Welcome to the second part of my nostalgic look back at TV programmes I enjoyed during my childhood. In the previous post I looked at shows involving animation and puppetry, and now for this post I want to explore my top 40 game shows, again covering the period of my life up to the age of 18.
I enjoyed keeping my brain busy as a child, often with my nose buried in puzzle books, especially when travelling, so I enjoyed word games and quizzes. But I also adored the many game shows for children where they got to play silly and messy games, and I often wished I could be on them. As I was rather a shy, quiet, well-behaved child (yes, I was a good boy most of the time, honest!), it was a great form of escapism and excitement.
Of course, this is just a summary look at the shows I enjoyed, so I haven’t gone into detail about the history of each one, how the formats were sold between countries, all of the revivals that have taken place, any DVD releases that a few of the shows have had, and so on. And I haven’t listed any programmes that I already have on DVD or Blu-ray either. The occasional mention of such details will come up here and there, but ultimately you can find out more about the shows at the Wikipedia articles, websites and videos I’ve linked to below, and you can do further searching online if you wish.
So I hope you find this second part interesting, and that it brings back more fond memories for you like it has for me.
- Big Break
- Big Brother (Series 1)
- Call My Bluff
- Celebrity Squares
- Chain Letters
- Challenge Anneka
- The Crystal Maze
- Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush
- Don’t Try This At Home
- Every Second Counts
- Family Fortunes
- Finders Keepers
- Fun House
- GamesMaster & Digitiser
- The Generation Game
- Get Your Own Back
- Going For Gold
- The Krypton Factor
- Never Mind The Buzzcocks
- Play Your Cards Right
- The Price Is Right
- Run The Risk
- Strike It Lucky / Strike It Rich
- Supermarket Sweep
- Take Your Pick!
- Talking Telephone Numbers
- Telly Addicts
- Through The Keyhole
- Treasure Hunt
- Wheel Of Fortune
- Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
- You Bet!
- The $64,000 Question
- Honourable Mentions
This show was based around the game of snooker, hosted by Jim Davidson and John Virgo. Contestants would answer questions, and the famous snooker player they were paired up with would have to pot as many balls as possible to get a good score for them. The losing contestant of the first round also got the chance to do a trick shot set up by John Virgo to win a consolation prize.
It was a brilliant Saturday night programme with a lot of good humour, and they occasionally had disabled contestants as well, which felt like quite a novelty at the time. Jim and John had a good laugh making it together, and there are some very entertaining bloopers as a result. And the theme tune was The Snooker Song by Captain Sensible, a great track in its own right.
Big Brother (Series 1)
We all know what Big Brother is about. Stick a load of people in a house, including some who you’re sure will get into conflict with each other, cut them off from the outside world, and then film them 24/7 to see what happens. It’s a format that’s been copied in a variety of ways since then.
When the first series came out, it felt like something new and different, as reality gameshows weren’t such a big deal as they are now. There was much more curiosity to see what would happen, and many of the people who took part didn’t fully realise what they were getting into. So it was genuinely interesting as a psychological experiment. Of course, it quickly became a show for talentless showoffs desperate to do anything for 15 minutes of fame, like so many reality TV shows these days, and the producers manipulated things more and more with each series to produce as much conflict as they could.
But the first series felt more real. Of course there were still some attention seekers, particularly Nasty Nick who cheated and was thrown out. But other contestants felt more normal and likeable, especially Craig Phillips, who gave his winnings at the end of the series to a friend with Down’s Syndrome who needed it for hospital treatment. That was an amazing gesture to put himself on TV to raise money in that way. But I didn’t watch any further series beyond that. I did try watching a bit of series 2 when that came out, but quickly became bored of it. So series 1 is the only one I remember.
The other thing I really liked about the show was the theme tune by Paul Oakenfold and Andy Gray (under the name Elementfour). It was so catchy that I ended up buying the single at the time, and I still enjoy listening to those tracks now and again. Again, it was one of those themes that worked in its own right, regardless of whether you like the show or not.
This was a quiz hosted by Bob Holness, where contestants had to work their way across or down the game board by picking letters, and each letter would be the start of the answer to their next question. So you would inevitably hear the phrase “Can I have a P please Bob?” sometimes, which always caused a giggle or two. It always seemed a bit unfair pitting 2 contestants against 1 though!
