This month’s starter for ten
With the possible exception of Eggheads, Pointless, and The Chase, there are few quiz shows originating from the 21st century which offer contestants any of the following:
- A solid intellectual challenge in their given subject area or wide ranging subject areas;
- Gloriously crap consolation prizes;
- Questions where multiple choice is the exception rather than the rule.
For the purpose of this month’s Not So Perfect Ten, I shall be focusing on the second point:
Gloriously crap consolation prizes. By this, trophies not worth the balsa wood they were made from; miniature follies which serve little or no purpose. Some may have a quite useful purpose, though not the sort of thing you would buy as a suitable birthday/Christmas/wedding/Labour Day/National Pie Week present. Our ten prizes:
- XYZ: A mug tree;
- Lucky Ladders: A model pair of ladders (Lennie’s Losers’ Ladders);
- Crackerjack: a pencil;
- 3-2-1: ceramic dusty bin;
- Bullseye: bendy Bully, chalk holders, darts and tankards;
- Runway: a newspaper of your birthdate;
- Larry Grayson’s Generation Game: a door trophy;
- Family Fortunes: silver framed family photograph;
- Wheel of Fortune: watch and electronic game;
- Wipeout: paperweight, umbrella.
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1. All for the sake of my little mug tree
XYZ (BBC One, 1993)
Presented by George Marshall as a hastily created replacement for the lunch time showing of Eldorado, XYZ was a letter based game show where contestants scored points for any word which used an alphabetical string. For example, ‘student’ would gain a good score, owing the position of S, T and U in the alphabet, as would ‘definite’ (with D, E and F), irrespective of word length.
Losing contestants would take home a XYZ mug tree. Great for the kitchen or staff room, but hardly commemorative.
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2. ‘But we don’t want to give you that…’ – years before Chris Tarrant’s quizzical juggernaut
Lucky Ladders (Anglia/ITV 1988 – 93)
Anglia brought us The Quiz of the Week in the late 1970s, but their late 1980s gem was one of ITV’s most popular daytime quiz shows. Launched in 1988BJK [Before Jeremy Kyle], Lucky Ladders was a word association puzzle game where contestants would build a word ladder using the top and bottom words, ultimately meeting in the middle. Hosted by Lennie Bennett, the programme went out at 9.25 am for five years, sharing that slot with other contemporary shows like Chain Letters, Crosswits and Runway.
Winning contestants would leave Norwich with a holiday, whereas losers would take home one of Lennie’s Losers’ Ladders. For the first series, they only had six of these diminutive trophies and never left the studio with their consolation prize in tow. (They were mailed to their home address shortly after). During its first series, all contestants came from the Anglia region.
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3. ‘It’s Friday, it’s five to five, and it’s…’
Crackerjack (BBC One, 1955 – 1984)
Crackerjack was a long running children’s variety programme which had a game show element as its main feature. Though the programme was an apprenticeship for Leslie Crowther, Michael Aspel and Eamonn Andrews, it was the latter person’s game show element Double or Drop which was the apogee of most Crackerjack viewers’ favoured parts of the show. Children would balance on a box and hold either as many prizes or cabbages. For a right answer, he or she would hold onto a prize, such as a board game. For each wrong answer, he or she would be given a cabbage. By the time they are weighed down by the cabbages, or if they lost balance, they lose the lot.
Win or lose, each contestant would be given a Crackerjack pencil, a relatively low value item of heightened status owing to its prospective collectibility and exclusivity value. For a time in the 1970s, they ditched the pencils, revived them, then upgraded them to pens. Today’s contestants may prefer something more substantial than a pencil these days, possibly a Crackerjack branded Android phone.
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4. ‘You’ve rejected tonight’s star prize, the British Leyland Mini…’
3-2-1 (Yorkshire Television/ITV, 1978 – 1988)
For anyone who hasn’t seen the repeats on Challenge TV, nor remember this show the first time around, 3-2-1 is based on the Spanish quiz show Un Dos Tres. The English counterpart darkened our screens in the second half of 1978 and ran for 10 years. The first part involved a general knowledge quiz with the second and third parts taken up by the variety spectacular (often based around cruise ships or something else of similar escapism, featuring either the Brian Rogers Connection or Wall Street Crash). Early episodes included an elimination game in the second part which took the part of an observation round, or a Breakout clone.
There was rich rewards for the winner, whether the couple wishes to take home the Ford Fiesta or a fitted kitchen, or win the holiday. Anyone familiar with the vagaries of Ted Rogers’ Saturday night quiz and variety show, would shoot me down for saying that the consolation prize was a brand new dustbin.
They’re partly right. The brand new dustbin was awarded to anyone whom after trying to decipher the show’s clues in the third part who ended up with Dusty Bin. The consolation prize proper was Dusty Bin himself, a ceramic one for persons who came last in the quiz round or the elimination round.
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5. ‘Two minutes, Jim? What’s it all in? Twos and ones…?’
Bullseye (ATV; Central Independent Television/ITV, 1980 – 1995)
Besides being a comedian, one of Norman Vaughan’s significant footnotes in television history (along with Andy Wood) is the co-creation of Bullseye, a popular game show based along darts. Much lampooned by Peter Kay, revived by Challenge TV in 2006 with older episodes still rerun, it was part and parcel of many a Sunday afternoon with roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding.
Losing contestants left the Nottingham studios with a bendy Bully toy. Previous consolation prizes included a set of darts and a tankard. In early episodes, the consolation prize was a dart shaped chalk holder. By contrast, the Challenge TV revived version, hosted by Dave Spikey saw cheaper electronic prizes, often a budget level MP3 player.
