Game Show Memories – Countdown 3000 And Counting.

Countdown 3000 And Counting (Channel 4, 2001)

In 2001 Channel 4’s long-running game show Countdown reached its 3,000th edition, which was something that they were very proud about. There was a special show to mark this occasion called 3000 And Counting. This was somewhat different to the special for the 2,000th show that I reviewed recently that was in front of a live studio audience, as it was done in the style of a documentary (narrated by Sue Perkins). vlcsnap-00801

This included a look behind the scenes and contributions from Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman who had worked together for almost 20 years by this point (it is a surprise to realise that Carol left the show almost a decade ago now). There were also contributions from celebrity fans of the show, and everyone from Chris Moyles to Terry Wogan told us why when the time hits 4:30pm they always like to regularly watch. vlcsnap-00805

We saw some classic archive clips (although they were mostly the same as the ones that featured in the 2,000th edition special). We also saw some of ITV Yorkshire’s Calendar Countdown series, which wasn’t that great really, but it was still much better than the unaired pilot from 1981, that really was a shambles. At least there were no ferrets in the studio. We should be grateful that Channel 4 saw the potential in the idea when they needed a daytime game show for their launch schedule. vlcsnap-00796

The contributors felt that the secret of the show’s success is simply that it is so easy to play along with at home, everyone likes to try and outperform the contestants. There was also the appeal of Richard’s terrible puns, and various other things like the way that some words rather unusually seem to turn up rather frequently, so if you meet a Countdown fan, shout “LEOTARDS” at them, they’ll know what you mean. vlcsnap-00792

Although there have been a few more special documentaries about Countdown, I am fairly sure that this is the last one that was made to celebrate an anniversary. But for the 5,000th edition in 2010 Des Lynam appeared, making him the only one to have completed the hat-trick of being the host of Countdown (from 2005-2006), a contestant (on the celebrity version in 1998), and a Dictionary Corner guest (although only for this edition). vlcsnap-00804

This special was shown shortly before Countdown was extended to 45 minutes, and it’s clear why many people consider the show to be an institution, and it is remarkable how much it has changed over the past 35 years. Deal Or No Deal is the only other UK game show that has passed the 3,000 edition landmark, but Countdown is now not far off its 7,000th edition. It looks like the end could still be a long time away.

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More TV Memories – Light Lunch/Late Lunch.

Light Lunch (Channel 4, 1997-1998)

Light Lunch was shown live on Channel 4 on weekday afternoons for about a year. It was was essentially a combination of a cookery show, a comedy show, and a chat show. It was one of the first shows to be hosted by the comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, before they ended up hosting just about every show on TV either together or individually. From this to The Generation Game in 20 years! There was also a live band in the studio whose name seemed to change in every edition who would play various songs throughout the show. vlcsnap-00788

Every day Mel and Sue would be joined by a guest chef who would create a meal for them, and there was a always a cryptic message spelled out in magnetic letters in the background. Now this was around the time when celebrity chefs were popular on TV, and everyone seemed to have their favourite. One contributor to the show was Ross Burden, but of course he’s no longer with us. Remember that all the featured recipes are available on 4-Tel. The studio audience would also be asked at this point what they’re having for lunch. vlcsnap-00789

When it was time for the meal, Mel and Sue would be joined by some celebrity guests and they would be interviewed while they all had their lunch, and they seemed to have some rather decent guests take part. For example Terry Wogan turned up once, although his son Mark did happen to be the guest chef that day. Various comedians, actors, singers and so on also guested, and watching it back now Light Lunch turned out to be a good time capsule of late-90s celebrity. vlcsnap-00790

Then afterwards the guests would then be asked questions by the studio audience, and viewers could also interact by faxing a question or talking to them live on the phone. No tweets in those days! Everyone would also be introduced with some funny captions. There would also be a few comedy sketches and music performances thrown in too. Light Lunch did rather well for Channel 4 and raised Mel and Sue’s profile to the point that the show then returned as… vlcsnap-00791

Late Lunch (Channel 4, 1998-1999)

It’s back! But now it’s in an evening timeslot where it ran for another year in a similar style, although it was now half-an-hour instead of an hour. Along with The Big Breakfast and Late Lunch, you get the feeling that Channel 4 should’ve continued this theme all day and commissioned a late-night live show called something like The Super Supper. Or maybe I just have an odd imagination. This was an enjoyably quirky show that was always good to watch.

