Hands up who groans when somebody suggests playing Charades at Christmas? (Idle thought – does anybody even play charades any more?). I’m sure many people will probably remember this experience well at a family Christmas gathering. Normally a batty old aunt will suggest it, some of the kids will be well up for it, but teenagers and up will just go “ohhhh noooo!”.
The problem with Charades is that most people don’t like doing the miming bit because you feel, well, a bit silly. However, everyone likes watching somebody else make a fool out of themselves, and this has to be why the TV version of the game, Give Us A Clue, was so popular.
First airing in 1979 and sticking around until 1992, Give Us A Clue was one of my favourite TV game shows as a child. Initially hosted by Michael Aspel, and later Michael Parkinson, the show pitted two teams of four celebrities against each other. It was also a battle of the sexes as it was strictly boys vs girls.
The boys team was captained by Lionel Blair, whilst the girls was led by Una Stubbs (who I was a big fan of thanks to her being Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge). At some point Una left the show and was replaced by Liza Goddard.
Unlike today’s idea of what constitutes being a celebrity the people who made up the rest of the two teams truly were celebrities, in so far as they were generally people who you had heard of before and knew exactly what it was they were famous for. Off the top of my head the sort of people you could expect to see were Lorraine Chase, Kenny Everett, Windsor Davies and even Kenneth Williams.
The game was played purely for fun, with each contestant being given the title of a TV programme, book, film, phrase or song and then having to relay that title to the other members of their team without speaking, miming out the different words before the time limit of 2 minutes ran out.
To aid things along there were a number of special mimes that meant specific things, though whether or not these were invented for the show or have always been part of Charades I don’t know.
Most mimes started in the same way, first by informing the team how many words were in the title by holding up the correct number of fingers, then detailing what sort of thing was about to be mimed. For example, miming the shape of a square to indicate a TV programme, or miming the use of an old wind on movie camera to mean a film.
Once that was out of the way holding up a number of fingers identified the word number you were about to try and convey. Tapping a number of fingers against your arm indicated how many syllables were in the word, and a further tap against the arm let your team mates know which syllable you were about to mime.
Other useful ones were making a capital letter T with both hands to represent “the”, holding thumb and index finger up to indicate a small word, or if you were feeling brave flailing your arms in a big circle to indicate you were going to mime out “the whole thing”, that is the entire title.
The show originally ran on ITV, but in 1997 the BBC tried a revival which notched up just 30 episodes before fading away again. It had a line up that I personally don’t recognise at all (Tim Clark hosting, Christopher Blake and Julie Peasgood as team captains – sorry, never heard of ’em!). The fact it was aired as part of the day time TV line up probably didn’t help, as that helped kill off the original version too.
A final fun fact. Apparently (and I certainly don’t remember it as being so) the original show used the music “Chicken Man” as the theme tune (from 1979 to 1982) which just so happens to be the original Grange Hill theme tune too.