Game Show Memories – The Common Denominator.

The Common Denominator (Channel 4, 2013)

This is a good example of a show that I’m fairly sure I remember watching recently, and then I realise it actually hasn’t been on TV for about five years now. The Common Denominator was a daytime game show that was hosted by Phil Spencer, who after hosting about 1,000 editions of Channel 4’s property show Location Location Location presumably wanted to try something a little different. vlcsnap-00460

Three contestants take part and the idea is that they have to make the link between two seemingly unconnected clues. So for example if the clues were “playground” and “music”, the connecting word would be “swing”. In the first round the contestants are given four questions consisting of two word clues and they have ten seconds to give their answer, being able to make as many guesses as they like. The two highest scorers go into the next round. vlcsnap-00455

In the second round this time the clues are two pictures and again there are ten seconds on the clock, but this time if the contestant doesn’t get it right in time, it is passed over to their opponent who then is given ten seconds themselves to find the connection. The contestant who has given the most correct answers after four questions progresses to the final where they can now play for some money. vlcsnap-00456

In the final, the contestant has to get six questions right, this time the clues consist of one picture and one word. The clues get increasingly difficult as the money increases, going from £100 for getting the first one right, up to the star prize of £10,000 for getting all six. There are 45 seconds on the clock and after every correct answer that is given, the clock is stopped and they can then decide if they want to play on and look at the next clue. vlcsnap-00457

They are helped out slightly by the fact that they are allowed to make one pass on a question, but if they decide to play the next question and run out of time before they can give a correct answer, they will lose all their money. I remember only a small number of contestants did manage to go all the way and win the top prize which was always rather enjoyable. vlcsnap-00458

The Common Denominator ran for only one series and it didn’t make much of an impact with viewers, with one frequent criticism being that it came across as little more than a simplified version of BBC2’s Only Connect, but I definitely found it one of the more interesting non-Countdown/Fifteen-To-One/Deal Or No Deal daytime game shows that has been on Channel 4 in more recent years.


The YouTube Files – Bob Monkhouse On Game Shows.

Bob Monkhouse On Game Shows (Channel 4, 1998)

Following on from my review of Peter Kay’s Let’s Get Quizzical, here’s a look at the other documentary that formed part of a special night dedicated to game shows on Channel 4 in May 1998 which has turned up on YouTube. This one was hosted by Bob Monkhouse who was definitely someone who knew what it takes to put a good game show together, as well as being a big fan of them, he hosted lots throughout his long career including Celebrity Squares, The $64,000 Question, and Bob’s Full House which is one of my all-time favourites.

This hour-long documentary took a look back at six decades of game shows on TV. Although game shows have been on British television since the 1930s, it wasn’t until the launch of ITV in 1955 that cash prizes were given away, so when Double Your Money and Take Your Pick came to the screen they caused a sensation with viewers who could watch ordinary people finally be rewarded with money for their knowledge. Not a huge amount compared to what’s on offer today though of course. vlcsnap-00425

There were also a lot of contributors to the documentary including William G Stewart, who had worked behind the scenes on various successful game shows including Family Fortunes and The Price Is Right before becoming the host of Channel 4’s Fifteen-To-One, and he spoke about how hard it can be to get a format just right, but once you get all the correct elements up and running, it can run for practically years unchanged and still remain popular with viewers. Another thing touched on was how to write questions that are challenging enough to thoroughly test a contestant. vlcsnap-00430

Also contributing were various contestants who have been very successful on game shows over the years including Kevin Ashman (who once scored a remarkable 41 points on Mastermind), Daphne Fowler (who won the first series of Going For Gold) and Trevor Montague who spoke about their experiences of how it felt to become a winner. One thing that those three all have in common is that they have all been series champions of Fifteen-To-One, although Montague was famously later stripped of his trophy. vlcsnap-00435

Bob also took a look at some of the scandals that have happened in game shows, mostly concentrating on the famous one on American TV in the 1950s (indeed, another part of this game show night on Channel 4 was the premiere of the film Quiz Show that was based on the scandal), and how viewers had felt betrayed that a seemingly knowledgeable contestant who caused great excitement on his way to a huge cash prize had been given the questions in advance. quizzes0001

One thing that is interesting looking back at this documentary is that it was shown a short time before Who Wants To Be A Millionaire launched on ITV which really did bring game shows into a new era. 1998 was just about still a time on British TV when if you took part in a show and went home with a four-figure sum you would be fairly happy, restrictions on cash prizes that could be given away had been recently removed, and being able to become a millionaire just by giving a few correct answers was about to become a reality. There is no question that the game show is a genre that is still thriving.

The YouTube Files – Let’s Get Quizzical.

Let’s Get Quizzical (Channel 4, 1998)

I have written a lot about game shows on this blog, so here’s a variation with a look at a documentary about game shows instead. In May 1998 Channel 4 had a special evening dedicated to game shows, featuring a straightforward documentary looking back at their TV history with Bob Monkhouse, along with a more amusing look at memorable moments with Peter Kay called Let’s Get Quizzical. I recently tracked both shows down on YouTube, and I thought they were interesting enough to be reviewed here.

