Game Show Memories – Brainbox Challenge.

Brainbox Challenge (BBC2, 2008)

Over the years, BBC2 have tried out a huge amount of game shows in daytime and early-evening slots. Just about all of them, with the exception of the long-running Eggheads, have ended up doing fairly badly. This is an example of another one that ended up coming and going fairly quickly, although I do remember coming across this one day and thinking that this was an interesting idea (although for me anything is better than Eggheads).

The host of Brainbox Challenge was Clive Anderson. Around this time there were a lot of “brain training” games, where people had to solve various puzzles involving letters, numbers, shapes, and so on. This idea was expanded on for this show, which was a little like the Mental Agility round in The Krypton Factor too. The aim is for a contestant to play various challenges and test their skills against an opponent, and every time they succeed, they go up the money ladder.

Before the next game, they are shown who their new opponent would be, in a similar style to Playing For Time. A little information was revealed about them, but not necessarily what their best skills were. They can leave at this point, and take the money that they have won, or they could play them, knowing that if they were to lose, they would drop back to their previous safe level.

The scoring system was similar to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with questions being played for increasing amounts of money, and dropping back to your last safe level when you are defeated. Five games are played in every edition, and whoever the current champion is at the end gets the opportunity to play the bonus round, where a sequence of shapes have to be memorised and then recalled for extra money.

The maximum amount on offer is £13,000, if they reach the top of the money ladder, and get every answer right in the bonus rounds too. Brainbox Challenge (not to be confused with Brain Box, one of those short-lived call-and-lose live shows that was also around at this time) only ran for four weeks, and ending up doing so badly in the evening slot, that the final week was shown at 1pm, which was rather disappointing.

Viewers could also play some of the games themselves on the website (but not for money). I personally would’ve liked to see more editions, but it wasn’t to be. And curiously, there was a game show with a similar idea on the CBBC Channel around the same time called Brain-Jitsu, which seemed to be a little better received, and presented this style of challenge in a much more exciting and creative way.

Game Show Memories – Top Of The World.

Top Of The World (ITV, 1982)

This is another game show that I don’t remember watching at the time of course, but I have seen an edition online, and I thought that the idea was rather interesting and ambitious. The host of Top Of The World was Eamonn Andrews, best-known to viewers from This Is Your Life. Three contestants took part, and the twist is that they were all in different continents.

One was in the UK, one was in the USA, and one was in Australia, but they were all able to compete against each other thanks to the latest satellite technology (and I presume that this was shown in all these countries too, not just the UK). In the first round, there are nine questions asked about the three countries for one point each, all the contestants have three questions.

Round two featured specialist subject questions that were asked for about two minutes for two points each. In the final round, which lasted about four minutes, there were general knowledge questions on the buzzer, with three points for a correct answer, and three deducted for an incorrect one. They had to try and work their way around the inevitable time delay though.

The highest-scorer became the defending champion, and went on to play other contestants. And in round two, they were asked general knowledge questions instead of specialist subject ones. Whoever won the most games for their respective countries would return for the grand final, which was held in the UK, with the US and Australian contestants being flown over to take part in person.

This was determined to be a rather fancy occasion, with the overall series winner receiving what was hoped to the ultimate accolade of not just being the quiz champion of this country, but of the entire world, although it seems that most people thought that was an exaggeration. The champion turned out to be from the UK, and received a very special prize.

This was a rather valuable vintage Rolls-Royce car, which was presented by the director of Thames Television. This really was “The World’s Top Prize”. However, Top Of The World didn’t return for another series, because it seemed that they couldn’t really expand on this idea, unless they wanted to launch to quest for the quiz champion of the entire universe, although they might’ve had some trouble finding anybody from other planets to take part.

Game Show Memories – It’s Not What You Know.

It’s Not What You Know (Challenge, 2008)

Rather a long time ago, there were a small amount of game shows exclusively produced for Challenge, along with the usual repeats from other channels. This one attracted a little more attention than most, as they hired the services of Chris Tarrant to host this one, and there was also a chance that a decent sum of money could be won too, with five-figures on offer.

The idea of It’s Not What You Know wasn’t to test the knowledge of the contestants exactly, but whether they could work out if other people knew the answers. A team of two take part, and they choose one of three games to play. There are five celebrities shown on the screen, although we never actually hear from them at any point, we just see their picture (watching them ponder their answer could’ve been fun).

