The twirl is their oyster: Anthea's spirit lives on. Owen Slot on the pointless but enduring charm of the gameshow girls

'HERE, looking wonderful tonight, is the beautiful Rachel.' The introduction is from Chris Evans, the host of the trendy TV gameshow Don't Forget Your Toothbrush. A drum-roll and applause follow. Camera switch, and there she is. Rachel Tatton-Brown, smiling, waving enthusiastically in her air-hostess outfit.

This is her first three seconds in what amounts to 80 seconds on screen in the 60-minute show. Her next entrance is more promising - 23 words of saucy patter with Evans - but thereafter her appearances are smiling but silent. Like the briefcases she bounds on with - containing first pounds 1,000, then pounds 500 and finally a pile of postcards - her contribution takes a nosedive in value. Rachel is just a part of the set, the latest in a long line of gameshow bimbos.

You could draw up a family tree. It would start with the late Monica Rose, tiny cockney sidekick to Hughie Green in the Sixties' Double Your Money, and move on to The Golden Shot's tiny Anne Aston, who established empty-headedness as a hostess hallmark.

Then they became tall, Anthea Redfern being the first beauty queen to join the family in The Generation Game; after Redfern came Isla St Clair, the dark-haired Scottish singer, also of The Generation Game. In the early Eighties all hell let loose with numerous girls at a time decorating a proliferation of programmes: Bob's Your Uncle had four as did Play Your Cards Right in its previous incarnation.

Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, however, shown on Channel 4 to a supposedly sophisticated audience, is not The Golden Shot. 'When,' asked one reviewer severely, 'is television going to outgrow this sleazy tokenism?'

Gameshow hostesses are up there to be knocked down - do the girls themselves have no qualms? Rachel Tatton-Brown wouldn't comment (though she won't comment on anything right now, the media spotlight having fallen on her relationship with Evans). Seamus Cassidy, Channel 4's head of light entertainment, defends her role: 'She's there because she performs a function. It is a valid job. We could do a Debbie McGee (Paul Daniels' wife and assistant) with her - put her in a spangly leotard. We could do a lot of nonsensical, sexist 'Give us a twirl, Rachel' like Brucie does, but we don't'

Stephen Leahy, former head of Granada light entertainment, is one man trying to hold back the bimbo tide. A self-confessed gameshow nut, he is managing director of Action Time, a company that buys, sells and invents gameshows (BBC1's Do The Right Thing, Channel 4's Sabotage). Leahy bows to contemporary views: 'I think there's very little room for hostesses. I don't think we perceive the dumb blonde as an acceptable role any more. I've got 27 series placed on the network now, and there isn't a hostess in one of them.'

So where do the likes of Rachel, and Sophie Allisstone and Vicki Brattle - Brucie's new girls on Play Your Cards Right - come in? Enter Howard Huntridge, another independent gameshow producer (ITV's Supermarket Sweep and Play Your Cards Right).

''My attitude is to have as many as is acceptable without going over the top,' says Huntridge. 'Bring some glamour in and it makes the show far more palatable to a lot of people. It's glitzy, it just makes it look better.'

But being glamorous and glitzy can backfire. 'Very few of them are given the opportunity to prove that they're not bimbos,' says Leahy. Isla St Clair was a case in point: 'It completely wrecked my credibility as a serious singer,' she says.

Some rise above it. Carol Smillie still plays her role in Wheel of Fortune - 75 seconds- per-show of turning over giant letters, introducing prizes and draping herself over a car - but has progressed to BBC1's Travel Show.

Rosemarie Ford, The Generation Game's present incumbent, now presents Come Dancing: 'I was very worried when I first joined The Generation Game. I didn't want to be considered a bimbo. So from the start I've made sure people know that I don't just stand there and wear nice dresses.'

What of the girls who are best known for standing there wearing nice dresses - Monica Rose, Anne Aston, Anthea Redfern and Isla St Clair? Monica, who left show business in 1977 to escape the pressures of stardom, was more than once admitted to hospital suffering from depression. Tragically, she committed suicide eight weeks ago. And the others have discovered that they are gameshow hostesses for life. Seventeen years on, people hail Anthea Redfern with the eternal greeting 'Hi Anthea, give us a twirl'.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

ANTHEA REDFERN

The Generation Game 1971-1977

Role: Ostensibly to introduce the guests to the host, Bruce Forsyth. Also to look glamorous - enormous fuss made of her dress each week.

Perks of the job: Fame, a new dress a week, marriage to Bruce (since divorced).

Came from: The Paris catwalk (ex-Dior model). Met Bruce at a Miss Longest Legs competition.

What the future held: Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (1978). Now brings up her three daughters (two are Bruce's) in Wentworth, plus the odd TV cameo spot/guest appearance.

Misgivings? 'None. Being an ex-model it was my job to show clothes. And to have a dress designed purely for you every week was actually very nice. Does Yasmin Le Bon mind wearing her clothes professionally?'

Reflections: 'It's a fabulous memory. I came from a catwalk onto a stage in front of 25 million people. Can that be bad?'

Hangover: 'People will still look at me and go 'Hi, Anthea, give us a twirl'. '

ANNE ASTON

The Golden Shot 1967-1975

Role: To introduce the contestants and to act dumb when attempting to add up their scores.

Perks of the job: Managed to remain in employment despite an early live show when caught totting up the scores on her fingers. In fact her producer said he loved it, so the arithmetically- challenged hostess role continued.

Came from: A local Birmingham travel agency.

What the future held: Years of repertoire theatre, summer seasons and pantomime. Now extremely successful in the property business.

Misgivings? 'I landed this dumb image - I don't mind it - but it probably has worked against me in a lot of cases because it's very difficult to be taken seriously when you're doing something like that. But I didn't mind because I never really wanted to do serious drama.'

Reflections: 'Having worked in a travel agents, it all seemed wonderful. It was the greatest job in the world.'

Hangover: 'People still come up to me and ask if I've learnt to count yet.'

ISLA ST CLAIR

The Generation Game 1978-1981

Role: Introducing contestants to host Larry Grayson. Reading the names in the frames and the scores on the doors.

Perks of the job: Became household name which helped her to such successes as the children's programme The Saturday Show, 'a candy-floss sausage-making machine just shoving out stuff onto the airwaves'.

Came from: Fame as a Scottish folk singer. Best female folk singer in 1971.

What the future held: The children's TV show, The Sound of Music in Worthing, pantomime. Then marriage, two children, last year a CD (Inheritance) and now a Radio 2 show on folk music.

Misgivings? 'It completely wrecked my credibility as a serious singer. I was receiving great reviews from music journalists. And all of a sudden I was doing The Generation Game and it blew the situation. It never occurred to me how long the effect would be. I'm only just coming through it.'

Reflections: 'To a great degree I enjoyed it. It did bring pleasure to millions and millions.'

Hangover: 'It's still very difficult for the great British public to see me as anything other than a hostess of The Generation Game.'

(Photographs omitted)

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