Game Show Memories – The Crystal Maze the revival.

The Crystal Maze (Channel 4, 2016-present)

The Crystal Maze originally ran for six series on Channel 4 in the 90s. It was widely regarded by viewers as one of the all-time great UK game shows, especially when Richard O’Brien was the host. Long after it ended, it was still fondly remembered by many people including myself, it frequently topped greatest TV show lists, and maybe more than any other game show in UK TV history it was the one that viewers hoped would return to the screen one day.

A few years ago The Crystal Maze Experience opened where people could play games in a replica of the maze. After this did well, in 2016 it was announced that The Crystal Maze would finally return to the screen, but only as a one-off special for charity. However, this was successful enough for there to be a full series announced, the first for 22 years. Who could possibly fill the shoes of Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole and become the new maze master? Although hopefully they would be given their own shoes…

The choice was Richard Ayoade. He would be best known to viewers for appearing in various comedy shows including Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and The IT Crowd, and I remember watching him in all of them. As the structure of TV had changed rather a lot since the last series, there were several changes to the format, including a remix of the famous theme music. vlcsnap-00011

Firstly, a team of five would take part instead of six, and they would all know one another beforehand instead of being put together. The four time zones were back, with the return of the Industrial zone replacing Ocean, along with Aztec, Medieval, and Futuristic. Also, fewer games were played, simply because there are more advert breaks in an hour nowadays. Maybe the show would’ve benefited from being extended to 75 or even 90 minutes however inconvenient that might be. vlcsnap-00182

Ayoade tried to make his mark on the show by using some quirky terminology, such as describing the length of games as “mins” instead of minutes, and “ALIS” for an automatic lock-in game. Another one of his gimmicks is a fake hand thing on a stick which he uses to guide the contestants to their next game. He also wore a lot of brightly coloured suits. vlcsnap-00780

As ever, the teams play the various games to try and win the crystal for five seconds of time inside the Crystal Dome. One of the games features the severed head of Adam Buxton which was a nice touch. There was also one game which had no time limit which was an interesting move. Some games were also edited down, it seems with fewer games played they still couldn’t fit them all into the available time. The Dome looked very impressive though, and there were plenty of great prizes on offer for winning teams. vlcsnap-00784

Viewers had plenty of opinions about the revival. Firstly, although some of Ayoade’s asides were rather amusing, they seemed to be the same in every show, and his attempts of indifference and sarcasm at the team’s performances made it seem like he didn’t really care whether they won or lost. Intentional or otherwise, he came across as a little too distant. vlcsnap-00785

Also, there was the standard of contestants. I remember watching a video online a while ago featuring some funny unseen moments from the original series, including one where you can hear the production team despair at a contestant’s failure, leading to some “where do we find them?”-type comments. vlcsnap-00781

Some of the performances in the revival were so bad you get the feeling that they were only chosen so their games could be turned into videos with “check out this failure!”-type descriptions to try and gain some easy laughs and publicity. Indeed, in one edition, a team who won some crystals but bought out their locked-in teammates ended up being the first team to go to the Dome with no crystals, making their show a waste of time and some viewers were surprised that it aired at all. vlcsnap-00787

Another problem was the scheduling. Sometimes it was shown on Fridays, sometimes on Sundays, and the running order was all over the place, with some editions credited as from series three being shown before ones from series two. The show then began to be propped up with endless celebrity specials. I very much hope the final editions don’t end up being burned off at around midnight on E4, it deserves better than that. There was also a book released featuring various challenges to play along with.