Firstly, I was amused by the show’s title Let’s Get Quizzical because it reminded me of the time that the UK Game Shows website listed the similarly named Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Quizzy as an interactive TV game show during the time when that particular genre was very popular, and nobody seemed to notice for a long time that it was actually a non-existent parody. They really should make a game show called that though, shouldn’t they?

Now Peter is a big fan of game shows. Honestly, he’s loved them ever since he was a boy. He still has warm memories of watching lots of them a long time ago with his parents, and he’d always join in with the catchphrases. In fact, Peter is so committed to game shows that he even once watched Cross Wits on Challenge TV, and he then admitted it on this show, right in front of everyone. vlcsnap-00395

But he really still doesn’t understand why they are so popular. Why are the hosts so smarmy? Where do they find the contestants from? And why do they risk putting themselves at the risk of being humiliated for such small prizes in return? Is it because simply people want to appear on TV at whatever cost? Or is it just because they’ve got a funny story that they want to tell the host? vlcsnap-00400

We were then treated to some of the more unusual game show moments from over the years, including some that had been shown rather frequently even by that point, such as Family Fortunes contestants being unable to name a famous Irishman, Ted Rogers on 3-2-1 struggling to explain the complicated rules, Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman laughing at rude words on Countdown, contestants turning down mink coats on Sale Of The Century, Fred Dinenage losing his patience on Gambit, contestants forgetting their glasses on Strike It Lucky, the disorganised chaos of The Golden Shot, and so on. vlcsnap-00397

And of course, one of Peter’s favourite game shows is Bullseye. Even then, Peter had perfected his famous “do you remember watching Bullseye, what were that about?” routine. He would watch every Sunday without fail and loved it. He thought Jim Bowen was marvellous, even when he was rather unconvincing at trying to tell contestants that they should be really pleased to have won the star prize of a speedboat. vlcsnap-00394

This was a fun look back at game shows, and I’ll review the Bob Monkhouse documentary soon as well.

The Comedy Vault – Phoenix Nights.

Phoenix Nights (Channel 4, 2001-2002)

The first time I remember watching Peter Kay on TV was in the late-90s on BBC2’s The Sunday Show when he used to do a feature about his favourite old TV shows. He then went on to get his own comedy sketch show on Channel 4 called That Peter Kay Thing where he played a variety of characters but this passed me by, although it did get good reviews and it seemed that his career was on the up, so when he launched his next comedy series which this time was a sitcom called Phoenix Nights, I thought to myself I remember that name from somewhere so I’d give it a try. vlcsnap-00285

Kay plays two characters in the show, Brian Potter, who owns the terrible Phoenix nightclub in Bolton, and Max the doorman. Also featuring is the singer Jerry St. Clair (played by Dave Spikey, and Kay and Spikey had previously collaborated on ITV’s game show Chain Letters!), and Ray the DJ. Everything they plan seems to go wrong, including poorly attended theme nights and having a nightmare with a bouncy castle. vlcsnap-00289

Another thing that I remember about the show was when at the end of most episodes, an act would audition to perform at the club, and most of them were really terrible. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the Elvis impersonator, that was an experience. Because of all these elements, the show became very popular, partly because it featured a great range of characters and catchphrases, and it went on to win some awards. And Jim Bowen appeared in an episode, marvellous! vlcsnap-00286

The DVD also features some great extras. I remember watching the outtakes and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at anything so much. I remember that I got the DVD for Christmas one year and I watched it a few days later. I don’t know if I was hungover or if I was full of the festive spirit, but I just couldn’t stop laughing while watching them and it was all just so odd. There was also a book released which contained all the scripts from the series which was a great read, plus a few extras including some pictures of the cast. vlcsnap-00290

Phoenix Nights ran for two series, and in 2004 the Max And Paddy characters were given their own Channel 4 spin-off sitcom called Road To Nowhere but this was a little less successful. After this Peter has gone on to further success by doing a variety of things including performing sell-out tours, having a huge hit with “Is This The Way To Amarillo”, and in more recent years he has featured in the well received sitcoms Cradle To Grave and Car Share, but Phoenix Nights (sponsored by Chorley FM) will always be one of his highlights for me.

35 Years Of Channel 4.

It’s the 35th anniversary of the launch of Channel 4. Just like I did for the 20th anniversary of Channel 5 earlier in the year, here’s a quick look back at some of their most memorable programmes including game shows, sitcoms, and cartoons that I have already reviewed on this blog which are among my favourites to have ever been shown on Channel 4 over the years, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed watching these too. vlcsnap-00087

Absolutely. The sketch show which featured a wide variety of terrifically odd and funny characters.

The Adam And Joe Show. Another enjoyably inventive comedy show.

Ant And Dec Unzipped. The cheeky duo (as everyone likes to call them) have a go at doing a comedy sketch show. vlcsnap-00545

As If. The innovative teen drama.

Backdate. The daytime game show with questions based on 20th century events.

The Big Breakfast. The only way to start your day with Chris Evans and co.

