The Krypton Factor

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Granada for ITV, 7th September 1977 to 20th November 1995 <!-- Was 7th September, not 3rd, according to Burns on a 1991 show and Bfi database-->
Granada for ITV, 7th September 1977 to 20th November 1995 <!-- Was 7th September, not 3rd, according to Burns on a 1991 show and Bfi database-->
ITV, 2009 (tbc)

Revision as of 10:11, 30 September 2008



Gordon Burns

Children's version (Young Krypton, 1988-9) hosted by Ross King.


Penny Smith (1995)

Announcer: Charles Foster (1982-5, 1991-5)


Granada for ITV, 7th September 1977 to 20th November 1995

ITV, 2009 (tbc)


Legendary hell-raiser Gordon Burns put four contestants through "the ultimate mental and physical tests" to find out who was the UK Superperson of whichever year - and there were 18 series!

Whilst the structure of the rounds was tinkered with over the years, the main rounds were (mostly in the following strict order - but not in the 1988 series, in which the order went: Mental Agility; Response; Intelligence; Observation; Physical Ability; General Knowledge):

Mental Agility: Each contestant was given 40 seconds to answer as many questions correct as they could. What they'd have to do changed from week to week. For example, they may have to remember a certain layout of dice, in which case questions would be like "What's on the opposite side of dice which is two to the right of the Red 2". Or they'd be given a sentence and asked questions on it. You can guess the sort of thing. When the show first started it was some strange computer maze thing. In between, it was an elimination contest where the questions got harder and the points were decided by how long you stayed in the game. This was not played against the clock, strangely.

Image:Krypton_factor_burns.jpg Host of the Krypton Factor, Gordon Burns

Response: This round first started in 1986. In that year's series, this consisted of the contestants competing in twos to move some cylinders from one side to another, then placing some shapes into the correct slots (Fleischmann Flexibility Tests) and finally hitting one of four coloured buttons when the corresponding colour flashed up on a screen, up to a total of 10 correct responses. The contestant with the fastest time would be the winner. In the 1987 series, two tests alternated. In one, there was a race between the contestants to crank a handbike backwards, and some feet pedals forwards, in order to power an electric motor and propel themselves along. If and when they reached the end there was a bank of screens which would flash up different colours and the contestants had to input which colour had the most. The first one to get 10 correct won.

Krypton Factor titles followed by the Response Rounds from 1987

In the other test, balance-beams linked the Fleischmann Flexibility Tests from the previous year, twisting around and fitting shapes into the correct slots. In both of these series, for the group and grand finals, it changed so that the contestants would each take part in a British Aerospace flight simulator and try to land a plane.

From the 1988 series onwards, the Response Test consisted purely of flight simulator tests: these included a Sea Harrier Jump Jet in the 1988 group finals, a Royal Navy helicopter in the 1988 Grand Final and all the later group finals and something special like the Space Shuttle or even a real plane in the Grand Final. They'd be marked by the instructor. This version of the round was arguably better than the 1986/7 one, since the Fleischmann Flexibility and handbike tests, although very entertaining to watch (and possibly to do as well!) did not seem very consistent or comparable with the flight simulator tests.

The flight simulator tests often proved very entertaining, with some contestants crashing the plane, landing it in the sea by Hong Kong Airport or in Lake Tahoe and even flying up instead of down, resulting in a stall! However, there were also plenty of contestants who managed to land well, sometimes even perfectly. The real plane that the 1992 and 1993 Grand Finallists had to land was dual-controlled - not surprisingly! - but the contestants' standard of performance in both those tests was fairly high.

In the 1988 series, a trophy in the form of a Boeing 747 was awarded for whoever had performed best in the first-round Response tests, landing that particular plane in the simulator. This was won by Yvonne Thewlis. It was a shame that this award was only given in that one series: it was a nice touch and should have been kept in.

