Last time, we looked at classic kiddies game show The Adventure Game, in which various celebrities would try to solve computer adventure game/Dungeons and Dragons style puzzles so they could escape from the planet Arg.
But running almost simultaneously was a version for adults. Now Get Out Of That, narrated by sardonic journalist Bernard Falk, was part Adventure Game, part outwards bounds course, with two teams (usually involving at least one American) racing against the clock and each other across the Scottish or Welsh countryside, solving puzzles and problems along the way.
It's only once been repeated - on UK Horizons - never released on DVD: it's a Lost Gem.
Here's the start of one of the fourth series' episodes to help you recall it.
The show usually involved some spy-related scenario, such as rescuing a missing biochemist or a defecting spy. Sent in to assist are two teams: in the first couple of series, students from Oxford and Cambridge seemed to be the best choice, rather than the SAS, while in the last two series, teams of sales reps and estate agents from Britain were pitted against teams of sales reps and realtors from the US.
Unlike The Adventure Game, this was an open-ended event with no real outside help. Lasting roughly 30 hours, whichever team took the least amount of time - taking into account time penalties for ballsing things up or not following the rules - was the winner.
Yes, 30 hours. The teams were out in the countryside, running around, cycling, driving, swimming - doing whatever was necessary to get from A to Z. And halfway through the event, they'd have to set up camp and find food - usually by hunting and killing it.
Along the route, they'd find puzzles and tasks that would guide them to their next destination. Unlike The Adventure Game again, there was never usually just one way to solve the puzzles: the teams would find a whole group of objects, almost always including a milk bottle and a house brick, and decide for themselves how exactly they were going to build something that could be seen above the treeline, construct a boat that could get them down the river or extract the Land Rover (with smooth tyres and no keys) from the marshy bog.
There were three things that made Now Get Out of That such a great programme to watch, even though there'd only be two tasks per half hour show:
- the teams, their interactions and how they tried to solve the puzzles
- Bernard Falk's narration
- the black sense of humour that went into some of the tasks
The teams frequently bickered and frequently cocked up. But each usually had stand-out personalities or approaches. One year, the Cambridge team featured a guy called Zeke who ran everywhere. Even when they had a Land Rover, he'd run alongside it.
The American team in series four, for example, were usually very efficient, while the British team would stand around like lemons arguing for most of the tasks. But in between, the British would run around like mad, singing songs to keep their spirits up. They'd also get into their swimsuits and dive into rivers at the slightest chance, while the Americans would do anything possible to avoid getting wet.
Falk's narration would highlight these tendencies, point out what the teams should be doing to solve their tasks easily and quickly ('The team haven’t noticed the long plank a few yards away “) and mock them when they were being daft. In particular, he'd note how the teams would quickly divide on gender lines, with the women invariably hustled into cooking while the men went out hunting at the end of the first day.
This was also a test of lateral thinking, which could be seen in the humour involved in some of the tasks: in the Land Rover challenge, for example, the team had to retrieve its keys from a milk churn buried in the mud but without walking past a white line. What they took a while to realise was that they could lie on the ground, crawl or even run, rather than building the world's longest and most powerful grab device, for example.
And sometimes the producers just lied and told the teams there'd be guards they'd have to watch out for, when there weren't any or would give them all parachutes, fly them in a glider - then land them safely rather than make them jump.
Does the memory cheat?
By modern standards, it's slow. There are no celebs. The lack of decent lightweight cameras means that things occur that couldn't be filmed (such as the reactions of the teams to being told they didn't have to jump out of a plane) and it all feels a bit static and lacking in intimacy by today's standards as a result.
The tasks given to the teams are sometimes even trickier than The Adventure Game's and would probably fail to pass an initial health and safety check at the BBC's ”new ideas for TV programmes“ department.
But it's just so much fun and engrossing, even now.
No DVDs of course, but here's hoping for a repeat.
- October 21, 2010: Weird old title sequences: The Great Egg Race (1979-1986)
The weird old title sequence of The Great Egg Race