It is true now that game shows are universally crap. Just have a look round the schedules and you’ll find such nightmares as Holding out for a Hero hosted by charisma vacuum Gethin Jones in which money is actively taken away from charities or High Stakes a game involving risk and knowledge which features Jeremy Kyle actually trying to be nice.
That got me thinking to the game shows of my youth growing up in the 1980s and 1990s I was privy to a golden era of game shows that were actually good so I thought my first top ten list here on boob.ie should be of those game shows from that era. The rules were simple the game had to feature in the Wikipedia list of British game shows and the majority of its run had to be between 1980 and 1999.
One more note is that the years given are when the original version of the show ran as many of these have been reformatted with different hosts which never works and part of the majesty of the game show is what the host brings to it, that’s enough of me prattling on here’s the list:
10. Going for Gold
Originally aired: BBC1 1987-1996
Hosted by: Henry Kelly
Why it was great: A show I remember airing sometime after the lunchtime edition of Neighbours, the programme basically saw contestants from all over Europe compete for a trip somewhere near Korea. The beauty of the programme that a lot of the foreigners didn’t have a brilliant grip on English and Henry Kelly’s thick Irish accent sometime made it hard for them to understand the questions. While this was only really limited to different interpretations of the question and answer format the fact that the contestants were shipped in added to the naffness. I also liked the fact that Kelly took his role incredibly seriously and always donned a dinner jacket for the grand final.
Was there a rubbish remake? : Yeah Channel Five revived the formula in 2008 with John Suchet which basically became a way for the Channel to promote their premium phone number quizzes.
Useless Trivia: Gladiator and Inception composer Hans Zimmer created the iconic theme music.
9. Supermarket Sweep
Originally Aired: ITV 1993-2001
Hosted by: Dale Winton
Why it was great: In the days before the ghastly Mr. Kyle the pre-This Morning slot used to be filled by this colourfully camp game show hosted by the equally camp Dale Winton. While the quiz portion of the programme was fairly dull the second half sweep more than made up to it. With their Day-Glo sweaters on three contestants would zoom round the store trying to get the priciest items possible as well as making a stop at the pick and mix and getting one of those big inflatable bananas. Although it was so silly I love how serious the rules were – you weren’t allowed more the three of each item and any droppage would cost you a £25 penalty. The main reason why I loved this though is that, although this was set in a real-life supermarket, it was other-worldly and I think everybody who watched it secretly wanted to do a dash round their local Asda.
Was there a rubbish remake?: Well it did come back but luckily with Dale and more money was on often the only problem here was it was a lot more self-aware than it was in the mid-1990s.
Useless Trivia: Keith Chegwin turned down the host’s role obviously he thought Naked Jungle was a better option.
Originally Aired: ITV, 1986-1999
Host: Roy Walker
Why it was great: It was so simple guess the popular saying by a visual representation on a screen. I know it doesn’t look like it if you watch the repeats on Challenge but at the time Catchphrase’s graphics were fairly cutting edge and of course the majority of them featured the show’s animated robot Mr. Chips. But for me what made the show was Walker’s hosting skills and some of his own catchphrases used on the show have become part of popular culture such as ‘say what you see’ and ‘it’s a good answer but it’s not right’, inevitably though it was never a good answer but Roy was too much of a trooper to essentially call his contestants a bit shit.
Was there a rubbish remake?: Yes, the show returned for two years at the start of the millennium with estate agent type Nick Weir as the host, in 2002 former Blue Peter star Mark Curry took the role but the show died a death shortly after.
Useless Trivia: In the original American version of the show the Mr. Chips character is known as Herbie.
Originally Aired: ITV, 1981-1995
Host: Jim Bowen, aided by Tony Green
Why it was great: Who doesn’t love darts? That was the question the programme makers asked when coming up with this genius concept which blended the throwing of arrows with general knowledge questions. As is the way with many of these show it was the added extras that most of us remember and most of these came from stand-up comic Bowen who was apparently the fifth choice of host but now it’s hard to imagine the show becoming so embedded in popular culture without Jim. With his super-smashing great catchphrase Bowen owned the show gelling well with Tony Green who commentated during the darts segments and more importantly bigging up the all-important mascot Bully the Bull. As most people remember even if the contestants didn’t win they were taunted with what they could’ve got had their darts been a bit better inevitably it ended up being a speedboat so it was probably a good thing they lost as where would they put it if they won?
