The British love-affair with game shows

Our love-affair with game shows has been reignited by Ant and Dec's series of one-off revivals. Ciar Byrne talks to four contestants who briefly captured the limelight in the originals
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A formula for success?

With their tawdry sets, slapstick challenges and glamorous hostesses, not to mention the host with a twinkle in his eye and an innuendo ready to slip off the tongue, game shows have traditionally been relegated to the category of lowest-denominator television. But decades after the heyday of programmes such The Price Is Right and Sale of the Century the genre is beginning to enjoy something of a comeback.

A series of one-off revivals of classic formats, marking ITV's 50th anniversary, is attracting a healthy chunk of the Saturday night prime-time audience.

ITV1's star presenters, Ant and Dec - Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, to give them their full names - have turned their talents from their regular reality television stint as the hosts of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here to front Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon on the channel.

Each week, celebrity contestants are competing in a different classic format, including Take Your Pick, Bullseye, Play Your Cards Right, Sale of the Century, The Golden Shot and Family Fortunes.

Whether the vogue for game shows is down to their retro-chic or just a case of good old-fashioned entertainment, the audience appears to be voting with its remote controls.

The first instalment of Gameshow Marathon, which was revival of The Price Is Right, pulled in 8.5 million viewers at its peak, which amounts to nearly 50 per cent of the available audience for a Saturday evening.

And talks are now under way at ITV to revive one of these game shows on a permanent basis, to be hosted by McPartlin and Donnelly.

An ITV insider said: "It's absolutely the case that it is being looked at. Ant and Dec have said around the building that if any of them work, they'd love to do one. They love those old, slightly camp, game shows which involve the audience."

Simon Shaps, the former Granada chief executive who took over creative control of the ITV network last week, told the industry magazine Broadcast: "There are some lessons from the past. It's interesting how well some of the Gameshow Marathon has done. ITV will be about The X Factor [the ITV talent contest] plus a reinvention of a game show."

But bringing back tried-and-tested formats is not always a guaranteed winner.

Earlier this year, BBC2 tried to revive the 1960s and 1970s game show, Ask The Family, with the BBC children's television presenters Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood (otherwise known as Dick and Dom). The show was pulled after just five weeks, following a mauling by the critics and attracting an average audience of less than one million. ITV's camp revival of another 1960s classic, Mr & Mrs, which was hosted by the comedian Julian Clary, flopped and was withdrawn after just two episodes.

But, with Saturday night now firmly back in the clutches of traditional old favourites such as Bullseye and Sale of the Century, it seems that Britain's love affair with the game show is back on.

The quiz masters

Blankety Blank

BBC1, 1979-89 and 1998-2000, ITV, 2001-02; presenter: Les Dawson, Terry Wogan; catchphrase: "Remember, the clue is in the question."

The Price is Right/Bruce's Price is Right/The New Price is Right

ITV, 1984-88 and 1995-01, Sky 1989; presenter: Bruce Forsyth, Leslie Crowther; catchphrase: "Come on down..."

Mr and Mrs

ITV, 1964-88 and 1999; presenter: Derek Batey; Catchphrase: "Mr and Mrs - be nice to each other, Mr and Mrs - get to know one another."

Family Fortunes

ITV, 1980-2002; presenter: Les Dennis; catchphrase: "You said ... our survey said ..."

Blockbusters

ITV, 1983-93, BBC2, 1997, Sky One, 1994-5 and 2000; presenter: Bob Holness; catchphrase: "Can I have a P, Bob?"

Catchphrase

ITV, 1986-2002; presenter: Roy Walker; catchphrase: "Say what you see."

Ask the Family

BBC, 1967-84 and 2005, UK Gold/ BBC2, 1999; presenter: Robert Robinson

The Weakest Link

BBC, 2000-present; presenter: Anne Robinson; catchphrase: "You are the weakest link...goodbye!"

Family Fortunes

Synopsis: Bob Monkhouse was the original host of Family Fortunes, which was first broadcast in 1980 and ran until 2002. He was followed by Max Bygraves, Les Dennis and Andy Collins. In the show, two families were pitted against one another and asked questions supplied by the public in specially commissioned polls.

Contestant: Katie Davies, 32, Hereford (with sister Julie)

Family Fortunes, 1992. Host: Les Dennis

There were five of us from our family, all cousins. We ranged from 17 to 25. We were "the Duckworths from Hereford" and just wanted to have a good time.

We went to an all-day audition prior to being chosen. They put us up in a hotel, all expenses paid. It was very intensive. They filmed three shows in one day.

It was really good fun, although it was nerve-racking on the day. We were pitted against a family of five lads with similar ages to us and we had a ball. We got through to the Big Money round, but didn't win the jackpot. We won £90 each and my cousin also won a holiday to Rome, while I got a dishwasher. I remember three of the questions in particular that we were asked.

My cousin Mandy was asked: "Name a weapon that was used in ancient times". She said: "Hand grenade". There was a huge amount of laughter from the audience. She burst into tears and they had to stop filming.