The Crystal Maze revival has ended up falling between the two areas of younger viewers who don’t remember the original version not being won over, and older viewers remaining unconvinced about the whole thing. After the initial excitement, the ratings slumped and it’s unclear whether there will be any more series. I will continue to watch though, even if overall it can be classed as something of a disappointment.

More TV Memories – The death of Diana.

The death of Diana (BBC1/BBC2/ITV/Channel 4/Channel 5 etc., 1997)

I wanted to do a piece on here about UK news presentation, so I’ve decided to review this, because it was an historic TV moment. This piece isn’t going to analyse the politics of the event, such as the role that the monarchy plays in this country or attitudes to grief, it’s just going to concentrate on the TV coverage on various channels on 31 August 1997, and I’ll also reveal for anyone interested where I was when it all happened.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about it really was its timing. It was at the end of August early on a Sunday morning, a time when not much is usually happening, and it’s when lots of people are usually away. If there really is a time of year when news departments can deal with having fewer people around because it’s quiet, it’s this. What’s the worst that can happen?

The first report about the crash interrupted a film on BBC1 at about 1:15am. It was hosted by Martyn Lewis as it seems that he was the presenter who lived closest to the studio and they needed to get someone on air as quickly as possible. There was another news report interruption before the film ended at around 2:30am (which was rather late for a BBC1 closedown in those days, I wonder what would’ve happened if they had gone off air around 12:30am that night?). There was also a news report on BBC2. vlcsnap-00683

When it was time for the planned closedown, BBC1 actually stayed on air, and for the first time they handed over to BBC World News for continued coverage (the BBC’s own rolling news channel didn’t launch until November 1997). Having watched the story develop all night, it must have been a remarkable moment for people when it hit them that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending, the moment when you realise that something has gone horribly wrong. vlcsnap-00729

BBC1 returned at about 6:30am with Martyn Lewis presenting again. It was clear that this was an occasion where they had to get the balance right as unlike most news programmes it could be repeated for years after. It’s reported that channels do rehearsals of royal deaths coverage so that when the time comes everything is carefully planned and scripted. But they really did seem to have nothing ready for Diana, it was just so unexpected. vlcsnap-00723

Because of this news, coverage was also shown on BBC2, meaning that for the first and only time a special generic “BBC” ident was used, along with a rather alarming announcement that regular programming had been suspended, bad luck for people waiting to watch the EastEnders omnibus. Another thing about news is that presenters mustn’t get too emotionally involved in a story, but it was clear that it was difficult in this case, you could really sense the disbelief coming through. vlcsnap-00721

Watching some coverage again, one thing that strikes me now is just how straightforward and sombre it is, there are no oversized captions or tickers on the screen, and little use of that increasingly devalued phrase “breaking news”, and the whole presenting team weren’t all bussed out to stand outside Buckingham Palace or some such place all day, and it does still pack an emotional punch. vlcsnap-00730

For the rest of the day on the BBC, Peter Sissons took over as presenter at around 1pm, and joint coverage ended around 3pm when BBC2 showed some sport. There were also some special programmes on BBC1 including documentaries, and the day seemed to turn into an endless edition of The Nine O’Clock News. What had started out as a quiet summer Sunday ended as the biggest operation in the history of BBC News. vlcsnap-00714

As for what happened on ITV, they also had a few news reports throughout the night, before at around 5am The Chart Show was famously interrupted to begin the coverage from ITN that was hosted by Dermot Murnaghan and Nicholas Owen, before at 6am they had to join GMTV. When that ended at 9:25am, it was back to ITN for most of the day. The only scheduled programmes I remember surviving on LWT were Coronation Street (minus its Cadbury’s sponsorship) and Heartbeat, which was followed by a special programme hosted by Trevor McDonald. vlcsnap-00712

Also, it seems that Channel 4 showed some news reports throughout the day along with The Art Of Landscape, but I think most of their schedule stayed the same, although there was an hour-long special edition of Channel 4 News in the evening with Jon Snow. Channel 5 eventually pulled their programming to be replaced by Kirsty Young and Rob Butler in the studio with a desk and everything. vlcsnap-00728

As for where I was when this all happened… I was in bed. Well I was, no-one knocked on my door overnight to tell me what had happened or anything like that, this was how I found out. The summer of ’97 was really the only time that I regularly listened to Capital FM, and it meant that I must have heard the biggest hits of that time including “D’You Know What I Mean?” and “Freed From Desire” hundreds of times on that station.

