Game Show Memories – Champion Blockbusters.

Champion Blockbusters (ITV, 1987-1990)

Blockbusters is one of my favourite game shows, so I thought that I would do a piece on yet another variation (this means that I will have reviewed every variation apart from the revival on Comedy Central, because I haven’t seen that one). Now I don’t really want to go down the road of nostalgic cliché, but there is one thing I associate with watching this when I was a boy.

This is one of those shows that I only really remember watching at my nan’s house rather than at home, and not only that, it was really was on a black-and-white TV (I think I’ll leave the area of “eccentricities of relatives at least two generations above you in the family” for now). The memory is a little hazy on this one, but I think that this was the basic idea.

Champion Blockbusters was a spin-off from the daytime show, hosted by Bob Holness as always. Blockbusters, but shown in a 45 minute primetime slot on Saturday Night ITV? That’ll do me. This featured contestants who has appeared in previous series, who had reached the fifth and final Gold Run. The famous opening sequence was also revived to feature pictures of contestants on the hexagons.

This meant that some of the then-students were now in their early-20s by this point. And there would be a clip from the archive shown of their original appearances, which wasn’t embarrassing at all I’m sure. They would also tell us what they were up to nowadays, and it turns out that they’ve all come good, just like we knew they would.

The basic idea of the game was the same really, with £5 for every correct answer, there’s still no change. The money that they won went to charity though. And there was also “the mystery letter”, and if this was found, there was a bonus amount of money on offer. Whoever won would make the Gold Run again, and they would win some prizes related to the line of work that they were now in.

I must admit that I can’t remember how many Gold Runs the teams could stay on for in this version, but it was definitely a good idea, and the contestants seemed to be pleased to have returned. There were four series of Champion Blockbusters featuring six editions each, and I did enjoy what I saw of this as much as any other variation, even if it wasn’t in colour.

Game Show Memories – Demolition.

Demolition (Five, 2002-2003)

This is a game show that was on Five around the same time as Swapheads and Topranko!, when there had recently been a relaunch, and they were trying out a few new quirky ideas. One of the things that attracted me to Demolition was that the host was Emily Booth. This was about a year or two after Bits had ended, which was the computer games show that she co-hosted on Channel 4, and I was pleased to see her on TV again.

She only really appeared at the beginning and end though, as the game was the main focus. Demolition was made on location in Australia, and was described as “the show that brings you crazed destruction on a grand scale”. Two teams of three took part, with names like The Blue Panthers and The Barroom Brits. They had to take an item, and break it all down, so it managed to fit in a much smaller area, against the clock.

One example was having to take the contents of a barroom and condense this into as small pieces as possible so all of this could fit into three barrels. I also remember one game where the pieces had to be small enough to be pushed through the door of a letterbox. There were various tools available to do this, including saws and hammers.

There were also some referees who looked out for health and safety, so if someone was using the wrong equipment, had forgotten to put protective things like goggles or gloves on, or held their hammer the wrong way up, they would be penalised by rather theatrically having a red card shown to them, and they would have to sit out ten minutes.

And there were also some hard hat-wearing women who would occasionally check the progress of the teams. Whoever was determined to be ahead would receive some bonus tools. All of this was accompanied by some breathless commentary that seemed more suitable for wrestling coverage or something like that. At least nobody accidentally sliced their head off.

I’m pretty sure that the team that demolished the most won a trophy, and I don’t think this was a knockout tournament. There was only one series of Demolition, which didn’t seem to get that much of a positive response from critics, who seemed to think that this was all rather noisy and absurd. This was shown on Five in primetime, but in the quiet post-Christmas/pre-New Year slot. I think that some editions might have also been shown on satellite channel Bravo too.

Game Show Memories – Quiz Bowl.

Quiz Bowl (Channel 4, 1991-1992)

This is another game show that I remember watching rather a long time ago now. There seems to be very little about this online, but I always like any excuse to review them. If anyone can fill in any of the gaps of the rules though, then they are welcome to comment. Around the late-80s/early-90s, the popularity of football in the UK was faltering.

