It's a knockout was without rival, the very best in family game show viewing. Some may also say that it opened the flood gates for a whole glut of other team based physical game shows such as The Crystal Maze and Gladiators.
The format started off simple. Three teams from various towns of the same county/region battle it out in various absurd races of speed and strategy. In short it was basically a school sports day for grown ups.
By 1969, It's a knockout had been relegated to simply being the UK heat rounds for Jeux Sans Frontiere, (A multi-national version run on the same format), where the winners competed with Johnny Foreigner in even more outlandish feats than the beeb had thought possible.
Being broadcast in Black & White however, the TV viewer didn't really benefit from the fact that each team were adorned in colour coded jerkins and shorts to make them standout from the other contestants. Coupled with David Vine's two dimensional commentary and the fact that the un-intentionally funny judge Eddie Waring was hardly seen the Beeb decided that changes had to be made.
The major change came in 1972 with the arrival of a new more 'hands on' host in the form of Stuart Hall. Hall's arrival along with the lovable Eddie Waring and referee and scorekeeper Arthur Ellis, heralded the start of the 'Knockout' Glory years. For the next 10 years It's A Knockout became seminal Friday night viewing regularly attracting nearly 19 million viewers. Because EVERYONE watched knockout, for 1 hour each week the generation gap ceased to exist as both the old & the young got the same thrill from the buffoonery that unfolded on their Television sets.
Pivotal to this success was the hosts, with Stuart Hall regularly breaking into fits of uncontrollable hysterics at nearly every game so much so that his intended running commentary was seldom delivered. Eddie Waring was the epitome of a Yorkshireman. His job was to do commentary on the weekly Marathon round. Blessed with an undecipherable northern accent Eddie's commentary became just as hilarious as the commentary Staurt Hall had failed to deliver.
Throughout the 1970's the format was changed to bring it more in line with it's European counterpart with the introduction of bizarre foam rubber costumes for some of the games with the contestants dressed as giant waiters or Sailors or even Giant Rabbits, which made for more hilarity and of course more pant-wetting laughter from Stuart Hall.
The 1981 series was to be Eddie Waring's last, as failing health sadly forced his retirement. It's A Knockout continued for one more series with the 1982 season being the 1st and only 'full costume' tournament.
Then for some obscure reason (only known to themselves), the BBC pulled the plug and cancelled It's a Knockout. The laughter stopped, the generation gap widened, people found no enjoyment in Friday nights anymore and street crime rose alarmingly.
Thankfully for It's A Knockout, there was no slump in ratings and no 'fall from grace' (that was to come later), everyone simply just stopped and went home.
In June 1987 the show was revived for a one off 'Royal' It's a Knockout with members of the Royal Family partaking in the tournament to raise money for their chosen charities. Needless to say, the satirists had a field day and the tabloids newspapers laughed themselves out of printers ink. But if you think that was bad, in the late 1990's the BBC sold the format of It's a Knockout to Channel 5 and a new series was made so all three channel 5 viewers could experience how Friday night's used to feel like but experience it on a Saturday afternoon instead. Keith 'Cheggers' Chegwin hosted the debacle while the barely literate Frank Bruno took the Waring role. Thankfully it died the death it deserved and lasted 1 season.
Challenge TV has at last started to show the old Stuart Hall shows and even my kids are now enjoying these shows as much as I did over 25 years ago.
I hope the BBC bring it back one day because they were definitely on to a winner. If they do bring it back however, it has to be with Herb Alperts great theme and of course Stuart Hall as host otherwise it wouldn't be the It's a Knockout we knew and loved.
TV never got better than this.
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