It was a Sunday morning and I was going back to school a couple of days later so I thought that I would have one last chance for a lie-in. I decided to put Capital on at about 10am but instead of music I heard a news presenter talking about Diana. I wasn’t really sure why, I didn’t know why they were talking about her yet again, then I wondered suddenly… had something happened?

So I went downstairs and saw the BBC News coverage along with newspapers such as the News Of The World and I was rather shocked. It was so unexpected, my first thought was “she won’t be in the newspapers or on the TV any more”, although that wasn’t really how it turned out of course. There had been so much constant speculation (maybe too much) around this time about Diana’s next move that for all of it to end so suddenly really was the most unusual and unforgettable experience.

Game Show Memories – Countdown Supreme Championship.

Countdown Supreme Championship (Channel 4, 1996)

Here is yet another interesting Countdown variation. In 1996 the 33rd series of Countdown was also the Supreme Championship. This was where the best contestants from over the years, mostly series champions and runners-up going all the way back to the first series in 1982 competed against one another to determine who really was the best of them all.

The contestants were put into seven groups, with the group winner advancing to the quarter-finals, and the eighth place was taken by the winner of the most recent Champion Of Champions tournament. When the climax of the series finally came, the two finalists were Allan Saldanha and Harvey Freeman, who were widely regarded to be the two best contestants at that point in Countdown‘s history. vlcsnap-00669

This meant that although host Richard Whiteley always insisted that Countdown was never anything more than a daytime game show, when the standard is this high the gameplay will be a delight to watch. Carol Vorderman was the co-host as usual and Nigel Rees was in Dictionary Corner, but it would be tough to keep up with these two talented contestants. vlcsnap-00666

Countdown is also a show not known for its big prizes, but there was a specially commissioned trophy on offer for the winner, along with a trip to Paris to see an edition of the original French version of the show being made. As this was a final, this was a 45-minute edition which featured 14 rounds, including two conundrums, and the studio audience was filled with the other contestants who took part throughout the series, and Richard might just take the opportunity to ask if they are keeping with the finalists. 

Would this be a game worth watching? Well in round one Harvey finds the nine-letter word CREOSOTED to take an 18-0 lead straight away. After same fairly easy numbers rounds, Harvey maintains his lead going into the first conundrum. Surprisingly, neither contestant can guess that the word is SPEEDBOAT. Maybe they should watch Bullseye more often. vlcsnap-00668

After the break, Harvey manages to solve some slightly more difficult numbers games, and he has extended his lead to 30 points, but there would be no more nine-letter words on offer though. Allan has managed to reduce Harvey’s lead to 13 points by the time of the second conundrum which is the final round. Allan solves the conundrum which is the rather appropriate SUPERSTAR, but it isn’t enough, and Harvey (who also won series 10) wins the final 82-79. vlcsnap-00674

Harvey is then presented with the main trophy by the chairman of Channel 4 Sir Michael Bishop (runner-up Allan received a smaller one) to much applause in a final that definitely did live up to its promise. In more recent years there was a similar series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Countdown where again lots of series champions took part and the gameplay was of a very high standard. vlcsnap-00672

Game Show Memories – Countdown 2000.

Countdown 2000 (Channel 4, 1997)

Having looked back at many variations of the classic Channel 4 game show Countdown… it’s time to review yet another one. In 1997 Countdown had been going for 15 years and celebrated reaching its 2,000th edition with a special show (although it is now not far off its 7,000th edition, and by some distance it holds the record for the most editions of a UK game show, with over twice as many as the show in second place which I’m fairly sure is Channel 4’s Deal Or No Deal with 3,001).

