11 of our favourite 80s game shows

Take a nostalgic walk down memory lane and remember the TV game shows which had us all gripped in the 1980s

gameshows

by Catherine Ball |

In the 1980s, the TV game show was king with families gathering around the box together to watch contestants compete for prizes.

While many of today’s TV quizzes are screened during the day, game shows were primetime viewing in the 1980s, attracting millions of viewers. But which 80s game shows did you love the most and are there any which you wish would make a comeback?

We take a trip down memory lane and look at the best 80s game shows to hit our screens.

Wheel of Fortune

This 80s game show was based on the American version created by Merv Griffin. The aim of the game was a little like hangman, where contestants would try and solve word puzzles to win cash and prizes, which was determined by spinning the show's famous ‘wheel of fortune’.

The show was presented by Scottish radio and tv presenter, Nicky Campbell throughout the 80s, until Bradley Walsh took over during the late 90s. It was broadcast on ITV for just over a decade, before it finally came to an end in 2001.

3-2-1

When you think of 3-2-1, the first things that probably come to mind are the show’s mascot Dusty Bin and that strange hand signal by host Ted Rogers. The ITV game show started in 1978 and was a huge hit, pulling in ratings of 16.5 million during the first series, and continuing to attract audiences of more than 12 million until its run ended in 1988.

Contestants would answer a series of questions in a word association game to win money for their prize pot. In the final part of the show, they had to try and solve a set of cryptic clues to win a star prize and avoid getting the booby prize – Dusty Bin.

The star prize was typically a big ticket item like a car or a holiday. But if the player did choose the clue which represented Dusty, they would go away with the money they won earlier in the show, a brand new dustbin and a ceramic Dusty souvenir. 3-2-1 also featured a number of variety acts who performed in the middle of the show.

Countdown

The first programme to ever be shown on Channel 4 when it was launched in November 1982, Countdown is now one of the world’s longest-running game shows. Countdown is one programme which has never been about the big prizes – instead, contestants test out their brain power for the glory of being named champion and possibly a teapot.

Pitted against the giant Countdown clock and each other, guests try to form the longest word they can from a selection of letters and then use six numbers picked at random to calculate a specific total. In the final round, the contestants have a go at the Countdown Conundrum – trying to find the hidden nine-letter word in a two or three-word phrase.

While it is currently presented by Anne Robinson, the 1980s was all about Richard Whiteley, who was the host from the first show right up to his death in 2005. Richard was assisted by maths whizz Carol Vorderman who used her lightning quick mental arithmetic skills to demonstrate the correct answers for the numbers game.

Blankety Blank

This 80s game show was presented by not one but two TV legends – Terry Wogan, who hosted from 1979 to 1983, and Les Dawson who took the helm from 1984 to 1990. Blankety Blank featured six celebrity guests who had to fill in the blanks of a phrase, usually with hilarious results.

The show featured two contestants whose job it was to match their answers with those given by the celebrities. The statements usually involved questionable double entendres, leaving the audience (and probably the producers) slightly terrified about how people might choose to fill in the blanks.

As it was a BBC game show, the prizes were famously a little stingy as the corporation felt it was in bad taste to spend huge amounts of licence payers’ money on things like cars or holidays. The most famous thing contestants might walk away with was the consolation prize – a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen.

Give Us a Clue

The format for Give Us a Clue couldn’t be simpler as it was literally a televised game of charades. It was hosted by Michael Aspel from 1979 to 1984 before Michael Parkinson took over as presenter until 1992.

The ITV show featured two teams of celebrity guests – the men’s team was captained by Lionel Blair and the women’s team by Una Stubbs in the early series and then Liza Goddard. Each player had around two minutes to mime whatever was written on their card for their teammates to guess. If the team failed to get it right, the opposing team would be given the chance to guess and win a bonus point.

The show originally had the same theme tune as the children’s TV show Grange Hill, although the Give Us a Clue version was a slightly more laid-back arrangement of the music. This was swapped for its own unique theme tune in 1981.

Blind Date

Unlike most game shows which are all about winning money or prizes, finding love was the ultimate aim of Blind Date. Hosted by Cilla Black from 1985 to 2003, three singles would be asked questions by a member of the opposite sex trying to work out whether they would be a good match.

