Game Show Memories – Gambit.

Gambit (ITV, 1975-1985)

Gambit isn’t a game show that I remember watching first time round, but when I discovered that it was a show based around playing cards in a similar style to Play Your Cards Right which is a classic I was intrigued to find out more. Gambit was based on an American format and was originally hosted by Fred Dinenage (presumably taking a day off from working on How), and where some people would think that this was merely a game show, Fred took the whole thing very seriously and rather grandly described Gambit as “an Olympics of the mind”.

Gambit was a rare Anglia production for ITV, with Sale Of The Century being one of their other famous game shows that was made around the same time. Two married couples took part, and they had to answer questions to earn cards in a game that was based on pontoon. Assisting Fred was Michelle who would deal the cards, and it would be the best of three games. vlcsnap-00479

A general knowledge question would be asked. The team that buzzed in and got it right would then be offered a card which they would take or pass to the other team. The idea is to get a score of 21 or as close as possible, but if you go over 21 you’ll go bust and lose the round. If a team decides to stick, the other team is asked three questions to try and beat their score. Whoever wins the round wins £20. If a team does win a round with a score of exactly 21 they could win a bonus of as much as £500, and Fred would be delighted for them. vlcsnap-00480

The first team to win two games then goes on to play the Gambit Board for prizes. This was a board with 21 numbers on it, with a prize behind each one, things like holidays or cars. A number is picked and then the prize is revealed. They are then shown a card. If they stick they can keep their prizes, and if they score exactly 21 they can choose a bonus star prize. But if they go bust, they lose all their prizes. They then meet their next opponents for another regular game, and teams could have up to two goes on the Gambit Board, so if the cards went their way a lot of money and prizes could be won by them. vlcsnap-00483

Gambit was remembered for featuring some bizarre moments including when Fred would get frustrated by contestants not listening to him and he would say to them “you got a problem there?” (which it seems unintentionally became one of the show’s catchphrases), and he would also be less than impressed when Michelle tried to upstage him by making a daft joke. The look on his face was remarkable. vlcsnap-00485

Gambit ran for almost a decade on ITV, and in 1984 Tom O’Connor became the new host. There was a brief revival though when in the 90s a new series was made but it seems that this was shown only in the Anglia region. Now I have seen a couple of editions for myself I thought that it was rather enjoyable really, and Fred’s struggle with the contestants and his assistant was almost as entertaining as the gameplay.


CBBC Memories – Clockwise.

Clockwise (CBBC, 1989-1991)

Nothing to do with a film starring John Cleese, Clockwise was a CBBC game show I remember watching in the afternoon, but the final series was actually shown as part of CBBC’s Saturday Morning show Going Live! when seemingly they had run out of editions of Double Dare. There were two versions of Clockwise that had slightly different formats that packed a lot of gameplay into its 15-minute timeslot.

The first version was hosted by Charlotte Hindle who had also appeared on CITV’s Get Fresh a few years earlier. Three teams of two took part and the show was based around time and numbers. In the first round questions (including some multiple choice ones) were asked on the buzzer, with five points for each correct answer, and the round ended when the first team gave six correct answers to score 30 points. vlcsnap-00461

In the second round each team was shown a grid that contained various numbers that corresponded to an answer. They then had 45 seconds on the clock to match the numbers with the answers, with five points scored for every correct answer. This was followed by a physical challenge-style round where the teams had to complete a task against the clock, with five points on offer for the first to do so. vlcsnap-00463

The next round was similar to an earlier one, but this time it was a free-for-all with one more grid of numbers shown which was open to all teams on the buzzer, with again five points for a correct answer. At the end of this round, the lowest-scoring team was eliminated and they took away the consolation prize of a pen, how exciting. vlcsnap-00468

In the next round the two remaining teams had a scale that had ten notches on it. After they buzzed in and gave a correct answer, they could decide to either move up two notches for ten points, or move their opponents down one notch and have five points deducted. The first team to reach the tenth notch at the top went into the final, with the eliminated team taking away a pen and also a clock. vlcsnap-00469

In the final, there was a clock with twelve lights on it at every five-second interval. There was one minute on the clock, and for every correct answer one of the lights came on, and the more lights that were on when time ran out, the more prizes they won. And the three highest-scoring teams came back at the end of the series to compete for even more prizes and the chance to be the overall series champion. vlcsnap-00472

The second version of Clockwise featured some changes, the biggest being a new host who was TV newcomer Darren Day, and he would go on to host further game shows in the 90s including the final two series of ITV’s You Bet! Although the main gameplay element was the same, other changes included a new set design, the physical challenge round seemed to feature more gunge, and the final round was renamed The Time Tunnel. vlcsnap-00477

In this restyled final, the winning contestants again had to answer questions correctly with one minute on the clock to win as many prizes as they could, but this time whilst doing so they were travelling down a spooky track whilst being sprayed with silly string and the like and just generally being distracted. Clockwise ran for three series and was good fun. vlcsnap-00476

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.

