Given that Steven Spielberg decided yesterday to pick up the film rights to John Wyndham’s novel, Chocky, I’ve decided to postpone the original next entry in our ‘Lost Gems’ series, Chance in a Million, in favour of the 1980s Thames adaptation of Chocky. Okay, you can get it on DVD and watch it on YouTube, but what the hell, let’s go with it: here’s the title sequence.
Christmas is a time traditionally associated with ghost stories. I don’t know why that is – maybe it’s a pagan hangover, since “let’s celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ by scaring each other silly” doesn’t strike me as a particularly coherent Christian concept.
Probably the most famous teller of Christmas ghost stories is MR James, the Cambridge don who used to gather friends and students round at Christmas and scare them silly with tales such as Whistle and I’ll Come To You, A Warning to the Curious, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and Lost Hearts. These were eventually collected into various omnibuses and back in the 60s and 70s, the BBC started adapting the stories, airing a new tale at Christmas.
Initially, just one-offs, the strand eventually was formalised as A Ghost Story for Christmas, with Rosemary Hill as producer and Lawrence Gordon Clark as director. Sticking with James for the first few years, Hill strayed in 1975, getting Andrew Davies to adapt Charles Dickens’ The Signalman for the strand. She then chose to forego literary sources altogether and began commissioning original stories instead.
The first of these was Clive Exton’s Stigma (which I might deal with at a later time, if you’re lucky), but for reasons known only to the Beeb, the strand concluded with John Bowen’s The Ice House in 1978. Although BBC2 and BBC4 have repeated many of the episodes and the BFI have released some on DVD, The Ice House has never been repeated. It’s a Lost Gem.
Last time, we looked at classic kiddies game showThe 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.
Any article on The Adventure Game would be incomplete without mentioning the Vortex. But video footage is rare – otherwise The Adventure Game wouldn’t be a ‘Lost Gem’ – so there wasn’t a clip available at the time I wrote the article. But I did promise Marie I’d try to find one for her.
Anyway, I managed it. Yey me.
Here’s David Yip and Madeleine Smith braving the Vortex, while the ‘mole’, Lesley Judd, shows her true colours and tries to evaporate them. It’s from the second series so there’s no green cheese roll to help them – and David Yip has unwisely given back the ham sandwich he was offered before entering the Vortex room…
Way back at the end of the 70s and the early 80s, there were two interesting trends. One was the arrival of the micro-computer. And with the arrival of the micro-computer came games. Screw work, hey?
Most important of all the new computer games, given the graphics of the time, were adventure games. These were commonly text-based: you got a load of text chucked at you – "You are in a small room. In the room is a chest of drawers" – to which you typed in a load of two word commands – "OPEN CHEST" – in order to solve all sorts of puzzles that had been set for you.
At the same time, role-playing games were taking off. In these, you had someone read out the words – "You are in a small room. In the room is a chest of drawers" – to which you responded as some kind of made up medieval character/spaceman/whatever "Doest the chest containeth anything usefuleth?"
Some people got a bit tired by that and decided they’d do it for real – imagine Michael Douglas in The Game or Steven Dillane in The One Game, except with someone rolling dice as you wandered round a deserted lunatic asylum dressed as a wood elf.
And then someone had a cracking idea. "Why," asked TV producer Patrick Dowling, "don’t we do something like that on tele for kids?" And thus, The Crystal Maze was born.
Hang on. That’s not right.
No, wind back a decade or so and switch channel. Because back on the BBC, someone had the idea of something more cerebral and a touch more sci-fi, in which celebrities and brainy members of the public would travel to a far off planet (the BBC studios), interact with shape-changing dragons, and try to solve puzzles that would allow them to go home.
It was The Adventure Game, it lasted for four series. It’s never been repeated or released on DVD. It’s a Lost Gem. Which is ironic because the pesky dragons kept nicking the gems every week.