Series One, Show One. Originally broadcast BBC1, 24th May 1980, 09:30 am.
Elizabeth Estensen. Estensen first came to prominence via Wily Russell’s Beatles musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert in the mid seventies. A leading role in The Liver Birds, as Carol Boswell, would follow between 1975 and 1979. Since 1999 she’s been a regular on Emmerdale.
Fred Harris. A Play School stalwart between 1973 and 1988, Harris was also one of the Chokablokes in Chockablock, a regular on End of Part One (which had spun out of the Radio 4 series The Burkiss Way) and would become one of the BBC’s main IT faces during the 1980’s, presenting series such as Me and My Micro, Micro Live and Electric Avenue.
Mark Dugdale. He’s got a red jumper and a beard. Sorry, there’s not a great deal more biographical information I can share with you.
Gandor (Christopher Leaver), Gnoard (Charmian Gradwell), Darong (Moria Stewart) and the Rangdo of Arg (Ian Messiter).
I know you shouldn’t really think about these things in too much detail, but it’s always puzzled me as to why Moria Stewart is credited as Darong but always introduces herself as Moria Stewart. Maybe it’s because some Argonds, when they take on human form, actually believe they’re the person they’ve “borrowed” their shape from. Or perhaps it’s just a continuity error. After all, Gandor does refer to Gnoard as Charmian at one point …
This show gives us a rare opportunity to see what Christopher Leaver looks like before he puts on the white wig. Would it have been clear at the time that this young chap was also the old butler? Possibly not. Again, thinking about this logically – if the Argonds can assume any shape, why does Gandor take on the form of a young man and then nip off to apply some make-up in order to make himself look older? It surely would have made much more sense just to turn into an older chap to begin with.
We begin at the entrance hall. Identifying the correct combination of colours and shapes will allow them to pass from one side of the room to the other and this same combination will open the door to allow them to gain them access to the next room.
There’s two very different ways of tackling this. Methodical, logical thinking or step and hope. They start well (Elizabeth is quick to spot that you can’t jump across two squares – something which Fred is slower to pick up on). It’s interesting that after a few minutes we cut away to Gandor and Gnoard, busy setting up the puzzles for the next stage. This cut handily covers the fact that when we return to the entrance hall they’re all in a different place (presumably this edit has removed a few minutes worth of faffing about).
Mark sounds like he knows what’s he’s talking about (muttering about geometric patterns) but eventually it seems that they get to the other side more by luck than judgement. When faced with the door lock they’re somewhat baffled, so have to be rescued from this impasse by Gnoard, who skips across the board and opens the door in front of their eyes. They simply have to repeat her door combination and they’re through, although Fred’s not happy. “But why?” he says, as they enter – it’s not enough that the combination worked, he wants to know why it worked. And he’s still chuntering about it a minute later (hopefully somebody set him straight off camera).
Before the contestants enter the next room, Gandor and Gnoard explain some of the tricks and traps they will be encountering for the benefit of the viewers. Everything in this room – a bolt, the clock, a cupboard, a corkscrew, etc – is left-handed. And how do they unlock the door? “Ping-pong balls!” This involves a blower, and three people positioned in exactly the right place in order to bring the ping-pong ball to the top of the tube. Variations on this puzzle would feature regularly during the first couple of series.
Fred’s quick to pick up on the fact that everything’s left-handed whilst one of my favourite unforeseen solutions to a problem comes when Elizabeth is able to reach down the tube and pick up the corkscrew. It was supposed to be inaccessible, so clearly she has very thin arms! Mark’s a bit quiet whilst Fred and Elizabeth are brainstorming – several sudden fade-to-blacks suggest that a fair amount of time where nothing much was happening have been excised.
Gandor, now looking older (although not as old as he’d appear in later shows – his look today is obviously something of a work in progress), returns to give them some blatant help. Given that they’d worked out about the general left-handed nature of the room, it’s a little surprising they didn’t twig that the corkscrew had to be turned the opposite way from a normal one.
Elizabeth is the one to work out that they all have to stand at certain points in order to make the ping-pong ball rise. But how can they grab it? As soon as one of them moves the ball sinks down again. Fred works out that they need a weight to simulate one of their positions and Elizabeth realises that it’s the weight from the clock they need, whilst Mark again doesn’t contribute a great deal.
More fade to black moments suggests that a considerable amount of editing had to be done in order to get something transmittable. The varying durations of series one – this show lasts just under twenty seven minutes whilst the final show is a little over forty five – suggests that this might have been so. No doubt all series one episodes could have filled a forty five minute slot, but if the contestants were slow at solving the puzzles then it wouldn’t have been much fun to watch.
The Vortex wouldn’t debut until series two, but the first series has a kind of forerunner – our trio have to cross back over the entrance hall floor. If they remember how they got across in the first place then they’ve nothing to worry about. If not, then they’re vaporised. They work out that any green square or any triangle is safe. Hurrah! Well done Mark, you came through in the end.
Overall, they was a pretty harmonious team – Mark may have been a little subdued but both Fred and Elizabeth pitched in with plenty of ideas and they all seemed to get on well. Which, as we’ll see in later shows, didn’t always happen ….