19 Keys



Richard Bacon


Objective Productions and Crook Productions for five, 10 November to 5 December 2003 (20 episodes in 1 series)


A fairly simple but also quite enjoyable general knowledge quiz with an exciting time=money gimmick.

For no clear reason, contestants stood in the corners of a glass cube with a panel of 19 numbers in front of them. Each number represented one of the nineteen keys laid out in formation on a box in the middle of the cube. Every time they got a question correct, one or more of the numbers on their panel would disappear, eventually leaving just one number alight - the number of the key which opens the box. Wrong answers were punished by having keys relit, which would be the first ones to disappear should another correct answer be given.

For the first fifteen minutes the money for opening the box would rise at a rate of £500 a minute. After the money reaches its peak, it would then spend the next three minutes draining away to zero. At any point contestants can hit their big red button, pick a key and try and open the box. If they're correct, they win whatever money was in the pot. Wrong and they must leave the cube. This is a fairly neat game mechanic, clever players who have eliminated all their keys early can wait for more money but risk other players going for it and lucking out - and on one or two occasions people have won from an 18-1 shot - meanwhile when the cash is draining do you wait longer and make sure you have the right key or cut your nose off to spite your face and risk leaving with nothing?

The rounds are typical quiz fare, and the time limit could possibly be a bit shorter if it wasn't for Bacon explaining the rules whilst the clocks are ticking. Round one lasts for two minutes and is a first on the buzzer affair for one key a question. Round two is played up until the clock hits 5:30 with questions on the buzzer for a key and whoever getting it right getting a bonus question they can answer themselves or throw to someone else they don't think will get it right in the hope that they will lose a key. Round three is the individual time trial, each person gets 30 seconds and gets to choose before the question whether it be worth one, two or three keys (with relative difficulty of questions). The final round is first on the buzzers wins a key but then gets to select the difficulty of the following question as a bonus which everyone can buzz in for. Then it's back to a one-key question again.

Image:19keys richardbacon withkey.jpgRichard Bacon: 18 keys short of a quiz show

Richard Bacon is quite a fun host to watch even if he is not particularly competent technically. We do wonder if having it ten minutes up and two minutes down and letting him introduce the rounds with the clock stopped might have neatened the show up a little bit.

But no matter, because it never came back.

Theme music

Paul Farrer


Richard Bacon on 19 Keys, from a review of the film Planet Terror in The Sunday People:

THERE comes a time in every celebrated artist's life, dear readers, when they make something absolutely no one likes. And I speak from experience - did you ever see Five's quiz show 19 Keys? Course you didn't, no one did. It was a game show that was almost impossible to follow, let alone enjoy. Buzzers, sirens, a prize fund that would go up or down for no apparent reason - imagine being in a pile-up on the M25 with me in the car screaming general knowledge questions at you. That was 19 Keys.
...I don't think Planet Terror will be much of an influence on movie makers unless they want to see a film that flops on every level. And if the quiz show makers are also keen to learn a similar lesson, give Five a call. I'm sure they'll send you the 19 Keys video tapes.
No, that's a joke - they were all burned immediately after transmission.

For the first week, all of the contestants were celebrities, airing a Blue Peter special (Peter Purves, Konnie Huq, Janet Ellis and Mark Curry), a married couple special (Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee and Charles and Diana Ingram), a game show hosts special (Henry Kelly, Nick Weir, Nicholas Parsons and Jeremy Beadle), DJs special (Pat Sharp, Dave Lee Travis, Steve Penk and David Jensen) and newsreaders special (Pamela Armstrong, Nick Owen, Rob Butler and Carol Barnes).

A special game show hosts episode

Web links

Wikipedia entry



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