Observation: In the early series (up until 1985), this involved the contestants watching a drama sketch and then answering questions on it, at first individually and then on the buzzers. This would be followed by an 'Identity Parade', in which 10 or so people looking like one character from the sketch would line up and the contestants had to decide which one was the real character. In some series (1986-88), the round was "Double Take" - i.e. spot the difference between the same film shown twice. Then, in 1989, it changed into the great fun "Spot the Continuity Errors". These pieces of film often starred celebs of their day such as Steve Coogan (a relative unknown back then), Andrew O'Connor and Hinge and Bracket. One of the first films was a skit involving Kenneth and Annie from Treasure Hunt:

Stop the clock!

From 1990, the Observation round turned into mini-serials. First, it was Sam Smith: Private Detective with Gwyneth Strong (aka Cassandra off of Only Fools...). In 1991, Tony Robinson was the hapless bank manager aided by Michelle Collins in heist drama Where is Don Day? In 1992, mistaken identity caper Dead Ringer starred Tony Slattery, Roger Lloyd Pack, Katie Puckrik (pre-Sunday Show) and Linda Lusardi. A two-minute section would be played each week. 1993 saw a return to two-minute single dramas, with Fred Pilkington (Roy Barraclough) recalling his greatest detective moments to Julie Webb (Annabel Giles). By 1995, the drama had been replaced by computer generated images. In the early days (up to and including 1990), contestants wrote down their answers but it later changed into a multiple choice vote-on-keypads question thing so that ties could be decided on time. Dare we suggest, though, that this was largely for the audience since we're sure the contestants would be quicker to answer than was shown on screen. For Double Take, interestingly, contestants scored a straight two points for each correct answer rather than the usual scoring system.

Physical Ability: Gordon Burns cited this as the reason why he nicknamed Krypton Factor as 'Television's Toughest Quiz'. The contestants raced over the 400m Army assault course at Holcombe Moore, Bury, Lancashire. Originally, each contestant was given a staggered start based on their age and sex. Later, age was discounted and all the female contestants were given a head start with the men chasing them. Noted for the death-slide bit near the end where everyone would get extremely wet going into the water.

Marian Chanter, the show's first female winner, braves the death slide

Apparently, the course was so dangerous up to eight stand-by contestants were on call in case anything went wrong. When Gordon Burns tried it for himself for the experience, it took him over five minutes to complete (more than twice the usual time) and he ended up with minor injuries.

Intelligence: Apparently "the test many contestants have sleepness nights over", this was a 2D or 3D spatial awareness test where the contestants would be asked to construct something using the pieces given. Invariably there would only be one correct answer and Mr Burns provides a "ha, that's not quite right" commentary using a sportsman's voiceover microphone.

An intelligence test from 1989 involving a map of the ITV regions...with an apology to Channel Television viewers

Up until now, points were dished out 10, 6 (8 in earlier series), 4 and 2 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th but this changes for...

General Knowledge: The final round. Depending on the series, this was 100/90/75 seconds of quickfire questions on the buzzer with two points for a correct answer and two points deducted for a wrong one (one point in earlier series). The questions were set up so that the answer to one question would form a phonetic link with the next question, so particularly clever players may be able to work out where the question was headed. One problem with this round was that, all too often, a contestant who was considerably behind could win if he/she was exceptionally good at general knowledge, and this always seemed unfair on those contestants who had shown more all-round abilities throughout the show, only to be pipped at the last minute if their general knowledge was not so good. This was especially true once the 2-point rule was introduced in 1988.

Up to and including the 1985 series, the buzzer round had been preceded by Burns asking each contestant in turn two or three general knowledge questions. Incorrect answers did not lose the contestants points in this case, nor were the questions offered to their opponents.

Before each round they'd be a lovely little introduction where the Krypton K would turn into a person or a pair of eyes or something that represents the round about to be played. This lasted from 1986 until 1993.

All change, please

For the final series, the show decided it wanted to be The Crystal Maze by totally revamping the set and changing the style of the show. In came flying with the Red Arrows, out went the Intelligence test, and the second half of the show became The Super Round. The points accumulated in first five rounds were used to buy "advantages" in the Super Round, a race that tests all their abilities to the full.

