Hard Spell Abbey
Simon Hickson as "Brother Brendan"
BBC1/CBBC, 29 November to 3 December 2004 (5 episodes)
Sister programme to Hard Spell. A group of 9 and 10-year-olds (three boys, three girls) solve language-based puzzles and explore an abbey supposedly run by the narcissistic Brother Brendan (Simon Hickson out of Trev & Simon).
In the beginning at least, the show works on a collaborative basis, with either the whole group taking part, or just the boys or girls. Success in any of the games reduces the number of questions required in the "Walk of Words" endgame. The games include:
- Monk Mission: run around shooting letters with water pistols to spell out a given word.
- Vowel Movement: fill in the missing vowels in a series of themed words by placing bricks in a wall.
- Silent Knight: the triumphant return of the Stumble Around In A Dark Room round from The Adventure Game. Five of the kids have to work out which letter in a word is silent, and by means of (K)night-vision cameras guide their team-mate to grab that letter in a pitch-black room.
- Letter Laundry (or Wear Some Enormous Pants): All six children spell out words by grabbing some enormous pants with letters on them from a washing line and struggling to put them on.
For a show which is ostensibly about spelling, it's too easy to fail tasks for reasons that have nothing to do with spelling, and in fact on day one both teams did just that. This explains the presence of a round in which the children got to ask Brother Brendan to spell difficult words (presumably they got to choose from a prepared list; this wasn't made entirely clear). The round was a rather obvious fix, designed to ensure that the kids won at least one game that day, though for old times' sake it was nice to hear literacy expert Jaz Ampaw-Farr asking Brendan to spell "floccinaucinihilipilification", a sometime favourite of contestants on Catchword.
There are various bits between rounds too, including Spellebrity Squares, a technically clever semi-parody of a show the target audience probably won't remember, in which a bunch of celebs filmed at various times in various locations (including Dermots Murnaghan and O'Leary) are challenged to spell difficult words, and somehow manage to interact with each other too. There are also educational bits in which Jaz tells the children some facts about the English language, and we must give credit for the fact that she attempts to give some idea of why the English language is so full of daft spellings, rather than just rattling through the usual spelling rules.
The final round, the Walk Of Words, is quite exciting. Against the clock, two of the youngsters (a boy and a girl) have to guess and spell a series of mystery words to reach the "riddle of the ruins", which is simply a picture rebus in a book. It doesn't sound much but it's quite a tense finale.
On the final day, the six went head-to-head in a knockout spelling competition.
But never mind that, the best thing about this show is the fact that it's got Simon Hickson on it, being very silly. We'd watch it just for that, frankly.
Literacy expert Jaz Ampaw-Farr would later appear as a contestant in the ninth (2013) series of The Apprentice.