Jonathan Dodd‘s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I’ve only ever been to Manchester four times. The first was in 1985, when I failed to win the Krypton Factor. At least that was how one would phrase it in the linguistic zeitgeist of the time. Nowadays I would probably say that I acquitted myself well and need not consider it a threat to my self-esteem. But it still hurts. I could have been a contender, and all that.
At the time they said that 99% of contestants only wanted to do well on the obstacle course, and that only 1 person in the other 1% had ever won the coveted glass thing that was the trophy. When they sold the Krypton Factor to the Americans they were laughed at because of the lack of prize money. They couldn’t believe that anyone would ever enter, so they offered a $100,000 prize. I suppose failing to win isn’t so bad when it’s just for a glass thing.
The so-called ‘intelligence test’
As it turned out I almost won. Despite scoring the second-worst time on the obstacle course. The most astonishing thing was that I actually came in third, collapsing over the finishing line in front of a girl who only wanted to look good and advertise her gym. I looked like an extra in a zombie film. She didn’t have a hair out of place.
I always wanted to do the so-called ‘intelligence test’. My particular round involved a series of coloured plastic shapes inside two Plexiglas sheets. You had to manipulate the black square one from a top corner to the opposite bottom corner so you could pull it out and hold it above your head with the biggest smirk you could muster, while everyone else struggled on with their puzzles.
My smirkshot was completely genuine
I completed my task in six minutes, and my smirkshot was completely genuine. Unfortunately, having started that way, I was told to ‘hold it like that’ until the third contestant finished. After 25 minutes the second one pulled his black square out, and he was able comfortably to do a mere rueful grin, while my face was turning into a pain-filled rictus. The next to finish took 44 minutes, by which time I was ready to collapse. I still blame that unexpected ordeal for my inexplicable inability to run away with the general knowledge round and thereby win.
I learned a lot about TV that day, like how rickety the sets are and how tatty my apparently black leather chair was. Bits of wood were nailed in place with the odd bent nail and roughly emulsioned, but as soon as the lights came up it was like Fairyland. It was amazing. And the frankly rather thin crowd of friends and family were made to move from side to side so that it looked as if there was a huge following of supporters wildly cheering and clapping.
I’m not bitter
The director apologised for all the kerfuffle this caused, and explained that nobody would ever notice once it had been edited skilfully. He was right. It looked like I solved that intelligence test in no time flat. I was almost proud of myself. In spite of failing to win.
I’m not bitter though. Every contestant had gathered two weeks earlier for the collective obstacle course weekend at a hotel called the Last Drop Inn on the edge of Bolton Moor, or some such. It was run by the family of the last hangmen in England. We all got to eye each other up then, so I worked out that if I had won my first round I would have won my semi-final but then I would have come an ignominious last in the final. So it wasn’t too bad. Besides, I didn’t fancy doing the obstacle course more than once.
A small glitter in the producer’s eyes
After recording our episode, everyone retired to a hotel for dinner and a night away. I remember sitting with the great Gordon Burn and the producer, and they asked me why I applied. That’s how I found out about the 99%, of whom I was not one. I said I liked the Krypton Factor because it wasn’t just about what you could remember, and went on to suggest that there should be a competition for teams that would involve a large set with lots of rooms, and team members being nominated to fulfil tasks they were skilled at.
The producer said it could never be done because it would be too expensive to set up. But two years later the Crystal Maze started up, and I believe I remember seeing a small glitter in the producer’s eyes before he changed the subject. I shall always wonder about that.
Not in the least interested
I was reminded of this last weekend, when we went to Manchester for the third time to visit another young person, who’s doing extremely well at the university there.
But I doubt any of my young persons would be in the least interested in my reminiscences about TV game shows before they were even born. I apologise if you’re not either.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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