A hand jive was also invented to go with the theme tune, called Quiz Wizard by Ed Welch, though I never learnt it. The show has been revived recently on Comedy Central with Dara Ó Briain as the host. I haven’t seen that new version, but he appears to be a good presenter from a couple of clips I’ve seen, which is no surprise as everything he presents is fun.
This was a fun show presented by Jim Bowen, where contestants and darts players worked together to try and win money and prizes. The star prize was sometimes a car, but was also often a speedboat for reasons nobody really understood! Peter Kay has a fun routine about the show too.
In this programme you simply had to “say what you see”, guessing phrases based on the animations on the big screen, often featuring the character Mr Chips. It was hosted by Roy Walker originally and was always good fun. It has been revived a few times since but was never as good. The original shows were always best.
Call My Bluff
This was a game show where 2 teams of celebrity contestants each had to guess the definitions of obscure words, from the 3 options presented by the opposing team. It was on the TV for a long time, but I remember it in the 1990s when Bob Holness and then Fiona Bruce hosted it, with Alan Coren and Sandi Toksvig as the team captains.
This was a game show hosted by Bob Monkhouse, featuring a big grid of 9 celebrities that would try to help contestants answer questions, in order for them to complete a line of noughts or crosses on the grid. It was good fun, and often raised a laugh, given Bob’s humour and that of the celebrities.
As a fan of word games, I enjoyed this show that required contestants to change letters in words to make new ones. A simple premise that required careful thought to get a good chain of words, and occasionally introduced you to words you didn’t know before.
This was a fun and often quite tense show starring Anneka Rice, who had to complete big challenges, often involving building things, by persuading people and companies to help her out within a specific time. This was often done for charity projects, and it was always dramatic to see whether they would complete the challenges or not in time. I loved the animated titles and theme tune as well, and the cameo appearance by Anneka and her team in an episode of 2Point4 Children.
Another enjoyable word game, where contestants had to answer questions to complete crosswords on the screen. It was originally hosted by Barry Cryer, but I remember the much longer era when Tom O’Connor was in charge.
The Crystal Maze
Still one of the best game shows of all time, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this during the Richard O’Brien era, as his style and humour suited it perfectly. He was eventually replaced by Edward Tudor-Pole, who was never quite as good. But the format of the show was great, with contestants completing a variety of different types of challenges, across a variety of different zones. It was a very elaborate setup and great fun. Christmas specials gave the chance for children to have a go too, which was cool. And it had the brilliant theme tune Force Field by Zack Laurence.
The show has been revived in more recent years, initially hosted by Stephen Merchant for a one-off charity special, and now with new regular host Richard Ayoade, who’s doing a pretty good job from the few episodes I’ve seen. It’s not quite as good as the original O’Brien series, but it’s still fun to watch now and again. And there is of course the big live experience that people can do these days as well. Much as I’d love to, it’s probably not the most accessible experience for the visually impaired by its nature.
Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush
This was a great entertainment show hosted by Chris Evans that only lasted for a couple of series, but still made its mark nonetheless. The big thing I remember was the fact that the audience all had to bring suitcases and passports, and be able to get time off work for the week ahead, as every person had the potential to win a holiday there and then. If they didn’t win it, then a lucky viewer at home would have a chance instead. And in one particularly special episode, the entire audience won a trip to Disneyland Paris, much to their understandable delight!
Don’t Try This At Home
The successor to You Bet! (which I’ll mention later), this was a show hosted by Davina McCall, where people were challenged to do things that were dangerous and scary. Some of these were huge challenges in locations all over the world, which could be very tense to watch, but there were also some smaller challenges too.
Every Second Counts
In this quiz hosted by Paul Daniels, contestants had to answer questions to earn as much time as they could, for use in the final round where they could win prizes. Another simple idea that worked very well.
This was based on the American gameshow Family Feud and needs no explanation really. But contestants basically had to guess the public’s top answers to questions about all sorts of random things. It was first hosted by Bob Monkhouse and then Max Bygraves, but then Les Dennis hosted it for the longest period, and that’s when I used to watch it. It was always fun trying to guess the answers, and there were often many funny responses from the contestants.
