Challenge Anneka

This was great Saturday night entertainment in the nineties. Anneka Rice running, using an enormous mobile phone and driving round in a beach buggy – what’s not to love?

Anneka was previously best known from Treasure Hunt but I was just a tad too young to remember that. However the running around was replicated here.

Anneka sat outside of her massive truck. Nice helmet.

Each week Anneka was set a challenge, initially they were feasible – refurbish a community centre, resurface a road riddled with potholes – yes prime time entertainment. Later challenges were more epic, constructing bridges across water or even kitting out a Ukrainian orphanage for example.

The premise was that Anneka had no idea of what she would be up against until the challenge started, usually delivered via a cryptic clue which would then quickly resolve itself.

The real challenge was to organise the manpower and equipment needed to take on the challenge. All provided for free. Anneka using her giant mobile phone to request items like P-L-Y (cue infamous blooper).

Anneka and crew in the beach buggy. Actually on a beach too!

At the time it was all very tense and believable, constant updates on how many days, hours or minutes were left and occasionally Anneka failed.

However believable it seemed, it was later confirmed much of challenges were pre-arranged. Imagine the scandal if that happened today!

The themetune was a classic too as was the title sequence with Anneka whizzing round a cartoon world fix problems.

According to the reliable source of Wikipedia Anneka attempted to pitch a show twenty years after the original started but by the BBC reckoned that the show had slipped away from public memory by then.

However Anneka did revive the show very briefly on ITV. Same format, same theme tune but very little promotion. It faded with little trace and the suggestion that with health and safety being much tighter making a programme like that would be much harder now.

We do however have DIY SOS which morphed from being another makeover show to being along similar lines to Challenge Anneka or the Challenge programme as she always referred to it.

Scrapheap Challenge

Scrapheap Challenge is another one of those shows that seemed to be on air just as I was hitting the right age for it. It’s also another one of those programme that does exactly what’s on the tin.

In this case the challenge was to build some sort of device, weapon or contraption using scrap found in the scrapyard.

Robert Llewellyn standing on some scrap.

Two teams went head to head to compete in a competition of some sorts. For example building an amphibious vehicle. The winner then went on towards the finals.

Each team had someone who could be considered an expert, usually some kind of engineer and then two others from a more mundane walk of life.

After initially planning out their ideas, helpfully illustrated for us with some graphics the teams then split to head off on quad bikes to find what they think they need from the scrapheap.

In almost every episode someone would find something not on their list that they think will be really useful that they return to their teammates enthusiastically only to find blank expressions.

The hosts. Robert never lost his enthusiasm.

Presented by Robert Llewlyn (better known as Kryten in Red Dwarf) who seems to hold endless enthusiasm for everything going on. He was joined originally by Cathy Rogers who was actually an executive at RDF who made the programme, in later series Lisa Rogers (no relation) replaced her.

The show also made it over to America but they prefer to call their scrapheap Junkyards and their challenges Wars.

Robot Wars

Probably a firm favourite of many and unnoticed by everyone else. I was slap-bang in the target audience for the show. Airing at 6pm on BBC 2 back when the BBC didn’t have the rights for enough episodes of The Simpsons to air it every night.

The premise of the programme was simple. Robots fighting against each other. No AI involved, they were all remote controlled. At least I think they all were. Those that controlled the ‘House Robots’ to the best of my recollection were never talked about or seen.

Those House Robots had names like Sir Kilalot and Matilda or my favourite at the time Roadblock – don’t ask me why it was my favourite but this fighting machine was made from a Road Closed sign, witty stuff.

Yes, watching a cheese shaped roadsign was how we entertained ourselves in the new Millennium!

Going against the House Robots were the competitors. These robots were built by members of the public. There were some expert teams but also sometimes teams consisting of father and sons which was probably half the appeal of someone my age at the time.

The robots were no soft-touch. There were saw blades, flame cutters and many spikes and jagged edges. But everything took place inside a perspex walled arena so no health and safety concerns here.

The arena where it all took place.

The action in the arena was hosted, for the first series by Jeremy Clarkson. He was probably the perfect host but at the time was a lot more marmite and less popular he was ousted for the following series in favour of Craig Charles.

Jeremy/Craig were joined by Phillipa Forrester (and probably others during various series) as backstage reporters. They would interview the teams and ask questions like ‘do you think you can fix it?’ When the team had suffered at the house robots.

