Saturday, 28 May 2011

Were you on a Game Show -

- during the 1960s ? There’s an interesting email which you ‘ll have seen if you’re a member of the UK Gameshows Yahoo group. David Bodycombe has been contacted from a journalist from the Daily Mail : -

"The Daily Mail is urgently looking for someone who took part in a 1960's British game show. Can be any of the popular game shows from Double Your Money to Take Your Pick and ideally they will have photos of themselves on the programme.

We will pay £200 for taking part.

Please email me ASAP at"

Sounds interesting, and only 40 years too early for me to gain my £200. I will email my uncle, who once won a Crackerjack pencil ( although that might conceivably have been the tail end of the 50s as opposed to the beginning of the 60s ) and see if he wants the chance to earn a few bob.

I don’t know , of course, but I’d guess that they’re maybe looking at doing a piece comparing game shows of 50 years ago, to those of the present. Its an interesting topic if that’s what they’re planning. Although your gut reaction might be to say that they’ve probably changed beyond all recognition, I think that they’ve actually changed less than you might perhaps think. OK, I’m going to be pretty much limiting myself to quiz shows, since that’s my self imposed remit, but I believe that the principal holds pretty well for game shows in general.

In terms of basic format, I don’t think that there’s been that much change in half a century. After all, what intrinsic change can there be to the basic format of contestants come onto the show, they attempt various games – which may or may not involve answering questions – in return for the chance to win prizes ? Even if you take specific examples you can see parallels. For example, suppose I say that I am going to mention a quiz show, where each contestant is asked a series of questions. The questions become more difficult as they go along, but the amount of money won raises significantly with each question answered . Wrong answers mean elimination, and the game is over. The contestants can bail out where they wish to. Which show am I describing ? Who Wants to be a Millionaire ? Actually, no. This was Double Your Money, which debuted in the very first week of ITV in 1955, and was still going strong in 1968, when Associated Rediffusion, the company that made it, lost their ITV franchise. Now, before I get myself in legal problems I ought to stress that Millionaire most definitely is not plagiarizing DYM – they are different shows, which simply followed a similar basic format. But it proves a point that in terms of basic format there are some fundamental things about game shows that don’t change a great deal.

However, since I’ve started with these two examples, lets push it a little further. I have done a little research on this, and I hope that my figures are accurate, but I apologise if they are not. The average annual income for households in the UK in 1968 was £1488.98. The top prize in Double Your Money was £1,000, and believe me, this was not easily won either. Now, that’s a nice little earner, but hardly life changing even then. The £1,000 top prize limit in british television persisted for a very long time as well. In 1998, when Millionaire began, the average household income was supposed to be about £25,000. So in real terms, while in the 60s the top prize you could win was about 2/3 of one year’s pay, the top prize by 2000 was something like 40 times one year’s pay.

There are other differences between modern shows, and those of the 60s, though. I think particularly of the way that the contestants are treated by the host. Yes, you can still find hosts and question masters who are adept in peddling a similar brand of warmth and friendliness ( genuine or manufactured) towards contestants to that on offer from Hughie Green and Michael Miles of years gone by. However the deliberate baiting and belittling of contestants, so memorably introduced by Anne Robinson on The Weakest Link, seems to be a child of the 21st century.

One other interesting area for consideration is on the demographic of contestants on game shows. I honestly don’t know if there is any difference between the kind of people who got to appear on shows 50 years ago, and those who appear now, but I can’t help wondering. Instinct tells me that there may be more of a bias towards the 18 – 30 year olds now, especially in the higher prize shows such as the BBC’s lottery hour game shows, and Million Pound Drop. But I don’t know. If I’m totally honest I don’t know that the average age of contestants was higher 50 years ago, but I somehow suspect that it was.

One thing that doesn’t change to much in quiz shows is the questions, and that’s something to be glad about. For example, I bought the Mastermind 4 quiz book last weekend. I didn’t even know that this existed. Mastermind 1,2 and 3 came out in the 70s, and then in the mid 80s they were all published in a hardback compendium edition, of which a huge number were sold , and you can still get hold of copies from ebay, amazon used and new, and car boot sales the length and breadth of the country. This one, though, Mastermind 4, was not compiled by Boswell Taylor. It has a really nice long introduction by the great Magnus, and then all of the questions from the 1982 Champion of Champions tournament. Two of which I was actually asked in my final GK round in 2007 . Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Long may it remain so.


DanielFullard said...

Funny you should mention the Mastermind book as I managed to get the compendium in hardback of books 1-3 for 99p from ebay last week. Haven't dug into it yet but it looks very much something I will get my teeth into.

Londinius said...

Its a pretty good book Daniel - certainly worth 99p plus p and p for the GK rounds alone. Enjoy !

davidbod said...

"One thing that doesn’t change to much in quiz shows is the questions, and that’s something to be glad about."

Really? I couldn't think of anything worse. It might suit the quizzing elite who don't fancy learning anything new, but new subjects and new question formats add interest to avoid the fossilisation of general knowledge.

One of the things I enjoy most about my time on Only Connect is an opportunity to make the contestants REALLY think, and - by and large - the same applies to the quizzers who turn up wanting something different from their usual memory test.

Londinius said...

Hi David

Oops ! Sorry !

I know what you mean, and you know how much I love OC, and how much I enjoyed taking part in the last series.

Reading it back again, and thinking about it I'm not entirely sure what I meant with that comment about questions. I know what I didn't mean - which is that there should be, for the sake of argument, 1000 standard questions which get asked over and over again with no leavening of different questions - although you would certainly be forgiven for thinking that was what I was getting at - I admit that it is certainly written that way.

I guess what I might have been trying to get at was that good questions are good questions, and tend to remain that way. I don't know, I just found it reassuring that something which was seen as a good question 25 or more years ago was still seen as a good question just 4 years ago. But I certainly didn't put it that way.

Sorry if I upset anyone with that comment - and as always, please feel free to disagree with any comment I make in any post.


Gruff said...

I agree with davidbod that there would be nothing worse than having a question bank that doesn't evolve, but he is being more than a little unfair to the 'quizzing elite' by claiming they would love such a state of affairs.

I think they more than anyone want to be tested by new and interesting questions. They are the people who have lapped up Only Connect and have made up a majority of the teams (and all of the series winning teams) precisely because it doesn't just recycle the same old same old.

However there are people who quiz regularly (often in leagues), who only want to be asked about what interests them. They don't try to plug gaps in their knowledge, they don't try to keep up with developments in pop culture or current affairs. I would agree that these people would be happy with a question bank that stopped being added to in 1975. Thankfully the quiz world is moving further and further away from this laziness/complaceny. The World Quiz Championship is this weekend. It will be more challenging than anything you see on tv, with brilliantly written questions on topics old and new. The quizzing elite will lap it up.

Btw, I am not one of the elite, however I harbour ambitions of one day joining them. Viva la question revolution!

Andrew B. said...

Interesting that you say that about Michael Miles... in a book I have about Monty Python, John Cleese says (about a sketch he wrote) "It was based on a man called Michael Miles, who had a terrible quiz show in which he treated the contestant - who were almost all brain-damaged old ladies - with a contempt that had the be seen to be believed!" (All before my time, so I can't comment...)