GAME ON; THE BROADER PICTURE

As the big-band music swells, enter Cilla. Cue audience applause. Miss Black (basso profundo): "Surprise, surprise / The unexpected hits you between the eyes / The unpredictable, that's the surprise / Surprise, surprise!" It's not much of a song; yet Surprise, Surprise, the successful TV show in which Cilla explores the Schopenhauerian randomness of human experience, is finding willing imitators beyond these shores. In Britain, we have Cilla; in Italy, they have Raffaella Carra, host of Carramba! Che Sorpresa.

Cilla isn't the only British star with a continental alter ego. As the rights to British show formats such as Pets Win Prizes, That's Life and Noel's House Party are sold to European production companies, unfamiliar incarnations of Dale Winton, Esther Rantzen and Noel Edmonds are grinning to camera in studios all over Europe.

Some pedigrees are more recognisable than others. Just from the goats running round the studio, you can tell that Germany's Hamster TV is a Teutonic Pets Win Prizes. And Mr Blobby's presence betrays the origins of Denmark's Greven pa Hittegodset. But you'd need Belgian assistance to work out that Raar Maar Waar, a lively looking show performed in a plaster replica of a classical ruin, was the spawn of That's Life.

Formats mean money like points mean prizes: successful formulae are notoriously elusive and will only be sold by their originators for the right price. But the question of ownership can be legally tricky. Granada TV co-operates with an American and a Japanese network in the making of You've Been Framed - yet it is just one of 44 companies worldwide who are making programmes along the same lines, each with its own local version of a Jeremy Beadle hosting scenes of camcordered disaster. "It's big international business," explains Bill Hilary, controller of entertainment at Granada. "And definitions are difficult - for instance, what's the difference between Blind Date and Studs? They're both just a screen and a few questions."

Colin Jarvis, general manager of format licensing at BBC Worldwide, is the man who sold Mastermind to Israel and The Generation Game to Slovenia. "Once people have acquired the rights, we go over there to give them the know-how," he explains. Pets Win Prizes has been pounced on by six foreign channels, and Noel's House Party has five incarnations across Europe (the presenter of the Danish version has even imitated the Edmonds facial hair). And formats dead on their native shores can find new life abroad - Jim'll Fix It (deceased 1994) lives on in Austria, and That's Life (axed here in 1993) is still going strong in Germany. Conversely, many familiar British shows are actually based on imported models: Countdown was originally French, How Do They Do That? is Australian and - rather shockingly - Call My Bluff hails from the States.

However, Surprise, Surprise has proved to be British TV's most marketable light- entertainment concept. Brite, the company employed by LWT to sell the format, confess to being a little bemused by some of the material produced in their name. The Portuguese Surprise Show is quite unlike anything you'd find on ITV on a Sunday night. In one recent episode, presenter Fatima Lopes fulfilled a male audience member's darkest desires by giving him a Madonna makeover - the show's finale had him writhing around on the studio floor in a conical bra and blonde wig, pouting and mumbling flatly to "Like a Virgin" as his mother cheered her approval from the audience.

Other interpretations are more innocuous: Holland treats its public to host Henny Huisman encouraging a woman to perform with seals, before reuniting a young girl with a horse. But the version most like a Channel 9 sketch from The Fast Show is Italy's aforementioned Carramba! Che Sorpresa. Raffaella Carra is the enormously tall all-singing, all-dancing hostess with a decibel-level to match Cilla's. She selects a man from the audience, and plucks an antique watch from her abundant cleavage. It's some sort of family heirloom, and the man looks, well, surprised by its emergence from the Carra bosom.

Then it's off to an outside broadcast, in which Raffaella's assistant - the Italian equivalent of Bob Carolgees - doorsteps a pair of newlyweds in their hotel room, bustling them up to the most vulgar bridal suite in Europe. There awaits a grand piano and a gigantic chocolate cake. Raffaella's sidekick produces a handful of lingerie and starts bouncing up and down on the bed. Then someone opens the bathroom door - and standing there in a tuxedo is Richard Clayderman. Carramba! Che sorpresa! (The grand piano was the clue). As Clayderman makes beautiful muzak, a priest pops in with a copy of the marriage vows and, before the victims' jaws are off the carpet, it's time for a messagio promozionale - for cheese, appropriately enough. Raffaella hovers over a table groaning with ripe parmesan and tells Italy to go buy. Fantastico. That's entertainment in any language. !

UK: SURPRISE, SURPRISE

Host: Cilla Black

PORTUGAL: SURPRISE SHOW

Host: Fatima Lopes

HOLLAND: SURPRISE SHOW

Host: Henny Huisman

UK: PETS WIN PRIZES

Host: Dale Winton

GERMANY: HAMSTER TV

Host: Thomas Koschwitz

FRANCE: LES ZANIMOLYMPIADES

Host: Yves Lecoq

SWEDEN: LYCKO JURET

Host: Martin Timell

UK: NOEL'S HOUSE PARTY

Host: Noel Edmonds

SPAIN: VAYA NOCHECHITA!

Host: Pepe Carroll

DENMARK: GREVEN PA HITTEGODSET

Host: Eddie Michael

BELGIUM: BINDEN ZONDER BELLEN

Host: Koen Wauters

UK: THAT'S LIFE

Host: Esther Rantzen

GERMANY: WIE BITTE?

Host: Geert Muller Gerbes

BELGIUM: RAAR MAAR WAAR

Host: Karl Symons

SPAIN: ASI ES LA VIDA

Host: Carlos Herrera

ITALY: CARRAMBA! CHE SORPRESA

Host: Raffaella Carra

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