People were trying to find alternatives, and get into other sports, until The Premier League came to the rescue. Among these was American Football, which was regularly shown on Channel 4 at this point, which was committed to coverage of less mainstream sports, and even they probably weren’t expecting the increase in interest. The decision was made to turn this into a game show format.

Quiz Bowl was shown on Friday evenings, and the host was Will Buckley, who wore a black-and-white striped shirt just like what the referees did. Two teams of three took part, all and they were all sports writers representing various national newspapers, so for example, a game could be News Of The World v Today, I wonder if there was a rivalry between them.

In the middle of the studio there was a big screen that featured an American Football grid, showing exactly where the ball was at that stage. Various questions would be asked, but this wasn’t how points were scored. The questions were of varying difficulty, and would be worth yards, including 10, 30, all the way up to 70, which is rather a lot.

The American Football scoring system was used, so if they did manage to score, it was a “TOUCHDOWN”, and this was be accompanied by suitable noises and applause. They didn’t do a little song and dance like in that episode of Family Guy though. But they did score six points. Various other rules were adapted, and this carried on until the full-time whistle was blown.

I’m fairly sure that Quiz Bowl was a knockout tournament, with various games being played, until the climax of the grand final to determine the overall series champions, which I’m sure would get the cheerleaders excited. There would only be one series of this, but this was a rather interesting twist, and we found out what the writers really knew about sport.

CITV Memories – It’s Torture!/Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon.

It’s Torture!/Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon (CITV, 1989-1990)

As part of the second series of the CITV Saturday Morning show Motormouth (or Motormouth 2 as it was indeed called) there was a game show segment, and this was the nearest equivalent to Double Dare that would’ve been on CBBC’s Going Live! at the same time. The host was the rather excitable Steve Johnson. This was a game that was played in various parts.

In It’s Torture! there were three games, and four teams of two took part in all of these, do they know what have they let themselves in for. In the first game, there were contestants stood on the top and the bottom (the ones on top wore a big helmet with a light on top). The questions alternated between being asked to the ones on the top and the bottom.

Get it right, and their opponents are pushed one step closer to the edge, but get it wrong, and they get pushed closer instead. Whoever gets pushed over the edge is out of the game, and is never seen again either. The winning team make the final and get to play the bonus game, The Hot Seat. They are both asked the same multiple-choice question. If they both give the same answer, they win a nice prize.

This is then done again, but the second game featured contestants placed under a crusher that they would be pushed further into, and in the third a box’s lid would slowly close on them, with again the winners going through to play The Hot Seat. The three winning teams would all then go into the final, which was Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon.

There were more questions asked, and some weights would be moved depending on a right or wrong answer. If a team had all of their weights removed, then well you can guess what happens… and this also results in their elimination. The overall winners win some more prizes and go into the grand final. The winners of this received the star prize which was a signed Brother Beyond album or something like that.

After deciding that pushing children to their oblivion probably wasn’t a great idea, in the second half of the series, this was restructured to only play Gunge ‘Em In The Dungeon, with different rules. The star of this show though was Steve, injecting a remarkable madcap energy into hosting that would’ve probably surprised even the award-winning Peter Simon.

I also remember that one week Steve hilariously (?) got his comeuppance, but this seemed to coincide with a technical fault, so you could hear all the commotion as he went in himself, but this was accompanied by a blank screen, I couldn’t believe it. In the next series of Motormouth, Steve returned to host the rather different but equally enjoyable game Mouse Trap.

Game Show Memories – All Mixed Up.

All Mixed Up (ITV, 1998-2002)

This is another game show that I don’t remember from the time, although this is because this actually wasn’t shown in my ITV region. But after I watched a few editions online, and because I’m always interested in discovering more game shows from this era, I thought that I would feature this one. All Mixed Up was only shown in the UTV region, and the host was Eamonn Holmes. Yes, again.

