Updated 04th of July 1997

Gareth Thomas in Space Cadets

Channel 4 are showing a series of SF based quizes starting in August, including one program which has Gareth Thomas. Paul Darrow was due to take part as well, but had to drop out when his wife was taken ill.

The following is an extract from Channel 4s page:-

GREG PROOPS takes time out from Whose Line Is It Anyway? - returning for its ninth series - with Space Cadets, a comedy quiz that boldly goes where no panel game has gone before, deep - or shallow - into the trivia of science fiction, with former TV sf icons WILLIAM SHATNER, SYLVESTER McCOY (Doctor Who) and PAUL DARROW (Blake's Seven), comics ARMSTRONG & MILLER, and writers including TERRY PRATCHETT, IAIN M BANKS and ROB (Red Dwarf) GRANT. Also appearing is CLAUDIA CHRISTIAN from Babylon 5, the cult hit which moves to late evening for its latest series.

Space Cadets is going out "6pm on Tuesdays, repeated at 11pm on Wednesdays (after B5) from mid- July. Bill Shatner's on the first one, and Claudia Christian's on the second."

Review of the Event

By Chris Blenkarn

(I've put this together from memory, so it is entirely subjective, almost certainly innacurate in parts and far from inclusive. I shall be writing a revised version once the programme has been shown later this summer. In the meantime, if you want to get a flavour of the evening, I hope you enjoy reading it.)

Monday 16 June, early evening

Arrive home fed up after tedious committee meeting. Pour restorative whisky, remove cat and dog from comfy chair and occupy it, flick through post - Which? magazine survey, gas bill, lots of wonderful free offers, sachet of shampoo... Cat and dog re-establish themselves on my knee as I get to the last letter, which turns out to be a Horizon Newsflash. Gareth and Paul will be recording a quiz show in Glasgow next Monday, for which Horizon has secured a small number of tickets. Anyone wanting to go should ring Diane immediately. Wow!

Take five seconds to work out if I can afford the time and money, dislodge animals and leap to phone. Diane replies, yes, I can have a ticket. Replace phone and give some serious thought over how I can manage this. By happy chance I am going to a lunchtime meeting in Newcastle that day, so I will be able to get to Glasgow without taking the whole day off; we have friends near the tv studios so I can save on hotel costs. Splendid. Thank you, Horizon.

Monday 23 June, late afternoon

My train gets into Glasgow Central with very little time to spare. Our friends have inconsiderately gone on holiday so I've had to book into a hotel. Should I go there first or go directly to the BBC studios? Opt for the hotel, as I'm damned if I'm going to cart a briefcase around all evening. Having arrived there, I discover my watch is fast, so I've time for a cup of tea and a quick phone call home. Son answers, assures me the house hasn't burned down since this morning, and says England were 162 for no wicket a short time ago. Go to reception to order taxi, come back to drink tea and check second innings score on the tv; England have managed to lose three wickets within minutes.Well now, there's a surprise.

Arrive at tv studios dead on time. I seem to be the first. Haven't eaten since twelve so go round to corner shop for an emergency Bounty bar. Go into reception and am promptly sent back to wait outside. Other fans appear, some from Glasgow and others from further afield - Carnoustie, Nottingham, Ipswich - the man from Ipswich is the proud bearer of a BBC Visitors badge, which no-one else has managed to acquire; what is his secret?

We hang about on the pavement as befits our station. Luckily it is a sunny evening, sun-dappled rhododendrons in neighbouring gardens, very refined, not much resemblance to what we see in Taggart (though I once saw Taggart dubbed into French and have perceived it differently ever since). Learning that I have not eaten, the lady from Carnoustie generously offers me a share of her chocolate bar. She has a Bounty too. Have we been subliminally affected by the 1st series episode of that name? Perhaps the next B7 survey should carry a question about fan preferences in chocolate?

We chat and watch taxis come and go, speculating which of them, if any, contain One of Us. Also speculate on the whereabouts of Diane, since she has the magic tickets. Before long, Diane arrives and gives us thenews that circumstances have prevented Paul from taking part, though he may appear in a later edition.

BBC persons now appear to round everyone up and herd us inside. Someone murmurs "And we, like sheep..." - well, we Are in the City of Culture. We are conducted into a large room and given drinks - this is nice! Diane has very sensibly brought along some photos, tapes and other goodies in case anyone wants to get a signature from Gareth, and proceeds to do brisk business in between drinking orange juice. The cigarette smokers go and huddle in a separate room, but very soon we are all on the move again to the studio. This is it.

Unfortunately I left my reading glasses at the hotel, so this account of the quiz is written from memory only. I hope it bears a passing resemblance to what happened. I am sure I have missed things out and put others in the wrong order, but given the general incoherence of the show, I'd guess that my version is likely to be as close to the actual events as the edited version you will see on tv.

