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The adventure game the vortex
The Adventure Game was a game show, aimed at children but with an adult following, which was originally broadcast on UK television channels BBC1 and BBC2 between 24 May 1980 and 18 February 1986. The story in each show was that the two celebrity contestants and a member of the public had travelled by space ship to the planet Arg. Their overall task varied with each series. For example, the team might be charged with finding a crystal needed to power their ship to return to Earth. The programme is often considered to have been a forerunner of The Crystal Maze.
The programme came about because Patrick Dowling (who also introduced episodes of series 2) had an interest in Dungeons and dragons and wanted to televise a show that would capture the mood. The programme also had a similar sci-fi feel to the work of Douglas Adams, who was asked by Patrick to write the show, as he already agreed to write a TV series of his own radio show The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The first two series were written and produced by Dowling and directed by Ian Oliver, who wrote and produced the final two series after Dowling retired from the BBC.
Arg was inhabited by shapeshifting dragons known as Argonds. As a reference to this, most proper nouns in the programme (including Argond) were anagrams of the word dragon. To avoid scaring contestants, Argonds commonly shifted form, mostly to human, a few minutes before the contestants arrived.
Notable characters within the game included:
The Rangdo, who was the ruler of planet Arg and initially referred to as "Uncle" by the other Argonds. In the first series, his human form was played by Ian Messiter, who appeared as an old professor in a velvet jacket, but in later series he became one of the few Argonds not to appear as a dragon. In series 2 and 3, he became an aspidistra atop an elegant plant stand; he could move around the room and roared and shook when he was angry (the Rangdo was controlled by Kenny Baker). Any human meeting the Rangdo immediately had to placate him by bowing while uttering the phrase "Gronda! Gronda!". In the last series, the Rangdo changed into a teapot instead, spouting steam when displeased.
Gnoard (series 1 – 3, played by Charmian Gradwell), whose job it was to explain the initial stages of the game to the contestants.
Dorgan (series 4, played by Sarah Lam), who took over from Gnoard in the final series.
Gandor (series 1 – 4, played by Chris Leaver), an ancient, half-deaf butler who took the contestants through most of the puzzles and refereed the Vortex and Drogna games. In some episodes, he could only hear when he was wearing his spectacles, which he continually (and conveniently) misplaced.
Rongad (series 3 & 4, played by Bill Homewood), because he was Australian, spoke English backwards and could only understand the contestants if they did the same. His Australian accent was a mild clue to help the contestants realise he was speaking backwards. Noted for habitually singing Waltzing Matilda in reverse, and exclamations of "Doog yrev!" when the contestants did well.
Angord (series 4, actor unknown) was an Argond who never seemed to turn into a human. She always misbehaved when Gandor and Dorgan were checking over the puzzles.
The Mole (series 2, played by Lesley Judd), pretended to be one of the regular contestants but was actually working against them. The actress had been a genuine contestant in the first series.
The look of the characters in Argond form was quite different in the various series:
Series 1: they looked like dragons, and each was rather distinct.
Series 2: they didn't look much like dragons, but were furry, with no tails and mask-like faces, and primarily differed in colour.
Series 3 & 4: their heads returned to looking like dragons, with ruffs, though they had furry bodies and monkeylike tails, and they were almost identical to each other.
The credits for the series listed the human characters as being played by Argonds, rather than the other way round.
The contestants had to complete a number of tasks in order to achieve their overall goal (i.e.. regain their crystal and return to their ship). Many tasks involved the drogna, a small transparent plastic disc containing a solid geometric figure, which was the currency of Arg. The value of a drogna was its numbered position in the visible spectrum multiplied by the number of sides of the figure (though the contestants usually failed to work this out). For example, a red circle is worth one unit, an orange circle is worth two units, a red triangle and a yellow circle are both worth three, and so on.