More TV Memories – Tenball.

Tenball (ITV, 1995)

You will be familiar with snooker of course, but can’t it be dull sometimes? There isn’t much action. BBC1’s Big Break was an attempt at bringing snooker into a game show format, but Tenball would take it one step further with various changes to the rules, along with statements such as this will bring the game into the new millennium and everyone will soon be playing it down the pub instead of pool which will suddenly be rather boring by comparison.

Tenball (a cross between a sport show and a game show) was hosted by Phillip Schofield (yes, he was hosting every other programme on ITV even in the mid-90s) and it was a knockout tournament where eight professional snooker players including Steve Davis, Alex Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White competed against one another in best-of five matches in a futuristic-looking arena to become the first Tenball champion. There was even a VHS released featuring how to play and offering advice for anyone interested in having a go themselves. vlcsnap-00445

Tenball had various different rules to snooker. Firstly, there was no yellow ball. Instead, there was the yellow and black Tenball which had a value of ten points and was placed on what would be the blue spot in snooker, with the 15 reds surrounding it in a diamond shape. The first colour that a player potted after their first red determined the points value of all other colours for that break, followed by potting the colours in sequence for their usual points value. This meant that if they went for the Tenball the maximum break was 200 (the highest score in the series was Peter Ebdon’s 122, although Ronnie O’Sullivan achieved the maximum in a practice match). vlcsnap-00453

Other innovations included players being able to make their opening break in a pool style, there were cameras on the cues and in the pockets, and we were also told things including how fast a ball was hit. Also to try and help speed up the play there were changes including a ball having to hit at least one cushion in every shot and balls wouldn’t be returned to their previous position after a foul. This meant that there was more emphasis on potting and less opportunity for safety play. vlcsnap-00451

The eventual series winner was Jimmy White (who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final) who received the main prizes of a trophy and a cheque for £20,000. Steve Davis (who was among the divisors of the game) also appeared alongside Phillip to offer some analysis, and of course all of the players along with Phillip said that Tenball was a great idea that they were sure would catch on and would soon be played across the country by viewers who found this an exciting watch. vlcsnap-00452

There was just one problem though, this didn’t happen at all. Tenball never returned for a second series on ITV, and some regions didn’t even show it, although mine (LWT) did, but by the end it was relegated to Saturday afternoons. Although it wasn’t a success, I do remember watching and thinking that this was an interesting idea, and there have been some snooker tournaments in more recent years that have tried to do something different, including having timed matches featuring a basketball-style shot clock to speed up play.

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.

More TV Memories – They Think It’s All Over.

They Think It’s All Over (BBC1, 1995-2006)

Is this a game show or a comedy show? Well I suppose it’s one of those that’s both really. They Think It’s All Over was a show that took an amusing look at everything to do with sport. It was originally on BBC Radio 5 from 1992-1994 and hosted by Des Lynam, but when it transferred to TV Nick Hancock took over as host, and it was often seen by viewers as a much livelier alternative to A Question Of Sportvlcsnap-00039

Two teams of three took part. Originally the team captains were cricketer David Gower and footballer Gary Lineker, who were given a chance to show off their humour. They would be joined by the comedians Lee Hurst (who also runs a comedy club called the Backyard near where I live) and Rory McGrath, plus an additional panellist who was usually another sportsperson or comedian. vlcsnap-00036

There were a lot of rounds played over the years. These included having to decide why a football team celebrated a goal in the way that they did, having to identify what was happening in a memorable sporting moment, trying to work out how unusual injuries happened, and a picture of a face that had been made up from three different sportspeople and they had to guess who they all were. vlcsnap-00031

One of the most memorable rounds would have to be Feel The Sportsman. Two of the three panellists would be blindfolded, and then they would have to guess who the special guest was by touch alone which always led to some funny moments. The final round usually consisted of one of the panellists having to give a clue to a name of a famous sportsperson. This was always good because most of the names were ridiculous and because they were against the clock they would desperately do anything to try and win right at the end. vlcsnap-00037

They Think It’s All Over became a very popular show in the late-90s, and there were some special editions released on VHS featuring some highlights plus some previously unseen moments along with a book, although I don’t have any of those myself. The show ended up running for just over a decade on TV, but unfortunately by the end it had began to run out of steam. vlcsnap-00038

Lee Hurst left to be replaced by Jonathan Ross, and the team captains constantly changed for the last few series after the departures of Gower and Lineker. Even Nick Hancock didn’t stay around to the end, with the final series being hosted by Lee Mack (who I think is the only person to have hosted all of the “big three” BBC comedy panel games, the others being Have I Got News For You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks), but I had stopped watching regularly by this point. However, at its peak it was always an enjoyable watch.