More TV Memories – Space Cadets.

Space Cadets (Channel 4, 1997)

I don’t usually do requests on here, but I was asked recently if I remembered watching this show. I had vaguely heard of it, even if I don’t think that I watched that much of it at the time, but being reminded of it made me think that I might as well give it a review because I am always ready to look back at 90s shows that I think should feature here however successful they were.

Space Cadets (not to be confused with a mid-2000s Channel 4 show with the same name that was hosted by Johnny Vaughan) was a comedy panel game. As there had been successful comedy game shows about sport (They Think It’s All Over), music (Never Mind The Buzzcocks), along with many others, it seemed that someone thought that it would be a good idea to make one of these shows about the genre of science-fiction. vlcsnap-01104

Space Cadets was hosted by High Commander Greg Proops, the American comedian who was best-known at the time for appearing on Channel 4’s comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and, er… those crisp adverts. The team captains were Craig Charles (who by this point had appeared in seven series of Red Dwarf) and Bill Bailey. The name of their team changed every week, one example is “the Things” against “the Blobs”. vlcsnap-01106

They would be joined by two teammates, and the show earned some publicity by having these include people who had appeared in popular sci-fi shows, such as Claudia Christian from Babylon 5, Sylvester McCoy from Doctor Who, and William Shatner from Star Trek. It was a chance to prove that they knew something about the genre they starred in. Also appearing as panellists were various comedians including Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller. vlcsnap-01107

Even though it was another one of those shows that was played more for laughs than points, there were several rounds. These included being shown clips from cliffhangers in not very good B-movies and having to determine what happened next, having to translate phrases in Klingon into English, and trying to guess what a strange alien object is that appeared in a sci-fi show. The final round would be the familiar free-for-all on the buzzer. vlcsnap-01108

The scores were kept by AL the computer (not to be confused with HAL), and Greggles spent most of his time bickering with this all-knowing machine who was trying to deliver the status updates. There should definitely be more sacrastic robots for no reason in game shows. Space Cadets was shown in a primetime slot on Channel 4, but it ran for only one series, maybe it had got a little lost in the big rush of comedy panel games that were on TV around this time, but there were plenty of enjoyable moments before it evaporated from the screen.


Game Show Memories – Box Clever.

Box Clever (BBC1, 1986-1987)

This is another game show that is a little before my time, but I have seen enough of it online to consider it worthy of reviewing here. Box Clever was a daytime game show that was hosted by ex-footballer Emlyn Hughes (who was also a team captain on A Question Of Sport around this time). Two related teams of three took part and the show made the most of the computer technology that was available at the time.

One thing that was unusual about the show was that the host actually didn’t ask the questions, this was done by Dr Sue Kingsman from Oxford University. The centrepiece of the game was the 9×9 computerised grid (it looked a little like the maze that was used on the later game show Four Square, I’m not sure if they were created using the same computer). The grid is different for every game. There are five categories of questions on offer, and 30 seconds to answer them. vlcsnap-01071

They place their pointer somewhere on the grid using their joystick, and if they get the question right the square turns to their colour (either red or yellow), the way the pointer boinged around the grid looked a little similar to the computer game Q*Bert. The grid is also split into sections, and they have to try to turn all the squares in the section their colour, or their opponents can steal them (once a section is filled it can’t change colour). If they don’t think they can fill a section in time, they can stop the clock. vlcsnap-01067

At this point Emlyn starts offering some analysis of the teams’ tactics as if he is on Match Of The Day. If there is no clear leader after the five categories, another five categories are on offer, this time with 45 seconds on the clock. The idea of the game is to cut off your opponents’ route round the board (or “box them in” the use the show’s phrase). If a team think that they have reached the point where they can win, they say “box clever”, and the computer automatically calculates who has the majority of the 81 squares (a creepy computerised voice confirms the result). vlcsnap-01064

The winning team go into the final, where they play a computer game (one of the few game shows to feature this, along with First Class and Steal). They have one minute, and every team member has to play for at least 15 seconds. If they score over 100 points, it gets converted into pounds. They then stay on as the defending champions to play another team. More than one game can be played in one edition. vlcsnap-01075

Box Clever ran for a couple of series in the pre-Children’s BBC slot when BBC1 finally launched a daytime schedule in 1986. According to the credits there were a Commodore Amiga or two working overtime to achieve the impressive computer effects, and while I wouldn’t put the show in the same class as Turnabout, this was definitely a game with a lot of depth and creativity on offer.