We squash into uncomfortable seats on a raised platform with knees touching the seat in front, just like your average community theatre. The set is displayed below us, brightly coloured futuristic boards stretching across the wall with two tables at each side for the teams, and a Davros-inspired seat for the question master in the centre. One table bears the name Stingrays, and the other Thunderbirds. The boards are festooned with plastic tubing and other impedimenta, including a pink floating brain, flashing lights and twinkly bits, more a homage to Blue Peter than to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The components bear a striking resemblance to vacuum cleaners parts, orangeade dispensers, Fisher-price activity centres and prototype microwaves; it's almost worthy to be a B7 set. Several people are swarming around pressing things; one of them looks disturbingly like Chris Evans.

Before the show starts we have to practice clapping, and be nice to the warm-up man. Then Greg Proops, who is asking the questions, walks on and gives us a few scabrous jokes. We demonstrate our clapping expertise. Next (post-Greg Proops PGP?) the team captains are introduced. Craig Charles, in a strange jumpsuit. Bill Bailey, a smiling wild-haired comedian who looks something like a user-friendly Klingon; he too is wearing a strange jumpsuit. We give them some polite, Kelvinside applause. The next three contestants are a comic double act, Armstrong and Miller, and a writer whose name I didn't catch, all in jumpsuits; so they Are compulsory. More polite applause. Then the real star of the show comes on. Hi, Gareth. This time we clap properly.

Before the show starts the contestants are reminded that this show will be going out early in the evening, and that bad language, however mild, is absolutely out. This turns out to be a pity, as most of the really funny bits have to be cut, being unsuitable for children. However I now understand why audiences on tv quiz shows laugh hysterically at a feeble joke; it's because they're really laughing at the one it replaced.

Just as we have practised clapping, the teams have to practise pressing their buzzers. The Thunderbirds' central light bulb will not flash. Technical assistance required. Send for Avon, but no, it's somebody else. He twiddles around and gets it going. Now we can start.

Greg Proops fluffs his lines five words in. He says this is a better start than in the previous week. Cut. Start again. He introduces the guests at break neck pace and with a few more fluffs. The first round begins, a series of quick fire questions including one which asks what BBC sci-fi series began on the same night as Star Wars opened? Gareth says he doesn't know as he was out watching Star Wars. I forget most of the other questions, but note that Gareth has apparently heard of Odo. The Thunderbirds (Gareth is a Thunderbird) score reasonably well, even getting right the difficult B7 question - name three Liberator crew members apart from Blake. The Stingrays know three as well. Pretty amazing stuff.

Gareth gets another question right. We do some more clapping. Quadratriticale (Star Trek - Trouble with Tribbles) comes into play at some point, and Greg Proops has trouble pronouncing it.(I'm having some trouble remembering how to spell it, but neve rmind). He is helped out in crisp tones by one of our number, whom he thanks. My own knowledge of tv sci-fi isn't much greater than that of some of the contestants, so I don't get many of the answers, but then there is a Terry Pratchett question; what is the name of Death's horse? Hey, I know this one! (Binky).

Now we have sixty seconds of questions about Bill Shatner (a previous guest). Gareth reveals a surprisingly impressive grasp of Bill Shatner trivia. Has he been listening to Paul's jokes, or - great heavens - can the contestants be cheating? I am mildly surprised, having never cared for Captain Kirk, that I too know all the answers. Evidently I am a sadder person than I'd thought.

The quiz format is closely related to several other tv and radio quizzes; we've done Countdown, though without its intellectual rigour, and now we move on to "I'm sorry, I haven't a clue". Each team leader in turn stands at the front as a picture of a fictional character appears on a monitor visible to everyone but him. He has to ask questions in an attempt to identify the character, but his team mates may answer only affirmative/negative (Spockspeak for yes/no). Despite getting a series of conflicting answers from his helpful team-mates, Bill Bailey works out that the picture is of ET. Craig Charles does the same with the Joker. His team-mates are even more confusing, and at some point the new word "negafirm" is coined. There are numerous ad libs about Phantom of the Opera, aliens and Sarah Brightman, very few of which are likely to see the light of day. We have already had several re-takes because of funny but libellous comments.

Next, I think, comes a "Have got news for you" - type round. The teams are shown a series of stills from unmemorable films with memorable titles of the "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" genre, for which they have to supply suitable captions. The writer whose name I cannot remember displays an encyclopeadic knowledge of these. The last still shows either a very large two-headed man in dungarees laying flat on his back, or a very large man in dungarees squashing a smaller one. Laurel and Hardy spring immediately to mind - "Here's another fine mess you've got me into." Pity I can't say it, but then Gareth obligingly says it for me. Brilliant!