The battles were entertaining to watch. Sometimes they’d be over quickly and the House Robots would make a show of their victories, circling around before placing the immobilised opponent into the kill zone (a small drop in the arena floor). Occasionally too robots would basically commit suicide or simply never get going.

It was all exciting enough but ramped up more by Jonathon Pearce and his massively over the top commentary style. In many ways Jonathon made the programme. You could switch most of the elements but his commentary was essential.

After a few series I became bored, so did the BBC so it was dropped before being picked up by Channel 5. It was then revived briefly by BBC 2 in more recent times.

Bugs

In the nineties Casualty didn’t air all year long and there was a drama shaped hole in the Saturday night schedule. Bugs was one of the shows made to plug the gap.

It was about a secret team of law-enforcers. They weren’t police and weren’t MI5 but somewhere in between. They used technology to crack down on various bad guys.

The series was probably one of the first to use ‘modern’ technology as the main plot device and perhaps the first recognise cyber crime as being the future for criminals.

There was a pretty strong cast although they all came from soap(ish) series. Jay Griffiths previously in the Bill played Ros, Jessie Birdsall previously in Eldorado played Beckett and Craig MacClaughlan who had been in neighbours played Ed.

As a general rule Beckett was the one who took charge and only got his hands dirty when it really called for it. Ed was the dare-devil who took on various stunts and Ros was the computer nerd who generally used technical knowledge to hack systems and crack codes.

At the time it all seemed fast-paced and cutting edge but if you get the chance to see it now.. as I did when London Live started repeating in – random programming choice!

It doesn’t really hold up. The 90s computers running pre-Windows operating systems is fine but in one scene they were trying to crack a code on a Speak and Spell – ET had one of those in the early 80s! Spraying it silver did not disguise the fact!

Aside from the dodgy technology the programme struggled to gain the audience it needed for a Saturday night. A cliff hanger at the end of the second series was enough to get it a third but the same trick didn’t work for series 4.

Bugs will mostly be remembered for… well it probably won’t be remembered by most at all.

Comedy Corner: The Smoking Room

BBC Three, 2004 – 2005

The notion of there even being a room for smoking in a workplace is now nothing but a memory. This sitcom came just a couple of years before smoking indoors at work was outlawed.

The Smoking Room was a weird lounge with yellow walls and old files in an office building, the exact nature of the business was never really revealed but its staff gave glimpses of the world beyond the smoking room, we never saw outside of its four walls for the whole series.

The cast were the smokers. Robert Webb played Robin. He was the only character to remain in the Smoking Room for almost the entire time, exactly what his job was isnt clear but he obviously didn’t spend much time doing it, although he would often state that he would finish off his cigarette then he really must go back to work.

There was also one more thing about Robin. He was (probably) gay, in the closet and obsessed with Ben from the Post Room. He’ll try and drop him into conversations but usually gets little response. Everyone else in the smoking room is pretty much clear on the reality when it comes to Robin.

So who else was in the smoking room? There was Sally who could be sarcastic but probably the most down to earth of the lot. Her friend was Annie who was over dramatic about everything and Barry who was your typical loser, he was always struggling with a crossword.

Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?
Annie are you okay?
Are you ok Annie?

Also popping in were Clint the handyman, who was fairly hapless at fixing things and Len the security guard. He tended to leave most of the work to his junior Ranjit, who is never seen. In season two Heidi popped in, she wasn’t a smoker and was definitely weird.

Occasionally popping in for a fag was Sharon, the manager of the business – nobody liked her but she tried small talk because she had been on courses suggesting she should. Her assistant Janet had no confidence and would often talk about standing up to Sharon, but never did.

The Smoking Room could easily have been a radio comedy as there is very little visual humour and everything takes place in one room. It is also set in real time and while episodes have some threads running through them most are self-contained.

I don’t think you could call it laugh out loud funny but there are enough jokes in there. The bulk of the humour comes from the scenario and pictures painted by the cast.

The series came to an end with a Christmas episode set during the office party. It concludes with an excited Robin being greeted by Ben from the postroom. There were no further episodes made, partly as Smoking Rooms became outlawed.

Being tucked away on BBC Choice this programme probably didn’t get the audience it deserved. It was well observed and full of dry wit and I really enjoyed it. Coming out around the same time as the Office it probably deserved more recognition as there haven’t been many sitcoms set in a single location.

A few extra useless details I remember from the BBC website of the time, the theme tune was Close to Me by The Cure. Also the majority of the cast were non-smokers and so low-tar cigarettes were used which apparently smelt worse than normal ones.

