Chain Letters



Jeremy Beadle (1987)

Andrew O'Connor (1988)

Allan Stewart (1989-90)

Ted Robbins (1995)

Vince Henderson (1996)

Dave Spikey (1997)


Tyne Tees in association with Barry & Enright Productions and Action Time for ITV, 7 September 1987 to 6 July 1990

Tyne Tees in association with Action Time and Columbia Tristar International Television for ITV, 2 January 1995 to 25 April 1997


Three contestants amassed as much money as possible by being able to change words letter by letter into new words. And that is basically it.

The first round was Chain Letters. Each contestant was given a word and 45 seconds to make as many changes as possible, with £5 for each chain made. However, the only stipulations were that you couldn't 'do' proper nouns and you couldn't change the same letter twice in a row (i.e. If you had BALL, you could change it to HALL but you couldn't then change it to CALL, you'd need to change another letter first). For some obscure reason, whoever was winning at the end of each round was invited to 'win a sofa' by the ubiquitous theme tune singing people [it was "winner so far" - Ed.].

The next round is the Booby Trap round. The contestants have a choice of words and are invited to pick one of the letters in that word which will give them loads of freedom to change many times to create many new words. However, the evil opponents secretly wrote down a word which that contestant could possibly change it to. Once they've written it down, the contestant changes the letter. If it's a word then they get the points. Whoo! However, if they so wish, they could double the points if they changed it again, and they could redouble it too. However, if they pick a word that another person has picked, immediate animosity ensues as the points go to them instead. Ha.

After the break was a round that changed depending on the year and host but all of which was basically the same thing.

The final round was the incredibly fair Tie the Leader round where it didn't matter if you were behind by virtue of not being as good as the rest - one question could make you joint first! A word would be shown as well as a clue whilst Wordsworth highlighted the letter to be changed (or the + symbol, meaning add a letter or the - symbol meaning take a letter away). When you buzzed in, Wordsworth would show you what the word's worth (geddit?): 10, 20, 40 or Tie the Leader.

Whoever had the most points at the end went through to the Superchain, the losers went home with however much money they had accumulated up into then or (strangely) a CD player in later series. So you were better off about 10 years ago then...

In the Superchain, you'd be given a 4 letter word, Wordsworth would highlight a letter and you'd have to change it to make a word. If you did it 10 times within a minute you'd win £1000, otherwise you got £50 for each chain plus the amount of money you'd won in the game.


"Let's meet the contestants - they're over here."

"Let's play 'Chain Letters'."

"Remember - change the letter, say the word and spell it..."

"You've got 45 seconds to make the longest chain possible,!"

(Contestants, in the first round): "Change the (for example) 'M' to a 'P' to make Pole, P-O-L-E," and so on.

(In the Booby Trap Round): "Make your"

"You've been booby-trapped!"

"He's (or she's) the Winner So Far!" (followed by the inevitable ditty).

"Wordsworth - would you please give me a five-letter word? Give me a plus, give me a minus - and now, go to work" (or "get moving", depending on the host at the time).

(To start the endgame): "Wordsworth...go!"

Dave Spikey: "If you're stuck, make it up!

Dave Spikey: "Light that final gold band, you'll win a grand."


Mark Maxwell-Smith

Theme music

Mike Moran came up with one of those unusual theme tunes that described the game before the show had even started:

Take a word...
Change a letter...
Do it again...
And you've got a chain!
That's how you pla-a-a-y Chain Letters,
Chain Letters.


Word verification was handled by the Longman Dictionary of the English Language and later, Chambers Dictionary.

This was the first show to appear in ITV's 9.25am game show slot, filling the gap left when schools' programmes moved to Channel 4.

The Andrew O'Connor and the first series of the Allan Stewart versions of the show appeared in peak time. After the second Stewart series in 1990 (which had been relegated to the 9.25am slot), the show was off-air, until its revival in 1995, with Ted Robbins as host.

Most of Dave Spikey's on screen jokes were written by Peter Kay (star of the comedy series Phoenix Nights)

In an out-take, Dave Spikey once got stuck in the big 'Chain Letters' revolving sign.

In another re-take, a taxi driver from Manchester playing the Superchain round changed the R in CART to CANT, then changed the A... you can guess the rest.

The format of the Superchain thing at the end changed towards the end of the programme's run. Apparently, contestants were struggling with Wordsworth's random selection of letters to change - so they made it more predictable. Contestants were told beforehand (although it was never announced on screen) that the letters would be changed in order - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 1st etc. As a result, the Superchain contestant could be constantly thinking ahead.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


Andrew O'Connor, pointing behind.
A celebrity christmas line-up
Dave Spikey, living the dream.


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