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Candid Camera was originally created in the USA by Allen Funt and translated to the UK during the 60s.
The basic premise of the show was simple and oft-imitated (albeit in an inferior way . . . did someone mention Jeremy Beadle?) – Lead unsuspecting members of the public through humorous and usually humiliating situations and film them with hidden cameras.
The puzzled participants were finally let in on the joke when they were told “Smile . . . you’re on Candid Camera!”
Funt’s unique idea, catching people “in the act of being themselves,” began on radio as Candid Microphone in 1947. The following year the programme moved to television.
The very first TV version of Candid Camera featured Allen Funt as a waiter in a restaurant who served only one dish, Liver. Not as memorable as the talking letterbox or the motor-less car but cute.
He was frequently joined by guest hosts such as Arthur Godfrey, Durward Kirby and Bess Meyerson.
A syndicated version of the programme containing old and new material aired from 1974 to1978 and aided by his son Peter, Funt continued to create special theme episodes (EG: Smile, You’re on Vacation, Candid Camera goes to the Doctor, etc.) for CBS until 1990 when The New Candid Camera, advised by Funt and hosted by Dom DeLuise went into syndication.
Low ratings finally prevented King Productions from renewing the show for the 1992-93 season.
In 1968, Funt also produced his first feature-length movie, the hidden-camera study of sexuality, What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?
His other credits included 40 movie shorts for Columbia, three books; Eavesdropper at Large, Candid Kids and Candidly, Allen Funt, seven albums and more than 100 sales training films for major corporations.
Candid Camera came to Britain in 1960, with pranksters like Arthur Atkins and Jonathan Routh, and with Bob Monkhouse as the first host. The show preyed on gullible Brits for seven years, setting up over 6,400 hoaxes.
It briefly returned in 1974 with Peter Dulay at the helm. Viewers sent in a thousand ideas a week, the vast majority of which were taken by the victims in good spirits. But Jonathan Routh had a couple of scrapes.
A former heavyweight boxer, Sid Richardson, gave him a black eye, adding “I think it’s a rotten programme”, and another aggrieved soul chased Routh with a crowbar.
On one occasion the show proved expensive for Bob Monkhouse when he tried selling £5 notes for £4 10s in Blackpool. “I thought nobody would buy them – they’d think the money was counterfeit. The only way I could convince Candid Camera to try the idea was by offering to use my own money. Unfortunately, I did a roaring trade. In half an hour I was sold out – and £50 out of pocket”.
Classic hoaxes on the British version of Candid Camera included running a car downhill into a garage forecourt and filming the face of the mechanic when he found there was no engine in it, and the cake factory woman who tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to cope when the conveyor belt was run at double and then treble speed.
The show also became a favourite for criminals, who posed as Candid Camera workers to cover up suspicious behaviour while carrying out burglaries.
Jonathan Routh and his team were looking suitably furtive one day when a police car suddenly roared up ready to arrest them; unknown to them they had been filming near a bank and had been reported by an alert citizen.
Thereafter the police demanded to be told when and where the Candid Camera team were filming their practical jokes.
One escapade that backfired badly followed Peter Dulay appearing to eat a goldfish (really a slice of carrot) from a tank in a dry-cleaners shop in front of horrified customers.
A woman telephoned to say that after watching the programme her small son had gone in the next room and eaten their goldfish.
Allen Funt died at his home in Pebble Beach on 5 September 1999 at the age of 84. He donated his entire Candid Camera film library to the psychology department of his alma mater, Cornell University, in order to share his insights into the human psyche and his work with the students.