Their specialist subjects are revealed, for example one might know all about animated films, while another could go for 90s pop music (a good choice). Although they are asked (and they are given four options), it doesn’t really matter in this case if the contestants know the answer, the idea is that they have to guess if the celebrities did or not.

There are 15 questions, and they are all on the various specialist subjects. The celebrity whose subject it is has to answer with no options available, while the other four are given a choice of four options. The contestants must determine who got it wrong (or to use this show’s terminology, “stumped”). Will they be able to choose the right people?

The scoring system is rather complicated, but there is money on offer for guessing which celebrity was stumped, and there are bonuses on offer if they can guess that a celebrity was stumped on a question on their specialist subject. It’s around this time that Tarrant explains all the available scenarios, and often says that they could’ve gone up a level, although this is unlikely to join his list of famous catchphrases.

They can also pass on one question, but a team who can win around £10,000 will have been determined to have done rather well. And all the reveals of the answers seem to use visual and sound effects like when you choose a player and a mode on a computer game. There was one series of Chris Tarrant’s It’s Not What You Know (as Challenge insisted we call it), and as always Tarrant encouraged contestants along the way, and made the most of the tension.

Game Show Memories – Very Hard Questions.

Very Hard Questions (More4, 2020)

This is a rather rare example of a game show that was shown on the More4 channel (and I’m fairly sure that this was never repeated on the main Channel 4). Very Hard Questions was an attempt to make an Only Connect-style game using more traditional general knowledge questions, and there had to be enough variations in the rounds to fill the hour-long slot, as game shows in more recent years seem to be getting longer.

The host was Jon Snow, who was taking a break from Channel 4 News, and his piles must be better by now (oh no, that was the impression by Harry Hill). Two teams of three took part, and we were promised that they would have to face the hardest questions ever asked on a game show in this country, in what aimed to be the ultimate “so you think you’re clever, you do?” challenge.

It meant that even these knowledgeable people would need a little help along the way. They are asked a question, with four points for a correct answer. But there are some clues on offer. They can pick three, and for every one that they need, a point is deducted. These include offering things like the first letter of the answer, some multiple-choice options, adding more words to the question, a picture, and so on, and they can only be used once. They must choose wisely, or they will literally end up not having a clue.

This can lead to the awkward situation of a team dithering on their answer for about three minutes, and still being wrong. And it is also a surprise to realise how many prepared clues end up going to waste. It has never really occurred to me how many questions or clues on an average edition of a game show might end up not being used, but this seemed to be much more prominent here.

The next round is about the same really, with more clues on offer. Then, the questions are against the clock, and the clues on offer are predetermined. If they think they know, they have to buzz in. The final round is The Very Hardest Question, which is the only time that the two teams are in direct competition, again having to buzz in. Get this one right for a big bonus. There were nine heats, and the highest-scoring teams went on to leaderboard, with the top two meeting in the final to play for the star prize of the trophy.

However, the champions had already won a series of Only Connect, making the hope to find some new talent in this area of tough quizzing rather redundant. There was also some criticism that because of the difficultly of the questions, most of them had the “so what?” factor, and Snow was rather flat at reading them and commenting on the game. It’s probably no surprise that there was only one series of Very Hard Questions, but it was an attempt at something different.

Game Show Memories – The Countdown Hosts List (Part 2).

These are the ten people who have made the most appearances as host or co-host on Countdown since 1981. Who will come out on top?

10th. Anne Robinson (265 appearances, 2021-2022). Anne had previously made six appearances in Dictionary Corner in 1987. She became best-known for hosting shows including Points Of View, Watchdog, and The Weakest Link. Her appointment as host was a surprise, any many wondered if she would apply her curt style from The Weakest Link to a show with a much more cosy atmosphere. This even earned Countdown the honour of a Radio Times cover in anticipation of her debut. However, although she wasn’t rude to the contestants as such, it was clear that she wasn’t the most suitable choice, and she vanished about a few weeks into a series to the relief of many which sums it up really.

