The Comedy Vault – Rik Mayall Presents.

Rik Mayall Presents (ITV, 1993-1995)

Rik Mayall is someone who became famous for appearing in comedy shows that were at the more anarchic end of the genre, including The Young Ones and Bottom. He wanted to take the opportunity to prove that there was more to his style than this though, and he was keen to do something a little different, so this comedy-drama series was the ideal chance.

In Rik Mayall Presents, he played a different character all of the episodes, in a more straight style than some viewers might have been used to. Put it this way, there definitely wouldn’t be anybody being hit over the head with a frying pan in any of these. I suppose that it was either this, or make some more of those Nintendo adverts.

The episodes that stood out to me the most include “Micky Love”. This was about the host of long-running game show Family Values (and I am always interested in seeing a game show parody as much as the real ones). He is past his best by this point though, and his career comes to a spectacular end on live TV. There were also plenty of famous faces making a guest appearance.

In “Dancing Queen”, a stripper attends a chaotic stag party. But when the groom ends up on a train, and there’s no chance that he’ll make the wedding on time, he befriends the stripper, even though they have little in common. And in “Dirty Old Town”, a tramp has a film script fall into his possession. After being mistaken for its author, he suddenly finds himself in a showbusiness world that is totally alien to him.

Rik couldn’t do it all by himself though, and also appearing in the cast in various episodes were Peter Capaldi, Alan Cumming, Helena Bonham-Carter, Martin Clunes, Lee Evans, and many others. This went down very well with critics, and also led to Rik having success at The British Comedy Awards. Although there were only six episodes, they were all very enjoyable.

Rik also gained a new-found admiration from some viewers for proving that he could definitely perform as characters in this area, and also around this time, he was having some success in theatre shows too. There was also a repeat run on Granada Plus. Rik Mayall Presents has been released on DVD by Network, although there are no extras.

Game Show Memories – Pot Of Gold.

Pot Of Gold (ITV, 1993-1995)

Recently, I had a look back at Des O’Connor Tonight, and this reminded me of some of the game shows that he hosted throughout his long career. There was the popular Take Your Pick, and also this one, which isn’t as well remembered now, although there were two series. Pot Of Gold was an hour-long show that was yet another of those attempts to “bring back variety” to TV.

This was something of a talent show/game show mix in a similar style to Opportunity Knocks and the like. But this one had an exciting twist, and claimed to offer something which was going to be “a British television first”. Host Des O’Connor informed us that this show featured “the biggest jackpot in the history of British television”, which was a huge £25,000!

Now this was way over the maximum amount of cash that could given away on a UK game show at this point, with the restrictions that were still in place, I wonder how they managed to get around that. Soon this much money on offer would be the norm though. Well it’s better than a cuddly toy. Pot Of Gold was also innovative in another way.

There was a tie-in gamecard that you could get if you bought a newspaper (the Daily Star or Daily Mirror, seemingly depending on what series it was), or you could write in for one. As we’ll see, viewers would want the chance to play along at home. Seven acts would take part. They would be the usual mix of dancers, singers, jugglers, and so on, ranging from great, to not-so great.

Afterwards, a panel of judges, consisting of someone famous, such as a comedian or TV critic, along with someone who had been pulled out of the studio audience, give their opinions on how well they think they did, and give a score out of 50. This is then added together to become their total. If this matched the number on their gamecard, the viewer can write win to claim their prize of £50.

There was also a feature called “The Wannabes”. Six acts would come on and perform for 30 seconds each, until the hooter went off. Some of them really were ridiculous. The studio audience then vote for their favourite, and they become one of the main acts to perform their routine in full. The act with the highest total progresses to the grand final.

And there was also the jackpot number. The seven totals were added together, and if this matched the number on your gamecard, there was a real chance to win big. I presume that the overall series winner also won a lot money, or “the pot of gold”. So it wasn’t only the acts who had a chance of becoming rich! And there was also an Australian version that just about followed the same format.