Dennis the Mennace and Gnasher

I’ve already covered the Beano and described how, for a brief time it was my comic of choice as a kid. Naturally when it’s cover star was made into an animated series I was all over that.

The characters were straight from the Dennis and Gnasher strip, Dennis was the rebel kid, Gnasher was in on it but spoke only in ‘Gnash Gnash’. Mum was slightly mad (just like my own mum) and Walter was as soppy as ever.

Most episodes were standard Dennis fare, he would come up with some sort of rebellious plan and eventually pull it off.

One episode that sticks in my mind particularly was the one featuring the then presenters of Blue Peter Katy Hill and Stuart Miles. The making of was also featured on the programme itself.

This episode sticks in my head particularly because they used a previous Blue Peter theme tune, probably as the dustbin lids of stomp would have jarred a bit amongst the cartoon music.

The series stands up well and the more recent animated series probably owes a lot to this one, personally I think traditional animation suits Dennis best but then he is straight out of a comic book.

The BBC didn’t own the series and it was often repeated on the Fox Kids channel, to the point where it was almost the only thing on the Fox Kids channel. Thesedays all episodes are avaliable on YouTube.

To Me… To You…

BBC 1, 1996 – 1998

So someone had the idea of creating a gameshow for the Chuckle Brothers and you know what, it wasn’t actually that bad.

Set on Chuckle Island (you better there were lots of Chuckle names in this show), it was actually more like a board game than a gameshow (roll the Chuckle dice).

The game board was semi-circular with the start space in the middle. The Chuckle Dice would be rolled by each team and then move the prize trolley. Any prizes won, either by answering a question or playing a mini game stayed on the trolley until a team reached the home Square and won all the prizes.

That wasn’t the end of the game everything was reset and more prizes would be earned. Along with this Coconuts were earned and the team with the most at the end won. All good fun.

For a show named after the Chuckle’s most famous catchphrase you bet there was plenty of the usual shtick with Paul and Barry… oh dear oh dear. There were also some new gags like the space on the board where you could steal a coconut, Knickers naturally.

Each show featured a CBBC celebrity and at the time there was a huge pool to choose from. There were one or two sketches but on the whole it was done as a straight forward kids gameshow.

While ChuckleVision will be remembered by many as a bit cheesy and naff, although we all at one point must have found it amazingly funny, I think it is a shame more people won’t remember this.

It’s three series do the fact that Paul and Barry held it together no justice at all. To support kids, present a quiz show and never break character is no mean feat.

Comedy Corner: Look Around You (Series 2)

Welcome into my Comedy Corner, where I write about lesser-spotted television comedy programmes most people have forgotten.

You have probably worked out that I like television and I like nostalgia. That is fundementally what this entire blog is about. Look Around You was a comedy based on the same things. The first series was a set of short ten minute episodes parodying old schools TV progammes from the 1970s. I may write about that series at a later date, today however I want to go into detail about the second series.

The simple reason for my reverse order is that I saw the second series first, but it was very different to the first running for six half-hour episodes and being a parody of Tomorrow’s World. The writing team of Peter Serafenowiz and Robert Popper were the same but there were aditional reoccuring cast members in the shape of Josie D’Arby (who I grew up watching as a Children’s BBC presenter) and Olivia Coleman, who is a massive star these days.

Each episode had a theme, sport, music etc. The show was presented by the cast who were all suitably attired and in a very brown studio which you’d typically find in the 1980s along with the theme tune which was brilliantly synthasied as you would expect.

While I am critiquing the attention to detail on making this look like a genuine archive programme I should mention that the show (which aired on BBC 2) was preceded with a period BBC 2 logo. To keep things looking authentic, the programme wasn’t even broadcast in widescreen – which almost all new programmes were by this point.

The comedy was slightly wacky and off the wall. The various ‘Inventor of the Year’ inventions were basically ridiculous. There was a gender swapping machine and a spray on skin spray. There was a Music 2000 competition which resulted in one of the hosts, Robert Popper launching a music career.

Thank’s Ants… Thants.

Peter created Portmanu to thank the guests every episode.

The culmination of the series came with the final episode and the Inventor of the Year. This episode featured Prince Charles – not a look alike – the real deal, pasted in from a genuine Tomorrow’s World episode and redubbed by Peter Serafenowiz. He is always refered to as H.R.H. Sir Prince Charles, which of course is incorrect.

