Cheggers’ teenage rampage

Our Clip of Quizmas Past:

  • Quiz: Cheggers Plays Pop;
  • Presenter: Keith Chegwin;
  • Made by: BBC Manchester for BBC One (New Broadcasting House, Oxford Road, Manchester);
  • First shown: Monday 10th April 1978.

Mondays. A day that Bob Geldof said he would like to shoot in its entirety. A day that inspired the UK’s best selling 12″ single. For schoolchildren, a day that fills many with dread. Back to the same old teachers, back to the same rowdy rickety buses twice a day.

Thank goodness for pop music.

Giving the average child of the 1980s some relief were the dulcet tones of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Imagination, and Dollar. Pop music meant taping the charts on Radio 1 and pausing in time to avoid the dulcet tones of Tommy Vance/Richard Skinner/Tony Blackburn. It meant Top of the Pops and the odd pop group appearing on The Little and Large Show or The Young Ones. Back in the day, adding a pop group to a BBC comedy programme increased its budget by putting it under the category of Light Entertainment (which gave a significant uplift in production values).

This was true of panel games and quiz shows with Cheggers Plays Pop a classic example. It was one of BBC’s first nationwide programmes to use New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road, Manchester. In one respect, Manchester was an obvious choice, being the birthplace of Top of the Pops. Another reason was that the programme was seen as too downmarket for BBC Television Centre, so BBC Manchester got the gig instead.

Apart from that, it wasn’t too far to get to for its presenter Keith Chegwin. For the best part of 25 minutes, Cheggers went through a fast moving programme with three pop acts, foam, inflatables, and two celebrity captains. Two teams of secondary schools pit their pop music wits against each other (one in red, the other school in yellow), supported by an audience that had had more than their fair share of Tizer and Curly Whirly bars.

In this clip, Breeze Hill Comprehensive School play Spurley Hey High School. Throughout its run, most of the competing schools came from the North West of England (almost a middle finger to Crackerjack where most of its audience came from Greater London and South East England).

The rules of the game

The first game was the Top Ten Hammer Game. This was a bit like a Test Your Strength game you see at the fairground. Instead of Puny, Limp, Macho Man or Legend across the side, each graduation marked last week’s Top Ten. In this edition (which we chose for the local interest on our blog), The Hammer Game was discontinued. Instead we had an It’s A Knockout style game after the first act.

This was followed by the Hot Box Quick Quiz. In our clip we have a Screen Test style observation round. Then there are three subject areas: Pop Pix, Pop Sounds and Pop History. This round is broken up by two more live performances and a bit of pop music themed handicrafts.

The third and final game is the gunge round – yes, we love the squelch of gunge on a Monday evening. Especially set to Baltimora’s Tarzan Boy as we see in our clip.

A non mover for eight years

For a programme deemed the most vulgar thing on telly by its producer, Cheggers Plays Pop had a good innings. After a dog of a day doing double ‘O’ Level Maths (other arduous subjects are available, also at CSE Level), Cheggers’ enthusiasm and the fast paced nature of the show was a tonic.

On the other hand, each episode is a snapshot of popular music history. Such as the bands you liked that didn’t quite get the same international status as Duran Duran – or the singles that bombed in the charts. Also the guest captains of the day (Gordon Astley, then a West Midlands ILR station DJ was one, before he did the final series of TISWAS). Against a backdrop of Greed Is Good, it proved to ten million or so viewers that Gunge Is Greater (as seen in later programmes like Get Your Own Back).

The reason for why Cheggers Plays Pop and all the other non-Top of the Pops popular music programmes should be cherished? Apart from its place in history, it shows how seeing our favourite groups and singers was such a rare thing before MTV arrived. In the UK, many households were far away from watching the “stars on videos for hours and hours”. Like two years on from that clip.

Next on The Ghost of Quizmas Past…

We go from one extreme to another, as we swap Keith Chegwin for a Teatime Date with Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s dad. Yes, he’ll be having words with us if we turn down the invite. Don’t touch that dial!

S.V., 05 December 2022.

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