Countdown 2000 came from the Greenwood Theatre in London in front of a live studio audience and was hosted by Fifteen-To-One‘s William G Stewart (who also hosted the 1997 Christmas special). This edition was a little like This Is Your Life as Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman were joined on stage by various celebrities and fans who shared their memories of the show (coincidentally, Richard and Carol were both subjects on BBC1’s This Is Your Life in 1997, the year of this show). vlcsnap-00632

Highlights included a look at the Calendar Countdown series that was shown on ITV only in the Yorkshire region in 1982 (which evolved from the 1981 unaired pilot that I also reviewed recently) which led to the show being picked up Channel 4, some memories of the earliest series where along with Carol, Richard had so many co-hosts it almost came across more like The Price Is Right (Carol didn’t become the sole co-host until 1989), and also some of the most famous Dictionary Corner dwellers including Gyles Brandreth and his jumpers. vlcsnap-00633

There was also a look back at some of the most successful contestants and the famous parody on BBC2’s A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. The show ended with Denis Norden (of ITV’s It’ll Be Alright On The Night fame) taking a look back at some of the best cock-ups on the show, including the time when Richard accidentally called the 1,500th edition “the 15,000th”, said that the next series coming in 1996 would be “in 1966”, and when he almost fell asleep during a numbers game. vlcsnap-00631

This was an enjoyable edition which really did show how fondly thought-of this long-running game show is, although a lot has changed in the 20+ years since, and there is still plenty to explore. When Countdown reached its 3,000th edition in 2001, there was another special made looking back at the history of the show called 3000 And Counting and I might review that soon too. vlcsnap-00635

More TV Memories – The 100 Greatest TV Adverts.

The 100 Greatest TV Adverts (Channel 4, 2000)

A long time ago back in the early-2000s (it’s very odd to think of the early-2000s as “a long time ago” now but that’s another story) there was a brief craze for shows on Channel 4 looking back at various things compiled into Top 100 lists. These shows aimed to determine the greatest in genres including pop music, news, sport, comedy, and so on, and viewers were encouraged to vote for their favourites (I’m fairly sure that I voted in one or two myself). They also did one about TV adverts, and what with this blog being about nostalgia and me being an old adverts fan, you’d think that I’d be all over this one, right?

Well yes, I do remember watching this show at the time and being very interested in it. The reason that these list shows briefly became popular was because they wanted to cause debate with viewers who were keen to see where their favourites ended up (and causing lots of frustrated “it can’t believe that was only at Number 36 on the list, it was great”-type moments), and because they seemed to go on for hours and hours. vlcsnap-00608

The 100 Greatest TV Adverts was a show that fondly reminisced about some of the most memorable adverts, and as advertising on British television launched in 1955, at the time there were 45 years worth to choose from. The show was hosted by Graham Norton, and it also featured a lot of what very quickly caused the genre to lapse into cliche, including several contributions from Stuart Maconie who famously appeared on just about all of these type of shows, telling us his “ooh I remember that”-type memories, and Peter Kay also turned up to take a look back at some of the more unusual adverts that didn’t make the list. vlcsnap-00612

As the hours progressed, we saw a lot of the most famous adverts from over the years feature, including the Milkybar kid, PG Tips, the Smash robots and so on, and the stories behind them from the people in the know. As it turned out, the winning advert was for Guinness, it was very impressive but I wonder where it would be on the list nowadays? I remember about a year or two later this show was repeated with an update, including a few more adverts that had made an impact with viewers in the time since the original showing. 

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This famous advertising campaign finished high up the list…

As enjoyable as it was, the nostalgia lists genre seemed to tire rather quickly (and this is before I have even got into BBC2’s similar I Love… series looking back at the trends of the 70s, 80s, and 90s that was shown around the same time as these Top 100 shows), but along with Ad Fab and Bob’s Fab Ads which I reviewed a while back, I do think that this was a very enjoyable show celebrating the bits between the programmes. 

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…unfortunately, this one didn’t