ITV later revived the show with a celebrity version, All Star Family Fortunes, presented by Vernon Kay between 2006 and 2015. And I did see some episodes if I was interested in the guests they had on. It was also for charity, which was a good thing of course. But it was never quite as good as the original series. And I personally enjoyed playing a version of this game with the Thinking Bob social group in May 2017.
I loved the original series of this game show hosted by Neil Buchanan, where children got to ransack rooms in a mocked up house as they hunted for hidden objects. It was very enjoyable. But even so, it wasn’t the best house to have fun and games in. Because that was…
This is one of the shows I wish I could have been on, it was so much… well… fun, as the name suggests. It had lots of silly and messy games, the grand prix circuit that looked cool to drive around, and a massive soft play obstacle course in which to hunt for prizes during the final. So it was a brilliant show, all led by host Pat Sharp and the cheerleader twins, and it had a great theme song too.
A live interactive experience for adults based on the show could also be on its way soon, according to Pat Sharp himself, so that will be cool if it comes to fruition.
GamesMaster & Digitiser
This was the UK’s first show about computer games, with gaming competitions and challenges as well as reviews of the latest titles. And it featured Sir Patrick Moore as the GamesMaster. So it was a very cool and unique programme for its time.
The other gaming-related aspect of TV I fondly remember is the Digitiser magazine on Teletext. It had gaming reviews and charts, but also a lot of very surreal stuff as well, that only got weirder as time went on. There was nothing else like it, and the BBC would never have dreamt of having something so strange on Ceefax. It’s still possible to view many archived editions and other material from Digitiser online, and its bizarre humour lives on today with Digitiser’s very own Youtube channel.
And on the subject of interactive games and Teletext, a special mention must also go to Bamboozle, the daily quiz that I loved playing as a kid, where you used the coloured buttons on your remote controls to answer the questions. I’ve previously written about that in detail in my list of favourite computer games, so do check that out too.
The Generation Game
This show was regularly on our screens for quite some time, and I grew up in the 1990s era when it was hosted by Bruce Forsyth (in his second stint as host) and then Jim Davidson. I loved watching it, as they always had lots of fun with the wide variety of games and challenges. The pairs of contestants were always related in some way (mother and son, father and daughter, aunt and nephew, etc), hence the name of the show. And at the end, of course, you had the conveyor belt with various objects to memorise, including the obligatory cuddly toy!
The show was briefly revived by Mel & Sue for just 2 episodes in 2018, but didn’t work at all well, so never returned for a full series. Bruce’s shows will always be the best for me, and let’s not forget he both wrote and sang the great theme tune too. And from the Jim Davidson episodes, which were also fun, there’s the infamous outtake with Jethro that still makes me laugh.
Get Your Own Back
Another fun show involving lots of mess, this was hosted by Dave Benson Phillips, and pitted children against adults they wanted to get revenge on for being embarrassing, the aim being for the children to dunk the adults into the big gunge tank. I think every child had someone in mind they wanted to bring on the show for that purpose!
One of ITV’s biggest hits, this was a brilliant Saturday night game show that saw contestants take on the powerful Gladiators in big physical challenges, aiming to reach the final and become the ultimate champion of the series. It was gripping viewing every week, and yet another programme with an awesome theme song. It was briefly revived by Sky 1 many years later, but again wasn’t as successful as the original.
Going For Gold
I was never very good at answering the questions on this show hosted by Henry Kelly, but it was still interesting to watch, and it was unique in that it had contestants from different European countries competing against each other. The winner of the first series was Daphne Hudson, who also had success in other quiz shows and ended up being one of the panel of champions on Eggheads as a result.
This is one of my all time favourite shows. It was such a novel concept at the time, sending a contestant blindfolded into a virtual reality dungeon, guided by their friends to make it through safely as they encountered enemies and solve clues. They would meet a few people along the way, and would have to pick up a few items they needed, but beyond that everything was computer generated. So it was very clever, often very tense, and sometimes even a bit scary, and it was brilliant.
