HTWGS TV review – ‘Come On Down! The Game Show Story’ – Part II


My review of this 4-part TV series from last year (hosted by The Chase‘s Bradley Walsh) starts this week with Episode 2, which focussed on Quiz Shows…

Quiz shows were incredibly popular in Britain in the late 1950s  – in fact, in Autumn 1958, ITV was broadcasting quiz shows 6 nights a week.

In 1958, the UK version of the quiz show 21 was cancelled after a contestant – Stanley Armstrong –  claimed that producers were helping some contestants to win. In the same year, the US version of the show was scandalised too (as shown in the 1994 movie Quiz Show). As a result of this, regulations were changed, and in the 1960s a maximum prize limit of 1000 pounds was imposed.

These regulations stayed in force for three decades, ensuring that the prizes on UK quiz and game shows were never worth more than that amount. In the mid-90s, however, these restrictions were dropped, and soon after that, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire debuted. WWTBAM is an English format, which is now broadcast in 120 countries. There’s in-depth coverage of the show’s infamous coughing scandal, with Charles Ingram. They caught him, delayed broadcast of the episode, and withheld his prize money. He was investigated by the police, found guilty of fraud, and escaped prison time, with a suspended sentence.

This is followed by an interview with Bamber Gascoigne, who reveals that he started hosting University Challenge when he was 27. It was a format adapted from a US show called College Bowl. And I don’t know about you, but I can never hear the words “University Challenge” without thinking of the epic battle between Footlights College and Scumbag College on The Young Ones…

There’s a section on the popular quiz show Mastermind, whose creator Bill Wright based it on interrogations he had suffered at the hands of the Germans, during the war. The sparse setting – a lone chair under a spotlight – and the host’s invitation to “state your Name, Occupation, and Special Subject” was inspired by the classic army interrogation opener “State your Name, Rank and Serial number”. This is followed by a profile of – and interview with – 1980 Mastermind winner – London cabbie Fred Housego. Becoming instantly famous when he won, Fred’s still a cabbie today.

Then Bradley talks to the first UK Who Wants To Be A Millionaire millionaire Judith Keppel, and the episode winds up with this observation from professional quizzer and Eggheads panellist CJ De Mooi: “The top quizzers have the ability to remember the information and recall it at will.”

Well… yes. So they do.

Thanks for that, CJ.

The theme of Episode 3 of the show is ‘The Public’, and I found that there wasn’t really all that much to learn from this episode. Apart from the odd bit of trivia, such as this:

Alexandra Palace, overlooking London, broadcast the first live British TV game show in 1938. It was called Spelling Bee, and was, in fact, a spelling bee. It was deemed a success, although only 1000 households had TV back then.

This episode also explains why the BBC traditionally never awarded prize money on their game shows; the BBC’s money was actually the public’s money – collected through licence fees – and was meant to not to fund and maintain the BBC and all of its services, not to be given away! Makes perfect sense when you think about it.

The episode is rounded out by some interviews with contestants who lost BIG, and a pub quiz segment, where Bradley competes on a team with 3 game show veterans. One of whom is none other than David St John, who I recently interviewed for! (Spoiler alert: they win the pub quiz.)

And that’s about it for the third episode of Come On Down! The Game Show Story. Next week, I’ll wind up my review, and preview what you can expect in upcoming weeks here at

Until then!


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