Truth or Consequences (it's a town in New Mexico)

A little over 50 years ago, before Chris Tarrant had achieved superstardom as a questionmaster, quiz and game shows were all the rage. One of the most popular was an American radio programme called Truth Or Consequences, devised and presented by Ralph Edwards.

Contestants were asked silly trick questions which they almost invariably got wrong, bringing a noisy reaction from "Beulah the Buzzer". Having failed to tell the truth, the competitor would have to pay the consequences. These consisted of elaborate stunts, some of which were amusing, most of which were embarrassing. Even Noel's House Party seems sophisticated by comparison.

Edwards wanted to mark the show's 10th anniversary, in 1950, with something memorable, especially as the programme was about to make the transition to television. The solution was to find a town that would change its name to that of the show. In return, the "new" town of Truth or Consequences would be plugged on the show, and would be the venue for an annual celebration attended by the programme's presenters and their celebrity friends.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce of Hot Springs, New Mexico, convinced that this would advertise the delights of their town, sought the approval of the residents, who voted 1,294 to 295 in favour of the name change. It was reported that Edwards chose Hot Springs because "like the show, this town has a real friendliness for people and a desire to help mankind". (It is unclear whether any other towns had applied.)

On 1 April 1950, amid great excitement, the programme was presented live from the school theatre of the freshly renamed town. The highlight was the appearance of an elephant: in one of the show's more cerebral stunts the creature had been hidden at nearby Elephant Butte Lake with a prize for the finder.

What of T or C today? After a relaxing hot soak I asked Ellie Martin, for 20 years the owner of the Artesian Baths. "Once there were more than a dozen different bath houses but these days there's only six still open," she said. "It's not just bath houses, lots of businesses come and go but I reckon they're closing faster than they're opening."

"What do you think of the town's name?" I asked.

"Does its job," she replied. "There's lots of towns called Hot Springs but only one T or C. That still brings people in. I mean, what made you stop here?"

T or C has a population of 8,000. The Hot Springs Bakery is excellent and a small but interesting museum (half its space devoted to Ralph Edwards) sits across from the rather grand post office. You can picnic on the banks of the Rio Grande at Ralph Edwards Park or visit Elephant Butte Lake. The annual Ralph Edwards Fiesta is still going: Mr Edwards attended every year until 1999. Since then, ill-health has prevented his appearance.

Having thought that naming a town for a game show was unique, I did a double-take a few days later at a signpost for a place called Why, Arizona. At Steve and Sandy's General Store, Why's main (only) shop, I asked the question that everyone who stops there must ask: "Why 'Why'?"

"Oh," said the lady behind the counter. "I think it's because the roads make a 'Y' here and they couldn't have a place with just one letter for the name."

"Are you sure?" I asked, disappointed. "I mean, is it possible that it's named after a quiz show?"

She looked at me with undisguised suspicion. "Why would anyone name a town for a quiz show?"

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