Under Pressure



Ruth England and Daley Thompson


Voiceover: Russ Williams


Initial for Channel 5, 1 September to 10 November 2001 (10 episodes in 1 series)


"PRESSURE! Pushing down on me pressing down on you no man ask for." But enough of Bowie and Queen, this is actually a TV show that's a little bit weird in that it's quite difficult to categorise.

Inherently it's sport based, but at the same time the games come at the sports from an odd angle. Yes, it's Japanese, the original superbly titled "Muscle Ranking".

Each week there's a main event, the winner of which gets to hit The Tower to win up to £5000. There are also littler events interspersed throughout the show. Anybody who wins an event wins a much coveted (apparently) Jim Fixed It For Me badge. Well that's not strictly true, they win a medal with Under Pressure written on it. Lovely.

Big events take the form of giant and difficult obstacle courses. Examples include Super Biker, a bit like Kick Start but without the killer theme. Our bikers have to try and traverse an urban assault course (oil drums, bunny hops ladders and the like) as fast as possible without hitting the ground.

Or there's Domino Run where our intrepid volunteers must brave running across the tops of giant domino-esque bits of polystyrene. And there's also CD Scratcher Notebook Plus which we've made up for comic effect. It's Japanese, see? Ahhh! etc.

The idiosyncrasy is that the leader board has room for distance and time but if two or more people manage to complete the course or get to the same point in the course but in different times then rather than give the win to the person with the fastest time they'll run off again. This seems a little bit silly to us.

The littler events are the same each week and they are these:

Hit the Target - Professional sportsperson is put under pressure to try and hit nine targets with twelve objects relevant to their sport. So for example a footballer will try and hit nine areas of a goalmouth, or a basketball player will try and get a ball in each of nine baskets in 3x3 formation. Each of the targets are numbered and Ruth (roving reporter and Channel 5 newsreader) asks our celeb which one they are going to try and hit. All a bit academic really as any target hit counts, although a second hit in the same place counts for nothing (as when a target is hit it's removed). £100 for every target hit with £1000 if they can get all nine to go to charity. A wide variety of sports keeps the interest up in what is otherwise a pretty simple affair.

A basketball version of "Hit the Target" in progress.
You forget how big mobile phones used to be, don't you?

Keep it Up - I know it's Channel 5 but no, it's not that. Instead, pairs of people attempt to traverse a simple obstacle course whilst keeping a football in the air without holding it. The course is split into two and at various points across the course the person in control has to kick it across the divide to their partner. After the final crossover, the person in control has to aim for the goal. In each heat the best performing team go on the Leader board and at the end of the series the team at the top win £2000. Like many of the events on the show, it doesn't seem like a compelling idea but is impressive to watch when it gets going.

Daley Thompson on the Keep it Up course
On me 'ead, son

Friends Up - This is in fact the best thing in the whole wide world ever. A team of six have to try and hoist four of their own up onto mustard-coloured "sausages" placed at varying heights. They do this by literally throwing their team members in the air "Bumps"-style and, providing they've managed to chuck them high enough, the team member has to grab hold of the sausage for dear life. If the team manage to get people on all sausages (and this gets harder as there are less people to help chuck, remember) the two people left have to run off the mats as quickly as they can and begin a ten second countdown.

Get your legs around that sausage
Hang on a minute... well, 10 seconds actually

The team succeeds if all four "sausage jockeys" (their words) remain on their savaloys after the ten seconds. If somebody lets go during the countdown, the two chuckers have to run on and try and get them back up. Sadly, if one person goes this seems to generate a domino effect whereby everybody lets go. Two teams have a crack at this a week and the two teams with the best performances over the series come back at the end of the series to do it again for £6000. Above anything else this is fun and silly, pure and simple and this makes it our favourite bit of the show.

These games break up the main event into four "bits". We'd have to say that four bits of the same thing in one show is too much. Anyway, the winner gets to play The Tower for money.

This is a nice little end game because it's out and out fun. On a pedestal is a tower made up of blocks. Each block has a monetary value ranging from £250 to £5000. The player takes a hammer (one of three different weights) and has to hit the bottom block out from underneath the tower and they have up to two tries to hit each block out. If they knock the block out they win that amount of cash but if the tower tumbles then the game ends.

Bash that cash

The weirdest thing about the show is that it looks so cheap. There's no denying it. The set seems made up of mats and primary coloured objects and that's about it. The titles and graphics are functional but a bit uninspiring. In essence it feels like the whole isn't quite the sum of its parts.

We wonder if - given its Japanese roots - it may have improved by, say, replacing Russ Williams (TV's Saturday Evening Ubiquitous Voiceover 2001) with some mad Japanese commentators. Or Stuart Hall, whichever one's cheaper.

Also we're not sure the title is justified. We don't know where the pressure actually is. It's hardly "complete this handstand obstacle course or we'll kill your pets" is it? More "you've volunteered, now try and compete this obstacle course or fail and look like a bit of a prat" which isn't quite the same thing.

Overall, the show's "sports casual" style doesn't quite capture the frantic magic of the Japanese original. Still, it's worth tuning in for Friends Up though, and it is generally enjoyable when you get into it.


Based on the Japanese show Muscle Ranking, better known in the UK as Unbeatable Banzuke

Web links

Channel 5


...and there's a £100 bonus for hitting the moving target
The Tower gets cut down to size


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