I don’t remember this happening myself, but I’m sure remember reading once that one of the acts had died in an accident before their show was aired, and Des had to record to special introduction to explain this. I must admit that I’m not sure how many of the acts did go on to have some proper fame and fortune, but at least they had a very brief moment on TV.

I think there was an impressionist whose main piece was doing Bob Monkhouse, and about two decades later he turned up in an episode of Toast Of London as Bob so he definitely got some mileage out of that. Who needs Britain’s Got Talent when you’ve got this. About a year after this ended, ITV had yet another attempt at this type of thing with The Big Big Talent Show.

More TV Memories – Des O’Connor Tonight.

Des O’Connor Tonight (BBC2, 1977-1982, ITV, 1983-2002)

Des O’Connor is someone whose career in showbusiness lasted for over five decades, he was the lad from Stepney done good. As well as being a chart-topping crooner, he was also a comedian and TV host, was there anything he couldn’t do? Morecambe and Wise were always keen to mock his music, but he didn’t mind that much really because this meant that he got to appear on their show on several occasions.

His main show Des O’Connor Tonight launched on BBC2 in the 70s, and moved to ITV in the 80s, and this is the version that I remember. This always seemed to be shown on Wednesdays at 8pm, year after year, without fail. This was essentially a chat show crossed with a variety showcase. And cue the orchestra! This show is well-remembered for featuring comedians.

They could be up-and-coming ones, veterans, or even visiting from America. Either way, this was a good chance to raise your profile. This wouldn’t be an interview as such though, as Des would play the straightman to let them do as much of their routine as they could. And well, the noisy, cackling audiences seemed to appreciate this. Lots of people have said that Des deserves more credit for championing comedy. Where would Bradley Walsh and Joe Pasquale be now without him?

And there was also the musical element. Various singers were keen to take part too, and Des might even join in if you’re lucky. Along with this, there were several specials and compilations. By the 90s, Des was also hosting game shows Take Your Pick and Pot Of Gold. Des O’Connor Tonight was a long-running show that never really ended as such, but did seem to become more occasional.

The final editions were mostly half-hour specials featuring only one guest being interviewed. Then, just like most shows on ITV1 at this time, it seemed to end with little ceremony. But Des would be back. In the mid-2000s he co-hosted the live daytime show Today With Des And Mel, and he also hosted Countdown for two years, meaning that by this point he was actually appearing on TV more than ever, and remained as popular.

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.

More TV Memories – Blind Men.

Blind Men (ITV, 1997-1998)

This entry in the “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms?” series made me realise something. Excluding pilots, and the ones that had launched in the 80s but continued to run into the 90s, there were about 40 or 50 sitcoms that got at least one full series on ITV in the 90s. The vast majority of these didn’t reach a second series, while the BBC did much better by comparison.

Looking back, it is interesting to see how a new sitcom is sold to viewers, and why this really will be the one that’ll take off with them. Maybe it could be because of the writers, the cast, or it could be because of the actual situation. What was Blind Men able to offer then. Well firstly, one of the writers was Nick Hancock, best-known at the time for hosting They Think It’s All Over.

The cast contained a few names that people might actually be familiar with, including Jesse Birdsall and Tasmin Greig (who was also in The Archers at this point). Now, about that situation. Blind Men was shown in a Friday evening slot, and is set at Luxus Interiors, a company that specialises in selling window blinds. Among the staff is Graham, along with various other employees.

Graham is always the one who thinks that he comes out on top. But then one day, Phil joins the team. He also thinks that he is a success, so a rivalry soon forms between Graham and Phil. And then, Phil and his family move to live near Graham, meaning that their rivalry is not now just in the workplace, it becomes a 24-hour thing as they are in contact all the time.

And this is where the comedy comes in? It’s fair to say that their wives watch on, and begin to wonder if they have got married to two bickering boys as they constantly wind each other up. And well, this turned out to be yet another sitcom that only lasted for one series. Viewers became indifferent to the antics rather quickly even by their own standards, along with criticism of predictable plots.