Three teams of two took part, consisting of one contestant, who would be assisted by a celebrity, and somehow they all seemed to have a show that was on UTV at the time, what a coincidence. They will be able to help their teammate out, hopefully. It seems that the format changed after about a series, and this piece will concentrate on the later editions.

All Mixed Up was a game where the contestants were given the answers, but they were in the wrong order, and they had to be correctly matched to the questions. Round one was Get It Sorted. There were five clues, and they had to pick the top three out of them based on the question. There are five points for a correct answer, but if they get one wrong, it is passed on to the next team.

Round two is What Do You Know. There is a choice of five categories. There are six answers, and they have to be matched with the right question. Ten points for a correct answer. Round three is The Quick Mix. Instead of being played team-by-team, this is an open round on the buzzer. There are six words on the same category, a question is asked, with 15 points for a correct answer.

But get it wrong, and ten points are deducted. The highest-scoring team goes into the final, The Big Mix. The defeated contestants receive the consolation prize of a hamper. At this point, the contestant has the chance to trade their celebrity teammate for one of the others, but they usually don’t. In the final, there are eight answers in one category.

The questions are given, and one by one they individually make their choices. Then the results are revealed. If they both choose the right answer, then the contestant wins a prize. Cash prizes of up to £5,000 were on offer in the earliest series, but then things like video recorders and washing machines were instead. If they manage to get all eight, they win the star prize of a holiday.

All Mixed Up was shown in various timeslots, from primetime to nighttime, but managed to run for a few series, presumably viewers in the UTV region found this fun to watch. There were even some specials, at which point the Christmas trees with their twinkling lights would be brought out on stage, and Eamonn would put his best suit and bowtie on.

Game Show Memories – N V S.

N V S (ITV, 1998-1999)

Here’s another game show! This one was called N V S (which sounds a little like “envious”, but I don’t know if that was intentional…). This actually stood for North Vs South. The host was Dominik Diamond, who had come through six series of GamesMaster, and somehow managed to survive. I also remember that he hosted a live phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live around this time too.

This was a game that was all about pop music, and I think that this was shown in the post-The Chart Show slot on Saturday afternoons (although this would’ve actually been the post-CD:UK slot by this point of course). I think that this was only shown in the Granada and LWT regions, which explained the north/south rivalry, and well I had to be on the side of the southerners, didn’t I.

Two teams of three took part, who were around their early-teens. Dominik was rather witty, but it did seem that his style of humour might’ve sometimes gone over the heads of the young audience and contestants. There were various rounds, and none of them were particularly groundbreaking, but it was an excuse to show clips of lots of music videos, and then they were asked questions about them.

As this was the late-90s, there was a lot of Steps, Five, and B*Witched featured, the kind of groups who were probably asked how they got their hunky six-pack by Mizz or some such magazine at the time, it must’ve been like being trapped in an edition of The Pepsi Chart. I was in my mid-teens when this was shown, so I was fairly familiar with all of these groups.

And to finish things off, oh look, there’s a quickfire buzzer round! No conferring now. About the only thing that I remember from watching this (and I’m fairly sure that this happened), was when a young contestant answered by saying “is it Skunk And Nancy?”, and well, they got that rather wrong, useless there was a duo called that who were successful.

The winning team with the most points won a bag with some pens and that in it, how terrific. Well I suppose that their classmates would be proud of them, and they could brag in the playground about it. Around the same time, Dominik hosted a similar game show called Swot Or Wot?, but this was only shown in the Anglia and Central regions.

Game Show Memories – Either/Or.

Either/Or (UK Play, 1999-2000)

UK Play was a great music and comedy digital channel that tried out a lot of things. Among the original programming were a few game shows. Two were Pop Upstairs Downstairs with Mark And Lard, and Mental with Iain Lee, which were fairly straightforward. But the third was something entirely different, it was like nothing else that there has been in the genre, real nightmare fuel.

