three finalists nominated for the Radio Times/Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year award. dax0001

The finalists were challenged to decorate a room on an estate in Nottinghamshire. They had 48 hours, a limited budget, and four of their own items to decorate the room. The winner was determined by a judging panel of the show’s presenters, along with a phone vote that was open to viewers to choose their favourite. “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas” said judge and Home Front presenter Anne McKevitt. As it turned out, Danielle won the competition and appeared on the show a few times, and her work in this area has gone on to be much acclaimed.

More TV Memories – Look And Read.

Look And Read (BBC2, 1967-2004)

Look And Read is one of those long-running shows that was watched by a lot of children, but it was never shown as part of CBBC, this is because it was a schools TV show which was designed to help improve reading skills with various stories and songs. I remember watching the show in my first and second year at junior school (1990-1992).

And yes, we really did all go and sit in a small room which had a TV in it to watch Look And Read live on BBC2 (although we did have a video recorder too, honest). The novelty of being able to watch TV at 10am even though I was actually at school! There were four ten-part stories that I remember watching, although some of them were repeats, and the year that they were first shown on BBC2 will be in brackets, along with a brief analysis of what I can remember about the story. vlcsnap-00065

Badger Girl. (1984) This is the first one that I remember watching. It featured some children who visited a farm and noticed that something was happening with the badgers and ponies. vlcsnap-00067

Geordie Racer. (1988) This was a story about a boy who liked to race pigeons and had to solve a mystery, while the rest of his family were in training to take part in the Great North Run. vlcsnap-00069

Sky Hunter II. (1992) A sequel to an earlier story from 1978, this one featured a lot about bird-watching and peregrine falcons and I found it rather dull compared to the other stories. vlcsnap-00070

Through The Dragon’s Eye. (1989) Now this was definitely my favourite one, I remember really enjoying this. This was a story which begins when three children paint a mural at their school which features a dragon that suddenly comes to life! They then go on an adventure in a magical land with a very odd range of characters, there were orange people and everything! I still remember this one fondly all these years later. vlcsnap-00072

Also along the way were helped by our old friend Wordy and there were also lots of memorable animations and songs (which all seemed to be sung by Derek Griffiths which is great). Look And Read eventually ran for almost four decades, and some classic stories were also repeated in the early days of the CBBC Channel. This really is one of those shows that is fondly remembered by generations of children, and I’m sure that just about everyone who went to school throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember watching at least one of the 20 stories that were produced throughout that time and were encouraged to build a word. vlcsnap-00066

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.