In keeping with the general humour of the series overall, things go awry when one of the hopeful inventors goes mad, which results in Prince Charles face being completely removed with the spray-on skin. The programme goes ‘off the air’ and is replaced by what looks like a genuine schedule filler from the time about birds (It’s actually a film that was made for the first series DVD) before returning to the studio with sombre voices and faces.

While most of the content was ridiculous the attention to detail was amazing. If I was to pick on one bit that was a letdown it would be the giant ‘air-lock’ space age entrance that guests entered through which was clearly CGI, but I honestly think that over-the-top look was all part of the joke.

After watching the second series, I then bought the first series on DVD. Having seen how both were completely different I hoped for a third series, maybe with Look Around You being a parody of a regional news programme or something similar – but sadly there were no further Look Around You’s, but thanks guys… thuys.

Bucky O’Hare

This was one of those cartoons that were ten a penny. Vague superhero, possibly a mutant to sponge off the hero turtles success. Bucky waw a hare, or perhaps a rabbit I was never sure.

There was a tie-in toy range. I don’t know if the toys came first, I had some and undoubtedly the cartoon was designed to sell toys. Typical of tons of animations, it’s funny what sticks and makes a success of it.

Chances are Bucky would have passed by the audience had it not had a really catchy theme tune/rap (90s style not very good rap). Catchy enough that Andi Peters sang the theme tune on more than one occasion following on from his broomcupboard predessors habit of singing badly live on air.

Even if you remember Bucky, do you remember what it was all about? I barely do. Bucky was the captain of a spaceship in a universe where humanoid animals were at war with toads. Cue the usual adventures at scuppering the bad guys plans.

That’s about all I remember so I did a bit of Google research and it turns out that the animation was based on a comic book (funnily enough so was Turtles). It was made between 1991 and 92 but the comic was ten years older.

Bucky was there for only a short while, the one or two toys I had soon found their way into the box full of other toy tat and Bucky largely left my memory and probably most others, largely insignificant children’s cartoons.

To quote the theme tune “He’s the funky-fresh Rabbit (sic) who can take care of it!” Er… OK then!

Fun House

It’s Wacky, It’s Fun, It’s outrageous! What kid didn’t want to get up close to Pat Sharp’s mullet and play Fun House.

Usually airing on CITV on Fridays, you knew it was the weekend when Fun House was on. The main draw of the show was meant to be the big fun House (think of a giant soft play centre) but as far as I was concerned it was the Fun Cart Grand Prix.

But before either of those rounds were reached there were various games, they usually involved gunge and sliding about in ridiculous costumes – classic children’s gameshow stuff, seach separated by general knowledge questions.

There were always two teams, sometimes it was girls vs boys. The team colours were yellow and blue. Something a little unusual was that there were two cheerleaders, one supporting each team. The kind of over the top American bubblegum cheerleaders that could only come out of the late 1980s, along with Pat’s mullet.

Had they just been pure cheese then the cheerleaders could have easily been ditched after a couple of series. But their bubbly personality, coupled with them being twins gave Melanie and Martina something unique.

They worked well with Pat and did play a semi useful role supporting the contestants in the games and helping with the ‘pit-stop’ changeovers during the Grand Prix.

Pat was an over enthusiastic host. If you ever get a chance to see the show as an adult then I think you will find his jokes terrible but it was marginally less cheesy back then.

Just before the final round came that Fun Cart Grand Prix. Basically petrol go-carts but it was the most exciting bit of the show, for me at least. The kids would have to go round and pick up tokens or in later series hit buttons. Each token was worth either 50 or 25 points.

Like so many gameshows with this kind of game it kinda rendered everything that went before it pointless as you might get lucky and get more tokens, i think some series let the team in the lead start first. As a kid though it was exciting to watch.

As I’ve already mentioned, for me the Grand Prix was the best bit but the final game was the Fun House itself. The idea was to play in the Fun House and collect tags which had prizes on it.

The majority of the prizes were as I remember, fairly pants. I’m pretty sure they even gave away a school stationary set once. There were some better prizes in the mix too and a power prize which when grabbed (it always was even though the kids never knew which prize it was) gave them the chance to win a really big prize like a trip to America etc.

As kids gameshows go it was definitely fun. To me it always felt like a short show, maybe only 20 minutes long but seeing how much they crammed in written down it must have been longer. Running for a decade with virtually no changes – minus the mullet going – it has to be up there as one of the greatest.

It was based on an America show but I guarantee that won’t have lasted as long and certainly won’t have had as good a themetune.

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