The contestants would be separated by a giant screen and would only see each other when the ‘picker’ had chosen who they wanted to go on a date with. The couple would then choose an envelope and reveal where there date was going to be – this could range from a glamorous holiday abroad to a wet weekend in Bognor.

The show would also feature segments showing how the couples from the previous show had got on on during their dates and they would be invited back for a debrief with Cilla. The show’s success was largely down to the popularity of Cilla and the way she engaged with the contestants and Graham Skidmore, the voiceover artist lovingly referred to as Our Graham.

Bullseye

This darts-based gameshow saw pairs of contestants – one who was good at the darts, the other with a decent general knowledge – compete to try and win prizes, including a mystery star prize which was often something like a caravan or speedboat.

Presented by Jim Bowen, Bullseye ran from 1981 until 1995 on ITV. It was famous for a number of catchphrases and an obsession with scoring 180 on the dartboard as well as the show’s mascot Bully – an anthropomorphic bull.

Contestants would win prizes by throwing darts at a special prize board before deciding whether to risk them all to try to scoop the top prize. If they chose not to, the opportunity would pass to one of the losing teams.

Strike It Lucky

Hosted by comedian Michael Barrymore, Strike It Lucky ran on ITV from 1986 to 1999, although for the final three years, it was renamed Michael Barrymore’s Strike It Rich. Its contestants were often quite eccentric and Michael would spend quite a long time talking to them about their outlandish lives at the start of the show, often to the audience’s amusement.

Three teams of two would compete and the format of the show was similar to a board game brought to life. One contestant in each team would answer questions, while the other would move along a path of TV monitors, pressing a button to reveal either cash, a prize, an arrow or a hot spot.

The players would be given the chance to bank a prize or continue their turn to try to win more but if they landed on a hot spot, they would lose anything which wasn’t already banked. The final round saw the winning team play all 30 monitors to try to win a large sum of money.

Family Fortunes

Family Fortunes is one of the longest-running prime time UK game shows, initially running from 1980 to 2002 before being revived in 2020 by Gino D’Acampo. The first Family Fortunes host was Bob Monkhouse, who presented the show until 1983 before he was replaced by Max Bygraves. Les Dennis then took the reins in 1987 and remained the host for 15 years.

Two competing families would be have to guess what 100 members of the public had said in a survey carried out before the show. For example, they might be asked to name something which lived under water and contestants would have to try to give the most popular answers.

The programme was perhaps most famous for its giant board where the answers would be revealed and the uh-uh noise which would result if the contestant said something which wasn’t on the list. At the end of the show, two members of the winning family would each be asked same five questions, with the aim of giving the top answers given by the public. If they scored more than 200 points between them, they would walk away with a big money prize.

Play Your Cards Right

Hosted by Bruce Forsyth, this game show based on a deck of playing cards, ran on ITV from 1980 to 1987, although it was brought back in an updated format in the 1990s. Like Family Fortunes, the format involved a survey of members of the public and contestants were expected to guess how many people had said a particular in response to a question.

Once the first team had guessed, the second team would have to say higher or lower and whoever was right would get to play their set of giant playing cards first. Once they started turning over their cards, they would have to guess whether the next card was higher or lower with the aim of getting to the end without making a mistake.

Play Your Cards Right was well known for Bruce’s catchphrases, which included “Nice to see you, to see you nice” and “You don’t get anything for a pair, not in this game.” The overall winners of each show played for a car during the 80s but the 90s version had a cash prize up for grabs instead.

The Price is Right

Based on an American show with the same name, The Price is Right was a huge hit in the 1980s and relied on the ability of contestants to guess the right price for a number of consumer goods. The programme ran from 1984 to 1988 and was hosted by Leslie Crowther.

During the show, products would be described to the contestants and they would all take turns into trying to guess exactly what the retail recommended price for each item was. Whoever got the closest would win the prize, which was often pretty mediocre.

The final round of the show saw the winning contestant trying to guess the value of a whole host of prizes referred to as the showcase. A rebooted version of the show was hosted by Bruce Forsyth during the 1990s.

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