“Well, Jacob, you’re currently about twenty-six years behind schedule…”
It’s time for me to start gushing over game shows once more. With all the talk of The Crystal Maze and my own revisiting Interceptor, I naturally came to another show made by the same wonderful production team – Chatsworth Television – Treasure Hunt.
A team of two contestants, based in a London studio, guide a ‘skyrunner’ and her helicopter around a course of clues and ultimately treasure, which spans many miles. They have no visual contact with the skyrunner, but can hear and talk to them using an impressive network of telephone lines, communication equipment, helicopters and headsets. With just forty-five minutes of game time, it’s a race against the clock and the pressure is really on both ends to get your skates on, use your wits and the books (it is 1982 – no internet!) on offer, and work out what on earth each clue actually betrays, find the next one, and move on.
Each clue solved banks a few quid. If the contestants direct the skyrunner to the elusive treasure before the time expires, they win £1,000.
The show was pitched to Channel 4 and the opening series was in the can before the station had even begun broadcasting; it had long been eyed up by the network’s first commissioning editor, Cecil Korer, whose follies therein can be totally forgiven, given that he snapped up not only Treasure Hunt, but also Countdown, both of which observed from their growing success in France, and both of which would in due time become flagships of the burgeoning Channel 4’s schedule.
Differences were abundant, however, to its French counterpart, La Chasse Aux Trèsors, devised by Jacques Antoine. The French show initially relied on only one clue for the entire play period, though this was later changed to three – still pedestrian, compared to our five. The French skyrunner was a man: the late Philippe de Dieuleveult, pioneer of the jumpsuit (or, on other occasions, pleasingly skimpy shorts), who did all sorts of wacky stunts for the show; I imagine his charming and bubbly way was largely responsible for blossoming the format’s international success. I don’t have a clue what he’s saying most of the time, but it’s clear he was a natural with people and you can clearly see where our skyrunner got her inspiration from (sartorial and otherwise).
Ladies first, men just before: jumpsuits and jolly waves all round with French skyrunner Philippe de Dieuleveult, and the UK’s Anneka Rice
We didn’t have the pleasure of Philippe, sadly, but we definitely weren’t short-changed. We had the incredible Anneka Rice, a stunning blonde twenty-something of supermodel complexion and ample back end who, through this programme, introduced the UK to lycra. It was rather a stroke of luck that Rice even found her way to audition for the programme; it was a mistake on the part of her agent, apparently unaware that Channel 4 were after a male sportsman. Were it not for that foible, Treasure Hunt could have been very different.
Anneka’s appeal was clear from the get-go. Those who used to call Treasure Hunt ‘a load of arse’ were probably alluding to the work of Anneka’s mischievous cameramen, and not the quality of the show. Cheeky shots comprise the main of just about any episode of Treasure Hunt; Chatsworth gunning for the tricky male audience, there… and evidently, it worked. Matched with her wit and zestiness, it was a killer combination.
There were the oh-so-British touches: the studio portion of the show emanated not from a typical game show set, but from a plush and comfy drawing room, complete with skylights, fireplace and replete with books. The contestants were guided from ignorant oblivion by the host, ex-newsreader Kenneth Kendall, whose unflappable and dapper persona made a pleasing contrast to the young and lippy Ms. Rice. The rapport between the two only grew as the series progressed, and it was most enjoyable to witness.
Watching the repeats of the early series on Challenge recently, it’s clear that, heavens, it did take a while to perfect the flow. In the first series Kenneth is alone with the contestants and the huge map in front of them, prodding a helicopter marker around with a giant stick to try and monitor Anneka’s progress. For series 2, he was partnered with a woman by the name of Annette Lynton, who seemed rather uninterested in doing much other than pouts to camera – maybe she was just unimpressed with the cheap air hostess uniform they kitted her out in? It’s hilarious, really. “You are four minutes and five seconds behind schedule, and YOU HAVE TEN MINUTES LEFT.” Pout pout pout. Too funny. Needless to say, she was gone after only one series, and later, Kenneth was joined by the legendary Wincey Willis, whose role of sticking magnetic arrows onto a wall-mounted map was pointless, but warmed the show up no end with cuddly, throwaway ‘banter’.