Was there a rubbish remake? : Challenge TV remade Bullseye for the new millennium with another stand-up comic, this time Dave Spikey, as host and bringing back Green. While it still retained some of the initial glory it just wasn’t the same without Bowen.
Useless Trivia: At the show’s height of popularity there was a five year waiting list just to get a seat in the audience.
Originally Aired: ITV, 1989-1990
Host: Annabel Croft with Sean O’Kane as the Interceptor
Why it was great: Although nobody, apart from maybe me and my brother, remembers The Interceptor it was a great show that only ran for one series presuming it cost too much money. The show saw a pair of contestants, usually a couple, be given a pack each one of which was empty and the other contained a grand they would then each be dropped separately for each other and had to find their partner’s key and meet up at home camp with former tennis player Croft within forty minutes or the game would be lost. So far, so Treasure Hunt but the game had an added twist by getting hammy actor Sean O’Kane to play the villainous Interceptor who had his own helicopter and would fly around trying to shoot the infra-red censors at the back of the contestant’s pack. If he achieved this then they would lose what was in the case regardless of if they found the key or not. The Interceptor element made this show a must-watch mainly because O’Kane revelled in his role and had some great banter with his long-suffering pilot Mikey who was often on hand with a wry comment. While Croft could be a little bland at times this was great entertainment and it’s a shame that it didn’t become more of a hit.
Was there a rubbish remake? : No, while Treasure Hunt returned in the 2000s, Interceptor has never graced our screens again but I’m Sean O’Kane’s agent is still waiting for that call.
Useless Trivia: The contestants never met The Interceptor beforehand so had no idea what he looked like, I’m guessing had the show got a second series this element of mystery would’ve been lost.
Originally Aired: ITV 1983-1993 and then Sky One 1993-1994
Host: Bob Holness
Why it was great: I think due to its simplicity with players having to make it from one side of a board to another by answering questions relating to the letter on the screen advancing to the Gold Run which would result in a better prize each time you got to one. One of my biggest questions with Blockbusters was why it was always one against two, there didn’t seem to be any advantage for the one player but inevitably they did better than the duo sat next to them. The beauty of Blockbusters was that all the contestants were teenagers so their nervous dweeby nature came across as endearing as they looked increasingly embarrassed as Bob read out all their extra-curricular activities. It was also a fun little touch that the teams bought mascots from their schools which Bob would inevitably quiz them about. Holness himself was a great quiz master being incredibly lenient at times, providing extra information and also having a dry sense of humour. And if none of those reasons are good enough for you what about the Blockbusters hand jive?
Was there a rubbish remake?: After Sky bought the rights and Holness’ hosting for one series the format was bought by the BBC who supplanted Michael Aspel in the chair this lasted for one series before Sky bought the rights back in the new millennium this time with Liza Tarbuck hosting, neither of which could hold a candle to Bob and his P-Giving ways.
Useless Trivia: Famously one contestant answered orgasm rather than organism to a question which, while initially embarrassing, became fruitful after the clip appeared on every Auntie’s Bloomers or It’ll Be Alright on the Night style show with him earning a small repeat fee each time it aired.
4. The Krypton Factor
Originally Aired: ITV, 1977-1995
Host: Gordon Burns
Why it was great: A combination of strength and mental agility were needed if you were going to become a champion on The Krypton Factor. Quick-fire questions and the ability to reconstruct a model were challenges put together with flight simulation to make an all-round challenge. There are two fondly remembered rounds though the first being the assault course in which contestants had to go up ropes, through water and go down on a zip wire to win. I always felt this round was a little sexist as the women always got a head start obviously the producers had never heard about equal rights. But the observation round, in which contestants had to spot continuity errors, was always a highlight for me. This began with simple film clips but then morphed into sketches starring such diverse talent as a then unknown Steve Coogan and the duo Hinge and Bracket. In the 1990s this round was even more highly produced with a miniseries airing throughout each run and featuring stars such as Tony Slattery, Michelle Collins, Annabel Giles and Linda Lusardi. As host Burns was firm but fair he never seemed to have much of sense of humour but this wasn’t a game show about banter rather physical and mental skill.
Was there a rubbish remake? : Indeed, ITV bought the show back in 2009 for a two series run with Ben Shepherd hosting. While inoffensive it didn’t have the same charm it once did and the greatly acted Observation Round clips were replaced with snippets from ITV’s soap operas.
Useless Trivia: The Krypton Factor is one of the only ITV shows to be allowed the luxury of not to have an ad break separating its two halves.