The programme was so popular that a one-off remake was made for Youtube in 2013, and these days it lives on in the form of Knightmare Live, a fun stage show that I saw last year. Check out my review to find out more about the TV show and its reincarnation on stage.
The Krypton Factor
This great show was hosted by Gordon Burns and tested the mental and physical capabilities of the contestants, with things like memory games, obstacle courses and flight simulations. So the contestants had to be very good in both mind and body to succeed. The best version of the theme tune was an original composition by Art Of Noise, who are best known for their hits Kiss, Close (To The Edit), Moments In Love and their version of instrumental Peter Gunn.
Never Mind The Buzzcocks
I enjoyed watching this comedy music quiz during the years it was hosted by Mark Lamarr. It was never as good with the hosts that came after him. It always had a fun selection of celebrity guests and a lot of laughs, so it didn’t matter if you actually knew the answers to the questions or not. They never took things seriously on that show.
Play Your Cards Right
The basic concept of this game show couldn’t be easier – guess if the next card in the sequence was higher or lower than the previous one, and you don’t get anything for a pair. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and it worked well here. Especially, of course, with Bruce Forsyth at the helm. Brucie also did a funny parody of this game when he guest hosted Have I Got News For You, with a round called Play Your Iraqi Cards Right, and it’s still arguably the best ever episode of the topical news quiz.
The Price Is Right
This show has had a variety of presenters, but again I’m referring to the Bruce Forsyth iteration, which I really enjoyed. All of the games involved guessing the prices of different items, which was much more difficult than it looked sometimes, but it was very good fun. Joe Pasquale‘s stint at hosting the show later on wasn’t too bad, but he was never as good as Brucie. Nobody ever can be, no matter what the show. Brucie was a one-off, there’s never been anyone like him and never will be.
Run The Risk
This was another show for children involving messy games, and was part of Going Live! and Live & Kicking, which were great Saturday morning entertainment programmes. I’ll be giving both of those shows a mention in my next post.
Strike It Lucky / Strike It Rich
This was a game show hosted by Michael Barrymore, where contestants had to work their way along a row of screens, while their partners answered questions to determine how far to move. The idea was to get the prizes but avoid the hot spots. They often had contestants with big personalities or strange hobbies and talents, and a lot of the show was spent with Michael just talking to them and having a laugh. It took quite a while to get to the actual game sometimes! But that was part of what made the show special.
I enjoyed this show hosted by Dale Winton, where contestants had to answer questions relating to items you would find in a supermarket, and then dash around the supermarket trying to find specific products. The show was revived this year for ITV2, presented by Rylan Clark-Neal, but it isn’t a patch on the original version.
Take Your Pick!
Take the money or open the box? That was the decision contestants had to make in this show, which was hosted by Des O’Connor during my youth. The Yes/No game they played at the start of the show, to decide the order of play later, could actually be quite tricky, as it’s hard to avoid saying either of those words when you’re used to doing it automatically. Then once the contestants had got to the boxes and chosen one of them, Des would try to persuade them to take money instead of opening it. And so they then had to decide whether they wanted to gamble, as the box could hold a great reward or a booby prize.
Talking Telephone Numbers
In this show hosted by Phillip Schofield on ITV, 5 random numbers were generated by acts performing during the show, and if they matched the final digits of your phone number, you could call in for a chance to answer questions and win a cash prize. It was a simple but fun idea.
This was a great quiz show, all about TV as the name suggests, hosted by Noel Edmonds. With such a variety of programmes on the box, there was something for everyone to answer here, whatever kind of TV you were into. With the right presenter, ideally Noel himself of course, this could be a good show to bring back.
Through The Keyhole
This was hosted by Sir David Frost, and had Loyd Grossman exploring the houses of different celebrities, while the celebrities in the studio had to work out who the properties belonged to. It was interesting to see inside the houses of famous people in this way. The show has been revived in more recent years with host Keith Lemon, but I haven’t been watching that as I’m not a fan of his.
I loved this show, where contestants in the studio had to solve clues and direct either Anneka Rice or Annabel Croft (or Suzi Perry in a 2002 revival) to specific locations, which they would fly to by helicopter. For those of us at home, the clues seemed nigh on impossible, but the contestants had access to a library of maps and reference books about the local area that they could look through, and we got to see lots of beautiful locations and scenery. Zack Laurence, who wrote the theme for The Crystal Maze, also composed the great theme music for this show, entitled Peak Performance.
