Nice To See You...
Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!
Back in the day, the Beeb brought along a sackful of classic goodies for the whole family to enjoy while recovering from too much turkey and mulled wine. Today's offerings are a bit more hit and miss – while Doctor Who on Christmas Day is never a bad thing, the flip side of the coin is that there's lots of unwanted TV presents such as Strictly, Call The Midwife and Mrs Brown's Boys – three programmes guaranteed to get me reaching for the remote.
But I digress.
The Generation Game was a big Christmas cracker in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the 1973 edition is one of the best of the festive editions. It's one that should be more familiar to modern day viewers as it was recently repeated on, I think, BBC4. Actually, maybe this should become a festive staple on BBC4 – get some old Generation Games from Christmases gone by, and it's a refreshing alternative to animatronic waxwork dummies pirouetting around a big floor.
Let's get to the episode itself. Bruce Forsyth welcomes his audience, who are all forced to wear party hats – he says it's the first time that the audience has been seen, although it's a regular occurrence in Larry Grayson's tenure. While each of the audience get a free paper hat, regrettably they don't get a free bit of champagne.
Anthea waltzes on in an odd all-in-one grey number, which doesn't strike me as the most festive of fashions. But then I know nothing about fashion. The Gumby-types seem to like it, before Bruce whooshes them away as they go off to presumably grunt Christmas carols out in the cold.
The festive “eight who are going to generate” are introduced, and up first are...
Jimmy and Victoria (father and daughter)
Jimmy: Was a Wing Commander in the RAF, and was in the RAF for 30 years, having joined when “Pontius was a pilot” (boom boom - “bit of a wit” notes Bruce).
Victoria: PA to a media supervisor in the “largest advertising company in the world”. She once trained to be a cordon bleu chef and also won a contest to find the girl with the most beautiful eyes.
Norman and Nadine (father and daughter)
Norman: A deputy head teacher, Norman liked portrait painting, dog breeding and writing in his spare time.
Nadine: Mum to a four-month-old baby girl, Nadine once studied tap and ballet dancing.
Six singing snowmen shuffle on awkwardly to the stage. Like the Guy Fawkes game in the November 1972 edition, the aim of this first round is to guess the celebrity “singing” Jingle Bells.
I say singing, that's pushing it a little. Poor old Snowman Number Three is especially out of time with the beat.
Bruce reveals the identities of the carolling snowmen, and seems to have a bit of trouble with getting the snowman head disguises off! Two are recognised correctly by both sets of contestants – DJ and one-time Celebrity King of the Jungle, Tony Blackburn, and comedy actor Derek Nimmo. Another wrestler, Jackie Pallo is recognised by one pair, but none of the other three are guessed correctly. Frank Bough comes close with “somebody on Nationwide” and just “F”. “Z-Cars star” is put down for Snowman Number Five, as well as the wrong Z-Cars star, Stratford Johns – but it is, in fact, Jimmy Ellis. No one gets Graham Stark, a common face in the Pink Panther movies – stay tuned for another Pink Panther connection in this edition...
“What an easy game!” claims Bruce, as the contestants are given Christmas crackers to pull.
But if only it was as simple as that. Because the next task is to actually make a cracker. To show them how it's done, a lady called Phyllis Holland comes on with all the materials needed to make the cracker.
She does so with consummate ease to the sounds of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (used as one-off Conveyor Belt music in a future Christmas Generation Game). It seems so simple – bung some paste on the paper, bung in the motto, wrap the paper and card around a tube, take the tube out, add some elastic cord, scrunch it up a bit, and there you have it!
As Phyllis scuttles off to do some marking, the contestants sit down at old school style desks (Norman should feel at home), and to the sounds of that annoying 'Bibbity Bobbity Boo' song, they set to work. Except they find that it's nowhere near as easy as Phyllis made it look.
Phyllis sure doesn't let the spirit of Christmas affect her marking scores, awarding the contestants some of the stingiest marks seen in the show. Bruce is also unimpressed with the results. Holding up Norman's “effort”, which still has the tube inside, Bruce is aghast. “Gawd blimey!” he hollers. “You trying to make a farce of this whole thing?” Phyllis says that the end product is more reminiscent of Bonfire Night, and for merely “sitting there”, Norman gets 1/5. Hope his students weren't watching – you can picture the reaction he'll get when he starts a new term after the Christmas holidays are over.
Norman's outclassed by Nadine, who actually does quite a good job with the contents stuffed inside the cracker – it's enough to get Mrs Scrooge to award Nadine a generous 3/5.
