TELEVISION / Long Runners: No 35: Through the Keyhole

Age: seven. First broadcast 3 April 1987; recently celebrated its 100th episode with a Jane Asher cake in the shape of a house.

Origins: it began life in 1983 as a five-minute feature on TV-am. Kevin Sim, the breakfast channel's features editor, originally contacted Loyd Grossman - then design editor at Harpers & Queen - by mistake, having 'confused him with another journalist with an unusual name' (no one will ever admit who this was). David Frost's intellectual weight then helped carry the concept to Yorkshire TV and the grandeur of a full half-hour.

Frequency: one series a year, of between 11 and 15 episodes. The traditional Friday-evening slot has now been swapped for Sunday - offering fans of Grossman a tempting double bill with Masterchef.

Ratings: steady. Between 7 and 8 1/2 m.

Formula: Frost introduces three panellists - Willie Rushton, Eve Pollard and Andrew Neil would be a typical trio. He then hands over to Grossman, who strolls around the meticulously tidied house of an unknown celebrity, making observations on their decor and speculating about their character, before coming out with the immortal catchphrase 'Who lives in a house like this?'. Back in the studio, Frost gives the viewers at home and the studio audience (but not the panel) a quick peek at the mystery host, who is sitting behind a screen in a state of considerable psychological discomfort. The panel then take it in turns to make jokes about the house and insult Loyd, while endeavouring to guess the occupant. When the panel succeeds, or their failure has become embarrassing, he or she emerges to talk about his or her latest book/series/manifesto/athletic achievement and be presented with a Through the Keyhole key - a memento which challenges the Crackerjack pencil and the Blankety Blank chequebook for desirability. After a commercial break, the process is repeated for a second guest.

Who appears on a show like this? Robert Maxwell, Bernard Manning, Paddy Ashdown, Cecil Parkinson, David Icke, Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth, John Prescott and Robin Cook, but not Tony Blair. Among many imaginative pairings, Mary Whitehouse and Five Star stand out.

Why do they do it? The obvious answer is money. Guests get paid just over pounds 1,000 for having their nooks and crannies scrutinised and coming to the studio to risk the ultimate humiliation of 'beating the panel' (ie not being famous enough to be guessed). The producer, Chantal Rutherford-Brown, admits with engaging candour that it's not just the cash that draws them in. 'We get more and more people approaching us, because there are very few shows now where a celebrity with something to promote can reach such a large audience. We're not averse to them doing that at all, because it makes the show topical.'

What is the Through the Keyhole combined theory of celebrity inversion? The least prepossessing panellists - Derek Nimmo, Eamonn Holmes of GMTV - often make the best guessers; and the tackiest guests - John McCririck, Screaming Lord Sutch - often have the most tasteful houses.

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? The way the camera keeps cutting back to the celebrity's face for his or her reaction to the panel's comments, making it impossible to play the game along with the experts. More seriously, the fact that it is still felt necessary to telegraph the presence of a black guest by emphasising such dubious signifiers as ' 'colourful' decoration and fondness for reggae'.

The bottom line - how good is it? Through the Keyhole might have been devised by Lord Reith to illustrate his three founding principles of quality television. It educates (if Garry Bushell asks you to house-sit, for heaven's sake say no), informs (athletes get paid a lot more than you might think) and above all entertains (gasp at David 'Diddy' Hamilton's toilet decor, chuckle as David Frost introduces Chris Tarrant as 'the Blond Bombsite'). The recent innovation of including surreal extra clues - a large portrait of Allan Lamb on his hall wall, a Suzi Quatro tour-poster in Russian - has, if possible, made the show even more enjoyable.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory