Last week saw the return of The Crystal Maze to Channel 4 as part of their Stand Up To Cancer night of fundraising. It was only while watching that I yearned for that big game show. Yes we have the likes of Wipeout and Ninja but there was something special about The Crystal Maze at the time.
The producers, Chatsworth, had already had a massive hit with Treasure Hunt in the 1980’s. The format for Treasure Hunt was simple, Anneka Rice was somewhere in the UK (later the world) in a helicopter with a film crew (Graham and Frank..yep, I still remember their names) and Kenneth Kendal, who had retired from reading the news, was in the studio like a genial grandfather with a couple of contestants. It was then revealed where Anneka was and they had to solve a series of clues and direct Anneka to the treasure. Of course this was done using just good old fashioned books, as the series predated the Internet by a decade. So armed with a library of books, a rudimentary knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system and a helicopter they set off to find the treasure (which from my knowledge was never anything spectacular).
The thing that always struck me about this show was the scale. The BBC was doing Blankety Blank while little old Channel 4 was using helicopters. Chatsworth followed this up with Inteceptor which was like Treasure Hunt but with tennis player Annabelle Croft being chased by the interceptor who had to shoot her. That sounds a bit creepy now that I have written it down. Anyway, Treasure Hunt was actually a French format and the producers went back to France to steal, sorry, adapt another one of their game shows, Fort Boyard (yep, that Fort Boyard). The only problem was that the fort was busy, so in 2 days they tweaked the format of Fort Boyard to come up with the Crystal Maze and went on to build a set in an old aircraft hanger. If Treasure Hunt had scale with its helicopters, this had it with one of the most iconic and ingenious sets in game show history.
Every week, 6 complete strangers in jumpsuits were dragged around the various zones by a slightly manic, slightly menacing Richard O’Brien playing games, collecting crystals and trying to avoid getting locked in. The series ran for 6 years and at one point was the highest rated show on Channel 4.
The reboot last week was good, but alas a pale imitation of the original. Stephen Merchant was host and had shaved his head, so looked like Richard O’Brien in the hall of mirrors. His only problem was he was a bit to genial. He lacked that undercurrent of menace that a bald man in tight trousers and a leopard skin frock coat should really have. The other thing that was lacking was scale. The original maze set was dismantled in 1999 (perhaps they thought it would be affected by the millennium bug) and so this was a new set. However I kept catching glimpses of office ceiling tiles, which just didn’t work in the Aztec Zone. It was only at the end that I discovered that it was actually filmed at The Crystal Maze Experience; a new tourist attraction in London which obviously has been built in an old office. Presumably when the budgets are slashed they will film the next series of I’m a Celebrity Jungle Maze at Thorpe Park.
The celeb contestants were good sports; Josh Widdicome was geeky; Rio Ferdinand was sporty and Michelle Keegan was…errrr….glamorous? Saying that, it did remind me how good the games were, so perhaps like the reboot of Porridge this may breathe life back into an old favourite. If it does go to a full series though…please, spend a bit of money and lose the dropped ceiling.