Either/Or was hosted by comedian Simon “bid again, Simon” Munnery, who was best-known at the time for his anarchist character Alan Parker Urban Warrior, who appeared on various TV shows including the revival of Saturday Live, and the BBC Radio 1 series Alan Parker’s 29 Minutes Of Truth. Munnery also performed as the self-styled “The League Against Tedium”, made a sketch show for UK Play called FuturTV.

It’s fair to say that his comedy style is at the more surreal/weird end of the scale, he has worked with Lee And Herring, and he made a very late-night BBC2 sketch show called Attention Scum, which also featured Johnny Vegas and The Actor Kevin Eldon in the cast. It’s not really easy to explain the format of Either/Or, as this was almost closer to performance art than a traditional game show, but here goes.

This was essentially a game about quick decision making. Munnery had a rather distinctive look, including a big hat. He also had a sword-type thing that had a camera in it, so we saw rather a lot of his face in an extreme close-up (this also meant that the majority of the show was in black-and-white). To make things even more strange, there was a female opera singer accompanied by a pianist, who would perform songs about the situation in the game.

The contestants who took part numbered 14 to 20 (no “more contestants than viewers” jokes). They all wore a robe with a hood which had a number on it. They would be asked a question that had two options (such as “either Rioja… or Jarvis Cocker”). When “You Must Decide” appeared on the screen, they had to hold up a card that represented the “either” or “or” option, and this was done a few times.

If Munnery didn’t like their answer, felt that they couldn’t justify their answer after asking them about it, or just plain didn’t like the look of them, they would be asked to remove their hood, and then he would take the camera and shove it right in their humiliated face, so we got an extreme close-up of them instead. And you thought The Weakest Link was harsh.

After a few more questions, whoever still had their hood up could leave the game and retain their anonymity. This would get to a point where there would usually be only two contestants remaining. The one left out of them would be made famous. You would think that this would be a great prize, but they soon realise that fame isn’t all it’s made out to be.

The show would end with a sequence featuring their picture on mock newspaper front pages and other things, their name would appear on the screen, and the singer would sit next to them and perform a song about how terrible they are, so they discover that success has made them the “loser” all along. Either/Or was a baffling, unsettling, unique show, bending TV like little else that I’ve seen, but also amusing and creative.

Game Show Memories – The Satellite Game.

The Satellite Game (BSB Galaxy, 1990)

This is another show that appeared on the short-lived BSB Galaxy channel. The Satellite Game (not to be confused with The Satellite Show that was on CBBC around the same time) was made by the same production team as Knightmare, which had been a big success for CITV, and is considered to be one of the classics by many people to this day.

Unlike that show though, this one featured more of an attempt to include computer-generated imagery, which was still developing rapidly at the time. The Satellite Game was set on the Enigma satellite, floating somewhere far away in space, and there was no in-vision host as such, but the “computer with a breathy female voice” tradition was definitely fulfilled here.

Three young contestants, or indeed, “commanders” took part. Hopefully they would be ready to tackle all of these aliens, and still be home in time for dinner. They looked like they had been covered in tinfoil, and then strapped to a chair (and I’m trying to forget that the majority of them would be about 45 now). Will they be able to make the characters reveal the secrets to let them crack the codes?

They have to guide a small droid called Lari around various places, making sure that the obstacles were navigated, and damage was avoided. They better concentrate, press the right buttons, and there was a lot of familiar-sounding “left… left… right” commands. Hopefully all of the available data will lead the computer to indicate that they have succeeded.

At least there wasn’t a scary skull thing falling apart that showed their progress! Some missions lasted longer than the 25-minute slot, but they could return for the next edition, if they remembered to recharge the batteries, and some teams appeared for three or four shows. The some production team were also behind the similar Cyberzone and Virtually Impossible.

This was a show that was ambitious but didn’t attract too much attention. The question that I am coming to really is, if I did have access to this channel at the time, would I have enjoyed this? Well yes, I think I would, although I think that just about everyone involved had to concede that this was always going to be second-best compared to Knightmare.