The first part of the Super Round were the Kryptic Rings - a not-quite-giant 3D maze. To find the correct exit, the players must memorize a sequence of colours and symbols which flashed up before they parachute down to the start. This sequence told them where their exit was, but each contestant had a different route to follow even though they used the same sequence for everybody. Confused?

Once they'd found the correct exit from the Kryptic Rings they had to crack a Code on the computer (an Amiga 1200, would you believe!) They would be given a word which they reproduced on the keyboard, except that each letter stood for another letter according to a given rule (e.g. type in the letter two later in the alphabet than the one shown).

Then they had to negotiate a nifty corridor of Lasers. Hitting any of the moving lasers incurred a time-penalty.

Something every game show should have, the Response Revolve, was next. It was a revolving cylindrical structure from which, as if trying to keep on your feet wasn't enough, each contestant had to pull out four batons from special rocks. However, they could only be taken out once the light on the rock flashed.

Finally, a race up Mount Krypton, building a ladder then using the handholds. Whoever was first to raise their Krypton K at the top of the mountain won the show.

The new style was cool but losing the Intelligence round was a sign of dumbing down and the whole 'Krypton Mountain' sequence was very confusing and not viewer-friendly. Also, if the general knowledge round in the original version had seemed unfair in allowing contestants to win from behind, the Krypton Mountain round seemed especially so, as contestants who had done especially well in the preceding rounds all too often fell by the wayside on the Mountain, despite the advantages that their points had (supposedly!) given them and this seemed to completely defeat the whole raison d'etre of the programme. If only they had continued to adopt the 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' rule, since the original had worked so well for many years. There was talk of a BBC revival but sadly it never happened (and you can be sure the BBC wouldn't have messed around with the format). Nevertheless, this was a remarkably successful show, and watching repeats of the later series on cable TV is still very enjoyable.

Young Krypton

Two series of Young Krypton (would you believe, a Junior Krypton Factor) were held in the late 80s, hosted by Ross King. The show had a similar structure to its adult brethren in terms of groups and finals and each show had only five rounds (the Intelligence round being saved for the group and main finals and replacing another round). The response round involved moving shapes from one box to another whilst balancing on a tilty-thing with time penalties added for letting the tilty-thing tilt too much. The physical agility round was a race around a special course constructed at the American Adventure Theme Park in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, rather than an army assault course, but otherwise it was a pretty close approximation of the format.

Key moments

In 1989, contestant Judith Stafford broke her ankle on the assault course after jumping down onto a platform, yet still managed to finish the course. Her leg was in plaster all through the studio rounds, showing that the assault course was filmed prior to the studio rounds (the Response round was filmed first). In 1987, Sue Dandy managed to complete the course with damaged ligaments after she landed badly after a jump from the concrete tubes. Another contestant ran the course wearing gloves after she had damaged her hands during a practice run. Another contestant, in 1986, struggled to finish the course because she was afraid of heights and therefore found the six-foot zig-zag wall and thirty-foot A-frame net more frightening than most - however, she eventually succeeded. In addition, Marian Chanter's hands somehow came out of the safety loops prematurely on the aeriel slide in the 1987 grand final, so she ended up in the water rather sooner (and deeper!) than normal, but it didn't stop her winning the race for the third time running! In the 1991 Group B final, Paul Evans lost his footing after flipping over the top of the A-frame net and fell almost to the bottom, but luckily managed to grab the net just in time - and he also won the race. In 1993, Jon Johnson fell off the Burma rope ridge that led to the aeriel slide, but luckily, there was a net to catch him underneath and he finished the course in second place. The course changed design after some series in response to safety concerns.

In the 1991 series, both Tony Hetherington and Paul Evans scored a maximum Krypton Factor of 50 in the first five rounds of their heats. Hetherington went on to set an all-time record of 62 after the general knowledge round. They were in the same group final, in which Evans managed to win most of the rounds again, but they both reached the grand final, as Hetherington was the highest scoring runner up and the latter won the series.

