16 March 2012

Treasure Hunt

Skyrunning with Anneka Rice. Destination: a ship at sea? The top of a lighthouse? The narrow deck of a submarine freshly risen from the deep blue ocean? No problem for Anneka and her team or pilot Keith Thompson.

The intrepid Anneka with her intrepid sound and camera men, Graham Berry and Frank Meyburgh.

1982 brought us Channel 4, a new telly channel with lots of fresh goodies - including Treasure Hunt - the first series was filmed in '82 and the first programme on-screen in late December, with the rest being screened in early 1983.

The idea for Treasure Hunt came from France - the creative genius in this case was one Jacques Antoine. In 1980, he came up with the idea for a brand new series called La Chasse au trésor and filmed a pilot episode - which was not intended for broadcast. Much work on the concept was still needed - in the pilot episode there was just a single contestant and no helicopter, plus other differences to the format that would later captivate TV audiences. Refined and honed, La Chasse au trésor was first broadcast on 15 March 1981, and refined and honed further for its second season in 1982. Over here in the UK, with Channel 4 cranking up for its November 1982 debut, it wasn't long before the idea was spotted...

Of course, there were some differences between the French and British versions of the show, but basically all Treasure Hunt devotees owe
Jacques Antoine a big "Thank You" for coming up with the basic idea in the first place.

Anneka Rice, she of the colourful lycra outfits, was quite sedate for the first Channel 4 series or so, as she sped around the British Isles - and occasionally further afield - in a helicopter, looking for clues so that studio bound contestants could win a cash prize. But it didn't take long for her lively personality to assert itself and soon she was shrieking her head off, chattering away ten-to-the-dozen via a radio link with former news reader Kenneth Kendall and the contestants in the studio or, face-to-face, with the general public, helicopter pilot Captain Keith Thompson, and camera and sound men Graham Berry and Frank Meyburgh.

She livened things up no end - a great 'people person' and just what the show needed.

Members of the "Treasure Hunt" team, including Anneka, Graham and Frank and pilot Captain Keith Thompson (far left).

In series one, clue and course setter Ann Meo popped in at the beginning of each show and exchanged some faintly astringent banter with Kenneth. Ann would later set questions for Blockbusters. In series two, Annette Lynton ("Nettie" to Kenneth) joined the show as on-screen adjudicator, plotting the helicopter's course on a large map and keeping contestants informed of the time remaining to complete the course. 

TV-am weather girl Wincey Willis arrived as adjudicator for the 1985 series and remained until the show ended. The show's final season in 1989 saw professional tennis player Annabel Croft taking over Anneka's role as "skyrunner" for some more highly enjoyable outings.

 Kenneth Kendall with two contestants and a floor manager at the Limehouse TV studios. The programme was made by Chatsworth Television.

Treasure Hunt is a show I remember very fondly.

Some fascinating facts about the series from the 1988 Look-In annual...

Each new series involves no less than 13 months of hectic organisation, and the process begins in November when ideas for new locations are considered. Local maps are checked, guide books are read and tourist offices are contacted about any special events which may be happening during filming. The following month, a list of 15 proposed locations is completed after confirmation that general flying conditions in each area are satisfactory.

In January, two of the team set out for an eight-week tour of the locations to see if they look good, to assess the interest of clue sites, and to establish a good route. Approaches are made to secure landing permissions, and the co-operation of site owners.Channel 4 broadcasts an announcement inviting hopeful contestants to write in, then application forms are sent out, and replies considered, in February.

In March, the best 15 courses are worked out and presented to the producer and director, and then the final 13 chosen. From the thousands who write in, 250 pairs of applicants are invited to attend an interview session.

By April, the task of obtaining permissions from all involved at locations is still under way. Captain Keith Thompson, the chief pilot, contacts local airfields to get the go-ahead for landing and flight paths from local air traffic controllers. Contestants’ interviews are held in various parts of the country.

The final selection of contestants is completed in May; one pair per programme plus one stand-by couple in case the first can’t take part. The producer, director, researcher and clue writer are flown to each location by Keith Thompson for a 10-day period to carefully test each idea. A communications expert organises the rental of special telephone lines from British Telecom and talks to the Independent Broadcasting Authority about the use of local broadcast frequencies. Both are crucial factors to the programme; without them Kenneth Kendall and company back in the TV studio would have no contact with the crew out on location.

During May and early June, dates and locations are confirmed with everyone involved, from the police and the Civil Aviation Authority to property owners. Work begins on clues and Chris Gage, the director, organises the Ordnance Survey maps to be used in the studio. Camera scripts are prepared.

The middle of June is crunch time: it’s when each series is recorded over five intense and hectic weeks during which the location crew work and live closely together. With the filming completed, the painstaking task of editing begins in August. And ends in November! By December, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the finished programmes are presented to Channel 4 for transmission.

Although bad weather is a constant hazard, only rarely has a shoot had to be postponed. Such a time was when a sudden, heavy fog descended on the helicopter after a tricky landing made by Captain Keith Thompson in a car park. Anneka had to run into a nearby factory in search of a clue when Keith decided that further filming should be abandoned. Two days later, filming was resumed in bright sunshine, and as Anneka ran out of the factory she said: “My goodness, it’s cleared up a bit while I’ve been in there!”

Anneka has to be prepared for literally anything on the programme. “Malcolm [producer Malcolm “The Captain” Heyworth] often rings me up and makes a casual suggestion that I could learn some new energetic pastime which might be called for in one of the programmes,” she grins. “Last time it was scuba diving. I spent many weeks at the bottom of my local baths with tanks on my back for two hours at a stretch until I mastered it.”

The whereabouts of the “Treasure Hunt” clues are shrouded in such secrecy that Anneka is confined to her hotel until the day of the shoot. The only advance information she has then is the starting point of her take-off!

Anneka has nothing but admiration for Graham Berry and Frank Meyburgh, who never leave her side during recordings. “They have to stay with me every step of the way,” she says, “and theirs is a more strenuous job than mine because they have to carry all their equipment, whether it’s up a mountain or to a rock out to sea."

 The Treasure Hunt book, 1986. From Anneka's introduction: 

People seem to watch Treasure Hunt for different reasons. For some, it is the excitement of solving the clues before the contestants;  for others it is the glorious countryside, and the stunning aerial photography. For us the Treasure Hunt team, the most important part of the programme is you, the audience.

I am constantly amazed and touched by your letters - I've never worked on a series that inspires so much loyalty among its viewers: I recognise some of the names and handwriting from our first series. As long as you  keep watching, we'll keep rnning. Who knows, in 2010 Graham, Frankie and I may be charging around in motorised bathchairs.


maria said...

This was screened in the winter months each year and it was great to get out and about and see the sunshine and scenery! The same with Howards' Way.

Anonymous said...

Loved this programme. I wish they could bring it back.