9th. Des Lynam (303 appearances, 2005-2006). Des found fame as a sport host, on BBC shows including Grandstand and Match Of The Day before surprisingly defecting to ITV. He was a contestant on a celebrity special in 1998 which he won. He had the difficult task of replacing the irreplaceable after Richard Whiteley’s departure. He hoped that viewers would approve by saying on his first edition “you can’t be more nervous than I am… I hope I’m not too much of a shock for you”. He acknowledged that the show was about the contestants, and he also brought an air of calm, where once the studio had threatened to descend into a cacophony. There was even a Saturday edition briefly added, meaning that Countdown was six days a week. Unfortunately, after a short while, Des became frustrated with having to travel to the studio, and he had also started to look rather bored. He soon departed, although he did return to appear in Dictionary Corner for the 5,000th edition.

8th. Des O’Connor (470 appearances, 2007-2008). Des had been famous for many years, as a comedian, game show host, and chart-topping singer. He added a touch of showbiz to things, and as he also had a daytime chat show for a short while a year or two before, five decades into his career he was appearing on TV more than ever. He decided to leave at the same time as Carol Vorderman though.

7th. Cathy Hytner (647 appearances, 1981-1987). Cathy put the letters on the board going all the way back to the unaired pilot, and eventually did the numbers too.

6th. Jeff Stelling (675 appearances, 2009-2011). Jeff found fame as a host on Sky Sports, and made his debut alongside Rachel Riley. Sometimes he did seem to think that he was hosting sport coverage, and sometimes fell back into thinking the game was a football match, but he showed a lot of enthusiasm, and I would have to say that he is my favourite of the post-Whiteley hosts. After his departure, he hosted game show Alphabetical, which wasn’t a success.

5th. Nick Hewer (2,129 appearances, 2012-2021). Nick first became known for being one of the assistants on The Apprentice. He was an unlikely choice for host, but he managed to always help things along, even if sometimes he looked like he was about to fall asleep. He was also the host for almost a decade.

4th. Rachel Riley (3,310+ appearances, 2009-present). When Rachel replaced Carol Vorderman, she was a newcomer to TV, but soon made the role her won. And 14 years later (how time flies), she is still there, and she has hosted various other shows.

3rd. Richard Whiteley (4,107 appearances, 1981-2005). I have already done some pieces reflecting on Richard’s career, so I shall just say that he was the host who had been there since the unaired pilots, and he presided over the peak of Countdown‘s popularity. His final edition was shown posthumously, and if he was still with us, he would’ve been 80 this year. Who knows if he would’ve been the host all these years on.

2nd. Carol Vorderman (4,832 appearances, 1982-2008). Carol was originally only a vital statistician, and she became the only co-host in 1989. She has also gone on to host several other TV shows, and her double-act with Richard Whiteley which eventually developed would it has to be said often veer from being hugely entertaining to immensely irritating (usually in the same edition). There was supposedly a big scandal with Carol’s departure, well if you read Woman’s Own magazine there was. But who could possibly top Carol’s huge amount of appearances to be the Number One?

1st. Susie Dent (5,250+ appearances, 1992-present). Susie made her first appearance as a lexicographer in 1992. By the mid-2000s she was the only lexicographer to appear in Dictionary Corner, and by the late-2000s she was officially made one of the co-hosts (which is how she qualifies for this list). Just like the break for the celebrity anecdote, Susie has one for the Origin Of Words feature, telling us about all of the weird and wonderful stories that are behind phrases. She is a regular to the point that in more recent years when she was been unavailable, there hasn’t been a stand-in for her. She has also released several books about the English language, and is seen as the ultimate authority on such things. Congratulations, Susie!

Game Show Memories – The Countdown Hosts List (Part 1).

Following on from the list of the Top 50 people who have made the most appearances in Countdown‘s Dictionary Corner which was rather well received, I thought I would also do a list featuring all of the hosts and co-hosts that there have been over the years, going all the way back to the unaired pilots in 1981. Only appearances as host or co-host will be included, although if they did also appear in Dictionary Corner, that will be noted. This list is only for the main afternoon edition, anyone who has only hosted the 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown spin-off will not be featured. I have also decided not to feature people who only appeared as lexicographers, as there isn’t a huge amount of information out there about them. I make it that there have been 27 people who have hosted or co-hosted Countdown, part one will feature positions 27-11.

27th. William G Stewart (1 appearance, 1997). William first found fame in TV as a director and producer. He became a host in 1988 when Fifteen-To-One launched, which was soon shown before Countdown, resulting in a popular daytime game show double. He hosted the 1997 Christmas special, when Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman were the contestants. He also hosted a special to celebrate the 2,000th edition.