One episode of the 1991 series saw some of the worst scoring ever in a Mental Agility round. Challenged with repeating the elements between an interval in reverse order (e.g. A to E = "D, C, B"), the contestants scored just 2, 2, 3 and 6 correct answers.

A comical moment occurred during the assault course race on one celebrity edition of the show (around 1986/87?) In one of the water jumps, Sarah Greene was descending the pyramid-like wall the wrong way and an army instructor was (very loudly!) pointing out her mistake - so she pulled him into the water with her!

Substandard though the 1995 series was, it nevertheless threw up a few surprises, such as one of the finallists, John Reynolds, who had apparently practised for the assault course on a children's playground. It must have paid off, since he won the assault course in all three of his games! In addition, two contestants were disqualified for failing to complete 'Krypton Mountain' correctly. One contestant, Simon Evans, did not complete the computer test correctly, but was not informed that he had been disqualified until he had reached the top of the mountain, feeling sure up until then that he had won. The other contestant, Alison Riley, was disqualified the following week for forcing the batons out of their holders in the Response Revolve without waiting for the lights to come on - however, unlike Evans, she was given the bad news straightaway.


Mental Agility round (from 1991 onwards): "And reminding you that it's ten points, six, four and two for first, second, third and fourth place - and that where two contestants got the same number of correct answers, then the position is decided by the clock - we go to the scoreboard".

Intelligence round: "Are you all ready, contestants? The test starts... now."

General knowledge round: "Ready on the buzzers, contestants - the clock starts... now." And at the end, "That's it - the end of the round, the end of the contest - and the winner tonight with a Krypton Factor of (whatever) is ....." Also, in the event of a tiebreaker, Burns would say, "That's the end of the round, but not the end of the contest....!"

At the end of the show, "....Until then, from all the contestants here and from me - goodnight!"


Devised by Jeremy Fox.

Theme music

One of the early signature tunes was by Mike Moran.

One of the more modern and memorable versions of the theme music was composed by The Art of Noise, which was subtly altered between each series. It was loosely based on their tune "Beat Box". The music was revised a few times during its use on air - most notably, a softer version was introduced in 1990.

This title sequence from 1987 features the original version of the AoN theme


Winners of the title "United Kingdom Superperson of the Year" were as follows:

1977  Harry Evans
1978 Ken Wilmhurst
1979 Peter Richardson
1980 Philip Bradley
1981 John McAllister
1982 John Webley
1983 Chris Topham
1984 Paul Smith
1985 Dr Andrew Gillam
1986 David Kemp
1987 Marian Chanter
1988 David Lee
1989 Mike Berry
1990 Duncan Heryatt*
1991 Tony Hetherington
1992 Andrew Craig
1993 Tim Richardson
1994 no contest
1995 Andy Wilbur
  • Heryatt's win is notable for a few reasons. He only got into the Final via a tie-break question in his heat, a highest scoring loser position after the Group Final and an off-screen playoff. He came last in the first two rounds of the Final, but when he did win his ecstatic reaction was something close to an epileptic seizure. As he told Gordon Burns afterwards, the news of his victory came as a considerable (albeit happy) shock - he'd assumed he'd either lost or it was yet another dead heat!

Several other champions had also been highest scoring losers in at least one of their heats - these included David Lee, Mike Berry, Tony Hetherington and Andy Wilbur. This also occurred a number of times on Mastermind.


The Krypton Factor was one of the first new-style game shows to be exported to the USA, though it was a bit of a flop - there was one short series in 1981, and a junior version in 1990. Gordon Burns complained that the American version was changed into something more akin to It's a Knockout.

Many of the intelligence tests went on for hours. The cameras were just left running and the whole thing was cut down to three minutes for the benefit of the show. At least one contestant was moved to tears by the difficulty of the puzzles. Darren Stalybridge recalls: "I once went to Granada Studios to watch The Krypton Factor being produced. You know that manual dexterity game, where the contestants have a challenging puzzle to solve? Usually in around two minutes? NINETY! YES! Ninety minutes of boredom watching the most incompetent attempt at a puzzle solving ever! Condensed down to two minutes for the telly broadcast of course!"