Game Show Memories – Breakaway.

Breakaway (BBC2, 2012)

This is a 45-minute daytime game show that was shown on BBC2 after the departure of The Weakest Link. The rules did seem to be a little complicated at first, but the basic idea was would you work together as a team to try and win a share of some money, or go it alone for the chance of winning a bigger amount of money all for yourself. Breakaway was hosted by Nick Hancock.

Firstly, the set design is impressive, the centrepiece is the track on the floor that is split in 30 parts (one for every question). Six contestants take part. There are questions asked on seven categories (that can be taken in any order) at first, and this changes to general knowledge for the end stage. They stand on the first space and are asked the first question (with a little help from Nick’s friend ERIC), and have 15 seconds to answer. vlcsnap-01042

They can confer, and if they think they know the answer, one of them steps forward, and then they discover if they were right. The studio turns green if they are, and red if they aren’t. This is a nice effect, but practically every game show uses it now and it has become a little cliched. There are three questions in every category, and Nick will constantly remind them how much money is on offer. vlcsnap-01052

There is an opportunity before the first question is even asked to breakaway, and this can be done by pressing a button. This means that instead of giving answers together for £100 each, they can answer the questions individually without any help for £300. If they get to the end, they are given a bonus £1,000, meaning that the most that one contestant can win is £10,000. vlcsnap-01061

So the earlier you breakaway, the more you can win. The categories on offer could tempt someone. There are five seconds for anyone to buzz if they want to do this (I think at least one contestant tried this tactic, and got a long way down the track, leaving their ex-teammates way behind, but then they got one wrong near the end, so the others all had to walk along as they were suddenly back in play). vlcsnap-01051

At the end of the category, there is a chance to win a life. There are five of these on offer. A “who am I?”-type question is read, and it is on the buzzer. Get it wrong and you are frozen out, get it right and you get the life (which magically appears on their name badge), and it was possible for contestants to steal one another’s lives, but this was changed in series two to if you get a question wrong there is a chance for the money to stay in the game if a contestant buzzes in to sacrifice a life. vlcsnap-01047

When someone does breakaway, they have the option to take a teammate with them, although they can turn this offer down. They will share the money but it reduces their chances of elimination. If they get it wrong though, and they have run out of lives, one of them has to leave. For the final stage of the game, all of the questions are on general knowledge, and there are now 30 seconds to confer. vlcsnap-01057

There is one final chance to breakaway on the penultimate question which can make things rather tense. There is a tactic where a contestant can have a teammate, and then deliberately get questions wrong near the end to eliminate them and take the money for themselves. There have also been scenarios where people have cocked-up with one question to go, leaving one remaining contestant to win £100. There have also been games where all the contestants were eliminated before the end, meaning nobody won any money at all. vlcsnap-01058

And the end of the series the highest-scoring contestants returned for a champions special. There were also some changes made in the second series, such as 25 questions being asked instead of 30, and fewer categories and lives on offer. It took me a while to warm to Breakaway, but I did find it interesting once I understood the show’s strategies and it seemed to get a positive response from viewers. So it was rather surprising that after two series, it didn’t return, just when I thought that there was the good chance of it becoming a long-runner. vlcsnap-01040

When you pitch a game show to a TV company (something that I haven’t ever done), I presume you have to consider things like, how long will it take for all the scenarios to be covered? Is there enough variation for it to run for over 1,000 editions? Will it be popular enough to be repeated on Challenge until the end of time? I feel that Breakaway had more potential than most shows of this era to fulfil these criteria, but BBC2 didn’t.

Game Show Memories – The New Sale Of The Century.

Sale Of The Century (Challenge, 1997)

A while ago I wrote about Sale Of The Century, a popular game show that launched on ITV in 1971 and ran for over a decade. It has since been revived twice, firstly in 1989 in the early days of Sky One when it was hosted by Peter Marshall, who was also an announcer on Thames at the time. But this piece will concentrate on the second revival in the late-90s, the ultimate in TV shopping.

