On the basis of this detective themed episode it is easy for even amateur sleuths to detect signs of 321's growing popularity, evidence of a cash injection into the budget can be found in the star prizes and the set- now decorated with a few plants and a larger variation on one of those mysterious 'O' shaped symbols that have been menacingly lurking behind the audience- plus the public's fascination with Ted's 321 hand gesture is once again proudly acknowledged in his opening banter.
We can also deduct that the pudding bowl haircut was all the range when this originally aired, returning contestant Jenny sports one, as does rival contestant Pauline, and a few further examples can be sighted in the audience. Of the contestants, only Lynne is not following the pudding bowl trend, but gets the big laugh of the night, when upon being asked to name breeds of wild cats comes up with the answer 'Zebra'. Was it nerves, her husbands' attempt to mime her an answer, or an audience member having a coughing fit, that caused her to come up with that howler of a game show answer? Either way that answer combined with her equally funny backstory about entering a beauty contest-only to fall through the stage- does threaten to steal all the comedy highpoints to this episode from its resident trio of professional comedians.
This trio, collectively known as 'the disrepertory company' originally consisted of Duggie Brown, Chris Emmett and Debbie Arnold. Emmett and Arnold appear to be sticking around but the show is having problems keeping hold of a third member of this team. Brown left after six episodes, seduced away by a part in the short lived sitcom 'Take My Wife', his replacement ostrichman Bernie Clifton was poached away by Crackerjack, and his replacement, the comparably non-entity Dave Ismay has now been succeeded by Mike Newman, introduced by Ted in episode 11 as "a very funny Irishman". Newman's persona, given its most memorable airing so far in this episode's Sherlock Holmes sketch, is of an out of control loon, clumsily stampeding his way through sketches, bellowing uncontrollably, shooting mad stares, tearing pieces out of a carpet, and inspiring worried looks and confusion from his co-stars, as if he has completely strayed from the script. He is not unlike Tommy Cooper in that respect (making it rather ironic that it is Chris Emmett who is given the job of directly impersonating Cooper in this episode) and as with Cooper, Newman's is a routine that plays a guessing game with the audience as to whether his outward appearance as a punch-drunk wildman is all secretly controlled and pre-rehearsed, or the real deal.
You suspect that a fair amount of early 321 isn't going to hold up to scrutiny by today's politically correct standards Newman's self-deprecating 'Irishman' jokes being a prime example- but the use of Debbie Arnold in these shows is a reminder that the pre-alternative comedy world wasn't entirely the domain of men, and in fairness the show does present her as an equal to the male comedians, rather than just their sidekick or foil. The two episodes repeated on Challenge TV over the weekend also see her offering competition to the 321 hostesses in terms of sexy 321 moments, doing a Marilyn Monroe impersonation in the Saturday episode, blown up skirt bit included, while this episode sees her dressed up as wonder woman, a 'one for the dads' TV moment if ever there was one, and no doubt inspiring much Kenneth Connor-esque 'phwoaring' and back of the neck slapping when this originally went out.
Probably the biggest curse laid upon old gameshows when viewed today is that the passing of time robs the star prizes of the glamorous appeal and seductive power they once must have had over Dawn of the Dead era consumerists. Yesterday's high coveted treasures now cannot help looking like today's car boot sale junk. More fascinating from the perspective of cultural archaeological is 321's eye for mod-cons that never seem to have really caught on with the public, and would otherwise be long lost to time. Check out this episode's folded up caravan prize, whose cream and dark orange-bordering on brown colour scheme not only represents the most 'of the period' trapping of the entire episode but also colour co-ordinates with Ted's own checkered blazer and bold orange shirt ensemble for this episode. Another curio, wheeled out as a prize in this episode, is one of a trio of different TV sets, the one in question being uniquely shaped like a theatre spotlight and complete with rotatable monitor again, those never really caught on, did they? Of the other two tellys, the big money one perfectly illustrates the "yesterday's treasure is today's boot sale dust gatherer" theory, the real audience attention grabber here is the pocket sized mini-TV, initially appealing in a sci-fi movie gadget way, but lets face it- the impracticality of watching TV on a screen the size of a large stamp quickly became apparent.
Given the audience's show of awe and wonder over that pocket sized TV though, you have to wonder how they'd react to the knowledge that 36 years into the future people would one day be able to preserve these episodes on shiny, silver discs?
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