Unlike poor old Victoria and Jimmy. Victoria's done the same thing as Norman, and has kept the steel tube inside. It's probably a good kind of cracker to cosh someone over the head if they don't eat their brussel sprouts as told, but otherwise, it only gets a measly 1/5 – the same score given to Jimmy's ripped, torn and shrivelled attempt. Phyllis sure is a force to be reckoned with.
So after Phyllis has strolled off to find some Christmas cheer, it's goodbye to Victoria and Jimmy, who will probably never be able to look at a Christmas cracker in the same way ever again.
Vera and Bill (mother and son)
Vera: Chiropodist who doesn't wear false teeth. She hasn't brought any fake gnashers along for the occasion tonight. She claims that wearing false teeth gets uncomfortable when bending down to deal with someone's feet...
Bill: Also has a job dealing with smelly feet all day. Chiropodist Bill has been married for four and a half years and has a nine and a half month old son, who loves Bruce's baby talk on the show. Bruce obliges with some more cooing and gurgling and gurning especially for Stephen.
Marjorie and Bob (mother and son)
Marjorie: She's a social worker, who is married to a civil engineer and they have four kids. Marjorie also wants to do a course at Teeside Polytechnic.
Bob: Son Bob is actually a student, in his second year at Hull University, where he's studying plant biology. To help pay those costly student fees, Bob works as a sewer cleaner (causing Brucie to spray the air with aerosol). That joke stinks.
Where would Christmas be without a mince pie to munch on? To show the contestants how to make the perfect mince pie is husky-voiced cooking guru Fanny Cradock and her hubby, Johnnie (and their 18th grandchild, a teddy bear).
Fanny is one of the most vocal demonstrators on The Generation Game, explaining in minute detail how to make the pie. “You talk so fast!” exclaims Bruce, to which Fanny retorts: “I'm two thirds French”. Johnnie does manage to get a word in edgeways when it comes to using the rolling pin - “It's got to be heavy enough to knock me out!” And voilà! The perfect Fanny Cradock mince pie!
The contestants put on their aprons to make a pie as good as Fanny's in only 90 seconds. They also have to distract themselves from Fanny, who's buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly to see how everyone's getting on with the task.
Which they actually do quite well. Marjorie gets off to a good start. Poor old henpecked Johnnie wants to award her 3/5, but Fanny insists that it's a 4/5 effort. Johnnie does get to decide Bob's score, which is again a 3/5.
Bill gets another 3 because he didn't pinch the pastry, but it's still a respectable score. Poor old Vera can only attain a 2/5 as she wasn't quite as quick as the other contestants.
But at least Fanny and Johnnie have been a bit more generous with their scores than Phyllis. And off they go – hopefully in Johnnie's case, he won't be hit on the bonce with a rolling pin.
I'm not quite sure how many of you rip the tablecloth out from under a well-assembled array of cutlery, food and flowers. The average Joe is likely to leave an almighty mess to clean up, resulting in as much Christmas cheer as a day in Albert Square.
But one chap who has the knack is Robert Harbin, and he's here today to show the contestants how to assemble a neatly prepared table of plate, side plate, cutlery, cracker, cup, saucer and ornamental vase with flower. With one quick flourish, Robert grabs one end of the tablecloth, gives it a good old pull... and bingo! All of the items remain on the table.
Like their first task, the four contestants also do rather well with this one. Bill, while a bit forgetful of where to put the items, manages to do a great cloth pull, only dropping the fork. He earns an excellent 4/5. While Vera really goes for it with the manic patter, she also does an impressive cloth pull, but for some reason, Robert only awards her 3. Maybe Vera didn't like his feet.
Marjorie and Bob are on next. While Bob's the weaker link of the pair, only getting 2/5, Marjorie is much better, managing to arrange the table at a “good pace” in Robert's opinion. And with a 4/5, she manages to secure a place in the semi-final for herself and Bob. Bill and Vera go off to enjoy their consolation prizes and tankards, and maybe a crafty mince pie.
Norman and Nadine! Marjorie and Bob! You shall go to the Semi-Final Ball! And being Christmas, that can only mean one thing... Pantomime!
The Generation Game team have selected Cinderella for our everyday heroes to tackle, with the female contestant playing the eponymous heroine and the male playing Baron Hardup.
But first... it's an acting masterclass with some professionals! Oh no, it isn't! Oh yes, it is actually, because Bruce is guiding Cinderella through her woes in a very fake kitchen set as the trusty Buttons. Cinderella herself is played by Lynne Frederick, who would go on to marry Inspector Clouseau himself, Peter Sellers for a brief spell (sadly, Frederick passed away at only 39).