26th. Angela Garbut (2 appearances, 1981). Angela was the “vital statistician” (the fancy term for the co-host who solved the numbers rounds) in the two unaired pilots. A blackboard was used to write the solutions.

25th. Jenny Eclair (4 appearances, 2022). Jenny has made 45 appearances in Dictionary Corner, going back to 2012. She was a last-minute stand-in host when the other last-minute stand-in host Les Dennis was unavailable. If that makes sense.

=21st. Floella Benjamin (5 appearances, 2022). As part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations, four people hosted for one week, some of them having no previous association with Countdown. One of them was Floella, who is best-known as a children’s TV host of several shows including Play School.

=21st. Richard Coles (5 appearances, 2022). Richard had made ten appearances in Dictionary Corner, before he became another one-week host for the anniversary. He had previously found fame in the 80s as a part of the group The Communards alongside Jimmy Somerville, whose cover of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was a chart-topper, and the biggest-selling single in the UK in 1986. He then went on to become a vicar and a regular face on TV.

=21st. Angela O’Dougherty (5 appearances, 1983). Angela was a stand-in for Cathy Hytner for one week at the end of the second series.

=21st. Moira Stuart (5 appearances, 2022). Moira is best-known as a BBC news host. She was another one-week host for the anniversary, having previously never appeared.

20th. Trevor McDonald (6 appearances, 2021-2022). Trevor is the news host who worked for ITN for several years. He hosted a special edition, and he was then invited back as another one-week host for the anniversary.

19th. Denise McFarland-Cruickshanks (7 appearances, 1982). Denise was the vital statistician in the Calendar Countdown series.

18th. Les Dennis (8 appearances, 2022). Les is known for being a comedian, actor, and the host of various game shows, including Family Fortunes for 15 years. He made five appearances in Dictionary Corner in 2011, and he was a last-minute stand-in for Colin Murray who was unavailable.

17th. Robena Sharp (9 appearances, 1981-1982). Robena put the numbers on the board in the unaired pilots and Calendar Countdown series. She also selected the target, which was a rather low-tech one-armed bandit machine, before the shinier CECIL came along.

16th. Linda Barratt (41 appearances, 1982-1983). Believe it or not, in the first couple of series, there were two vital statisticians, who appeared in alternate editions. And while Carol Vorderman would find fame and appear for many years, Linda was barely ever seen again.

15th. Lucy Summers (56 appearances, 1989). Lucy put the letters and numbers on the board for one series, before it was decided to make Carol Vorderman the only co-host.

14th. Anne-Marie Imafidon (61 appearances, 2021-2022). Anne-Marie was the co-host for the special, and then she returned when Rachel Riley was away on maternity leave.

13th. Beverley Isherwood (117 appearances, 1982-1983). Looking back now, it is remarkable how many young female co-hosts Countdown used to have, up to four in some series, an idea that was more suited to game shows like 3-2-1 or The Price Is Right. Beverley put the numbers on the board and pressed CECIL’s button, and that was about it.

12th. Colin Murray (125+ appearances, 2020-present). Colin has been a TV and radio host, and he has made 60 appearances in Dictionary Corner, going back to 2009. He was first the stand-in host when Nick Hewer was unavailable, and he also took part in a celebrity special, which he won. He is still the stand-in host, although he is the favourite to be given the job full time. He almost seems to be playing the game along with the contestants, rather than being impartial, always fiddling with pieces of paper, and seemingly trying to guess what their words will be. But he’s definitely brought a lot of enthusiasm to proceedings.

11th. Karen Loughlin (168 appearances, 1987-1988). Karen looked after the letters and numbers following Cathy Hytner’s departure.

Find out who the Top Ten are in part two…

Game Show Memories – Families At War.

Families At War (BBC1, 1998-1999)

Over the years, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have been a rather successful comedy double-act. Their sketch show on Channel 4 did well, to the point that Vic had a chart-topping single. They then went over to the BBC and made some more shows, including the comedy panel game Shooting Stars. Their rather surreal style is probably the ultimate example in “you either like it or you don’t”, and they baffled as many people as they entertained.

But after a while, it was clear that they wanted to try something a little different, but still featuring plenty of bizarre twists. After a pilot, their new game show Families At War was given a series in a Saturday Night slot. To promote this, they appeared on the cover of TV Times, which wondered if BBC1 viewers were ready to enter their rather weird world.

