Gyles Brandreth (1985-6)
Paul Coia (1988-95)
BBC1 Scotland, 17 May 1985 to 2 April 1986 (13 episodes in 2 series)
BBC2, 5 January 1988 to 23 May 1995 (457 episodes in 8 series)
Word game designed to pick up the pre-Countdown audience.
Main game involved a computer who generates three letters (each one with an ear-piercing beep) and you have to come up with the longest word you can think of which contains those letters within a few seconds (Masterteam had used this in their 'In A Spin' round). Letter combinations such as "A S M", "T N B", "P O S" and "F H F" let to an unending use of "Antidisestablishmentarianism", "Tintinabulations", "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis", and "Floccinaucinihilipilification" (the last two of which our spell checker doesn't recognise, bizarrely). One point if the word was valid, and a bonus if you got the longest word out of the three contestants taking part.
Other word games included looking for a hidden word in a sentence, anagrams and synonyms.
Winning a match meant you got to pick a reference book from the Catchword library, and winning five games in a row meant winning a bigger prize (an Amiga computer or something similar).
Rarely exciting, and it has to be said this wasn't the BBC at its most dynamic. Still, someone must have liked it, given that it lasted for more than seven years.
Bryan Mitchell, from an idea by Alasdair Alston Adamson.
"Orient Express" by Jean Michel Jarre
The original theme tune was an excerpt from Jean Michel Jarre's Orient Express.
It was first made as a Scottish regional programme. The second series apparently replaced something called Charles in Charge which went out in the rest of the country at that time. Probably a good move.
The abovementioned ear-piercing "beep" with each letter was, for later series, it was replaced with a "whoosh" for each set of three - getting rid of the one really annoying element of the show.
Rather bizarrely, although earlier series had Coia and the contestants all sitting behind desks (which was far more appropriate, given the nature of the show), later series had everyone standing up and all the contestants had to join Coia at 'The Pulpit', as he called it, namely a larger desk at the front for all their 'solo' rounds. The latter system seemed like more trouble than it was worth, frankly - maybe it was an attempt to update the show in order to improve ratings, but if so, it seemed to be a failed attempt.
The computer's name was Bryan, named after the creator of the show Bryan Mitchell who was also in the production team. A strange coincidence, therefore, that Coia's wife, Debbie Greenwood, had also hosted a show, ie First Class, that featured a computer with a boy's name (Eugene, in this case). [Coincidence? No, it's a conspiracy, I tell you. One day these anthropomorphised computers will adjudicate over us ALL! - Ed.]
Dean Mayer writes: "I took part in the final series of Catchword, finishing runner-up in the grand final. In a bizarre twist, the chap who won - the prize was a lavish overseas holiday - actually died. He had a terminal illness and from what I can gather only the production bosses knew about it. The prize for winning 5 games in a row was a Philips CDi player - remember that one?"
Catchword was later repeated on BBC Prime. Even better, it was repeated on UK Living from May to September 1996. It's what satellite TV was made for!
A full episode from 1989.
A full episode from 1991.