The BBC's History Hunt Visits Cheltenham
Brian Jones was the subject of a new BBC quiz show screened on Friday 17th October 2003
During the 1990's, on both sides of the Atlantic and onwards around the world, a phenomenon called Reality TV came into our homes. George Orwell's Big Brother had dramatically arrived in the form of a secure compound imprisoning an assortment of house-guests, all under 24 hour scrutiny from up to forty strategically positioned cameras with nowhere being sacrosanct, not even the bathroom!
Initially beamed into our homes via terrestrial means; cable and satellite soon followed with all three mediums spawning spin-offs taking us to jungles, exotic islands, fame academies and TV studios, where pop stars and instant millionaires were crudely manufactured and created under various guises. Complementing this revolution we also have to mundanely endure home makeovers, garden transformations, antiques fairs, auction houses, house swaps, wife swaps, holiday swaps, hairdressing salons, humdrum quiz shows, Springer-like 'chat' shows and then the ultimate of hypes, 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here'. Finally, and now really scraping the barrel, ITV's new quiz show 'I'm The Answer' secures its rightful place at the bottom of this dreadful barrel.
These programmes are obviously popular and produce great rating's, they must do otherwise the inane producers and TV executives who make the decisions wouldn't continually bombard us, their innocent and often fee paying public, with such absurdities on prime time television. For our sanities' sake we need to ask therefore, whatever happened to those programmes that exercised our brains? Programmes that tested, informed, stimulated and left us feeling enthused and motivated, are they lost forever? No – not all, we lost many but some did survive, albeit in the hinterland of the schedule graveyard slots, leaving us to scrutinise the myriad of TV guides and media magazines to discover just what time of day or night they might be screened. The BBC's new quiz show 'History Hunt' is just such a programme, not only stimulating and entertaining but educational as well, combining comedy with interesting and historic facts on a town or city, the format also includes a competitive quiz element in trying to identify a famous son or daughter of that municipality. However, far from the deserved prime time airing, the five pilot shows ran for a week in the mid morning slot during October. Each hour-long programme featured a range of locations including Torquay, Bristol, London and Birmingham, culminating in Cheltenham on the 17th October. The mystery personalities throughout the week included such prolific names as Agatha Christie, Nell Gwynne, Cary Grant and J.R.R. Tolkien, and Brian Jones was the subject of the final programme.
For the Brian Jones Fan Club it all started earlier this year with a phone call from Siobhan Logue, researcher and assistant producer for, we were told, a brand new quiz show designed by the BBC and hosted by Bill Oddie.
Oddie, well know in the UK for the early 70's comedy series 'The Goodies' and who, together with partners in crime Graham Gardner and Tim Brooke-Taylor brought us 'pop classics' such as 'The Funky Gibbon', 'Black Pudding Bertha' and 'Nappy Love' before eventually moving on to further their individual careers, 62 year old Oddie turning his hand more recently to wildlife broadcaster and twitcher extraordinaire.
Siobhan asked for our help and we gladly obliged. In a series of meetings Pat Andrews and Dick Hattrell gave an insight into Brian's earlier years and of the teenage music scene that developed in Cheltenham in the late 1950's and early 60's, Richard Lovett provided an original letter, written by Brian, which was to be a crucial element in the show. Pat and Richard also helped locate other items of memorabilia for use as further clues in the programme. We were all sworn to secrecy; this original format had never been attempted before and if the subject of any show were to be revealed, it would obviously spoil the element of surprise for the viewers but more importantly might cause the producers to cancel that particular episode; cloak and dagger stuff indeed and, although a certain individual did turn informer, it fortunately never became general knowledge. However, we still anticipated the bad news of cancellation right up until screening.
Siobhan asked Pat if she would agree to appear on the programme and, although her initial response was a polite no thank you (having previously turned down U.K. television appearances to preserve her anonymity) after a great deal of thought, and gentle persuasion from all concerned, she finally agreed believing that now was the time to help raise Brian's profile in such a programme, about their home town. So it was, on a balmy summer's day back in May, Pat, Dick and I met up with the film crew in Cheltenham. The location for filming Pat's segment of the show was to be The Daffodil, a one time cinema often frequented by Pat and Brian in the late 1950's but now a beautifully restored up-market restaurant and cabaret venue. With the big screen long gone, the original stage area these days provides a podium for live Jazz and R ‘n B bands to entertain the discerning diners of Cheltenham. In what was once the projector room but today is a plush bar area, Pat sat somewhat nervously waiting for the contestants to arrive, not knowing what to expect in the form of objects gathered as clues by the guest family playing detective, and hunting out the mystery personality from her home town.
As one would expect from the BBC, the film crew and assistants were extremely professional and as an onlooker I couldn't help but notice how well they put Pat at ease so that when the family arrived, she played her part in an extremely positive and proficient manner. Watching the final edited version of the programme on the day of transmission however, the viewing public have no idea of the out takes and the laughs that we all had in The Daffodil - perhaps one day Dennis Norden might get hold of the bloopers, who knows…….
It seemed an absolute age since the recording of the show but finally the day of transmission arrived. Having viewed the previous four programmes I was familiar with the format, but absolutely bowled over by this episode. Now, one might call me biased but taking a purely objective view I honestly believe that this was by far the best of the five episodes. From the very beginning with Bill welcoming the viewers to Cheltenham, right through to the closing poignant moments in the town's cemetery (where incidentally the hairs on the back of my head stood on end) I was engrossed. Subsequently, apart from one negative comment on the internet, all the feedback that I've received on this particular programme from fans of Brian and others not so familiar with him, have been exemplary and I believe that the BBC should be extremely proud of their efforts, not only with this particular episode but with the whole package.
The History Hunt format basically asks three members of a family to turn detective for a day. Each team is taken to an unknown location in the UK where Bill Oddie and assistant Tessa Dunlop, guide them along a trail which will hopefully lead them to discovering their mystery celeb from that locale. The cameras follow the amateur detectives and at various relevant locations along the way, the sleuths are shown objects as clues (which may be relevant or complete red herrings) as to the identity of their quarry. At each location they may keep one object and towards the end of the trail they get the opportunity to meet a person associated with the mystery man or woman, who'll discuss the clues that they've gathered and confirm or deny their association to the celebrity. As Tessa accompanies the detectives, Bill, in his own indomitable way gives a running commentary on their progress, gives the detectives his own clues in the form of multiple choice questions and gives an in-depth commentary; sometimes comical, sometimes cynical, but always factual, on the historical features of the surroundings.
The full review of History Hunt's visit to Cheltenham is featured in The Brian Jones Fan Club fanzine AfterMath Issue #2. This article covering nineteen A5 pages, including many scenes from the show, was reviewed by BBC producer Ian Pye and researcher Siobhan Logue and it is with grateful thanks to Ian Pye that we have been authorised to reproduce this episode of History Hunt for our fan club members.
Bill Oddie's History Hunt in Cheltenham
60 minutes duration