When Challenge made some original programming it was hardly ratings-topping stuff, but they did try out a few ideas, one of them being a revival of Sale Of The Century, which was hosted by Keith Chegwin, who around this time was turning up a lot on game shows on various satellite channels, either as the host or as a panellist. So how does this compare to the original? vlcsnap-01026

Well, it’s fairly faithful, beginning with a remix of the original theme music (although there’s no organist here). Also, the announcer was Robin Houston, who was also hosting Channel 5’s game show 100% out-of-vision around the same time. Three contestants (including a defending champion) took part and they had the opportunity to bag some bargains. As always Keith was very enthusiastic and encouraged them all the way through, and he also kept his clothes on. vlcsnap-01031

The contestants begin with £15, and in the first round every correct answer on the buzzer (which made the same noise as the ones on Going For Gold) was worth £1 (or £1 deducted for a wrong answer). Then there is the first Instant Sale, where a prize is shown (breathlessly described by Robin) and if a contestant wants it, they can buzz in and it’s theirs. In the next two rounds, the correct answers are worth £3, with a couple more Instant Sales. vlcsnap-01033

After the break, in the next two rounds it’s £5 for a correct answer, along with two more Instant Sales, although contestants seem to be a little more reluctant to buzz in for them at this point. The last round features 60 seconds of questions, with again £5 on offer as one more chance to bump up those scores. When time is up, the contestant with the most money goes into the final to play for the big prizes. vlcsnap-01032

They have the choice of various prizes, the top ones being a holiday (usually reduced to around £400) or a car (around £500). They have to decide if they will come back on the next edition as the defending champion to try and earn some more money, or buy one of the prizes on offer. Buying the car should take about five or six wins. At this point Keith will start jumping around with over-excitement, whether they take a prize or not. vlcsnap-01037

It seems that this version of Sale Of The Century was shown five days a week on Challenge for a while. The prizes on offer weren’t too bad considering this obviously wasn’t a big budget show and they were at about the same level as the original version, and it was good seeing a host who clearly wanted the contestants to do well and make the most of their time inside the magic rectangle. If only Challenge encouraged more ideas like this now.

Game Show Memories – Memory Bank.

Memory Bank (Five, 2004)

This is another game show that was shown live on Channel 5 in the afternoon, although this was only really so it could feature a constantly promoted phone-in viewers competition, but of course this happened on just about every other game show at the time, there was even one inserted into the revival of Going For Gold, but let’s not think about that, let’s concentrate on the game.

Memory Bank was from the same team as BrainTeaser and was usually hosted by Rachel Pierman, it was a big test of memory. Three contestants took part. The first round is Double Vision which is played individually. There are 12 squares featuring things such as flags, Roman numerals, or traffic signs. They have to memorise where they all are. A picture is shown and against the clock they have to give the number containing the matching picture to make a pair, there are five points for every correct match. vlcsnap-01032

The next round is Back 2 Front. There are 16 answers to general knowledge questions that have to be memorised (although sometimes these answers might be themed). The question is then asked and contestants have to give the number that is concealing the correct answer. There are ten points for a correct answer, and if they get it wrong, it gets passed on to the next contestant. There are some amusing moments here when the contestants make a totally incorrect match. vlcsnap-01026

The next round is Double Vision. It’s like the first round, only this time there are 16 pictures, and contestants take it in turns to answer with ten points for a correct answer again. When time is up, the lowest scoring contestants at this point are eliminated, with the winner going into the final called Memory Check. The phone-in competition has been referenced about 19 times by this point. vlcsnap-01037

In the final, there are 20 words that appear on the screen individually. The contestant then has to recall them (in any order) in 45 seconds. The more correct answers they give, the more money they win. There is £50 for the first ten words remembered, £100 for the next five, and £200 for the final five, meaning that a maximum prize of £2,000 can be won. Imagine what you could buy with that. vlcsnap-01033

Memory Bank was extended to an hour in its later editions (meaning there was a slight format change), but it just didn’t have the longevity of BrainTeaser and ran for less than a year. I do miss game shows like this on Channel 5. 100%, Topranko!, Whittle, Win Beadle’s Money… I know that none of them were exactly big-budget award-winning affairs but they were entertaining enough and kept me watching. It would be great of they tried out a few more ideas like these again.

Game Show Memories – Defectors.

