DEE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DEDE-DE-DEEEE! Yes, it’s another hit show from the Golden Age of British Game shows – a game show which has it all – big prizes! Silly prizes! An entertaining presenter, catchphrases, chit chat with contestants, questions, answers, and an interesting and engaging premise. Strike It Lucky (which then became Strike It Rich) was a big hit with me, my family enjoyed it, and as far as I am aware it was a big success with audiences around the country. Why did I love it so, though? Read on…
The show was created in the US in 1986 as Strike It Rich – the main difference from the UK version being that the US featured two teams, one of which was a returning champion while in the UK there were three teams who only got one stab at the pie. From what I can tell, the show wasn’t a hit in the States, but with Barrymore as host in the UK, the show lasted for thirteen years and is still shown in syndication, as well as a few Special episodes and assorted Board Games and merchandise. Barrymore had already been a presenter, comedian, and actor on various sketch shows, but it was his slapstick energy and rapid-fire repartee with the contestants in Strike It Lucky which made him a megastar and the show an 18 Million viewer mega-hit. Most gameshows of the time featured comedians in presenting roles, but the interaction with the contestant, viewer, and audience was often more one-sided and always brief; a couple of hellos to the contestants, a couple of jokes to those watching, and you were on your way. With Barrymore, a quarter of the episode running time was him chatting and joking with the guests. As the series progressed, the guests would become more outspoken and entertaining in their own right without resorting to bizarre or outlandish types. There would usually be a young couple, a very elderly person, or someone with an interesting job to spark banter and jokes, and in most cases this opening was the best part of the episode. We as the viewer got an unusual insight into each contestant and you felt much closer to them and therefore hoped they would do well on the show – something which I don’t think any other game show has come close to achieving. Pointless comes close but in a less anarchic fashion, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire had something similar by virtue of the one on one format, and Deal Or No Deal was just shit.
I should say that I don’t have any real nostalgic connection to Strike It Lucky/Rich – unlike most of the other shows in this sh*t series of posts. It’s simply a great all round show that I always loved, that I enjoy watching re-runs of, and that now my kids even will watch. As mentioned, the main key to the success was Barrymore – his spark, energy, and interaction with the guests. But every good British gameshow needs a good catchphrase too. Barrymore of course has his own ‘Awight!?’ that he would shout at the audience at the start of each show, but the game had a couple of its own – one which is a statement which became a catchphrase, and the other a bizarre exchange with the crowd. ‘Top Middle, or Bottom’ is a question which Barrymore poses in the final round – when the contestant has to make their way from left to right across the board without striking out. There are three rows to choose from – top, middle, or bottom – as simple as games and catchphrases get really. The second catchphrase involves Barrymore asking the audience ‘what is a hotspot not’ and them replying ‘not a good spot’. In and of itself that doesn’t sound very catchy, and it doesn’t even make sense, but his delivery is spot on (pun pardon). What’s good about it is that the audience’s response is completely indecipherable. In fact, it wasn’t until the internet blew up that I was actually able to Ask Jeeves what it was they were actually saying. For years I’d assumed their answer was ‘Prizes’.
So, the game involves six contestants in three pairs. The first half of the game is a race across the board – three contestants walk across the board, three answer questions to win the chance to move forward two, three, or four places. Barrymore tells the contestant the ‘genre’ of the question, and the contestant decides if they want two, three, or four questions – if they get one wrong the question moves to the next contestant. The questions are multiple choice and might be something like ‘Famous Toms’ where the answers are Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Tom Jones etc, you get the idea. Once the questions have been answered, the contestant’s partner moves across the board one step at a time, hitting a button. When they hit the button they either get a prize or a Hot Spot. What is a hot spot not? Prizes. Not a good spot either. Basically if they land on a Hot Spot, their turn is over, so even if they answered four questions and get to walk forward four spaces, if they hit a hot spot on their first space, it’s the end of their turn. If it’s not a Hot Spot, they win a prize. Sometimes it’s a small cash prize, often it’s something humourous related to the contestant – if it’s an elderly couple, the prize might be a free Pole Dancing lesson for example. More Barrymore banter. There’s another level of strategy and gambling here – the contestant may answer four questions, but after moving forward two spaces they get two good prices such as a Weekend Holiday and a lump sum. If you hit a Hot Spot you lose your prices from that round, so do they risk moving on to get closer to the end, or bank their prizes and stay where they are?
Eventually, a couple will reach the final step of the board where they are asked a final question to proceed to the final round – get it wrong and another couple may pip you to the post, get it right and the other two couples are out. This leads to the second half of the show, which I always found the less interesting. The winning couple selects which top prize they want to go for – three choices of cash. The higher the cash prize, the more difficult the gameboard is. Basically the team has to get across the same board, choosing top, middle, or bottom. There are three outcomes of each choice – a Hot Spot – meaning they lose one life, a tick – meaning they move forward one space, or a question. Get the question right – move forward, get it wrong – Hot Spot. With the highest cash prize you get two lives, the middle one – three lives, the lowest cash prize – four lives. It’s tense stuff and the crowd always got into it – exciting the closer the team got to the end, but it just didn’t have the humour and fun of the first half.
I think Strike It Lucky could still work today, as a format. The problem when people try to resurrect classic gameshows it that they end up being self-knowing in an awkward and self-congratulatory manner. Just bring it back and get on with it. Barrymore has had his problems with the media and the public since his 90s heyday, but feck it – make him the host again, Awight!?
Let us know in the comments if you used to watch Strike It Lucky or if you are more familiar with the US version.