The National Lottery Big Ticket
Kate Robbins (sister of Ted) as Bernie
Alan Dedicoat (voiceover)
BBC One, 28 March to 11 July 1998 (16 episodes in 1 series)
Yes! Fresh from their successes with Last Chance Lottery and Turner Round the World, Pat and Ant are back! And this time they are hosting a commercial show on the BBC, this one offering a potential £100,000 top prize provided you aren't teamed up with someone like Bobby Davro. Or Bradley Walsh.
Scratch and sniff (if you lose)
Four teams of two punters are picked, each one having bought a winning National Lottery TV Dreams scratchcard. So... what are they going to do for a potential jackpot of £100,000? Absolutely nothing!
The reason why the lottery winners themselves could not take part in the show themselves is that this would involve skill (although, judging from the description that will shortly unfold, you might contest that). Any element of skill means that it's no longer a lottery, and hence illegal. Bad, bad, bad.
So, what did the producers do to get around this? Well, they rummaged down the back of the TV formats sofa and found some bits of fluff which they put together to make this idea - each pair of lottery ticket winners had a team of "champions" randomly allocated to them. These champions would (appropriately enough) champion the punters and play the games on their behalf. This essentially means that which punter wins is down to luck, a desperate celebrity and a member of a charity that has been allocated Lottery money. We would meet the charity worker via short VT clip about their charity, normally ending wth a very poor joke such as, say, a group of cleaners: "Tonight on the National Lottery Big Ticket we'll be wiping the floor with the opposition!" Once we've sat through it four times the first round is played. Not before time.
Catapult Cars/The Lift Race
For some reason (i.e. "...that we couldn't work out"), each contestant is put in a Catapult Car. This is a bit like an overgrown Scaletrix car which is propelled forward by being wound back by bungee rope and then propelled forward. However, at the end of each car run is a car wash (still with me?) Before the champions (remember, they're the people playing on behalf of the "real" contestants) entered the car, they chose an answer to a fifty/fifty question. If they are correct then at the end of the car's track the champions will stay dry. If they get it wrong, they must suffer the humiliation of getting sprayed with water and a ten second penalty for the lift race. That Japanese sense of humour, eh?
Then one of the best bits of the show, The Lift Race. This involved a race to the top in lifts, and then they race down to the bottom of a fire escape tube. There were three "floors" and at each floor was a question. If they got it correct, it would move straightaway. If it was wrong, they would be stuck there for a full ten seconds. Once the lift had reached the top, the whole exercise proved its futility by making the champions slide down a tube, run across the studio and hit a button. Nicely, a gradually lowering tone would be sounded when a button was pressed so that the last person home would be met with a "Ha-ha! You're out" buzz. The losing punters would get £2000 each.
Mental and Physical
Rounds 2 and 3 were different most weeks, although they followed a rough pattern of Round 2 being a "Mental" round and Round 3 being a "Physical" round.
The mental-oriented game would usually be "'Guess who wrote this book" or "Spot the Wooden Actor" (N.B. made-up name) where contestants have to guess which of the reactions to say, a football situation did the fans actually do and which ones were just poorly acted? Correct answers worth points. The champions with the lowest points get chucked out, and corresponding punters win £3000.
Round 3 games were usually quite impressive with things such as gravity-defying "Skybikes". One particular game was called "Rockets", where losing celebrities were thrown 200ft into the air. Straight up. On a bungee rope. Which was stretched. This usually created some sort of funny reaction. Especially if the stunt was rigged up by the same bloke who worked on Noel Edmond's Late Late Breakfast Show (in-joke). Punters win £4000.
The climax (not)
This left one team of celebs remaining, and thus the two lottery ticket winners in that team. But, which of the two was going to win a chance for a big cash prize? Well, that had to wait because they had to do the National Lottery Draw there and then, which tried to make out that the Big Ticket was live. In fact, it was actually intercut with the recorded game, as was the TV Home Play draws which were amicably hosted by Kate Robbins in the guise of a Melinda-Messengeresque virtual reality creation called Bernie.
Big tension time. Who will win? Will it be a game of skill? Dear, foolish reader - of course it won't. The lights dim. The attention gathers towards the middle of the floor while this (rather impressive) combination-lock safe effort slowly raises from the floor until fully vertical. The audience clap.
So, after this £50,000, 30-second effect with full-on lighting and SFX, what do we do? We spin the wheel! Well, not actually the wheel (that would be too impressive). We in fact spin a weedy pointer which looks like a silver-plated rectal thermometer, and subsequently determines which of the two remaining punters goes forth to play the end game. The losing punter gets a puny £5000.
The final player was now faced with six doors, but - wait! Did you think that our punter could influence the amount of cash that he'd win my randomly choosing some of these doors! Hell, no. The celebrities playing on his/her behalf had to do it (eh?) The celebs had to explode five of the six boxes. Whilst one box had £50,000 (hooray!) behind it, another one had £0 (boo!), the rest having values in-between. So, they could win a maximum of £100,000 and a minimum of £50,000. And that's it. For such a large amount of money, an low amount of tension was developed. Impressively low, in fact.
This is a shame because it did have some innovative ideas (or should that be singular?) and Patrick Kielty is a good host with the right format. But, somehow, its whole is only about one-fifth the sum of its parts. It just goes to show that people do really make game shows, and if you break the link between the contestants and what they do to win money, you just don't have a game show.
Here endeth the lesson.
The audience walking out in the middle of four hours of filming.
The time when the computer-animated Bernie "crashed" spectacularly on screen and disappeared. To her credit, Kate Robbins managed to fill in quite well.
No wonder they were using Mac graphics.
The "safe pointer" looking like it was rigged, when in fact it bounced back because it didn't have enough momentum to get over the next "pin" (a bit like the Wheel of Fortune). Good to watch the contestants' reactions, though - "Yes, it's going to land on my space... eh?!?"
The show seems original until you realise that half the games appear to have been a version of the highly respected Die 100,000-Mark Show on RTL in Germany. It's equally inane, but it has some great games and knows how to build up its tension for the big prize
The format of the programme was changed relatively late in the making of the programme. Not enough winners of the scratchcard game came forward, so there was a lot of juggling to do. In particular, each of the four teams were supposed to be made of ten people. This is why the wheel at the end of the game had ten spaces - in the end, they filled five slots with pictures of punter X, and the other five with pictures of punter Y.
Before the programme aired, Camelot's publicity material was hyping it like no other show ever made: "The National Lottery Big Ticket is expected to be the most exciting TV Show and offers some of the biggest cash prizes the UK has ever seen." Actually, the bit about the cash prizes was true - it was the first British quiz show both to offer, and to pay out, a six-figure cash jackpot. It's just a shame that big money doesn't necessarily equal big excitement, unless you happen to be the person winning it.
Special National Lottery scratchcards, unused reels of which are even now gathering dust in a warehouse in Swindon.
One member of the audience reports on the recording.
Part 1 of the penultimate episode.