Something a bit different this week: Part One of my review of Come on Down! The Game Show Story, which was a 4-part documentary series shown on British TV in August last year.
Presented by Bradley Walsh (host of ITV’s The Chase), this was a look at the history of the British game show; its formats, hosts, contestants, and the evolution of the genre. It was a diverting – if not overly educational – overall look at the British game show, but to my mind, it didn’t really need four one hour-long episodes. It could have been told just as well, if not better, with two.
Episode 1 focussed on British game show history, with Bradley interviewing one of its major figures, Sir Bruce Forsyth. Sir Bruce, whose game show hosting career spans decades and decades, revealed that in the 1980s he tried to buy the rights to the American game shows Card Sharks and Family Feud. But he quickly discovered that Bob Monkhouse – another evergreen British game show host – had already snapped up the rights to Family Feud, which was renamed Family Fortunes in the UK. Brucie did manage to get the rights to Card Sharks, though. And re-branded for the UK as Play Your Cards Right, and with Bruce hosting, it was a hit over 16 seasons, from 1980 – 2002.
A recurring theme in British game shows seems to be that many hits were adaptations of successful American formats. Mark Goodson & Bill Todman were the game show format kings, and many UK game show successes were adaptations of American ones. Apart from those mentioned above, prominent examples included What’s My Line?, The Match Game (known as Blankety Blank in the UK) and The Price is Right.
This last one caused quite a controversy. In British game show culture, where big cash prizes had never been front and centre, the 1984 launch of the proudly materialistic The Price is Right sparked an enormous backlash. People thought it was undignified, that it glorified greed, and that it could even lead to an increase in the crime rate!
The theme of UK adaptations of successful American formats continues, with Bradley paying a visit to – and appearing on an episode of – Celebrity Squares. This adaptation of the classic Hollywood Squares has enjoyed success in the UK in several incarnations since 1975, and the latest version is hosted by Warwick Davis.
Which I did not know.
But now I do.
This is followed by an interview with one of the new breed of game show hosts, Vernon Kay, current host of Family Fortunes. Kay tells the story of getting the gig, and receiving a phone call from the show’s previous long-serving host Les Dennis, (host from 1987 – 2002) wishing him luck in the role. It turned out that Les Dennis was keeping a Family Fortunes baton-passing tradition going; when Dennis started hosting the show in 1987, he’d received a call from the original UK host Bob Monkhouse (host from 1980 – 1983), wishing him all the best.
Honour Among Game Show Hosts – who’d have thought?
In all, episode 1 of Come On Down! The Game Show Story was an amiable and entertaining wander through the history of UK game shows with a couple (but not a lot) of interesting nuggets of trivia for the game show aficionado. There’s a lot of Bradley Walsh and his persona in it, including a ‘Test Your Comprehension’-type sketch at the end, where various game show hosts quiz Bradley on what he’s learnt during that episode. If you’re a big fan of Bradley Walsh and don’t find him in the slightest bit annoying, you’ll probably quite enjoy these bits.
But if you’re like me… ah, maybe not so much.
Episode 2 of Come On Down! The Game Show Story focusses on quiz shows in Britain, with winner interviews, several shocking scandals, and trivia tidbits including the surprisingly serious inspiration behind the creation of Mastermind.
All of which will be covered in Part II of my review… next week!