About now we have to clap twice to indicate the end of part one and the start of part two, and the teams get their brows mopped. We move into "Whose line is it anyway" mode, as each team is shown a short piece of film without sound, and has to substitute their own dialogue. The Stingrays go first, then the Thunderbirds go with a sequence from Dr Who featuring the Doctor and Leila. The round descends into laughing chaos, and the word bastard surfaces, so it has to be done again.

Now it's Call My Bluff. Each team is handed a peculiar object, and each team member gives a different explanation of what it is. The opposing team must guess who is telling the truth. The Thunderbirds have a smallish, blue round object, which Gareth gravely describes as the eye of Davros (for non-Dr Who fans, the creator of the Daleks). I forget what the other two say it is, but Craig Charles makes an executive decision on behalf of the Stingrays that they are all lying in their teeth. He is wrong. The blue ball does indeed come from the head of Davros.

Sometime during the heady excitement, the Thunderbirds have leapt into the lead, possibly after Gareth's incisive answers to the Bill Shatner question, and now Greg Proops announces that they have won. Great excitement from the audience. But the man who looks disturbingly like Chris Evans (Evans is cousin to our daughters French teacher, by the way, but we don't hold it against her) reappears and says they will have to redo the stills caption round. So they do, and the Stingrays, in a bravura display of memory recall, get four more points. That's the benefit of time travel. Does this mean they have now beaten the Thunderbirds? Who knows? Who cares?


We mill around outside the studios until Gareth appears, then move off in search of liquid refreshment. Halfway down the road, we realise a BBC security man is in hot pursuit. The man who obtained the BBC visitors' pass has understandably forgotten to hand it in. He relinquishes it hurriedly, and the security man watches us closely until we have rounded the corner towards the busy Byres Road intersection. We all walk sedately along the path save for Gareth, who is walking in the road on the other side of the barrier. Does this Mean Something?

Shortly afterwards we have installed ourselves in the upstairs bar of a nearby pub. There is ample space and attractive stained glass partitions, but also a loudspeaker transmitting loud moronic sounds right above our heads. Gareth is ensconced in the window, lit from behind by the evening sun, and the rest of us are disposed around a couple of rectangular tables, some on wooden chairs and others, including me, on an uncomfortably low sofa.

We get drinks and chat to one another about B7 and other things. One woman has a copy of the Wrigglesford (or is it Rigglesford, I can't remember) book, acquired second-hand, which has its binding still intact - not many of those around. Gareth signs copies of Sheelagh's vastly superior book, photos are taken, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Snatches of Gareth's conversation drift across from time to time, barely audible above the loudspeaker din. The current advertising fees dispute, how Patrick Stewart got Picard, the iniquitous repeat fees offered by UK Gold, working with Zeffirelli, exotic film locations - Etna, Greece, United Dairies at Streatham, the stranglehold of accountants on theatre production....

(How many accountants does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but he needs two other accountants present to stop him getting over-excited)

Three or four drinks later, I remember I've not eaten since this morning apart from the Bounty bar, but Guinness is good for you. I give up trying to sit comfortably on the sofa and gratefully grab one of the upright chairs when one of us takes her leave. I have a fannishly earnest conversation with my neighbour on our favourite characters, explaining why, if Avon turned up on our doorstep, I would get him to fix the printer but would then auction him off and use the money to convert the loft, so that when Vila and/or Blake turned up to look for him I would have somewhere comfortable for them to stay, preferably forever.

Time I bought a round. Diane and I go the bar and come back fully laden. I try to phone home, but the phone doesn't like my coins. Eventually I have a few words with Gareth, dutifully passing on the greetings of friends who have threatened me with reprisals if I forget. I ask him if he has read the excellent reviews of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and am about to ask if there is any news on his one-man show, when I am distracted by the copy of the new Horizon newsletter that Diane has brought along. It is open at a fetching picture of Michael Keating (well, as any sensible woman knows, all pictures of Michael Keating are fetching, but this one especially so) and I have to take off my glasses in order to appreciate it properly.

Mr Keating is at present rambling in Poland, Gareth tells me, adding that he too likes rambling. So do I, and being mildly inebriated I feel impelled to tell him all about the joys of rambling on Blakey Ridge on the North Yorkshire moors, the problems I'm having with developing arthritis in my left knee, and how helpful my nice new walking stick is in rough country, but luckily someone on my right asks me something and Gareth is saved. Anyway, it's getting late, time to go back to the hotel.

Those of us still present troop downstairs. The lady from Carnoustie and I are staying in adjacent hotels and almost immediately secure a taxi and say a brief good night. Speaking for myself, I have had an excellent evening. Thank you Horizon, and everyone else I met. I hope this account isn't too inaccurate, but if you think it is, you can always write your own, the more the merrier. See you at Deliverance.

Chris Blenkarn

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