Playing Baron Hardup with gusto is Frankie Howerd, who “Oooooh”s and mugs his way through the skit with relish. Howerd gets to ad-lib some brilliant lines, such as his quip about Bruce “looking old these days”. “No wonder they call him Snow White!”
Cinderella Lynne tearfully asks Baron Frankie is she can go to the ball, to which Howerd manages to fit in at least five incredulous “Yoooooooo????”s. While he thinks it over in his study (“Not exactly Harold Pinter, is it?”), Bruce and Lynne sing a cheesy song called If You Were The Only Girl In The World, but when all hope seems to be lost...
...In pops a masked good fairy, who is none other than Anthea! “That's fairy enough,” puns Bruce to the sound of many audience groans. Before he can provide any more groan-inducing jokes, Anthea tells Lynne Cinders to stand in the fireplace, which revolves around, and in a puff of smoke, who emerges?
Frankie Howerd in drag.
“This is the cheapest show I've been to play in!” he scowls. “Yes, you are pretty,” retorts Bruce. “Pretty ugly!” But before Frankie can also appear as the queen and the ugly sister, the real Cinderella emerges ready for the ball, as all four sing one last burst of the Cinderella song to rapturous applause.
Norman and Nadine are up first to give this panto lark a whirl. The great thing about those old vintage Generation Games is seeing the contestants make a right hash of tasks such as dancing or acting in a play. Norman, at one point, says the stage direction of “Stomps off”. “Gerroff!” grumbles Bruce, as Norman is shoved out of the door.
To be fair though, Nadine's singing voice is lovely, and even Bruce seems impressed. With Miss Shepherd's Bush initially stepping out of the fireplace, Norman in a frock is a far scarier proposition, with Bruce claiming that he looks like Arthur Askey! Both two are very good sports, with Norman doing some excellent “Ooooooooo”ing.
Marjorie steals the show in the second take on Cinderella, and her secret schtick is to constantly whip her reading glasses on and off to read her lines and lyrics. Her hammy wailing and bouncing around in the opening scene is also a joy to behold, as she jumps around like an over-excited kangaroo. Bruce is notably amused.
Bob makes a pretty good fist of his role as the boo-hiss baron, with Bruce commenting that Frankie will be furious because “'ee's better than him!” Crafty miners strike joke included, Anthea weaves her spell for Marjorie to become legendary England football player and manager, Malcolm Allison.
But with a newly redressed Marjorie and Bob (who fits in countless “Oooooooooo!!!”s by the time the final Cinderella song has finished), it's going to be a tough job to decide who goes through to the final.
That decision falls to Frankie, although he insists that he's the messenger on behalf of the producers. While Norman and Nadine get a very good 17, it's Bob''s “Oooooooooo!!!”s that get them to the final with 18 out of 20.
But Norman and Nadine shouldn't be too downbeat, as that thoroughly good egg Frankie invites them to a special performance of his local panto at the London Palladium. They get to sit in the royal box and are invited for some drinks after the performance! On top of that, Nadine gets a fancy box of chocolates and Norman gets a drill (“So you can drill through the royal box!” says Bruce).
Some festive qualifier questions , relating to the Feast of Steven, Boxing Day and the name of the red-nosed reindeer. It's a close call, but it's Bob who's going to be attempting to take home as many Christmas conveyor goodies as possible.
But Marjorie shouldn't be too sad as she leaves with a pressie of an electric toothbrush (good thing that Vera didn't get this gift – sorry!)
On The Conveyor Belt Tonight...
A bit of an unusual one, this, but stick with me as all will become clear. So on tonight's Christmassy Conveyor Belt, we have... A stereophonic record player and speakers... Fanny Cradock's monster mince pie... a cuddly teddy bear... hair curlers... transistor radio for world reception... another cuddly teddy bear... a waffle iron... and another cuddly teddy bear... a camera... and still another cuddly teddy bear... a slide projector... and would you believe it, another cuddly teddy bear... a leather suitcase... and well, blow me down, another cuddly teddy bear... a grill and toaster... and another one of those stereophonic cuddly teddy bears... a food mixer... a coffee pot and milk warmer... and a Father Christmas!
Didn't They Do Well?
Bob's right in there by noticing that seven teddy bears were on the Conveyor Belt tonight. By my reckoning, he gets 12 of the other goodies that aren't teddy bears including a “green thing”.
Clever old Bob won't be going home with seven teddies, as they are being donated to a children's charity. But he won't be going short, as Brucie promises, as he's won the special Christmas Generation Game prize of a Trinitron Colour TV set! Ho Ho!
Bob did well, and so too, did this fun Christmas special which even this old Scrooge enjoyed a lot!