And now, from Norwich . . .

Television - As ITV celebrates its 50th anniversary, David Self, who wrote the questions for <em>Sal

And now, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week! And let's take a look at our star prizes. Our first item will please the little ladies. It's a nine-carat gold, bracelet dress watch with a champagne-coloured dial. For outdoor types, we've got a set of his-and-hers matching golf clubs which could cost £799, but you could tee off with them for just £40. And our star prize? A genuine antique television set, which opens up to reveal it's actually an empty drinks cabinet decorated with tinsel to make it look flashy under the studio lights. Yes, it's time to celebrate 50 years of ITV by acknowledging its greatest contribution to the cultural life of the nation, the television quiz and game show. And to tell you more, I would like to introduce myself: the man who never asked the questions, but simply wrote them.

My life as quizmaster extraordinaire began when I was propositioned in a gentlemen's lavatory at Anglia Television. I had just finished recording eight editions of a very cheap, late-night, short religious discussion show.

Question 1: Why did the regional ITV companies make such shows? Was it: a) to evangelise the nation; b) to maintain quality programming; c) to serve the community; or d) to notch up required hours of local programming as cheaply as possible?

The guy at the next stall looked at me sideways. "Would you write me some general knowledge questions?" He suggested a fee. By the time he'd washed his hands, I was a fallen man. In eight years on the game, I set 130 questions a week for 26 weeks of the year; very carefully word-ed, too. Years of being held accountable for either giving away a car by mistake or (even worse) not giving away a car to a deserving punter taught me to be very cagey over the wording of questions. Hence most of them began "Who is generally said to be . . .". But they were very short, very easy questions. Whatever else you might say about Sale of the Century, it had pace.

Question 2: Why was the show structured so there was no time for its presenter to ad lib?

To my surprise, Sale of the Century was not made by cynical young tyros. Its producer was the elderly Bill Perry. He (and senior management) thought it was tasteful. Its audience rarely whooped, and never leapt to their feet. It had a rigid format, from the main presenter (one N Parsons) right down to the immutable audience warm-up routine, in which the late John Benson (the show's voice-over) invariably told a story about a television weatherman apologising for his faulty magnetic symbols.

Question 3: What was the punchline to this old chestnut?

Sale of the Century (known to aficionados as "Sale") is being revived on Saturday 8 October on ITV's Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon.

Question 4: Which one is Ant and which is Dec?

Their series promises to re-cement such formats in the schedules. Their revival of The Price Is Right won 8.5 million viewers, and was followed with Take Your Pick.

Question 5: Where did Quiz Inquisitor Michael Miles (almost always introduced as "Here he is, your genial quiz inquisitor . . .") pioneer Take Your Pick?

Question 6: For a £5 bonus, where did he pioneer the yes/no element?

ITV is already promising to bring back at least one of these shows. Watching exhibitionists answer useless questions is a weird activity. To discover its origins, we must go back to Jane Austen.

Question 7: What did Austen understand by the phrase "the village quiz"?

A hundred years later, the first tabloids (such as the Daily Mail, the Graphic and Sketch) contained "quiz corners", which asked obscure questions and answered them the following day. When the BBC started up, it was sniffy about such concepts. In 1926, it pontificated: "The Board of Governors is, in principle, not in favour of competitions."

Question 8: What, where and when was the first broadcast quiz heard in Britain?

Listeners to this epoch-forming event could participate by collecting cards from their grocer, filling in the answers and posting them in - thus creating an early form of audience research.

Question 9: What was the prize?

Nowadays, money has replaced actual prizes on television quizzes.

Question 10: Why has money replaced actual prizes? Is it because: a) quizzes encourage greed; b) we now have smaller studios and no room for those boats/ motorbikes/mobile homes; c) we no longer accept dolly birds handing over suitcases in swimsuits; d) setting up the prizes is an extremely unproductive use of studio time?

Increasingly, larger prizes are funded by 0900 premium-rate phone calls which are tied in to the quiz format. Even in more innocent times, programme companies could be tight.

Question 11: Why was a Belfast contestant left sitting on a sofa in a Norwich street after a recording of Sale?

The world of the quiz or game show is not immutable. We now have semi-professional contestants who use agencies to get them in front of the cameras. These people are no longer happy to go home with a Teasmade and a cuddly toy, or even a sofa.

But there are signs that the regulators will reintroduce conditions which originally insisted large prizes must reward skill or knowledge, not luck.

And so, it looks as if once again it's time to come on down, remember the clue is in the question, open the box and double your money. So, for the jackpot,

Question 12: How do you copyright a quiz-show format?

Quiz answers

1 (d)
2 Our libel lawyers have removed this answer.
3 "We apologise about the F in fog."
4 It doesn't matter.
5 Radio Luxembourg
6 In Radio Forfeits, South African forces radio, 1943; later on the BBC Light Programme.
7 An odd or eccentric person who lived locally (according to the Shorter OED).
8 The Symington's Soups Film Star Competition Programme on Radio Luxembourg in 1934.
9 A packet of Symington's Soup.
10 (d) It took us a whole evening to record one Sale; now it's common to record several editions of a show in one day.
11 Anglia's policy, succinctly conveyed in the line "Anglia does not pay for the carriage of prizes", meant the winning family was left literally high and dry on the pavement.
12 As Hughie Green discovered to his cost, it's very difficult: there is no copyright in an idea.

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