Wheel Of Fortune
This was another fun word game that I enjoyed and was often quite good at. The contestants had to pick letters to see if they appeared in a word or phrase, or the name of something or someone famous, and then guess the answer before the others did. So it was a little bit like the game of Hangman. The longest-serving presenter, Nicky Campbell, was the best, but Bradley Walsh, John Leslie and Paul Hendy were also good. And the assistants I remember best are Carol Smilie and Jenny Powell.
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Everybody knows how this show works, with contestants answering questions of increasing difficulty to earn greater amounts of money, and using lifelines like phoning a friend, asking the audience or narrowing the choices down from 4 to 2. It ran for a long time and was great to watch, with Chris Tarrant the perfect host. It had a banger of a theme tune as well, which was released as a single that included an extended Club Mix, and there was a complete soundtrack album of all the show’s music too. And there were versions of the game you could play at home of course.. A recent revival of the programme has been hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, which is alright but still not as great as the original.
A few lucky people did reach the jackpot, but the most memorable by far was of course Major Charles Ingram, who got there by cheating, as he had an accomplice among the other contestants who would cough to signal the right answers. While Chris Tarrant was unaware of what was happening at the time, as he was focused purely on Charles, the production team grew increasingly suspicious and were monitoring things closely. Subsequently, Ingram’s £1 million cheque was cancelled, and he, his wife and their accomplice were convicted in court.
The episode was never broadcast as a result, but a lot of the footage was shown in an extensive documentary, which illustrated just how incompetent the cheaters were. When you know what’s going on, it’s both cringeworthy and hilarious to watch Charles’ performance. Picking someone with terrible general knowledge to try and scam your way to a million was never a wise move. He’s always claimed his innocence, but the evidence clearly shows otherwise. And on top of that, the Ingrams were also charged with insurance fraud not long after, as if they hadn’t been greedy enough.
This quiz show was hosted by Paul Daniels and then Bob Monkhouse. Contestants had to choose the correct answers from a grid of possibilities, avoiding all the wrong answers that would wipe out everything they’d earned so far.
This show bears no connection whatsoever to Total Wipeout, which didn’t air during my childhood so I can’t give it a separate entry. But this is a good excuse to mention it quickly, as it’s also one of my favourite game shows, with contestants competing to get across huge, silly obstacle courses above water and mud. That was great Saturday night entertainment and always funny.
This was a brilliant show, hosted in turn by Bruce Forsyth, Matthew Kelly and Darren Day during its long run. People would come on claiming they could do all sorts of challenges, often within a set time limit, and the panel of celebrities and the studio audience would have to guess if they could or not. So we got to see a variety of very talented people, and the programme had another cracking theme tune too. Don’t Try This At Home was this show’s successor, taking the challenges to a more dangerous level.
The $64,000 Question
Clearly this show is based on an American format, but we still used the dollar title here in the UK too. It was originally shown in the 1950s, which was obviously way before my time, so I saw the revived version hosted by Bob Monkhouse in the 90s, when it had a top prize of £6,400. That was the biggest prize given away on British TV at the time, until the rules were relaxed, opening the door for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? later on. The questions naturally got more and more difficult, so it was very tense sometimes, especially when the contestant had to sit in the big scary-looking pod called the ‘Isolator’ in the final round. There were some very clever people on there.
Since this post was originally published, a friend has reminded me of the game show Small Talk, hosted by Ronnie Corbett, where contestants had to guess the answers given by children to different questions. I’d completely forgotten about it, but I did enjoy watching it. So I thought that deserved a quick mention here too.
And there you have it, those were my top 40 game shows from my youth. It feels to me like game shows were much better back then compared to the selection we get now. And revivals of those old shows often haven’t worked out, although a few have done reasonably well. At least TV companies are recognising how good those old shows were, even if they can’t always replicate their appeal or success.
So I hope this post stirred some memories for you. And I’ll see you next time for the final part of this epic trilogy, where I’ll share a variety of other shows that formed a big part of my youth.
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