In the brave new enterprising world of 1990s British telly, deregulation-happy ITV companies gallop dizzily down the gangplank into a Europe that’s freshly open for business, with thoughts of co-productions and syndicated pan-continental franchises dancing in their heads. At the head of the queue is, perhaps surprisingly, the formerly staid Paint Along with Nancy outlet HTV, jumping into bed with various French, Spanish and Italian channels (and, er, Yorkshire) to produce this series of half hour “magical romances” with a twist, a sort of Tales of the Unexpected plus silk sheets and saxophones.
Yep, we’re talking Eurovision drama, morsels of ‘sophisticated’ loving and losing conducted in glamorous hotel apartments, swanky Mediterranean villas and crumbling stately piles, Ferrero Rocher-style overdubbed château shenanigans that had been through so many hands by the time it reached the screen they appeared to emanate from no recogniseable country at all. And they came in two flavours: erotically charged for the Canal Plus set, and tastefully shorn of illicit trappings for the UK, handily plugging a mid-afternoon gap whenever Crosswits took a sabbatical. TREVOR EVE and ROBERT VAUGHN were involved, for their sins. CHARLEY BOORMAN was involved for the money.
Plots were of the standard afternoon matinée format, aside from a few that went decidedly off the rails, for instance ‘Tall, Dark and Handsome’, which combined the ‘lonely hearts’ format with the ‘psycho ventriloquist’ chestnut, as a deranged shortarse with a wisecracking dummy sidekick plagued handsome French women with the titular patently untrue self-description. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the whole sorry enterprise was the mad cod-operatic theme tune, in which two histrionic singers duetted the translated-by-committee lyrics: “Two eyes that flash in the night! You know the vibes are just right! Fireworks explode inside you! Your head is spinning! And your heart is violinning!” There’s a Eurovision entry that would see us romp to victory.
HEY, IT’S 1992 and we’re all European now. So that means we have to sit up to 3am to watch a terrible continental pop culture wrap-up, featuring Nino Feretto, does it? Big on po-faced French rappers inveighing against Nazis, Aids etc. Mainly remembered for dismal interviewing barber, asking dim-witted questions while cutting the locks of that bloke off The Shamen, but most “famously” (a very relative term in this semi-watched netherworld) Oliver Reed. Reed was in a very grim mood and so the interview did not exactly go swimmingly. The questions were like: “So, er..I hear you were once in the British Army..?” “Yeah. Got a problem with that, frog?” At the end the barber made the unwise choice of making fun of his interviewee by putting a silly hat on his “customer”‘s head when he had finished cutting. Reed promptly leapt up out of his chair and beat the shit out of him. The classic Nighttime TV snakebite-addled-teenage-viewer-holding ploy of promising a glimpse of “some tits” later on was increasingly employed as the nation’s youth turned away from the European Union as a valid political idea and towards same as a sort of laugh-at-the-silly-foreigners affair, but with tits (see Eurotrash, but not on this site.)
PAN-CONTINENTAL LATE 80s joke, mainly thanks to ludicrously ambitious Euro-harmony raison d’etre, and much-derided sub-Wogan compere HENRY KELLY.
Original incarnation offered holiday to Seoul Olympics as first prize (cue animation of Olympic mascot swirling a ribbon thing on his head), later series strained to maintain golden theme, hence much ballyhoo about trips to pan for gold in the Australian outback, mentioned by Kelly about seven times a show (and repeated the next morning). Bland as hell, how-many-cliches-can-we-fit-in theme: “The heat is on, the time is right, it’s time for you, for you to play the game, people are coming, everyone’s trying, trying to be the best that they can, when they’re going for, going for GOLD!” The hapless Kelly usually blathered about the 28 nations taking part (handily splitting Britain into England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle Of Man) but no-one ever seemed to mention that the Brits had the built-in advantage of having English as their mother tongue.
Perennial, never-changing format as follows: seven multi-national contestants span round on rotating desk for elimination round, perched behind seemingly metaphorical mushroom-shaped buzzers. Klaus from the Cafe Hag commercial (“Ah, Henry Kelly! Schmells good!”) turned up every day. First four contestants to get a question right progressed to the “first round proper” (eh?), the detritus spinning off to try again tomorrow. Inevitable Wednesday afternoon battle for final place between two remaining contestants invariably cast xenophobic “come on Malcolm, beat the kraut/wop/frog” air across living room/hall of residence/sixth form common room. Four qualifiers bantered uneasily with host: “I am big fan from Imran Khan” quoth one Eastern European cricket fan, while Kelly vouchsafed that “Going For Gold is so popular in Belgium”. Quite. Remaining contestants answered questions worth one, two or three points, with first three to eight progressing to one-minute “specialised subject” round: “I am not so good with the geoh-graf-ey!”. Best two went”head to head” in absurdly complex final, featuring celebrated “Where am I? I am a river in northern Africa” questions as time ticked away “in the big four zone”. Daily winners went on to Friday final, and the whole thing went on for months and months and months.
Shown as part of Reg Grundy double bill after NEIGHBOURS in early daytime schedules, while no-doubt huge airfare bill for BBC was mitigated by pathetically cheap perspex trophy for daily winners. Effect on European brotherhood deemed negligible. Kelly went on to mispronounce composers’ names on Classic FM before being ousted by Simon Bates and his gossip network.