Tasks which often appeared included:
A mnemonic would be given to the contestants on a sign in the room, together with the actual items it referred to. The challenge would be to "solve" the mnemonic, and arrange the items in the appropriate order. For example, Richard of York Gave Battle would be the clue, accompanied by tokens representing five of the colours of the visible spectrum. The solution would be to arrange the tokens in the order of "Red - Orange - Yellow - Green - Blue."
Interaction with a computer, in series 1 a 2D dungeon-crawl-type game on an HP 9845 Technical Desktop, then later a text chat with an Apple II that generally failed to provide any useful information until the password was revealed elsewhere and entered into the computer, then in series 3 and 4 a pseudo-3D first-person POV dungeon crawl on a BBC Micro to find the password in the maze. In series 3, the players were guiding an alien doglike creature called a Dogran (voiced in a deep Cockney) down his "Dogran-hole" after meeting him in person. In series 4, the radio-controlled dog puppet was eliminated and the players guided an unseen entity speaking in a Scouse accent to find the password "somewhere in the north" of the maze.
Belts around the contestants' waists attached to cords tying them to the wall; there was a predictable function governing the maximum distances of all the cords, which had to be discovered by induction. Drognas could be inserted in slots to increase the maximum distances and make it possible to interact with other items in the room, eventually making it possible to reach a key to unlock the belts.
The Drogna Game, which came in the middle of the programme, giving the contestants their opportunity to regain the crystal. The game is played by two players: one would be a contestant and the other would be a creature known as the Red Salamander of Zardil. This game became so popular that Acornsoft released a version for the BBC Micro home computer, which was written by Patrick Dowling.
The floor is marked out with symbols similar to those described above on drognas; the players stand at opposite sides of the board, and the crystal is placed in the centre.
There is a rule determining whether a user is allowed to move from a particular drogna to another drogna. (One common example is: A player may move to any drogna with the same colour or shape as the one on which they started the turn. For example, you may move from a red triangle to any red shape or a triangle of any colour.)
A player may only move to an adjacent drogna. However, a player may move across multiple drognas in one turn provided they all meet the given criteria. Hence, the drogna on which the player started the turn is not necessarily the drogna they have immediately left.
If a player breaks the movement rule, the crystal retracts such that it cannot be taken.
If a player becomes adjacent to the crystal and it is not taken or retracted, the player may take the crystal.
If, during the move of the player not carrying the crystal, that player can legally step onto a drogna currently occupied by the player holding the crystal, they may take the crystal from their opponent. This is known as the Hargraves Rule.
A player wins by reaching the edge of the board while carrying the crystal.
How many Argonds around the pond. This was a game played just before the Vortex, and was possibly a time filler, if the contestants completed the whole game too fast, as it was not played on every show. Every player had a chance to win, and winners received a "Green Cheese roll" to triumphant fanfare. This Green cheese roll was of use when playing the Vortex. Gandor would compère the game; it would start on a table with a number of drogna inside a velvet bag with draw strings. He would shake the bag and withdraw some drognas and place them on the table, then asking the first contestant "How many Argonds are around the pond?". The contestants would usually either count the drognas, count the non-blue drognas (assuming the blue one represented the pond), or add the sides or points of the geometric figures on the drognas, and fail to guess the right number. The key was that Gandor would place his fingers on the table top as he said "How many Argonds are around the pond?" The number of fingers he would place down on the table would be the correct answer. Most people did not guess the answer, or they would just happen to get it right by accident.
