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Back in the 90s, the TV game show was everywhere. Formats and concepts were simple and safe, and some of the biggest names in light entertainment brightened up our living rooms. These are the best.
This show featured adults leading adults round an obstacle course. It featured some of the worst one-liners ever, which kind of made it charming. The episodes were also notable for the contestant’s forced reaction after each event. Every single contestant managed to sound like they were at a cheesy sales conference on a wet afternoon.
The Big Break
Okay, this is incredible. Contestants answered questions for the chance to win. John Virgo would take their points and use them to play snooker. It was strangely hypnotic.
The contestants watched as Virgo showed off and potted ball after ball. Meanwhile, on the other channel, people watched some paint dry.
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer could eat broccoli and make it funny. On this show they just pulled faces, created catchphrases and made fun of Ulrika Johnson. It was absolutely, positively hilarious. There was nothing else like it on TV.
Pets Win Prizes
Apart from the fact that this smacks of animal cruelty (the animals have to help complete set tasks) there was a lack of logic in every aspect of it.
Put it this way. If you were ever able to look at the screen for longer than five minutes, you’d notice the rather distinguished looking competition judge. Nicknamed ‘The Professor’, he was wise, fair and incredibly passionate about the responsible job he had.
Unfortunately, The Professor was a cat.
Yes, a cat.
This one ran for a very long time, and a lot of this was down to Roy Walker, the presenter. He managed to keep a reasonably straight face,even when it was quite clear that he couldn’t believe the state of the graphics on the big screen. Contestants had to guess the catchphrase ‘suggested’ by the kind of computer graphics that kids these days imagine were around at the time of the dinosaurs. But old Roy kept calm, told the odd joke, and took the money.
The Crystal Maze
Fronted by the really scary one out of the Rocky Horror movie, this was basically the same format as Fort Boyard. Run, get shouted at, pretend to be happy, and then run some more.
Each zone in the show was themed, and it was always a pleasure to watch mild-mannered accountants fromNorwich scream with delight when they picked up a plastic gold token while pretending they were in grave danger.
Fun fact: at the time, the set for the show was the biggest one ever constructed.
Fifteen To One
Anyone who fancied themselves a bit of a trivia expert or general knowledge guru would be torn to shreds by William G Stewart if they ever went on Fifteen to One. Some of the the toughest questions in TV history basically, and a cold, unforgiving atmosphere that made the TV audience think they were at the dentist. Imagine what it must have been like in the studio.
Going for Gold
Again, quite a brutal game format, with knockouts early on in rounds and some tough questions. The show was very European, in that it had people who spoke English but from a variety of European countries. Interesting concept.
The clue was in the title. Anyone who watched this show for more than ten minutes (and that wasn’t everyone) was hooked. The sight of teeny tiny robot ‘warriors’ trundling along for the few minutes that their power supply would allow was fun, and actually quite moving. Watching a blender/toaster crossover called ‘Snuggles’ being crushed and then gutted by another robot called ‘Dominator’ was harrowing, tragic viewing.
Fun fact: Jeremy Clarkson presented series one.
Dale Winton was a legend, and he could have sat there reading the phone book and still probably get decent viewer numbers. Let’s be honest, Dale made this show what it was, a camp, exciting dash through a fake supermarket including extra action at the pick ‘n mix counter. Golden.
The Moment of Truth
Cilla Black was the queen of gameshows for this particular era, and this one was a belter. Families had one member nominated for an incredibly difficult task, like spinning plates, or eating razor blades.
Okay, the razor blades may not have been a real thing.
In any case, if family members could perform that one task perfectly on the night, they could win some truly amazing prizes. The contestants had a week of practise, but the pressure of a gameshow format and the legend that was Cilla watching you got to more than a few contestants.
Take a member of the public and ask them to do something tricky or even perhaps a little dangerous. Then have the studio audience bet on whether or not they could do it. Very simple concept. And it had ‘cuddly’ Matthew Kelly running it, who no one on this planet could dislike.
A favourite among university students, this show was addictive. The board was amazing, Bob Holness was amazing, and the theme tune will be instantly recognizable when you Google it after reading this sentence.
Paul O’Grady ran the last version of this show, but it had Les Dawson and Terry Wogan as presenters once. They all did a fantastic job. Even though no one can actually remember what it was all about, it had great guest stars, lots of comedy, and lots of Kenney Everett..
Wheel of Fortune
Yes, it was based on a big US TV show, but this version had plenty of glitz and glamour. For example, one night the top prize was two cars and £10,000. You don’t get a lot of that these days. For the truly nostalgic, this was probably UK game show TV at it’s finest. Big prizes and bigger hair were the trademarks. And the whole thing was done with real professionalism.
Did you know that Jim Bowen had absolutely no experience at TV presenting? Bumbling and mistakes-prone, his ineptitude became the stuff of legend. So much so that it seemed to be on purpose.
Anyway, whoever thought to base a gameshow around darts was a genius. For some bizarre reason it became compulsive viewing, and also catchphrase lore. The best catchphrase was also the cruellest: ‘Look at what you could have won!’
Cilla Black again. One of the most iconic UK shows ever, Blind Date featured some of the most humiliating moments on UK TV and at one point was watched by nearly 20 million people. Despite Cilla acting like everyone’s most annoying Aunty, it was a national treasure of a show. And yes, there was an actual marriage for one of the couples, with a 25th Wedding anniversary in 2017.
Through the Keyhole
At the height of it’s fame this was one of the most entertaining shows on TV. it’s amazing how many C-list celebs allowed the show into their homes. Now and then you got real surprises, like Spike MIlligan or Kenny Everett, who had genuinely striking properties.
There were never any bodies in the pool or illicit drugs left on the kitchen worktops, but that didn’t matter. With Sir David Frost running things, and Llyod Grossman astounding us with the world’s weirdest accent, it was classic TV.
The Price is Right
In the 90s the legendary Bruce Forsyth hosted this show. At that point, the show and it’s format became irrelevant. With Brucie at the reigns, it was unmissable. Fun, glitzy, and incredibly sexist (the show relied on having ‘models’ as eye candy), it was still good clean fun that made it worth staying in. You couldn’t watch it without feeling happy. And that was largely down to Brucie.
The great Richard Whitely was still hosting in the 90s, and he brought a weary charm to the afternoon. Unflappable (even with Gyles Brandreth in full flow), Whitely knew his show had been the very first to air on Channel 4. He was making history every episode. Addictive stuff, and quite stressful for the contestants.
Strike it Lucky
Michael Barrymore in his prime. The best thing about the show was the pre-game conversation, where he would talk to the contestants. Sometimes the chats lasted five minutes, and it was clear he hadn’t rehearsed or made any effort to learn questions or responses. Pure and natural conversation, and it showed how Barrymore valued his contestants. A classic show.
Fun (and heartwarming) fact: No one ever walked away with nothing. If a couple didn’t win a prize, Barrymore would stride up to a screen and strike the button for them, getting them a prize.