1 9 6 6 – 1 9 8 2 (UK)
1 9 9 9 – 2 0 0 1 (UK)
“Eight lovely dollybirds, eight wobbly jellies and eight Minis”
It’s A Knockout was once described as ‘a competition to perform the pointless in the quickest possible time’. The programme was one of the BBC’s most popular shows in the 1970s, attracting up to 19 million viewers.
First aired on 7 August 1966, the very first It’s A Knockout resulted in a win by Blackpool over Morecambe.
The origin of this TV Olympiad of inter-town rivalry dates back to a 1954 BBC TV programme called Top Town which presented a series of amateur and semi-professional variety performers from different cities in Britain.
It’s a Knockout presented a similar format but this time with amateur athletic teams in crazy costumes competing in absurd games. Commentators were Eddie Waring, David Vine and laugh-a-minute Stuart Hall.
Veteran announcer McDonald Hobley and Katie Boyle were also involved in the very early days, and Arthur Ellis acted as tournament referee for the duration.
The games rarely made any sense and Hall’s explanations usually only made matters worse.
They certainly couldn’t have been designed to help either participant or viewer: “You’ve got a guy here who’s going to go up a slope with a balloon and he’s going to give it to his mate and you’ve got to go like dynamite”.
Each contest consisted of a variety of races and battles in which teams struggled to jump through hoops, climb slippery slopes, or splash through water while dressed as outsize cartoon figures.
There was usually a theme (often medieval) to link events, and a Joker could be played at any time to double the points won in a particular game. The signature tune – Bean Bag, played by Herb Alpert – set the tone for the games, which were played despite the British weather, and frequently featured water, grease and silly costumes.
An international version of the game for European countries started in 1967. Called Jeux Sans Frontières, it was hosted by a different country each week but always in the presence of international arbiters Gennaro Olivieri and Guido Pancaldi.
After a series of international heats, a grand final was held, featuring the top-scoring team from each country. The UK’s first representatives were Bridlington, who took on the rest of the Continent in France.
In 1987 there were adverse comments about loss of dignity when four teams competing for charity in a special It’s A Knockout programme were captained by HRH the Prince Edward, HRH the Princess Anne, HRH the Duke of York and HRH the Duchess of York.
Royal guests stormed out of press meetings when the questioning became hostile and the experiment was not repeated.
Eddie Waring died in 1986. The series was revived in 1999, but did not command the same clout as the original – partly because it was shown on Channel 5, but mostly because it was hosted by Keith Chegwin who, clearly, was no Stuart Hall.
“and Scunthorpe are going to play their joker on this one!”