Defectors (Challenge, 2001-2002)

Challenge is a channel that is dedicated to game shows, along with repeating classics, they’ve also had a go at making some of their own, and this is one of them. Defectors was hosted by Richard Orford, who was previously best-known for various shows in the 90s including The Disney Club and The Big Breakfast. The twist with this show was that one contestant and one studio audience member would win the star prize on offer. d1

Four contestants took part, the first round was First Impressions. The contestants introduced themselves, and then the studio audience of 100 people had to decide who they thought would give the correct answer by pressing the corresponding button on their keypad. The multiple-choice question was then asked (accompanied by a musical sting that is played about 50 times in every edition). If they get it right, the percentage of people who backed them was converted into points, so the more people you could get on your side, the better you could do. After two questions, the audience could vote again and defect to another contestant if they wanted to. d2

The second round was Trust Me. The category is given, and the contestants have ten seconds to explain why people should defect to them. This also produced some of the more unintentionally amusing moments of the show. Firstly, when a contestant is clearly bluffing and insist that they are an expert on a category they have no knowledge about, and secondly, they are cut off when time is up, however long they are into their appeal. d3

The audience then defect again, and three multiple-choice questions are asked on the category. This carries on, until the halfway point when the contestant with the lowest score is eliminated, and Richard says “the audience have defected against you”. Also around this point, Richard reveals which audience member currently has the best chance of winning. Again, this turns out to be a rather amusing moment as their response to suddenly having the spotlight put on them ranges from total disinterest to utter shock. d6

After some more categories and appeals, another contestant is eliminated, and the two remaining to go into the final round which is Quick Defect. The scores are reset to zero, and questions are now on the buzzer. The category is given and the audience have to defect before every question, this carries on until time runs out. The scores are then revealed, and the winning contestant and audience member both receive £1,000. d4

There was also an interactive element to Defectors, as Sky Digital viewers could play along at home by pressing the buttons on their remote control. The first time I remember watching it though was during a repeat run about five years after it originally ended on the now long-gone channel FTN, and until recently it still turned up on Challenge in late-night repeat runs. Not too bad an effort at all really.

Game Show Memories – Bamboozle!

Bamboozle! (ITV/Channel 4, 1993-2009)

Is this a game show? I don’t know really, but because I don’t have that many more left to review now, I thought that I might as well do something different as I do remember playing this one myself. Does that mean that I appeared on the TV playing it? Well no not really, this was an interactive game show that was possible for viewers to play while sat at home.

In January 1993 Teletext replaced Oracle as the interactive text service on ITV and Channel 4 that provided information about news, sport, and so on. As I think I’ve said already, one of my favourite features was the game Bamboozle! that was hosted by the somewhat animated Bamber Boozler, who unless he was having a day off or there were technical problems would ask us the questions, and he would quickly become one of Britain’s most respected inquisitors. b1

The idea of Bamboozle! was that Bamber would ask the multiple-choice questions (sometimes they were all on the same theme, but usually they could be about anything), and the viewer chose what they thought was the right answer by pressing the corresponding coloured button on their TV remote control, and you had to get as many correct as you could. vlcsnap-00550

If you gave a wrong answer, you would be “bamboozled!” and have to go back to a particular determined point (and Bamber would be left yellow-faced by your uselessness), but Bamber’s wife Bambette would offer you a consolation question. I remember when Bamboozle! launched there were 25 questions, and if you got one wrong, you went right back to the start, which was rather harsh, although this changed over the years, and eventually settled down to 12 questions with various safe points. b2

It may seem a little similar to the format of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire but there were definitely no big-money prizes on offer here. The final page would feature Bamber congratulating you and determining your score based on how many answers you got correct first time. Occasionally there would also be a page featuring a competition that you could enter for a prize. After a while, a similar game launched on Teletext called Ten To One, which was hosted by Bamber’s brother Brian, where all the questions were about sport, and at the weekend Bamber’s son Buster would host a variation of Bamboozle! for younger viewers. b3

By the end in 2009, the questions updated every day, and Bamber was estimated to have asked around 57,000 questions, that’s nearly as many as William G Stewart on Fifteen-To-One. I remember that I always tried to play Bamboozle! as often as I could (as yes I did try and cheat by pressing lots of buttons), and after Teletext closed there was an attempt to revive the game as an interactive app so you could play it on your phone but that didn’t seem to last very long.