Steve Johnson


TVS for ITV, 1989-91


Shock! Get this: A Saturday morning kids game show that was actually really good! The kids show in this instance was the iffy Motormouth, but the Mousetrap segment within rocked big time.

You've all played the game Mousetrap, right? Well for those who need a reminder, here's what should happen: First you turn the crank which kicks the bucket which rolls the ball which goes down the tube that jerks the hand which pushes the big ball which falls onto a see-saw which dives the diver which sets off a nuclear reactor which splits the atom which makes a mushroom cloud which kills the mouse. Sadly, they decided against the last couple of stages after the the original testing stage, citing 'cost per unit' and 'safety' as their main reasons (more the former than the latter) so they bought in a cage which was triggered when the diver landed in the tub.

Of course, somewhere on the box would be the phrase 'product may be slightly different than those shown'. This one was very different - it was bloody huge! Yes, the producers had recreated the entire Mousetrap in all its glory but made it huge. This was excellent. The game board was represented round the outside, some running space around that and then the audience which was represented on all four sides. Blimey!

However, a giant version of Mousetrap wouldn't have made good television on its own so it's interesting to note that the Mousetrap plays only a cursory role in the proceedings. A very important one, but it's really the only thing which links it to the game. Luckily, it was the best thing. Instead of mice being caught, big prizes were being caught instead beginning with the five star prize (usually a mountain bike), going down to the four star (e.g. a colour telly) and onwards down to a one star prize (a toaster or something).

So, Steve Johnson (previously doing It's Torture! for Motormouth) cajoled two kids to make it round the four sides of the game board within eight (later seven) minutes. Instead of rolling a dice and losing turns, each side had four different obstacles testing physical AND mental agility such as 'burst all the balloons', 'throw twenty balls into this really high dish', 'crawl through a rubber tube', 'find and ring all ten words in this word search', 'throw beanbags into the buckets to lower the drawbridge so you can keep going', 'answer four true or false questions correctly' that sort of thing and every time they got to a corner they'd stop the clock and win a Time Out prize. Lovely jubbly.

That would be pretty much it apart from (da-da-da-daaaaa....) The Mousetrap. Yes, four times (twice in later series) during the game a siren would go off meaning that the evil operators of doom had fired the trap. Normally when the players were in the middle of doing something too, bastards. Now, The Mousetrap may have run in the West End for the last fifty years. Sadly, although this is a big Mousetrap it doesn't last quite that long, in fact less than 45 seconds. The players have to drop everything they're doing and one of them has to sprint round the outside of the board (which is giant, remember), tag their partner who then has to run to the middle of the contraption and turn off the pressure tap. If they do this before the giant marble has run down the Rain Gauge (after falling down the uneven steps remember after coming out of a bucket which was kicked when the operator turned the crank) then all is well and good - get back to the board and carry on with what you were doing.

BUT! If they were too slow then the hand would hit the ball, which would fall through the bath which would fall onto the see-saw which would dive the diver (for want of a better verb) which would send the cage falling over their big prize. Oh no! The kids would just have to get on with their tasks but a star would be knocked off the big prize (so instead of the five star prize they'd be playing for the four star prize). And this was cumulative, so if they lost on two sides when it came to the final game they'd be playing for only a three star prize.

There was another way they could lose a star too, by running out of time. If they didn't get round the board within the time they'd lose another star and to warn of this, when there was only a minute left on the clock the whole outside of the studio, which was a neutral white with 'Mouse Trap' signs on each side, would turn a dangerous colour of red. Oooh!

After the main game, all that would be left was to play for the big prize, whatever was left. To do this, the players had to answer three questions correctly in the time it took for the trap to begin and the cage to fall (which fell at different speeds depending on what the director's mood was that day we noticed). If they did this, Steve would pull a lever and the trap would stop and provided the cage hadn't trapped their prize they'd go home with it. If the kids were too thick then they didn't. Occasionally an exciting finish, the closest was when the cage was literally about two inches from the ground and the host had to get down on his knees to see if there was any space, which there was. Hurrah!

Sadly, like all good things there is a bad thing. That bad thing was Celebrity Mousetrap. In principle it sounds good. Sadly it was nothing like the proper kids version. Instead, a kid and a celebrity would play four games such as 'serve tea by putting your arms through the celebrity' and 'burst all the balloons on the ceiling with your huge stick - some of which contain gunge!' The prize system was different too, it began with a four star prize which was outside the cage. Sometime during the game the siren would go off - all the players had to do was finish and win the game before the cage came down. In which case, the prize would be conveyor belted into the cage. Highly risky stuff because if they lost the next game then the prize would be demoted a star. Luckily, if they win the next game then the prize would be wheeled out again. Whatever prize was being played for after game four was the prize the kid went home with. Amusingly, the celebrity would also be rewarded with a "star" prize, such as um.. a brown paper bag, or a pack of AA batteries. But even the excitement of a huge version of the Mouse Trap itself couldn't save this from being a big pile of mouse dung.

Since Motormouth, Steve Johnson presented a paintball meets The Generation Game kids show on Sky called Shoot! and hasn't been seen since. And what's more, nobody will realise that the detective did it. Aah!



The mousetrap captures the contestants' prizes.


This show was sold abroad. In Germany it's called Maus Reiss Aus.


The original board game is still available.


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