Game Show Memories – Never Mind The Full Stops.

Never Mind The Full Stops (BBC4, 2006-2007)

When BBC4 launched back in 2002, this was the new digital channel that was “a place to think”, featuring all kinds of creative shows. These included an attempt at making some game shows, which were going to be rather different from what people might see elsewhere. Never Mind The Full Stops was a show all about the English language, focussing on things like spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

If you are one of those people who gets frustrated by there being an apostrophe in the wrong place, then this could be the one for you. In the trail for this, there are some examples of what is incorrect, including “Hare Dressers”. If you have come as far as completing the sign, you would’ve thought that somebody would’ve noticed the mistake before that.

The host was a somewhat unlikely choice, who usually didn’t work in TV in front of the camera. This was Julian Fellowes, who was better-known for being a writer, and he won an Oscar for the film Gosford Park. He then went on to further success by creating drama series Downton Abbey, which was one of the most popular TV shows of its era.

It seems that he is rather keen on people being able to use English properly, and in the time when “text talk” was becoming prominent, maybe there was a chance that we could learn something along the way. Two teams of two took part. These were celebrities who changed every week, although some appeared more than once, including Gyles Brandreth, Susie Dent, Barry Norman, and Sue Perkins.

There were various rounds, including having to put apostrophes in the right place, writing a sentence so it made sense, knowing the definitions of words, trying to determine where a dialect is from, and so on. There were points on offer, and a winning team was announced. Never Mind The Full Stops was considered by some to be one of the most absurd and dull ideas for a game show (and one of the most orange), that somehow seemed very British, and they couldn’t believe that this existed.

Somehow this extended to there being a second series (and at least one edition was repeated on BBC2). You might be beginning to wonder why I have decided to review this at all, but now here comes the twist. A while ago, my mum was in the studio audience for various radio shows, including a few comedy panel games like Just A Minute. It has to be said however that she isn’t as big a fan of TV game shows as I am.

It’s a long story, but somehow one day she ended up in the studio audience for this, just about the only TV show she went to. If you really want some gossip, there were only about 12 people in the audience, and Fellowes remembered the contestant’s names by writing them on notes that he stuck to his trousers, so when looked down he could see what they were. Not long after, Only Connect launched, BBC4 finally found a durable and challenging game show, and this nonsense was never seen again.

More TV Memories – Batman.

Batman (ABC, 1966-1968)

Now this is a TV show that is rather well-known, although I didn’t see this myself until there was a repeat run in the early-90s. The character of Batman had been around long before this show of course, originally becoming popular in comics. By the time that this came to the screen, there were a few questions. Was this a sitcom? Was this being played for laughs? Did people realise how strange all of this was?

In Gotham City, some know him as mild-mannered Bruce Wayne… but some, although they don’t realise it, know him as superhero Batman! The main character is played by Adam West, who was a good choice, because “nobody messes with Adam We!”. But he couldn’t have done any of it without this trusted sidekick, Robin The Boy Wonder.

They would always have to get into the Batmobile and come to the rescue against various villains. The most famous of these included The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler. And there were also the memorable fight scenes, mixed in with lots of sensational stunts, and crazy moments. Holy mackerel! That’s why the became known as The Dynamic Duo. There were 120 episodes packed into three series.

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What I do find interesting about Batman now though was how many different channels this has been repeated on over the years, and seemingly always aimed at different audiences. I remember watching this as part of Sharp’s Funday (that I reviewed a while ago) on Sunday afternoons on LWT, and I did find this enjoyable, and I think that there were also repeats on Saturdays around this time too.

By the mid-90s, the repeats had moved to Channel 4, but again they were aimed at younger viewers. And then in the 2000s, there was a repeat run on BBC4 in an evening slot. This really didn’t seem like the right channel for such a show, as this was supposed to feature educational programming. Maybe it was supposed to be an exploration of the campness and quirkiness of this era… or maybe they just bought them in cheap.

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And in the 2010s, this moved once again to ITV4, will these repeats never end? After the TV version, there would go on to be several high-profile and successful films, although these had a harder edge, along with other spin-offs. I also remember an animated version being shown as part of the early editions of CITV’s What’s Up Doc. And Adam West later went on to become the mayor of Quahog in Family Guy.

Game Show Memories – Hive Minds.

Hive Minds (BBC4, 2015-2016)

When BBC4 launched almost two decades ago now, their aim was to offer something a little different to viewers. Eventually, a game show was added to the schedule, which was Only Connect. After a quiet start, this ended up becoming a ratings success, and was popular enough to move away to BBC2. It was decided that there should be a replacement, which was this one.

In a way, Hive Minds was rather similar to Only Connect, as two teams of three with names took part, and they tried to solve clues of above-average difficulty. The host was Fiona Bruce, who was better known at the time for working in news. The set design was rather orange and purple. The idea was to find the hidden words in a grid. Every letter was in some connecting hexagons, but this was nothing to do with Blockbusters!

In the first round, there was a grid, and a clue to the word that needed to be found, by highlighting the letter that the answer began with. The earlier the word was found, the more points they scored. If they were having some trouble, some of the letters not in the answer disappeared. If they still couldn’t get the word after half of the letters had gone, it was passed over to the other team. Usually in a grid there was a full word that would be an incorrect answer, or a word that was correct but was incomplete, which made things rather frustrating.