For at least some series (around 1986-8), the fastest man and fastest woman on the assault course both received a special trophy. That was a nice touch that should have been kept in. Winners include: Barbara Murray and Stuart Worthington (1986), Marian Chanter and Ted Daskerwicz (1987), Elizabeth Hayward and Alan Robbie (1988).

A remarkable coincidence in terms of the contestants' jobs occurred in the 1993 Group C Final, since three of them were accountants (two chartered and one trainee), while the other contestant was a policeman. Two of the accountants, Tim Richardson (chartered) and Eddie Jackson (trainee), went through to the following week's Grand Final as winner and highest-scoring runner-up respectively and Richardson won the series.

In an interview on the BBC's daytime chat/phone in show 'Open Air' in 1987, Gordon Burns revealed that, whenever a woman did not win on the assault course, the programme would be inundated with letters complaining that women were not given enough of a head-start in this round, but if a woman won, there would be a flood of letters claiming that they had too much head-start. A definite case of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'!

Unusually, and possibly uniquely for the time (This Is Your Life being the only other show we can think of), some earlier series (until 1993) had no advert break in the middle even though it was in a primetime 7pm slot. This explains why some of the elements (most notably, the time for the quiz) were shortened in later series.

The familiar "red dot" Krypton Factor logo wasn't introduced until as late as 1986. Before that, the logo was a big block capital K with the title in that ever-so-early-80s handwriting-style typeface.

Image:Krypton factor original logo.jpgThe original Krypton "K"

We noticed watching repeats on Challenge quite recently that the contestants wear clothes representing the colour they've been assigned. Cunning, no? It seemed that, until 1993, they were allowed to wear what they liked, provided that it fitted in with the colour system, but in 1993, they were all given polo shirts of the appropriate colour to wear.

During later series, the Response results graphs for flying a plane were given with a section of Left to My Own Devices by The Pet Shop Boys playing in the background.

Splendidly, the points players earned through the game weren't referred to as their score, but as their "Krypton Factor", as in, "The winner, with a Krypton Factor of 46, is the legal secretary from Kent, Bob Jeffries".

Although not publicised on-air, all contestants were given KF-branded clothes and a sports bag as prizes.

Special editions

In May 1989, there was a one-off episode on the Krypton Factor called Champion of Champions featuring four star contestants: Marian Chanter and Alison Heath from 1987, David Lee from 1988 and Andrew Gillam from 1985 - surprisingly, David Kemp from 1986 did not appear and no explanation was given for his absence. The contest was won by Marian Chanter. Gillam came fourth in the Response round, but it could be argued that the other three had an unfair advantage there, as Gillam had never had to carry out such a test during the series that he won.

There had also been a previous 'Champion of Champions' edition of the show around 1985, featuring the winners from the previous four years: John McAllister (1981), John Webley (1982), Chris Topham (1983) and Paul Smith (1984). This was won by John McAllister.

In addition to appearing in an observation round in the 1989 series, Kenneth Kendall appeared in a 1990 celebrity 'Television Versus Radio' version of the programme and therefore must have been one of the oldest contestants ever to tackle the assault course.

Another celebrity version of the show was at the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, in which there was a set of 'Presenters Versus Competitors' editions. This was won by the presenters, who included Dickie Davies, Alison Holloway and Elton Welsby.

There was also another sporting edition in 1989, between athlete Steve Ovett, cricketer Wasim Akram, jockey Bob Champion and sports journalist Sally Jones. For some bizarre reason, although all four contestants tackled the Mental Agility and General Knowledge rounds, they each had to miss out one of the other rounds - Akram the Response Round, Jones the Observation Round, Champion the Physical Ability Round and Ovett the Intelligence Test. Sally Jones was the eventual winner.


The Krypton Factor had a number of clothing merchandises, including a pair of black trainers bearing the Krypton K on the sides and the tongue.

There was also a Krypton Factor Quizbook.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


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