There has been no DVD release of Blind Men, and even Forces TV or That’s TV haven’t given this a repeat run, and they’d show any rubbish. A few years on from this though, there were a couple of attempts at an American adaption, one featuring that guy who was in 3rd Rock From The Sun (and no I don’t know what he’s squinting at), but this got no further than a pilot.

More TV Memories – 6 O’Clock Live.

6 O’Clock Live (ITV, 1989-1992)

When ITV had much more regional programming, there would be various shows and hosts that would be popular, but if you went to a different part of the country, these would be just about unknown. One of the most successful examples of this was The 6 O’Clock Show, shown live on Friday evenings in the LWT region for about six years, and hosted by Michael Aspel.

When this ended in 1988, the replacement was Friday Now, but this didn’t do as well, and in 1989 this was replaced itself by 6 O’Clock Live, which is the one that I remember watching. This was an hour-long show that was supposed to be the best way to start the weekend. There would be celebrity interviews, music, competitions, and a look at what was happening around the capital.

This came from a studio where famous landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral could be seen in the background, and this was a sight that would soon become rather familiar. The main host was Frank Bough, who was best-known for hosting shows including Grandstand and BBC Breakfast Time. I must admit that at the time I don’t think I was aware of what Frank had supposedly got caught up in.

But LWT decided to give him a fresh start (and he hosted a few ITV Sport shows around this time too). The co-hosts were Jeni Barnett and Danny Baker, who had a similar role to The 6 O’Clock Show, being a roving reporter who took a look at the more light-hearted side of life, whilst wearing a horrible shirt. Other co-hosts and stand-ins included Jo Sheldon and Nick Owen (of TV-am/Good Morning fame).

There were also occasional news updates, and don’t forget there is more information available on Oracle page 243. 6 O’Clock Live ended in the summer of 1992, as preparation began on London Tonight, the new show launching in 1993 from London News Network, a collaboration between Carlton and LWT (who they were much more friendly towards than their predecessors Thames).

After this, Frank just about retired from TV hosting, although he occasionally appeared on a few other shows. For the next four months, the gap was filled with repeats of rowdy sitcom On The Buses (which was about 20 years old even then), and boring school documentary thing (what by the end of the decade would be called a docusoap) Park High.

More TV Memories – Get Real.

Get Real (ITV, 1998)

Here’s yet another entry in the “were there any decent 90s ITV sitcoms” series. And well, they definitely kept trying to find success. I only remember ever seeing a few short bits of this one, but I do feel that this has an interesting story. In the late-90s, some of the most successful imported sitcoms were Seinfeld and Friends. So maybe it might be a good idea to sort-of merge these two shows together in a British sitcom.

Because, well people like Seinfeld and Friends, so why not give this a try. There was the element of four young witty Londoners and how they interacted, who often discussed their love lives which became increasingly entangled (it could be said that BBC2’s Coupling came the closest to succeeding with this formula, although that was still a few years off at this point).

One of the creators of Get Real was Alan Davies, although I’m not sure if it’s the one of Jonathan Creek/QI fame, maybe it was. To start things off, the foursome are assembled and introduced, and there is a sofa too, you’ve got to have a sofa in these things. Adam is friends with Louise, who is also his landlord. Lestor and Francine are a couple who have recently met, and Adam wants to go further with Louise.

And everything carries on from there really. One thing that was against Get Real was the scheduling, being shown after News At Ten on Mondays in the summer. This might have let them talk about things in a more adult way, but it was hardly a high-profile slot. And critics really ripped into the show, even by their standards. Why try adapting the American style, when the British style needed helping.

Sorry about the fuzzy picture quality, but I’m surprised that I even have this. Ooh, look at them

There were only seven episodes of Get Real in one series. By the end, the plots had started to warm up, and the laughs had finally come, but the majority of viewers had already departed. There has been no repeat run or DVD release, put it this way, people will remember Friends, they won’t remember Get Real. This was another flop for ITV, I imagine the only cast member that got any further TV work was the sofa.

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 – 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.