The show was up from there. The hunts became more adventurous. Anneka was diving into a weaning pool of seals (seals!!!), going deep underground in tin mines and taking part in races at Brands Hatch. Locations darted back and forth, around the world; from New York to Norfolk, Somerset to Singapore. The timing and placement of the clues had been refined, and as such, the show could become edge-of-the-seat stuff as Anneka charges around with the minutes and seconds relentlessly ticking away, or likewise it could just leave you frustrated at the contestants for failing to surpass clue three. Because you could obviously have done better.
“Have you got a clue?” Anneka often interrupted some impressive pursuits as they were more often than not where the next clue was hidden. In this case, some Russian dancers – who don’t speak English, and don’t seem to have a clue what’s going on (as was usually the impression). STOP THE CLOCK!
Like its stablemate, Interceptor, it’s noted that Treasure Hunt‘s staff doth protest a bit much. Kenneth swore blind at the top of almost every episode that he did not know the clues’ locations in advance – he delivered that with his trademark credibility, but just a bit too often. As such, my doubt heightens… but of course, these pillars were laid down to necessity. The hunts had to be doable, indeed – there was a dummy-run by the production team (without Anneka, who genuinely did not know of the route at all) several days before the main shooting, and it’s curious how often a passer-by Anneka happens across just happens to know the answer to the clue the contestants have been set. Kenneth later evolved into more of a third contestant, particularly if the original two were hopeless, though amusingly some still ignored his rather blatant nudges towards the correct regions (“Oh look what I have found here… a page referring to exactly the person mentioned in the clue!”), and still tried to send Anneka twenty miles off the edge of the map. There had to be some element of restraint.
Anneka dashed around with her cheeky camera clique – another novel facet to the show, actively acknowledging and commending the crew on screen (and rightly so! Think how difficult it must have been to chase after Anneka while lugging all that camera equipment!) and continued to perform ever more daring feats of endurance and skill in the hope of bagging the contestants the cash; leaping from the helicopter into the North Sea, to almost being killed by racehorses (she is clad with sound equipment and headset all the way through, so ambient sound doesn’t exist to her). As the stunts went up a notch, so did the number of viewers, and so did the press attention. The sleazy tabloids clamoured for excuses to print pictures of Anneka and her backside, earning the show more fans in the process. Rice stayed with the show for six series, leaving in 1988 to a beer-sodden rag in the face in Clywyd. Yeesh. What a way to go.
The aforementioned Annabel Croft was drafted in as ‘guest’ skyrunner in 1989. The show fell flat. There was no rapport. Every member of the public Croft encountered (and screeched at) asked where Anneka was. Chatsworth gave up with the show after that series, transferred to ITV and did Interceptor, a similar concept with a comedy villain, then returned to Channel 4 with Richard O’Brien and the wonderful Crystal Maze.
It went so well, but for an unfortunate little blip at the end… but still, even at its weakest, a fantastic show. It put a totally new spin on the role of the player. It was a controlled realm of chaos; contrived, but earnest – there was still plenty of room for error, and there were no retakes once the time had started. It was reality TV in its purest form, but undeserving of a cold shoulder for that. This was brave, new, intelligent, and outrageous, and it paid off tremendously. Treasure Hunt is symbolic of all that Channel 4 used to be. How about another revival?
Also, can we get Anneka Rice back on mainstream TV, please? I don’t care if she’s not interested. Make it happen.
There are tons of episodes on YouTube, if this should sound like your bag. Here’s one of my favourites – the 1985 Christmas special from Florida. Generally I prefer exploring the British settings more than the overseas specials, but this was an exception. With circuses, dolphins and Disney World, it’s a lot of fun.
I’ve already bored you witless talking about Interceptor, so we’ll not do that again. Next time, I shall send you to sleep with the story of The Crystal Maze.