05 January 2014

1980-1986: The Adventure Game - Patrick Dowling And "Alice In Wonderland Crossed With Hitchhiker's"

Welcome to Arg! Darong played Moira Stuart, Gandor played Christopher Leaver and Gnoard played Charmian Gradwell.

Ah, what a delight! Without further ado, let's say: "Nepo emases!" Maddie Smith pronounced it so beautifully! In fact, it seemed that Ms Smith might actually be called Ivy P Daid at one point. Christopher Leaver, played by Gandor, suggested the possibility, but, of course, Ivy was actually Chinese Detective actor David Yip - which is self explanatory if you think about it.

Anyway, back to the main story. In the early 1980s, the vast majority of us knew little or nothing of computers. The subject was a closed book to me and my mates down at the local comprehensive school, and my school didn't have a computer at all. Computers were for scientists, Dr Who, the gas and electricity boards, and posh, geeky, nerdy people most of us knew nothing of as the decade swung into action. But the BBC telly series The Adventure Game featured a computer - and the show is a testament to how computer visuals leapt on during the decade, with the boring green-on-black writing of 1980 looking extraordinarily dated alongside the colourful "virtual reality" mazes featured in later years.

Arg was a small planet of little consequence, often visited by time travellers. The Argonds were a race of shape-shifting dragon-like creatures, who often assumed human form so as not to alarm visitors from Earth.

Whilst being a polite race, the Argonds did get a little bit fed up with intrusions from time travelling Earth folk and, having a regrettable sense of humour, would "nick" the essential time lock crystal from space crafts and set travellers a series of puzzles to enable them to get it back. Whilst we're on that subject, how do you work out how many Argonds are round the pond? I used to know, but I've forgotten!

The ruler of Arg was the Rangdo - "Uncle" to some - who started out in human form but didn't like it so metamorphasised into first an aspidistra then a teapot. "Gronda Gronda, Rangdo!"

The Adventure Game was all so beautifully English! I've been evaporated? Oh, bother! I shall just have to walk home, and it's jolly cold tonight! As the '80s continued, the concept really caught on on Arg with the puzzle fests being broadcast to great acclaim on Argo-Vision, and also becoming cult viewing here on planet Earth via the miracle of intergalactic relays. The show's creator, Patrick Dowling, described it as: "Alice In Wonderland crossed with Hitchhiker's," - as in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Dowling had previously been involved in great telly wonders like Vision On, but there is no doubt that The Adventure Game was his crowning glory. He wrote and produced the first two series in 1980 and 1981, and introduced several episodes of the '81 series. He retired in 1982.

The Rangdo's delight was the Vortex - which saw many Arg explorers from Earth evaporated - but devious use of green cheese rolls could thwart (and infuriate) his Highness.

Explorers included Paul Darrow of Blake's 7 fame, Noel Edmonds of Swap Shop, Barbara Lott - Timothy's dreadful mother from Sorry!, and Rubik's Cube adorer David Singmaster. Actress Elizabeth Estensen confounded the wily dragons by having a hand small enough to fit down a narrow glass tube and extract a helpful piece of equipment, Maddie Smith and David Yip came unstuck after the clock quacked, and Bonnie Langford called the Rangdo "Oh Gronda". She was later evaporated.

 Paul Darrow steps it out. Will he be evaporated?

Of course, as Arg-O-Vision became the most popular TV station on that side of the horse head nebular, the Argond presenters of its top-rated show began to show signs of "artistic temperament" in the studio: Charmain Gradwell, played by Gnoard, ordered Angord, played by Angord, very fetching in her 1980s high fashion ra ra skirt and deelyboppers, to keep out of camera range during a session of the Drogna Game in one episode (the Drogna was the Argonds' currency), and Christopher Leaver, played by Gandor, brought Sarah Lam, played by Dorgan, down a peg or too by evaporating her in the 1985-'86 series.

Former children's TV heroine Lesley Judd, obviously thoroughly bored with sticky back plastic on Blue Peter, turned to the bad in The Adventure Game. Having been a contestant in one show in 1980, she turned up as a "mole" in the 1981 series - posing as a prisoner of the Argonds, but actually out to deceive and delay her fellow Earth folk and, hopefully, evaporate them. She went up a lot in our estimation during her Adventure Game stint. We never could stick goody-goody, fuddy-duddy old Blue Peter.

 Lesley Judd and friend - "Mole, mole, go to your hole!"

Of course, as Rongad would say, things could seems rather sdrawkcab on Arg, but it was all doog yrev (pronounced "doogy rev"). Nodrap?

After Patrick Dowling retired in 1982, the show's director Ian Oliver took over as producer, and was joined for series four by Christopher Tandy. 

Some episodes of this groundbreaking series were, unbelievably, wiped by the BBC, and, also unbelievably, there has never been an official DVD release of the episodes which do remain. The Adventure Game truly was groundbreaking - being the precursor to such series as The Crystal Maze and Knightmare. The 1980 series somehow grabbed my attention ( I was then a hairy, disgruntled teen with absolutely no computer savvy), and the following three series were required viewing. In 1980, when The Adventure Game began, I believed that computers were for eggheads. By 1986, when The Adventure Game ended, I thought they were a passing fad. How wrong I was! But the series, a wonderful combination of wacky problems, sci-fi and whimsy, remains one of my favourites - not just of the 1980s, but of all time. 


Mark said...

Aah excellent :D I loved The Adventure Game and it often crops up in the pub often alas to the bemusement of most people

Peter Gray said...

- had to watch that part over and over again then I twigged it...the butler in his white gloves puts on the table his fingers of the amount its nothing to do with the shape..
how many is there...count his fingers on the table...
Loved this program soo much wish it was on dvd..

Drew said...

Oh, thanks so much for the reminder about the Argonds Round The Pond game, Peter! Yep, that was it! Been watching the Ivy P. Daid/nepo emases episode tonight. Sheer genius!