WILLIAM GLADSTONE STEWART has enjoyed a television career of two halves.
Up until the mid-1980s he stayed firmly behind the scenes. Stewart produced and directed a huge number of light entertainment shows, including sitcoms like Bless This House and Father Dear Father (even directing the latter’s big screen spin-off, and we always like seeing him listed on IMDb as a proper film director).
He also oversaw quizzes, and became the first producer of Family Fortunes. In 1984 he brought The Price is Right to British screens, which was the first time many of the brash aspects of American game shows had been seen on UK television. A huge furore ensued, with the show being taken off air for a few weeks while Stewart and his team leavened proceedings with blandness. This didn’t stop him continuing to warm up the audience by rushing around in a pink bomber jacket while Land Of Hope And Glory blared from the studio speakers.
But aside from those lucky or misfortunate enough to witness such scenes, Stewart remained a complete unknown to the general public.
Then in 1988 a quiz idea was submitted to his company and he decided not just to produce it, but also step out from behind the camera to host.
Fifteen-to-One went on to run for, aptly, fifteen highly acclaimed years.
Much of the show’s success was doubtless down to William G, who was quite unlike any other quiz host. He brought a unique firm but fair manner to his role. He was not averse to the odd quip, but at the same time tolerated no messing about and always ensured the quiz was the star. He even sued a contestant who came back under an assumed name in contravention of the rules.
The format was certainly sturdy enough to provide brainteasing fun at teatime, but Stewart’s eccentricity made for some notable moments.
There were the elaborate classical artefacts given away as prizes, or the Senior Citizens Board charting the show’s oldest viewers, or the occasional bits of banter with some of the familiar returning contestants.
The best bit, however, was always when the quiz ran short and there was a bit of time to kill. On such occasions William G would either discuss his specialist subject, the Elgin Marbles, or chat about the show in general. This led to a special “Scrapbook” edition devoted to odds and sods that had arisen from viewers’ letters, including explaining how the team put the show together and even giving us a primer in the binary system.
In 2003 our man thought it was time to call it a day and Channel Four decided, rightly, Fifteen-to-One couldn’t carry on without him. And so this most amiable and consistent of quizzes sadly left our screens, with William G going into semi-retirement, occasionally popping up to talk about moments from his long TV career.
So go away, Bill, enjoy the summer holidays and come back and see us in the autumn. Or whenever’s good for you.
THE DEFINING ROLE: A man whose Wikipedia page announces that his catchphrases include “That’s it for today, we’ll be back tomorrow, see you then” has got to be worthy of a place in this list. Fifteen-to-One was ace, and it would have been rubbish without him.