Noel’s House Party had ended for good a few weeks earlier, could this be the show to replace that one as a greatly admired success? To make sure that their antics didn’t get completely out of hand, helping Vic and Bob along was the more conventional host Alice Beer, who was on a lot of other TV shows around this time (presumably Carol Smillie was too busy).

Two teams of three took part. It was clear from the start that this was going to be something different when they all introduced themselves with a song. All of them had a talent, such as singing or dancing, and they had to show this off in a rather unusual way. To determine who did best, a panel of 12 voted for their favourite. They changed every week, and on one occasion were 12 jockeys from Gillingham.

Whoever got the most votes won the round. There were also a few bonuses on offer if they played their challenge hats. The family that won the most rounds went into the final. In this, Vic was dressed as a spider and placed among some prizes. They then had to wheel him in various directions against the clock to hope that he could grab the ones that they wanted.

All of this added up to some very bizarre moments, almost like a warped version of The Generation Game. But Families At War maybe not too surprisingly did very badly in the ratings, and there was only one series. But the ones who did watch are unlikely to forget what they saw. Vic and Bob did a little better in their next attempt to appeal to a more mainstream audience when they starred in a revival of drama series Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased).

The Review Of 2022.

I thought that I would do a piece taking a brief look back at what has been achieved on this blog this year. Thankfully, 2022 has been a little less traumatic than the previous two years, and maybe things are almost how they used to be not so long ago. Being able to keep thinking about new ideas for pieces and then compiling them has definitely helped me get through this time.

There isn’t a huge amount left for me to share with you now. I have just about shared all of my memories of various game shows, sitcoms, and the like, making all that time watching TV when I was younger come in useful I hope. And I am currently having a look through some old UK and Australian singles charts to determine if they contain any more stories worth telling.

This blog is not far short of having 500,000 views either, which is great. More pieces will be coming soon, so look out for those. What I want to say as well is wherever you are, thank you for taking the time to look at this blog. I hope that I have brought back some memories for you, and that my enthusiasm for what I write about comes through in the pieces.

And there’s an extra thank you to anybody who has taken the time to reply to pieces, if you want to share your memories or have any additional information, it’ll be great to hear from you. As well as “I remember that show”-type comments, I have even had one or two “I worked on that show” or “I was a contestant on that show”-type comments too, which always pleases me.

I suppose that I would like to conclude for now by saying thanks for your continued support (and thanks for anybody who has looked at what I have contributed to Twitter and YouTube too). It really is great to know that you are out there and take an interest, and that there are now rather a lot of the things that have had an influence on me online for everyone.

I hope that you will have a Happy New Year, and I will be back with more nostalgic memories soon.

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.

Game Show Memories – Banzai.

Banzai (E4, 2001-2003)

When the digital channel E4 launched in 2001, among the repeats and imports, there was some space in the schedule for some original comedy programming. This included the final series of The Adam And Joe Show, and TVGoHome, but there was also this rather bizarre game show, which led to some critics saying that they were knocking spots off what some of the competition had to offer.

Banzai was essentially a parody of those Japanese game shows that were sometimes shown in this country where contestants had to endure some rather bizarre things. But this one had betting elements, and viewers were invited to guess the outcome of some rather unusual challenges. Some of these were rather bad taste, and some featured celebrities, who probably wondered what they were getting themselves into.

Look, there’s Pat Sharp! Look, there’s Peter Davison! He used to be on the telly! The challenges would be explained, we would then be asked to bet, and the outcome would be revealed. This was all usually accompanied by some breathless commentary from Harry Hill’s mate Burt Kwouk (there was no in-vision host as such). And there were also a few regular features.

These included Lady One Question, who simply asked a celebrity just one question, and viewers would have to guess how long it would be before they walked off. And there was also Mr Shake Hands Man, who would interview someone whilst shaking their hand for as long as possible. He started to become well-known to the point that he was replaced by someone else for the second series.

I also remember at the NME Awards one year somebody thought that it would be good to do this (I can’t remember if it was connected to this show or not), so there was a page with lots of short interviews that mostly consisted of “yeah, it’s been great, I’ve been having a good time… er, you can stop shaking my hand now”. 32 seconds, wow!

Viewers at home really could play along though. If they pressed the red button on their remote control, they could make their choices, and their score would be calculated and revealed at the end. I remember that I did play this once, although I don’t think I did that well. There was some merchandise released too, including a book, DVD, and even a soundtrack of the music. Banzai ran its course after a few series though.