Back when I were a lad, I have to admit I had somewhat of a fascination with all things American. Be it toys, films, or TV, somehow the US just seemed to have bigger and better versions of everything. In fact, probably about the only area where the UK managed to hold it’s own back then was with music.
I obviously wasn’t the only one in love with American things, as TV producers started to look across the pond for ideas for new shows they could bring over to our shores, and one of the areas they looked to for inspiration was the game show.
One of the first and probably longest running of these shows was Family Fortunes (called Family Feud in the States) but today I’m thinking of a show which came to represent what a lot of people in the UK thought of US television. Big, brash, bold and incredibly glitzy, I give you The Price Is Right.
I remember seeing clips of the US version before it came to the UK, probably on one of those clip shows like Clive James on TV or It’ll Be Alright On The Night. The funniest thing about it was how over excited all the contestants on the show were when they’re names were called out and they were told to “come on down” to play.
Astoundingly the UK version retained a lot of this over excitement, which is perhaps surprising since us Brits have a tendency to try and tone things like that down. However, I think it’s good that they didn’t try to quell the enthusiasm of the contestants too much as seeing middle aged men and women charging down stairs whilst whooping and waving their arms was always quite amusing. The over the top music that played as they ran down those stairs was really quite terrible too – so terrible that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it.
The Price Is Right first aired in the UK in 1984 and was hosted by one of the nations favourite all rounders, Leslie Crowther. He really was the perfect host as he was completely unflappable. Even though he clearly enjoyed himself, he never lost control of the show when a contestant started panicking and over-reacting because they didn’t know quite what they were supposed to be doing on whichever game had been thrust upon them.
The format was really quite simple. Four contestants were initially chosen from the audience (presumably at random) and asked to “come on down” to join Leslie. The contestants would be shown an item and have to guess it’s monetary value, with the closest guess winning the chance to partake in a single player game of some sort.
There were a great many games that a contestant might be asked to do, but all of them were related to prices in some way or another. They might be asked to put a number of items into value order, or choose a particular key to try and unlock a safe. Whatever it was, you could be sure the contestant would stand there looking flummoxed whilst the members of the audience all yelled there own pieces of advice out.
At the end of the show two of the contestants then got the chance to take part in the Showcase final, where they were given the choice of two big prize packages. Each contestant had to try to guess the total price of all the items in their chosen package, and again whichever contestant came closest was the winner. I think their guess also had to be within 10% of the total, and not exceed the price.
At the time we in the UK looked on in envy at US game shows, not because the shows were necessarily any better than our home grown ones, but because the prizes you could win were so much better. For example, in the US a contestant might win $10,000, in the UK you’d be lucky to win Â£100. In the US you might win a new car, we might get a new TV set.
This was down to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) rules on the maximum value of prizes which could be given away, so when we laugh about shows like Blankety Blank giving people such measly looking prizes, it’s the IBA we should really have been blaming.
The Price Is Right under Leslie Crowther ran through to 1988 when ITV cancelled it. The then newly emerging Sky TV picked up the idea in 1989, and came out with a shorter length show hosted by some guy called Bob Warman (who he? Apparently a local TV news presenter), but since satellite TV had such small viewing numbers back then the show didn’t last that long.
In 1995 it cam back again with Bruce Forsyth at the helm (and as with most Brucie shows it became known as Bruce’s Price Is Right) and this version ran until 2001. The most recent version ran from 2006-2007 and was hosted by squeaky voiced comedian Joe Pasquale.