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6. A Birthdate With Destiny (Or: The Foreign Holiday Wasn’t Meant To Be)
Runway (Granada Television/ITV, 1987 – 1993)
Presented by Chris Serle in its first series, then succeeded by Richard Madeley, Runway was one of two travel orientated quizzes of Granada TV’s stable shown between 1985 and 1993. Three contestants would ‘check in’ with their birth date and occupation with questions based around birth dates. A further three rounds included Departure Board, where contestants would (Wipeout fashion) decide which of the nine answers were correct names of, for example, London railway stations. The third round, Dirty Tricks, was a quick fire general knowledge one with a difference. Anyone answering correctly could take four points for themselves, or take two off a rival’s tally. The first contestant to reach 40 points would reach the final round, where nine sections of ‘runway’ needed to be lit for the star prize.
Runners up would receive a copy of the newspaper printed on their birthdate. As consolation prizes go, this was among the better ones dished out on late 1980s quiz shows, and a worthy talking point as well as a keepsake. Contestants who failed to light up all nine sections of the runway would receive ‘Runway’ branded travel luggage, which, being a Granada quiz show, may have come from Chadderton’s very own Constellation brand. (Feel free to correct me on this).
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7. ’25 million viewers who tune in each week can be wrong, despite the song, which gets up our noses…’
Larry Grayson’s Generation Game (BBC One, 1978 – 1981)
Succeeding Bruce Forsyth following his high profile poaching by ITV (Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night), Larry Grayson’s take on the BBC’s most popular quiz show, with Isla St. Clair accompanying him ensured the format’s continued success. Based on the Dutch quiz show Een Van De Aacht, its ability to reinvent itself with different hosts and hostesses ensured its continuation well in to the 21st century. Larry Grayson’s take on the show was more irreverent with the man himself pratting about in some of the games!
For bowing out at the first stage, each couple would take home a trophy as a reminder of their trip to Lime Grove [the now demolished BBC Television Theatre – also at one point home to Crackerjack]. The trophy would be a silver plated door inside a wooden frame, a reference to Larry’s ‘scores on the doors’ catchphrase.
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8. ‘To steal, we have…’ SupaSnaps
Family Fortunes (ATV/ITV; Central Independent Television/ITV; Carlton/ITV; ITV Productions, 1980 – to date)
With only Mastermind, A Question of Sport and University Challenge enjoying longer runs, Family Fortunes has seen five presenters, five major set changes and in more recent years, ordinary families eschewed in favour of celebrities. Unless you’ve been a total recluse for forty years, Family Fortunes is based on the American Goodson Todman format Family Feud. A survey of people would be asked for an answer within a given subject (i.e. Things You’ll Find in the Kitchen). Contestants try and get the top answers to gain bigger cash prizes, ultimately winning the grand cash prize in Big Money, or the holiday, or the car.
What about the runners up? For their troubles, they would return home with a black and white photograph, 10″ x 8″ or thereabouts in a silver frame. Winners, whether they win Big Money or not received a colour version of the photograph, again in aforementioned silver frame and along with their winnings.
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9. ‘Look at the studio filled with glamorous merchandise…’
Wheel of Fortune (Scottish Television/ITV, 1988 – 2001)
Most of the UK’s much loved quiz shows are based on American formats, as stated above with Vernon Kay’s present day programme. The late 1980s to early 1990s saw long standing US favourites like The Pyramid Game, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune gain popularity at peak times and early mornings. The 19 July 1988 saw the UK version of the US version of Wheel of Fortune grace our living rooms for the first time. Confusingly, Michael Miles presented another show with the same title from 1969 to 1971 (Southern Television/ITV). The centrepiece is the titular wheel, the chance to gain or lose cash prizes at the turn of a roulette style wheel and a haul of prizes fresh from Argos or MFI.
For consolation prizes, the cheapo electronic gadget reigned supreme. In this case, a LCD electronic game of Wheel of Fortune and a watch which replicated the movements of the wheel itself.
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10. You’ll love this prize, not a lot…
Wipeout (BBC One, 1994 – 2002)
In its first four years, Paul Daniels presented the general knowledge show where contestants would try to find as many correct answers within a video wall. Again, using our London stations example stated in the Runway entry, our contestant(s) would try to choose ‘King’s Cross’ instead of ‘New Street’, or ‘Waterloo’ instead of ‘Waverley’. Cash prizes per correct answer would increase after two, three or four successive right answers. If the contestant chose a wrong answer, he or she would be wiped out with all monies gained from previous correct answers lost.
Wipeout winners for their troubles would win a holiday, but losing contestants came away with something more modest: a paperweight. By 1998, a change of time slot and presenter (this time, Bob Monkhouse) also saw a change of consolation prize. This time, an umbrella.
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More than anything, the consolation prize is used to remind contestants and other family members of their day trip to Television Centre, South Bank, Lenton Lane, Quay Street, Norwich or any other studio one cares to mention. By the late 1980s, consolation prizes started to lean towards consumer goods instead of ornaments. More modest prizes leaned towards a simpler time when we would have been impressed by a framed photo of ourselves stood next to Bob Monkhouse.
Some of the prizes have a sense of kitsch and collectable value. Though low value, some carry the sense of exclusivity, obviously gained by appearing on the show. With today’s quiz show prizes weighted towards cash, the novelty element of appearing on a quiz show is somewhat lost. Perhaps modern day consumerism killed off the gloriously tacky consolation prize, but today’s schedules are woefully devoid of cheap and cheerful game shows where general knowledge is key, such as the modern day Lucky Ladders and Chain Letters of this world. Quiz shows seem to be bigger budget productions and sometimes sterile. The pullover count is vastly reduced, word games have gone, some only have two possible answers or perspex boxes.
And not a single Blankety Blank cheque book and pen between them, or the like.
S.V., 12 May 2012.