The Generation Game
was a British game show
produced by the BBC
in which four teams of two (people from the same family, but different generations, hence the title of the show) compete to win prizes.
Based on the Dutch TV show Een van de acht ("One of the Eight", the format devised by Ms.Mies Bouwman a popular Dutch talk show host) it was first broadcast in 1971 under the title Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game and ran until 1982 and again from 1990 until 2002.
The Generation Game returned in 2007 under the title Brucie's Generation Game: Now and Then., broadcast on UKTV Gold.
During the 1970s, the gameshow began to become more popular and started to replace expensive variety shows. New studio shows were cheaper, compared to hiring the theatre, paying for long rehearsals and a large orchestra, and could achieve as many viewers. For the smaller ITV companies (not ATV, Thames Television, London Weekend Television, Granada Television or Yorkshire Television) it made economic sense as they would pay most of their money to the 'Big Five' to produce the bulk of the ITV programming. With less money for their own productions, a gameshow seemed the obvious idea. As a result many variety performers were recruited for gameshows. The BBC, suffering poor ratings, decided to make its own gameshow. Bill Cotton, the head of light entertainment, believed that Bruce Forsyth was best for the job. For years, the Generation Game was one of the strong shows in the BBC's Saturday line-up. However, things were about to change. LWT, desperate to end the BBC's long running ratings success on a Saturday night, offered Forsyth a chance to change channel to host 'The Big Night'
Alan Boyd, producer of the Generation Game at the time remembers, that there were many proposals as to who should take over. However, he felt he did not want the new programme to be comparable to Forsyth's Generation Game, (he did not want the audience to be able to compare the two shows to think that Bruce was better or that the new host was better) so he cast Larry Grayson to take over, with a new theme tune and scenery, and a new Co Host, Isla St Clair. It worked. 'The Big Night' failed to beat the Generation Game and was off the air within three months.
The show reached its peak under Grayson, with audiences of more than 18 million. (It should be pointed out that its highest figures in 1979 were due to a strike that blacked out the ITV network, meaning the two BBC channels were the only ones the public could watch). The combination of Grayson's camp, limp-wristed behaviour and Isla St Clair's fresh-faced innocence proved became the plank of the BBC1 Saturday evening schedule. Grayson was loved for his apparent incompetence and inability to remember what was going on — all of which was carefully contrived.
In August 2008, it was reported on Digital Spy that the BBC were in talks with comedian Harry Hill for a revamped Generation Game. Later in the month, a spokeswoman for the BBC denied rumours of the BBC being in talks with Hill. They did not say, however, that news of the resurrection of the show was true or not.
There were always eight competitors; hence the catchphrase "Let's meet the eight who are going to generate", used in earlier series by Bruce Forsyth. In the first two rounds, two couples would compete against each other in two games. One game usually involved first seeing a skilled professional construct or perform something, such pottery or dancing. The contestants would then attempt to do the same, and a score would be given by the professional. The other game usually involved more of a quiz element, such as identifying guests or pieces of music. At the end of each of the first two rounds, the lowest-scoring couple was eliminated.
The two highest-scoring couples then competed against each other in the final (or End Game as Larry Grayson called it). This was often a big set-piece performance; in the series presented by Bruce Forsyth it was usually a drama or farce, in later programmes a musical or dance performance. The couple that scored the highest went through to the final 'conveyor belt'.
At the end of the show, one member (or in later series both members) of the victorious team watched prizes pass on a conveyor belt, and then won as many as could be recalled in a set time. A trademark of the show was that a cuddly toy was always among the prizes. This led to an affectionate joke: "Dinner service...fondue set...Cuddly toy! Cuddly toy!", which is often quoted whenever the show is mentioned.
The show introduced a number of catchphrases, famously Bruce Forsyth's "Didn't he/she do well?", "Let's have a look at the old scoreboard" (later, when the show was revived, Forsyth's assistant was Rosemarie Ford, so the catchphrase was amended to "What's on the board, Miss Ford?") and, most famously, "Nice to see you, to see you ...", to which the audience would shout "Nice!", a catchphrase that Forsyth retains. Grayson supplied his own catchphrases, notably "Shut that Door!", "What a gay day!" and "Seems like a nice boy!". Scores were preceded by "What are the scores on the doors?" to which St Clair would reply "The names on the frames say..." before announcing them. Grayson and St Clair apparently had a strong bond; Grayson always referred to her, when introducing her at the start of the show, as "my lovely Isla". Whenever St Clair speaks of Grayson — he died in 1995 — it is with affection. She once referred to them as being "like a couple of naughty sisters".
By the early 1980s The Generation Game
was being beaten by ITV
's Game for a Laugh
, which had the same producer (who had defected). The decision was taken in 1981 not to let the show return in autumn 1982. The producer in question once commented that he had killed his own baby. In his autobiography, Bruce
, Bruce Forsyth claims his friend Jimmy Tarbuck
was offered the role of host but turned it down as he had already been approached by LWT
to host Live From Her Majesty's
It returned in 1990 with original host, Bruce Forsyth, who after moving to ITV was replaced by Jim Davidson. This incarnation was thought to have been axed in 2002 after again being beaten by ITV, this time by Pop Idol.
- Roy Castle once stood in for Forsyth in 1975 when he hosted one show while its regular presenter was ill. The same thing happened in 1994 when Jim Davidson stood in for Forsyth, the year before he became permanent host.
- Paul O'Grady made a pilot edition in 2004/05 which was never broadcast. O'Grady has said on his show that he did not like the strenuous tasks it involved, and was "covered in bruises". He told the producers he did not want to make a series.
- A version called Generation Fame, hosted by Graham Norton and played by celebrity guests, was shown on 31 December 2005. Guests included Davina McCall and Rupert Grint. This was presumably a forerunner of a new series although Graham Norton and Paul O'Grady turned down the show after unsuccessful pilots.
- Before personal problems, Michael Barrymore was rumoured to be taking over the show. According to the "Off the Telly" website, Jim Davidson competed with Matthew Kelly for the show, with Kelly responding to him, "Congratulations, you've got the f***ing Generation Game," the next time they met.
- Actress and model Louise Brill made a number of guest star appearances in comedy sketches and as an assistant with Jim Davidson (1998 - 1999)
- The "conveyor belt game" was used on an episode of Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, using objects belonging to the contestant, as well as family and friends. Each object identified in 30 seconds was worth a cuddly toy and £50 (the £50 per object was not revealed until after the end of the round).
The Penguin TV Companion (Third Edition) (Evans, J 2006 (First Edition published in 2001)) Penguin LONDON