Bits. The lively late-night computer games show. vlcsnap-00088

The Chart Show. All the latest music videos being rewound and fast-forwarded.

Countdown. Where it all began. The very first programme shown on Channel 4, and it’s still going. vlcsnap-00280

The Crystal Maze. The popular adventure game show that was recently revived.

Deal Or No Deal. The rather exciting big money game show.

Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. The Saturday night game show that offered some of the biggest prizes around.

Doug. One of the cartoons that I remember watching on Sunday mornings.

Father Ted. This one needs little introduction. Widely considered to be one of the best sitcoms of its era. ted

Fifteen-To-One. The challenging general knowledge game show.

Fluke. The quirky game show hosted by Tim Vine which was entirely based on luck.

Gamesmaster. Another show that entered the world of computer games. vlcsnap-01284

Garth Margenhi’s Darkplace. Sitcom that was a parody of 1980s drama series.

Harry Hill. Another terrifically creative and funny comedy show.

Hollyoaks. The long-running soap. vlcsnap-00313

The IT Crowd. Another entertaining sitcom.

The Music Game. A game show with questions asked about all types of music.

Peep Show. Mitchell and Webb keep an eye on one another in this sitcom.

Perfect Recall. The memory test daytime game show hosted by Terry Wogan. vlcsnap-00685

Rocko’s Modern Life. A crazy cartoon that I remember enjoying a lot.

Star Test. Celebrities are questioned by a computer.

TFI Friday. The entertainment show that meant the weekend was here. vlcsnap-01438

Think Tank. Another short-lived daytime game show.

Two Stupid Dogs. Another amusingly silly cartoon that was shown on Sunday mornings.

Vic Reeves Big Night Out. The show that put Reeves And Mortimer among some of the biggest names in comedy.

If you’ve got any extra memories of watching Channel 4 shows however popular or little-known they are it’d be good to know about them, and I’ve got many more reviews of Channel 4 programmes to come.

Game Show Memories – Cheap Cheap Cheap.

Cheap Cheap Cheap (Channel 4, 2017) 

After the successful and long-running Deal Or No Deal ended, Noel Edmonds returned to Channel 4 with a new show that he created himself. Noel is someone who is known to like to try something a little different in TV, and we were promised that Cheap Cheap Cheap would be a unique cross between a game show and a sitcom, where contestants played the game while various comedy characters looked on and interacted with them. 


The response from viewers to this idea was rather predictable really, with most comments on the show from people after one edition just consisting of “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, I turned off after five minutes”, and “Noel has really lost it this time”, causing the ratings to slump very quickly. I watched to the end of the run though and I just feel that I want to defend this show and reveal why I became a fan, although I am clearly in the minority. vlcsnap-00206

Noel opened his new store in Somerset and he was joined by Barry the manager (played by Alex “not the one who used to be in Hurricane #1” Lowe), plus Marijana the health and happiness guru, Kelly the sales assistant, and Brian the odd job man. Although it seems that some of their material was scripted, I’m not entirely sure if Noel knew what they were going to say, and this made things a little unpredictable. Teams of two take part and they have to determine the lowest-priced item of the three on offer, that’s it really. vlcsnap-00190

If they get stuck they have three tools that were on offer to help them. They could take a look at the next question before deciding to play, they could have the most expensive item removed, or they could have the price of one item revealed. Only one tool can be played per question though. After they make their choice, Noel reveals the prices of the items, and if they have correctly chosen the cheapest, they move one step up the money ladder. vlcsnap-00192

If they decide to play and get it wrong however, they lose all their money. There are eight steps on the money ladder, each question is in theory supposed to be more difficult than the previous one, and the star prize was £25,000 for getting eight right in a row. Barry always looked forward to opening the till for the successful contestants. Shows also straddle so if it’s time for Barry to close the shop for the day they can resume their game in the next edition. vlcsnap-00198

There were a few other odd elements to the show. First of all, there was no live studio audience as such, only the other contestants waiting to play were watching on, so most jokes met with little response, I feel that it would’ve worked better with a bigger audience, and whether you got the style of humour on offer made a difference too. Also, there were lots of guest appearances from old school 1980s celebrities including Bobby Davro, Lionel Blair, Russell Grant and Dennis Taylor who took part in sketches that ranged from amusing to cringe-making. vlcsnap-00203

Perhaps the oddest thing though was how the show ended. By the end of the run, the actress who played Kelly was absent and it wasn’t clear whether it was part of the story or if she had walked before work on the show was completed, and there was also what some people felt was a rather contrived jackpot win in the final edition that left them wondering what exactly was happening behind the scenes. vlcsnap-00199

Cheap Cheap Cheap did reach the end of its six-week run without being moved from its daytime slot, although the ratings were very bad by the end and it was a big failure, and even though it only ended last month I imagine there is no chance of it returning to the screen. If this really does turn out to be the end of Noel’s long TV career then that is very disappointing. Maybe for a second series they could relaunch the show without Noel in a late-night slot, call it Barry’s Bargain Bin and just have him shouting at contestants as they play for terrible prizes. It couldn’t do any worse.

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. 


“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. 


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.