MEDIA L15 1
Alastair Mabbott on a new game show, The Crystal Maze, plus radio preview (below).
The great indoors
Alastair Mabbott dons his jumpsuit to check out the latest venture from Chatsworth Television
I have the honour, I believe, of being one of the first members of the public to see Anneka Rice in her famous yellow jumpsuit. In 1982, while the first series of Treasure Hunt was being filmed, I worked as a tour guide in The House of the
Binns, a stately home in West Lothian. The . house had been selected as one of the sntes to hide
a clue for an early edition (upstairs, in one of General Tam Dalyell’s boots), and the plan was that I would join the family around the normally-unused dining room table and pretend to have breakfast while something unspecified, but apparently involving a helicopter, happened.
After a while, we heard the rotor blades, and waited with mounting foreboding as a woman’s voice echoed through the stone halls.
‘Oh gosh, helloooooo.’ Is there anybody here?’
Nothing the TV people said had prepared us for Anneka Rice, who bounded into the dining room like a yellow wallaby on speed and babbled something about a ‘clue’ to the empty air. Close on her heels came a cameraman and a sound recordist, who for all we knew were there to sedate her should the need arise.
The tableau, frozen for a moment in an awful commingling of shock and embarrassment, caught the attention of the Dalyells’ trusty black labrador, Pedro, who, as dogs do, padded over to the cameraman and loudly sniffed his crotch. It’s daft, but I have been inordinately fond of Treasure Hunt ever since.
Malcolm Heyworth, TV producer and managing director of Chatsworth Television , was chieﬂy known for his drama production until he came across the original French version of Treasure Hunt in New York, and bought the idea. Stretching the format from one clue per 51-minute programme to five, and ‘beefing up
the studio end’, Heyworth sold the result to Channel 4. It struck gold. Since then, fired with enthusiasm for a genre which ‘is innovative, different, that stretches you creatively and technically’, Chatsworth has provided hit adventure games for the BBC with Challenge Anneka and Thames with The Interceptor.
With the presence of Annabel Croft, The Interceptor retained much of the squeaky-cleanliness of Treasure Hunt, but was a step in the direction of something slightly weirder; not quite Simon Drake’s freakish Secret Cabaret, but if watching middle-class joggers being pursued across open countryside by an armed and homicidal Glaswegian Bastard in black designer threads isn’t your idea of a good time, then there’s no point in your reading on.
The actor they got for the part, one Sean O’Kane, was pure evil. As he snapped instructions to his pilot, you could almost hear him mutter under his breath, ‘Ye fuckin’ bastard, ye’.
Heyworth had wanted to make something ‘more outrageous’. His worry was that it would be too outrageous for that audience. ‘I don’t make wallpaper TV,’ he says, ‘and at eight o’clock on Wednesdays, ifyou’rc going to do something new and innovative, you’ve got to give it time to build. The problem is that the ITV companies won’t allow you to do that. Unless you perform on Day One, you don‘t get much of a chance.‘ Despite these worries, The Interceptor flourished.
Already, Heyworth had sold another French idea to Channel 4. The original The Crystal Maze was set in a fort with 18 cells. Chatsworth swapped it for a £400,000 dome, built at Shepperton studios and containing four separate environments: medieval, futuristic, jungle and
. 8.30pm on Channel 4.
industrial. Six contestants work together against the clock to collect crystals, which they can exchange for prizes in the Crystal Dome, but run the risk of being trapped if they run out of time while still inside. The qualities required of each contestant are roughly what The Krypton Factor would demand: fitness, co-ordination and good all-round knowledge. Add to that a ﬂair for lateral thinking and you have The Crystal Maze.
‘For a production company like me,’ Heyworth muses, returning to his theme, ‘wanting to do something a little dangerous, it’s not easy on ITV. BBC’s easier, and of course Channel 4’s a doddle. because they encourage you, but I’d be fascinated to know what [TV would have done with Crystal Maze if I’d taken it to them.’
They might not have been so keen to take on Richard O’Brien, who satisfied the show’s requirements for a presenter who was ‘a bit off the wall’, and guides the contestants through the dome. O’Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show, the biggest cult stage musical ever, and played the sinister, gangling butler Riff Raff. He’s probably driven away all his neighbours by now, but Heyworth has good words for him.
‘He’s excellent, a very funny man. He’s got marvellous live spontaneous humour, and that gives the programme an additional element.’
The prizes O’Brien conducts the contestants towards are all sporting ones: collect 100 crystals and win a skiing holiday. What does it say about our times and vicarious couch potato existence that the action is getting more arduous and the prizes more activity-oriented, while out on the moors businessmen on management courses are firing paintball guns at each other in mock military exercises? Heyworth doesn't know either.
’I suppose it’s something to do with lifestyle, but one doesn’t develop these things with that in mind. People may watch because of the great outdoors, and of course keeping fit has become increasingly important in the last 15 years, but it‘s all down to having an original, good idea.’
Approximately 45 minutes after our brief encounter, l was helping clear up the breakfast things, and Anneka Rice was standing atop Arthur’s Seat, waving a plastic frog at her airborne cameraman. That’s showbiz.
The Crystal Maze can be seen on Thurs 15 at
A new six-part series on Radio Scotland otters a welcome challenge to the elitist and over reverent way in which poetry is popularly regarded. Tom Leonard’s Forgotten Voices looks at some Scottish poetry between 1789 and 1918. the programmes concentrate on writers who give valuable insights into domestic and working tile in the period. ‘All these
people have been marginalised or iorgotten, in the pursuilol a bogus national ldentity‘, says Leonard. ‘We want to get away irom the whole idea of those experts who have this straight line oi literature which they guard and tell people what literature is.’
Leonard is excited by the detailed depictions oi everyday tile and the parallels that can be drawn with modern times. Alexander Anderson’s ‘Drew the Wrong Lever’, tor instance, concerns an exhausted railway slgnalman whose mistake caused an accident. Leonard points out that much at the poem's content could be applied
to the recent Clapham crash.
One at the most striking ‘discoveries’ was Marion Bernstein, a lorcelul critic oi the romantic view oi male/iemale relationships in 19th-century Scotland. She shows a particular llair tor understatement in her lines on domestic violence:
Beast-taming seems to be Not quite a woman’s mission; The brute might stay lor me, In bachelor condition.
Much oi the content oi the series has been drawn irom Leonard’s lorthcoming book, Radical Rentrew.
Both the book and radio series seek to rescue these poets irom obscurity and get some at them back into print. ‘The subjects they are covering are the sort oi thing that establishment culture wants to keep hidden,’ says Leonard. ‘What I’m saying to people reading the book or hearing the series, is that these poems need more attention, and we need someone to do more research on them.’ (Tom Lappin)
the Forgotten Voices: Radio Scotland 13 February 9.25pm (Work), 20 February 9.25pm (Women). Radical Rentrew will be published by Polygon at the end oi February.
The List 9 - 22 February 1990 67