The Vortex (series 2 - 4). This was the last task in the programme. To return to their ship, the players had to jump between a grid of points, taking turns with their opponent, the Vortex. The Vortex was represented by a video-effect-generated pulsating column in series 2, and a computer-generated flashing column in series 3 & 4. If the human player jumped into the Vortex (which they could not see), it would explode and the human was said to have been "evaporated", losing the game and making a long trip back to Earth which had to be walked by foot along the interplanetary highway. While the player could lose by stepping into the Vortex, the Vortex could not move onto the player's space. The important difficulty was that the human player could not see the position of the Vortex on the grid. Players would sometimes be permitted to buy Green cheese rolls or food with their leftover drognas, and this food could be thrown onto suspect squares to test for the presence of the Vortex (repeatedly, if it was not evaporated). Milk used in this way was shown to become evaporated milk. Players would sometimes put their Arg Crystal or drognas down to test the suspect square, but these were never evaporated and did not indicate the Vortex's position. In spite of the Vortex being the most recognizable and arguably most memorable game in the series, the total lack of information for the human player made it a pure game of chance in the later series, when the Vortex usually had the first move and the players have to react to an "opponent" they can't see. In series 2, however, and sometimes in later series, the players got the first move, allowing some strategy that could be applied by encouraging the Vortex player (who would often be one of the team accused earlier of being the "mole", and would be out for revenge) to copy their moves, making it easier to judge where the Vortex had been in order to step on a freshly vacated point that would now be "safe".
Originally broadcast in 1980 on BBC1 on Saturday mornings. Available to buy from the BBC Store.
Repeated in 1980 on BBC2 on Saturday mid-afternoons.
Episode 2: 31 May 1980, 9:32am–10:09am (repeated 4 October 1980, 4:30pm–5:07pm); 37 minutes; Liza Goddard, Michael Rodd, Stephen Cox. This episode is believed lost (though it would appear at least one domestic recording is in existence); it is missing from the BBC archives, and not available as part of the BBC Store season one package.
Episode 3: 7 June 1980, 9:46am–10:23am (repeated 11 October 1980, 4:42pm–5:19pm); 37 minutes; Pat Cater, Maggie Philbin, James Burke
Episode 4: 14 June 1980, 9:35am–10:04am (repeated 18 October 1980, 4:00pm–4:29pm); 29 minutes; Denise Coffey, Dr. Garry Hunt, Toby Freeman
Episode 5: 21 June 1980, 9:09am–9:54am (repeated 25 October 1980, 3:40pm–4:25pm); 45 minutes; Lesley Judd, Robert Malos, Paul Darrow The original recording of this episode was wiped from the BBC archives, though an off-air recording is available to buy as part of the BBC Store package.
Originally broadcast in 1981 on BBC2 on Monday early-evenings. Episodes 1, 3 and 5 available to buy in the BBC store.
Repeated in 1982 on BBC1 on Friday late-afternoons.
Episode 2: 9 November 1981, 6:04pm–6:49pm (repeated 4 June 1982, 4:52pm–5:37pm); 45 minutes; Madeline Smith, David Yip, Derek Gale (this episode is officially missing from the BBC archives, though it is known to exist in private collections)
Episode 3: 16 November 1981, 6:05pm–6:50pm (repeated 11 June 1982, 5:52pm–6:37pm); 45 minutes; David Singmaster, Sue Cook, Philip Sheppard
Episode 4: 23 November 1981, 6:05pm–6:49pm (repeated 18 June 1982, 4:54pm–5:38pm); 44 minutes; Tessa Hamp, Nerys Hughes, Derek Griffiths (this episode is officially missing from the BBC archives, and is not currently known to exist on off air recordings)
Episode 5: 30 November 1981, 6:08pm–6:53pm (repeated 25 June 1982, 4:53pm–5:38pm); 45 minutes; John Craven, Bill Green, Kirsty Miller
Originally broadcast in 1984 on BBC2 on Thursday early-evenings.
Repeated in 1985 on BBC2 on Thursday early-evenings.
Episode 1: 2 February 1984, 5:39pm–6:18pm (repeated 5 September 1985, 6:49pm–7:28pm); 39 minutes; Sarah Greene, Anne Miller, Richard Stilgoe
Episode 2: 9 February 1984, 5:40pm–6:18pm (repeated 12 September 1985, 6:50pm–7:28pm); 38 minutes; Sue Nicholls, Duncan Goodhew, Emma Disley.
Episode 4: 4 February 1986, 6:52pm–7:30pm; 38 minutes; Prof. Heinz Wolff, Deborah Leigh Hall, Ruth Madoc (The broadcast of this episode was postponed from 28 January 1986 due to coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.)