Exploring the Great British TV Quiz Shows – new book

Tony Nicholson (contributed pic)Tony Nicholson (contributed pic)
Tony Nicholson (contributed pic)
Great British TV Quiz Shows is the title of a fascinating new book by Two Ronnies scriptwriter and BAFTA award-winning television producer Tony Nicholson.

Telscombe Cliffs-based Tony’s book is available at gnbooks.co.uk.

Tony, also the author of biographies of Sir Ken Dodd and Larry Grayson, has been able to draw on his own experiences in writing it. For ten years he worked alongside Chris Tarrant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a show which was the big game-changer, Tony says.

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“It was the first time ever that we were able to give away so much money. The governing body of ITV before then had limited the prizes and it had stayed at a top whack, I think, of about £6,000. At first there was no limit because they didn't think they needed one and then when Criss Cross started they had reigning champions who were earning lots so they decided to put a cap on it. At first it was £1,000 and it increased slowly over the years but I think it was still around £6,000 well into the 1980s and the 1990s and then Millionaire was suddenly giving away £1,000,000.

“But also what made it important was the way it was made. There was an initial pilot that was brightly lit and with a jaunty theme tune and it was all ‘Hey! Here we go!’ When they looked at the pilot, the executive producer said ‘We have messed it up!’ and they went for much darker lighting and much more intimidating music.”

Which of course became the show's hallmark.

The book was suggested to Tony by his agent after he had written the official biography of Ken Dodd with his widow: “My agent said ‘Have you thought about doing a book about quiz shows’ and I suppose the thing is that it was a story that was really close to my heart. The book is basically the history of UK quiz shows from the 1950s when they started. The first two on TV were Double Your Money and Take Your Pick. That was in 1955 and that was in ITV's launch year. In fact they were on air in the first week, both of those shows.

“Both of them had been on Radio Luxembourg and I don't think it was actually that big a risk. They knew that they were tried and tested. They had worked on the radio and ITV had seen that quiz shows were hugely successful in America. The BBC had always been a bit snooty about that kind of thing – ‘we mustn't be too entertaining!’ But ITV had its advertisers to please and they wanted crowd-pleasers.

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“The first two were successful straight away. It is hard to find the viewing figures now but they ran for a long, long time until there was a big shake-up of the ITV franchises in the 1960s when they fell victim but not because they hadn't been successful, and by then there were lots of others that had come along.

“Fundamentally a quiz show is somebody asking a question and somebody else answering it either rightly or wrongly. What has evolved is the way that it has all been dressed up with the clever additions.”

Possibly some of the quiz shows have become rather more brash over the years: “But the point is that through technology they can become so much more sophisticated and as I say the big game-changer was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The technology has developed so much that suddenly you were able to have shows where all the audience could play on their keypads, things that just wouldn't have been possible in the 50s and 60s.

“Somebody said to me that the thing about a quiz show is that it is all about giving away a massive prize but actually when you look at Mastermind and University Challenge, the two longest-running quiz shows in this country, neither gives away a big prize. I think we just all enjoy watching a quiz show as we like to be able to shout out the answer if we know it before the contestant can.

"But also we enjoy the jeopardy, seeing the beads of sweat on the contestant’s forehead!”

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