Happy Families (2)



Andrew O'Connor and Sarah Greene


Mentorn Films for BBC1, 18 September to 11 December 1993 (12 episodes in 1 series)


Two families try and save their grannies that have been sealed away in a cage and winched away on a crane. The only way to save them is by playing games in order to win notches and "crank up their granny!" Quick, call The Howard League.

The problem with writing about this show is that we were all far too interested in Gladiators to notice it, and that sums the show up very nicely. The BBC put it on at the same time and was royally trounced. They made a point about how it was about "normal people", to which the general public cried "who cares about normal people? We have far more fun watching Wolf trying to act and fight with different shaped cotton buds."

The premise of the show was that two families play a series of games. With each game won, their grandmother, who was placed in a cage suspended by a crane, would be raised by one "notch". One of the things we could never really understand about the scoring system is why the teams cranked UP their granny? Surely they should have been at the top to begin with, and with every game won they'd get lower?

Anyway, of what we remember of this show it looked like they'd spent a lot of money on it. It was an arena-type show, very unusual for the BBC at the time and still very much the case. The theme was based on a Knights and Warriors medieval feel.

The games were imaginative, if not quite worked through. First up was an impressive but rather repetitive roller coaster-style game where all the players were in hand-bike powered sky bikes and had to race around the roof of the set picking up each team member in turn. As more people joined the chain, the "train" got heavier but more people were available to power themselves along.

Terror Ball involved strapping in a member of one family into a powered version of those astronaut training devices while they were asked questions about their own family and household. This happened four times during the show, twice for two members of each family.

Inexplicably, the family dog didn't escape the action, because they also had a cringe worthy That's My Dog-type obstacle course game around half-time.

Sticky Mountain involved a relay race for the families, each one trying to scale the top of a mountain covered in Velcro. This game just didn't work because it was impossible to tell how difficult the task was - small Velcro patches and wide-angled shots do not mix.

A dodgem game, where an adult was in an electronic car while he gave directions to a child via a microphone headset. The twist was that the child was blindfold. Phenomenally expensive to build, not as much fun as it could have been perhaps, unless you deliberately played it wrongly. In the words of one former contestant: "I managed to rack up the top score in the series bashing my dad around in it."

One of the best games involved a "roller thingy" (unofficial term) where one family were pulling a roller across the studio floor as fast as possible. The faster the better, for it gave the opposite team - who were in the roller - less time to tilt the roller from side to side and pop a number of suspended balloons. Complicated to explain, quite nice to watch.

In the final round, the players would fill a machine up with gunge and then shoot it at targets across the other side of the studio. Every time they hit a target they'd earn another notch. It was a race to get to the requisite 15 notches and therefore release your granny. The better you did in the preceding rounds, the less you would have to do here. The two teams winning in the quickest time went through to the grand final. The Eliminator this wasn't.

The show was hosted by Andrew O'Connor and Sarah Greene and each week they'd have a different celeb who acted as score keeper and cranked up the grannies, but not even big stars could help the show because the Gladiators had already become bigger stars. Not surprisingly, but perhaps wrongly, this only lasted one series.


"Crank up your granny!"


They spent so much money on the games that the only prize for winning the whole series was a trophy, and you got to keep your Asics shoes. Oh dear. A former contestant adds: The reason the contestants got to keep their trainers was because usually they were full of gunk!


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