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In the next round, there is a choice of categories, and three words have to be found in a grid in 45 seconds. They also have two passes, but if they end up using both of these, the round ends. They then move on to the Supergrid. In this, there are eight answers, and every letter in the grid is used. There are two minutes, and contestants take it in turn to answer. The final round features more words that have to be found, but this time on the buzzer.

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As this show had a knockout format, the winners progressed to the next round, and at the end of the series, an overall series champion is declared. At the end of editions, there would also be a clue that viewers could solve. Hive Minds definitely tried to pick up where Only Connect left off, and if you could grasp the idea, then it was definitely something that gave the brain some training. However, there were only two series, and BBC4 hasn’t really tried anything else like this since.

The Comedy Vault – Vic And Bob’s Big Night Out.

Vic And Bob’s Big Night Out (BBC4, 2017-present)

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are a double-act who have been on TV together for about three decades now. Their big breakthrough was Channel 4’s Vic Reeves Big Night Out, and then they went off to the BBC for further success including Shooting Stars. They have also contributed to sitcoms including Catterick and House Of Fools (that I also plan to review soon).

But after Shooting Stars and House Of Fools both ended around the same time, they suddenly didn’t have too much TV work on the go, and a new show for Channel 4 didn’t go any further than a pilot. So their career ended up going full circle when they decided to revive the Big Night Out format, only this time Vic and Bob would now have equal billing, how nice. vlcsnap-01051

Something that is notable about the show is that it was on BBC4, a channel not really known for making many original comedy sketch shows, but after a pilot, a full series followed. However, this ran to only four editions, and seemed to be made on a budget of about £50, but fans would be hopeful that there would still be plenty to offer, recalling the days of when Vic and Bob had chart-topping singles, sell-out tours, and nice hair. vlcsnap-01049

It was rather surprising to note that some of Vic and Bob’s oldest characters were revived to take part in the show, so after a long time we caught up again with the likes of Graham Lister, Mulligan and O’Hare and their lovely songs, the Stott brothers, Novelty Island, and The Man With The Stick. Their old assistant Les didn’t take part though, so some random bloke in a shellsuit joined in the sketches with them, along with a surprise celebrity guest or two who didn’t mind being mildly embarrassed. vlcsnap-01048

There would also be some songs at the start and end of the show, along with some sketches on location that were rather surreal even by their own standards. There were too many studio audience cutaways for my liking though, but they all clearly had a good time. After this, there was a second four-edition series with more of the same, I think it was later repeated on BBC2, and hopefully there might be more planned to come soon. vlcsnap-01052

The DVD is a little disappointing. It doesn’t contain the pilot, only the four editions of the first series with no extras, and I don’t think the second series has been released at all yet. Overall it was still enjoyable though, and along with Bob’s well-received documentary series alongside his old china Paul Whitehouse, it’s great that this double-act are still doing their unique thing all these years on.

Game Show Memories – Only Connect.

Only Connect (BBC4, 2008-2014, BBC2, 2014-present)

When BBC4 launched, it made sure that its programming was distinctive from BBC2 and other various channels, so when they launched a game show it was clear that it was going to be something different. Only Connect was the show where teams had to make the connections between what appeared at first to be seemingly unrelated items, and it was hosted by Victoria Coren, who was taking some time off from winning millions of pounds in poker tournaments. vlcsnap-01028

Two teams of three took part. In the first round, there were six connections to choose from and 40 seconds to confer. The team picked one, and then the first clue was revealed, but at this point they were so vague the the answer really could be anything. If they could make the connection though they scored five points. But if they didn’t know, they could ask for the next clue, but they would now score three points for getting it right, two points if they needed the third clue, and one point if they needed all four. If they still didn’t know, it would be offered to their opponents for one point. vlcsnap-01029

Also among the choices were one visual connection and one audio connection. The second round was slightly different. Teams picked from six choices again, but this time they had to find the sequence. They would not be given the fourth clue because they would be expected to have worked it out by then and know what comes next, although again the clues were very tough. vlcsnap-01038

The next round was the wall. A 4×4 grid appeared and teams had 150 seconds to press their buttons and make the four connections. This was also tough, and it was made even more difficult by some connections offering five or six answers, so they had to choose the right four. Once they had the first two connections, they had three chances to make the third which would reveal the fourth. But remember you must deselect before you reselect. After this, they would be asked to explain the connections for more points. vlcsnap-01039

The final round was on the buzzer. There were four clues connected by a various category, but they had all their vowels removed. Teams had to buzz in, with a correct answer scoring one point. This meant that the game was kept alive, and teams were tested on how quickly they could work out the phrases, with the winning team progressing to the next round, until the final where there is an overall series winner. vlcsnap-01047

Only Connect features some of the toughest questions that have ever appeared in a game show, and the teams had to put a lot of thought into the choices before they answered. This does help the gameplay element though because if viewers watching at home can work out the connection at the same time as the contestants, or even before them, then they should be very pleased with themselves.

I didn’t see much of the early days of Only Connect, but the first series was repeated on Dave a while ago. The show ended up being so popular on BBC4 that it was moved to BBC2 where it continues to do well. The next series which starts soon will have 37 editions, which is the longest yet, and there seems to be a qualifying system that has been designed to be as deliberately difficult as some of the questions, with teams playing endless games before progressing to the next round. I feel that the success might be beginning to be milked a little, but it is a good example of a show that has grown through word of mouth and a clever idea.