I was asked: "Name a fruit on the one-armed bandit". I said: "Tomato". My sister was asked: "Name a fuel that you would put on a household grate". She said: "Petrol". We were all undergraduates and pretty intelligent people and we came out with the stupidest answers. I had just performed in Chicago and was asked to sing "All That Jazz".

Les Dennis, who was the host, came up to the green room afterwards. He wasn't at all snotty and "I'm not going to talk to the contestants". All of our dads came to the studio and they came up to the green room.

The first time I met my future husband he said: "You're from that family that was on Family Fortunes". I would never do it again, but it was really good fun at the time.

Take Your Pick

Synopsis: First broadcast in 1955, Take Your Pick was hosted by Michael Miles until 1968, before being revived with Des O'Connor in the 1990s. Contestants qualified in the "Yes-No" game, in which they had to last 60 seconds without saying either word, and then opened a succession of boxes with a key to win prizes.

Contestant: Andrew Key, 39, Lincolnshire, runs mail order business

Take Your Pick, 1996, Host: Des O'Connor

On my application form, I said I had asked my girlfriend to marry me quite a few times and she kept saying no, so they gave me the chance to ask her on television.

It was good to see behind the scenes at the studio in London. There was no practice, they just went straight through everything and it all happened so quickly. Des O'Connor was very professional, an old showman.

We had the "Yes-No" game. Nobody lasted more than a few seconds. Then we had the second part, where you have a key and open the box. I got the lucky box, so I was given a choice of two more boxes. The star prize was a holiday in India. There was also a car, but I opened the other box and got a camcorder. I already had one.

They had asked me beforehand if I still wanted to ask my girlfriend to marry me, so I did. She said "no" and the whole studio fell about laughing, because people normally say yes. She always does the unexpected. When she left the studio, she got ambushed by old ladies who thought she had given the wrong answer.

When we eventually got married, the local paper picked up the story and the headline on the front page said: "She says 'yes' at last". We've got two children now and we showed them the paper a few weeks ago.

I just went on the show for a laugh. I do amateur dramatics so I'm a bit of a show-off. In those days it wasn't necessarily to win a big prize. Not like today when you can win a million pounds.

The Price Is Right

Synopsis: The show launched in 1984 with the simple concept of asking contestants to guess the price of everyday items. Contestants were picked at random from the audience and asked to "Come on down", first by Leslie Crowther and later by Bruce Forsyth. Games included Cliffhanger, where a cardboard mountaineer would fall off a cliff if a contestant guessed wrongly too many times.

Contestant: Martin Gilbert, 41, Middlesbrough, project engineer

The Price Is Right, 1995. Host: Bruce Forsyth

I went with my girlfriend at the time, now my wife. Her company had got tickets to go on. We went to Yorkshire Television and I was picked out of the audience.

I got to the final and I had to price a fitted kitchen, a car and a holiday. I had so much money to play with. The audience shouted out and my mam was loudest. I listened to my mother, but if I had listened to my girlfriend, I would have won. My mother said they were worth £21,000 and it should have been £19,000.

It was fun. I'm quite easy-going. I was nervous at the beginning, but if someone's offering you £20,000-worth of stuff, you get on with it. I took a lot of stick for the rest of my life from my mates. I could have won the star prize and I came away with a silver vanity case and hairbrush.

Brucie is nice to be with if you're female, but he's a bit soppy if you're male. There's no doubt he's a ladies' man.

My mother's got a video of it, but I've never watched it. I don't watch game shows. The only stuff I watch on television is sport.

Bullseye

Synopsis: Hosted by the club comic Jim Bowen, whose catchphrases included "super, smashing, great", Bullseye took three pairs of contestants, each made up of an amateur darts player and a non-darts player, who would compete against each another in three rounds. The show's mascot was a cartoon bull called Bully. It ran from 1981 to 1995.

Contestant: Diane Scholes, 60, Sutton Coldfield, semi-retired

Bullseye, 1993. Host: Jim Bowen

I like doing quiz shows and had already been on Blankety Blank. I ran an off-licence and one day this person came in and said: "We've seen you on television and know you like general knowledge. Our friend who lives down Herefordshire way is a very good darts player and can't find anyone to go on Bullseye with him. Would you be prepared to go?" I said I would.

The auditions were in Birmingham, where I met my team-mate for the first time. I got a really good score with the general knowledge and he never missed a shot. It was recorded in Nottingham and the rehearsals went brilliantly. Then the show started.

He missed the first question I asked for and I had to answer another question which I got right and won £25. After that he missed the board entirely and I didn't answer any more questions. It was the worst score I'd ever seen on the show. We got out in the first round.

For all that it was still a good experience. It was purely nerves. I've been on one or two game shows and sometimes the most flamboyant people in rehearsals just go to pieces behind the cameras.

After that we went back to the hotel and Jim Bowen joined us. He was very nice and joking and we all had a laugh. Since then I've been on Catchphrase, Jeopardy and The National Lottery Jet Set. I've spent an absolute fortune trying to get on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but they have never rung me back."

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