What is to be wondered at is that this ITV archetype is now a BBC1 fixture. Jim Davidson is part of a BBC culture that embraces 'Pets Win Prizes' and '999'

What a difference a generation makes

This evening The Generation Game returns to BBC1 for a new series. Its compere on this occasion is Jim Davidson.

For many of my older readers a television game show means something like Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? This is perfectly proper. As a rule, the modern game show is aimed at and appreciated by viewers whose chosen newspapers eschew notions as complicated as, well, generation.

The Generation Game was born in 1971. Its compere at that time was Bruce Forsyth, an authentic all-round entertainer who had proved the most popular of a succession of MCs for Beat the Clock, a game-show segment slotted into television's most lavish variety show of the Fifties and Sixties, Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

But Forsyth's roots are firmly in music hall, as was made splendidly clear in his two least successful enterprises - a guest turn in Anthony Newley's cruelly neglected film fantasy Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? and a one-man stage show designed to launch him on Broadway.

The reinvention of Forsyth in Beat The Clock as television's favourite game-show host was achieved by an ITV company, Lew Grade's ATV. The year after The Generation Game was born, ATV gave a vehicle to Larry Grayson, named after his catchphrase, "Shut That Door!" The variety veteran was the first mass-medium entertainer with an unmistakably gay persona. ATV's use of him was a startling gambit only five years after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. In 1978, between Bruce Forsyth's two stints, Larry Grayson hosted The Generation Game.

BBC1's embrace of such a show, followed later by the more static and scripted Blankety Blank, marked a decade in which, as television's most acute observer, Anthony Smith, put it, BBC1 and ITV were "moving towards a point of convergence". That point was long ago passed.

It is strange to recall that for many years ITV and the BBC were perceived quite differently. My father, one of the million householders to acquire his first television set in the 12 months after the Queen's coronation, "wouldn't have ITV in the house" until my complaints that I was unable to play my part in school-break analysis of 77 Sunset Strip and The Strange World of Gurney Slade (Newley again) persuaded him otherwise in 1961. But his middle-class conservative view was widely shared: BBC was respectable and reliable, ITV was for the council estates.

Which brings us back to Mr Davidson. Inheriting papa's sensitivities if not his politics, I have not followed the Davidson career too closely, gathering from trailer-spotting and passing press coverage that such concepts as vulgarity, laddishness, misogyny, alcohol, serial marriage, homophobia, snooker and suchlike unpleasantnesses have tended to attach themselves to his reputation. That he is a product of ITV, specifically New Faces (ATV again), is inevitable.

What is to be wondered at is that this ITV archetype is now a BBC1 fixture. He is part of a BBC culture that embraces Pets Win Prizes, How Do They Do That?, Telly Addicts, 999, Auntie's Bloomers, Anne and Nick, Bob Monkhouse, the lottery and that ineffable Butlin's redcoat, Dale Winton.

As if that did not suffice, every other BBC1 programme now apes ITV in inviting viewers to swell its coffers by ringing an 0891 number and answering a dullard's quiz question ("Who burnt the cakes, Alfred the King, Jason King or Chicken a la King?"). How John "Quality" Birt ever sleeps at night is a mystery.

So I do not drag out the welcome mat for Mr Davidson. He is just one more in a thousand points of convergence.

Thomas Sutcliffe is on holiday

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