Fort Boyard



Melinda Messenger (original host)

2003: Jodie Penfold

Takes On The World: Tim Vine (voiceover)


Leslie Grantham (Boyard, master of the Fort)

Geoffrey Bayldon (the old professor)

2003: Christopher Ellison (Boyard), Tom Baker (Captain)


Grundy/Anabase for Channel 5, 1998 to 2000

Thames for Channel 5, 2001

Ronin for Challenge, 2003-4


Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant superb show. Very few other shows matched it in terms of style, excitement and cleverness. Including, sadly, the British version of this original French smash hit.

Whereas most UK game shows would be happy to site themselves in a studio set or outdoor location, the French - being French - decide to install miles of wiring and cameras into a national monument so that we can laugh at women getting covered in mud and men being chased by tigers. Genius!

Fort Boyard

The programme was based in a real Napoleonic fort off the west coast of France, which was an almost immediate white elephant when it was built because the Napoleonic wars ended before it was completed. It was turned into a TV studio for the original French programme.

The Game

This contestant must win the key by carrying the vibrating cabinet across the room without letting the ring at the top touch the wire.

The game mechanics were that the team had 40 minutes to earn four keys to open the door by beating timed challenges and answering riddles (so far, so The Crystal Maze) and then earning clues to a codeword by playing games that played on people's fears.

Fight the fear

Host Melinda Messenger in the tarantula room

The games used in the "getting the keys" section of the programme were fairly straightforward, even if they took a lot of physical strength or dexterity to complete.

However, it was the codeword games later in the programme that got a lot of the attention. These games were based on common psychological fears - such as the dark, heights, insects, snakes, spiders, water, bungee jumping and so on.

A lot of the show's black humour was taken out in the original British incarnation of this format, The Crystal Maze, to be replaced by more cerebral games.

Going for the gold

File:Fort_boyard_03_letters.jpgThe treasure room and its occupants

At the end of the time, they went into the treasure room, spelled out the password on the floor and if they were correct, they had the rest of the two minutes to get as many "gold doubloons" as they can. We were never told how much a doubloon was worth, merely that they would "convert the gold into cash later". Hmm... Thankfully, they were a bit more honest about it in later series, and now the gold score was converted into a leaderboard-style effort which worked a lot better.

It's not that the British version was bad, it wasn't, it was still a highly engrossing show. But having seen the French version for a number of years you can't help but watch it and think: "They do that bit so much better in France."

Always up for a Challenge

File:Fort_boyard_03_team.jpgChristopher Ellison, Jodie Penfold and Tom Baker set the challenge

Surprising many, Challenge created their own version of the show during the Summer of 2003. Even more surprising considering the budgetary constraints they were probably under, they did a really good job. There was more emphasis on collecting keys (teams now have to collect five and are given nine chances to do this) and only two adventures during an episode (but having been off the screens for several years, there was a bank of new adventures to choose from). They had updated the graphics to match more recent French episodes.

Ellison was a far less unfriendly Boyard who resorted to the same speech patterns before each game (this annoyed many fans of Grantham, who at this point had returned to Eastenders, which is reasonable enough). Penfold turned out to be a lot of fun as the main host and Tom Baker was ace as the 19th century marooned captain who was liable to silly monologues.

Takes On The World

We feel this is the best place to include a bit on Fort Boyard: Takes On The World. This was a ten-part entertainment documentary looking at various different versions of the show from around the world. Tim Vine provides a hilarious voiceover for the clips and provides links on location on the Fort. Vine should know what he's talking about, he was a celebrity contestant on Challenge's version of the show in 2003.

Its factually accurate (in the main) and it's particularly pleasing in that it opens up the French version to a British audience. We also particularly enjoy the clips from the Korean show which looks like it's a lot of fun. Regular bits include "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", "Heroes and Zeroes" (which is a bit like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, all told), The A-Z of Fort Boyard, seeing how different countries handle the same game and interviews with various characters from the fort (the humour here coming from the fact that Vine doesn't speak French and the characters don't speak English).


Fort Boyard was the brainchild of Jacques Antoine.


"Jacques, the door!"

"Monique - the tiger's head if you please!"

"Laboulle - the gong!"

From Takes On The World: "Different people, different nations, DIFFERENT GAMES!" (and various variations of)

Theme music

The catchy theme tune was the same as the original French programme. It was created by Paul Koulak and Expand Music.


Channel 5 had to film all ten episodes of the first series in five days. Each episode cost about £175,000 to make.

Who were those midgets that went around with the team? Well, in France they are known as Passe-Partout (Everywhere) and Passe-Temps (All the time). They are in every version of the show around the world doing the jobs of contestant coordination, counting the keys and so on. Their real names are Andre and Alain respectively, and when not filming Fort Boyard they are civil servants. They have been with the show since it started in France in 1990.

Channel 5 got in trouble when they used a game from the French show which involved the contestant finding at a painted topless lady at the end of a maze then looking for the password that had been 'tattooed' onto her skin. The channel said that it wasn't inappropriate given the late-ish 8pm time slot and that the woman was largely covered up by the paint. But they didn't have much of a leg to stand on when Ofcom noticed that they blurred out the offending nipples on the morning repeat later in the week.


Fort Boyard - Adventure game

PC game - similar in style to Tomb Raider

Web links

Comprehensive history of the show

Fort Boyard Net - a French fan site

Fort Boyard UK site

British Fort Boyard chronicle by Nick Gates

Canadian TV version


The Professor (Geoffrey Bayldon), Melinda Messenger, and the evil Boyard, master of the fort (Leslie Grantham).
In this game, the contestant had to "run ahead" of the rotating panels to give herself enough time to unscrew the bolts on the box containing the key, before a wire fence forced her to make another journey.
Another picture of the fort. The watchtower you can see sticking out from the top is where the Professor set his riddles.
Screenshot from the opening titles, showing a top view of the fort.
Melinda in jail.


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