The Krypton Factor



Gordon Burns

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


Penny Smith (in final series)


Granada for ITV, 3 September 1977 to 20 November 1995


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 17 series!

Whilst the structure of the rounds was tinkered with over the years, the main rounds were (in the following strict order):

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. (However, when the show first started it was some strange computer maze thing.)

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 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. In the 1987 series, this took the form of a daft race between the contestants to pedal a handbike and some feet pedals in order to propel themselves along. When they got to 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. Another version was a set of balance-beams with several manual dexterity tests, involving 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 Airways 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 Royal Navy helicopter in the 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.

Observation: In some series this 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) and Hinge and Bracket. Finally, it changed into a multiple choice vote-on-keypads question thing. It also saw the Observation round turn into mini-serials. In 1990, it was Sam Smith: Private Detective with Gwyneth Strong (aka Cassandra off of Only Fools...). In 1991, Tony Robinson was the hapless bank manager being saught 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.

Physical Ability: The reason KF was nicknamed '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. Apparently, the course was so dangerous up to eight stand-bys 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 in the process. One contestant even broke her ankle on the assault course, yet amazingly still managed to finish in third place! Her leg was in plaster all through the studio-rounds, which must prove that the assault course was the first round to be filmed. The course-design was changed the following series, presumably as a result of the accident!

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.

Marian Chanter - the first female winner of The Krypton Factor

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). 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.

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 1991.

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 death-slide 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 generally very confusing and not viewer-friendly. 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

A one-off series of Young Krypton (would you believe? A Junior Krypton Factor) was held in 1988 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 an adventure theme park rather than an assault course, but otherwise it was a pretty close approximation of the format.


Devised by Jeremy Fox.

Theme music

One of the more modern versions of the theme music was composed by The Art of Noise.


The Krypton Factor was one of the first new-style game shows to be exported to the USA.

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.

For at least two of the series (certainly 1986 and 1987), the fastest man and fastest woman on the assault course both received a special trophy (Marian Chanter did so in the 1987 series in addition to winning the series). That was a nice touch that should have been kept in.

Unusually, and possibly uniquely for the time, 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.

We noticed watching repeats on Challenge quite recently that the contestants wear clothes representing the colour they've been assigned. Cunning, no?

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".


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.

You can get a second-hand copy of The Krypton Factor Quizbook cheaply enough.

Web links

Wikipedia entry


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