Game Show Memories – Cryer’s Crackers.

Cryer’s Crackers (ITV, 1994-1995)

Recently we had to say farewell to Barry Cryer, one of the greats in British comedy. As well as being a performer, he was also a writer, and over a period of many decades he worked with Kenny Everett and Morecambe And Wise, and just about everybody else inbetween, it must’ve been terrific to have known all of these people personally.

And he was always encouraging to the next generation of comic talent coming through, you really do realise how much poorer we all would’ve been without his contribution. As far as game shows go, he is best-known for being a panellist on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for almost 50 years. And he also hosted a few TV shows, including the early series of Cross Wits, and Music Match.

And he also hosted this one. Now I couldn’t have seen any of this at the time, as this was only shown in the ITV Yorkshire region, but when I spotted this online, and realised that not only was this a comedy panel game, but one about nostalgia, then I couldn’t resist really, and so as to try and give him something of a tribute to his career, I thought that I would review this rather fun show.

Cryer’s Crackers (presumably in this case “crackers” in this show refers to meaning “very amusing jokes” rather than “biscuits” or “things you pull at Christmas”, or maybe it was all of them) featured two teams of three. The team captains were Richard Whiteley and Christa Ackroyd, who also rather conveniently both used to host Yorkshire’s news show Calendar at this time, accompanied by various other famous people.

Seeing Barry interact with Richard on this show, reminded of when Barry used to appear in Dictionary Corner on Countdown, and he always had something amusing to say, back in the days when that show seemed to have much more warmth and wit than now, but I don’t want to start whinging about all that again! Various rounds would be played.

But they didn’t matter too much really, as usual, it was earning some laughs that was the most important thing. Various clips from the archive would be shown, featuring “guess the year” and “mystery guest”-type questions, and old adverts! There were also some “before they were famous”-style clips featuring the panel shown, including Richard when he was starting out, he was very young, and he sounded awfully well-spoken.

Game Show Memories – Scavengers.

Scavengers (ITV, 1994-1995)

This might be the last game show that I’ll review for a while, but this one was something of a flop. I don’t mean to deliberately review shows that didn’t do well, and it might seem that I am scraping the barrel a little now, but there are some reasons why I do remember watching this one (although it seems that there weren’t too many others who did).

Scavengers made its debut on Saturday Night ITV the day after I left junior school, and I just couldn’t believe that it was finally all over. Before I started to think about what my next move would be, I thought that I would watch this new show to try and keep that all out of my mind. And also, this was a rather ambitious idea, sort of like Gladiators meets The Crystal Maze… but in the future!

There had been a lot of money spent on this, and there was a lot of hope that this would end up doing well. The host (I mean “commander”) was John Leslie, who had recently left Blue Peter, and was clearly wanting to try something a little different. Two teams of two took part. Inbetween lots of pointless running around, they had to play various challenges to score points.

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There was also some android-type woman (who was described by one critic as “Random Emotionless Robot #235”) who would explain the challenges, and give the scores, that were known as “salvage points”. Looking back at some of these now, they are a little similar to the “Super Round” that did for The Krypton Factor (although that’s still a year off at this point).

Once they had completed these challenges, they had to run back to their spaceship in time, otherwise they would lose all of their points, and probably be evaporated too. How intense! The highest-scorers went into the next round, and the winners of that would then go into the grand final, where they would win a nice big prize, probably.

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I did think that the whole thing was rather exciting, but only for about the first five minutes. Scavengers ended up doing so badly with viewers though that this was quickly taken off Saturday Nights, and the final ended up being shown on a summer Monday morning over a year after the first edition, of what unsurprisingly turned out to be the only series.

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This idea just didn’t catch on, and as for John Leslie trying to adopt a macho personality… probably best to stick to hosting Wheel Of Fortune. ITV wouldn’t really try another big Gladiators-style game until Ice Warriors a few years later, which made just about the same mistakes all over again, and even I didn’t watch that one. Oh dear.