Monday, 23 March 2015



steven harris remembers a quiz show which was so simple, well it was for us but not for the muppets taking part...

Gargantuan dinosaurs stalked our television sets in the 1980s, their gigantic feet stomping on the ratings of more worthy shows, their pathetic little arms useful only for holding the sort of stupid microphone that Jeremy Beadle used to hold to help disguise the fact that one of his hands was way smaller than the other. 

I'm talking about game shows really, not dinosaurs. The unfathomable 3-2-1, the evergreen Generation Game (now with added camp) and the debasing Americanism of The Price Is Right were the carnivores of the genre, and various shows hosted by Brucie, Tarby and Bob Monkhouse-y dominated the schedules. TV executives rubbed their greedy little hands together and occasionally gave away a shit car. More often they gave away a lump of coal and a fortnight's holiday in Bognor. Or Bangor. Or at the bingo. Or playing bongos. Or a days worth of Um Bongo. Or not.

I hated most of those shows (although the quick wit of Bob Monkhouse-y did outweigh his smarmy show-host persona and thus endear him to me in a way that jolly, gap-toothed Scousers and rug-wearing 'entertainers' never quite managed. In fact I hated all of those shows including Catchphrase but unlike all the others Roy Walker's awful little assault on the intelligence was so bad it became compulsive viewing.

Notice I didn't say "so bad it was good". It was never good. The contestants all looked like they'd been assembly-built in a factory for making dipshit ugly people and Roy's banter was about as bantery as the least bantering thing you have ever encountered multiplied by a negative number and then blown up with Semtex. But you know how when there is an accident on the motorway loads of people get out of their cars to rubberneck at the carnage and potential death? I can only assume this instinct arose in me whenever the dipshit ugly people failed to work out what computer animated twatbag Mr Chips was doing on the massive screen in front of them.

How was it so awful? Let me count the ways.

The basic premise was that the visual clues doled out by Mr Chips were to everyday catchphrases, hence the name of the show. But surely only comedians or fictional characters have actual catchphrases. You'll like it, not a lot, but you'll like it. Nice to see you, don't mention my wig. Ooh Betty. Ze little grey cells. I'll get you Penelope Pitstop if it's the last thing I do. And so on. More factual names for the show might have been 'Aphorisms' or 'Maxims' or 'Vaguely Incomprehensible Shit Old People Repeatedly Say To Sound Like They've Acquired Some Knowledge Over The Course Of A Long And Tedious Existence'. The first two of these are not lowbrow enough words for a Saturday tea time slot and the third would use up half the budget just to produce the opening title sequence. So 'Catchphrase' it was.

Roy Walker sounded as though he was perpetually on Lithium even when contestants were playing for allegedly big prizes at the end. I don't mind this per se. Most other game show hosts were like gibbering adverts for cocaine so it was kind of quaint to have a laconic Irishman blundering through his show on autocue-autopilot. Plus, you know, his wife died at the height of the show's heyday and it affected him deeply so perhaps he was on Lithium anyway.

As already mentioned,the contestants were as thick as the thickest shit you've ever shat. So thick that if they actually were a shit you were shitting your bottom would break irreparably in half and you'd die from broken bum disease. Let's say Mr Chips was shown with an outstretched hand which had a bird sitting on it and that bird had a sign on its little beak saying "£50" and in the background there was some shrubbery with two more birds in it both of which had signs on their little beaks saying "£25". You could work that out, right?

"Er, is it the Birdman Of Alcatraz?"

"Oh it's a good guess but it's not right." (I shall come back to this phrase.)

"Finger pigeon and twig doves?"

"It's good but that's not the catchphrase."

"Clap hands next to a tree with some sparrows in it?"

"Oh you ridiculous fuckwit, it's 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' as anyone with half a fucking brain cell fucking knows. Fuck sake why the fuck does my agent keep rebooking me on this piece of crap show?" Which, of course Roy never said. Because Lithium. But, as I mentioned, he did often say "It's a good guess but it's not right." WRONG ROY, UTTERLY WRONG. If a contestant had made a good guess then that guess would have been the correct answer. When they said something dumb because they didn't know the answer and that dumb thing wasn't the answer it was NOT a good guess, it was a dumb thing they said because they didn't know the sodding answer. You dolt!

And another thing. After two rounds of so-painful-I-can-only-watch-this-while-smoking-really-strong-cannabis clues and guesses we would get to a third round called 'The Ready Money Round'. This innovative round was completely different from the first two in that it was exactly the same as the first two only the money was doubled. "It's fast and furious in the Ready Money Round" Roy would insist through his medicated haze. But it was neither fast nor furious. I was furious, I needed Roy's Lithium to prevent me from throwing the television through a window and yelling words too swearific to repeat now that I am a grown up (sort of).

Oh, I forgot to say that when a contestant actually got an answer right they were encouraged to remove a square from another Mr Chips set piece to see if they could guess that catchphrase before all the squares had gone and the money had shrunk to the size of Jeremy Beadle's glovemaker's salary.

"Five seconds, take a square, here we go."

Oh Roy did love his Diazepam mantras, didn't he? The only time this was ever interesting was the time that the removal of two or three squares from the pixelated vision of yellow hell made it look like Mr Chips was frantically tugging himself off. Oh how we laughed. Oh how Roy raised himself from deep, deep sedation and tried not to piss himself with glee. Oh how the contestants must have wanted to say "Who gives a toss" or "Pull the other one" or "Mr Chips is having a wank".

Perhaps it was this one moment of sublime, nob-related hilarity that kept me coming back to the show every Saturday. Or perhaps it was the fact that my housemate and I needed Catchphrase to act as an antidote to our mind-numbing jobs. The abuse we hurled at the TV set whenever Roy mumbled something, the satisfaction we gained from seeing people far more idiotic than we ever felt in our places of work making twats of themselves on national television, the disparaging remarks we made about animated graphics that were about a century old even though they were cutting edge. It was a balm for the soul. The release and relief of yelling at Catchphrase probably prevented me from taking up a career as a serial killer. In which case we should all be thankful to Mr Chips, the badly animated, jaundice-coloured onanist. What's Mr Chips doing? He's crying uncontrollably at the emptiness of his simulated existence and trying to fit the barrel end of a shotgun into his grimacing yellow mouth.

Follow steven harris on Twitter as @theplanetharris

Images from Wikipedia


  1. I know not of this stephen with a ph in the middle and capital letters to his name. It must be an imposter. :)

  2. corrected with a loud cry of "I didnt" but yes it seems I did sorry