Originally Aired: ITV, 1987-1994
Host: Hugo Myatt as Treguard accompanied by a host of supporting players
Why it was great: I decided to limit myself to one kid’s TV show so I apologise to those who suggested The Adventure Game or Fun House but maybe they’ll make a later list. But if was going to be one show than it was the CITV classic Knightmare which was revolutionary at the time for its use of computer graphics and its dungeons and dragons based story. For those who are too young or have a really bad memory this saw Dungeon Master Treguard welcome four strangers to his layer, three of who would guide their sight-impaired helmet-clad mate round a variety of rooms each of which contained a challenge of some sort. The helmet wearer would inevitably come into contact with a colourful band of characters featuring elves, pirates, wizards and witches. As the series’ went on the scope of the game moved on with the settings going out of the dungeons into woods and castles and with the script improved so other scenes separate from the game were seen with ominous villain Lord Doom trying to bargain with other characters to take down the contestants. As Treguard, Myatt really hammed things up sitting behind the contestants at his fireplace and giving his ‘ooh… nasty’ when they inevitably met their virtual sticky end. With a script, a cast of actors and ground-breaking visuals this wasn’t just one of the best kid’s gameshows but one of the best gameshows of all time and that’s why it deserves a place on the list.
Was there a rubbish remake? : God Forbid. Probably due to the large budgets each show costs to make and the fact that there’s no CITV anymore a return seems doubtful which is probably a good thing as the scripts wouldn’t be as good and the cast would be full of RADA-graduates who would be too self-aware to make their characters realistic.
Useless Trivia: The show was originally going to be called Dungeon Doom; I doubt it would’ve been a success with that moniker.
Originally Aired: ITV, 1992-2000
Host: Ulrika Jonsson with either John Fashanu or Jeremy Guscott
Why it was great: More than a gameshow more of event TV, Gladiators was the must see TV Saturday night show of the 1990s for those who didn’t want to watch Noel’s House Party. Coming from Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena and hosted by former weathergirl Johnson and former footballer and Awooga! shouting Fash this saw members of the public competing in a series of challenges against the lycra-clad fitness models and firemen known as the Gladiators. The games such as Atlaspheres, The Wall and the pugil-stick based Duel have all become stuff of legends as have some of the Gladiators themselves most notably villain-of-the-piece Wolf. The overall atmosphere was improved by the live crowd waving their foam fingers, the cheerleaders G-Force and Scottish referee John Anderson yelling contender ready. Once they’d got past the Gladiators the contestants had to tackle the eliminator main event complete with the ultra-tricky travelator. Some of the magic got lost towards the end with the arrival of Guscott and new games that didn’t really connect with the audience I think the show ended at the right time.
Was there a rubbish remake?: Yes Sky One bought it back and it wasn’t that bad thanks to Ian Wright filling the Fash role and John Anderson returned however the purpose built arena didn’t evoke the same aura that the NIA did however a couple of the male gladiators have gone on to find success in major American wrestling associations.
Useless Trivia: Jeremy Clarkson was the initial choice of replacement for John Fashanu.
1.The Crystal Maze
Originally Aired: Channel 4, 1990-1995
Host: Richard O’Brien and then Ed Tudor-Pole
Why it was great: Like with Knightmare this went to great extent to create a different world for the contestants. In fact The Crystal Maze had four different worlds or zones if you will, for contestants to make their way through. The fact that the makers could make you think you were on a spaceship, an Aztec village or a medieval castle is one of the reasons that this is at number one in my list. The second reason is that the challenges were fairly tough although you may get one crystal at the end of it you could just as easily find yourself locked in the challenge room and wait for your team to decide whether they should waste one of their crystals to save you. I have to say I love how realism was enforced as the contestant was really locked in the room and not just let out once the cameras had gone. Richard O’Brien was a brilliant host and often took attention from the main contest when it was getting a bit boring and giving a few seconds of entertainment. Ed Tudor-Pole presented the later series and wasn’t that bad but he wasn’t as brilliant as O’Brien. The zones, the challenges and the ultra-hard final game where hardly anyone won top prizes makes The Crystal Maze a one-off and for me the best gameshow of my personal golden era of the genre.
Was there a rubbish remake?: Thankfully not and I think history is going to preserve this wonderful classic let’s just hope Channel Five doesn’t buy it and gets Justin Lee Collins to host. Then I don’t want to go giving anyone ideas.
Useless Trivia: The producers didn’t have enough money to pay O’Brien for the pilot so he just asked for some nice sandwiches for lunch.
Did I miss out your favourite? Leave your comments below.