Chapter 33, main title: FAMILY FORTUNES, sub-title: We asked one hundred peple, 'Name a TV host who isn't going to hang around where he's not wanted if he can hang around where he is.'
In June I was back home and making my first pilot show at the BBC Television Centre in Wood Green, from whence I had crept so ignominiously after 'The Big Noise' had ended with a whimper in 1964. Under the benevolent eyes of chubby (Jim) Moir and the inventive Marcus Plantin, we spent long hours in the Acton rehearal rooms trying to develop the skeletal format that I was now contracted to present. It was a quiz game based on bingo and titled 'Top of the Shop', the brainchild of two cockney lads whose only previous experience of TV had been doing warm-ups for Wogan's 'Blankety Blank'. Creating a successful game show requires careful building, hammering and testing. We tried every possible variation - using six contestants, then three, settling on four; trying bingo cards with sixty numbers, then thirty, finally only fifteen; making it from a single, continuous gane into one that built in tempo through six rounds, then five, at last a mere three with a sudden death challenge for the two front-runners, a notion I disliked. I prefer the end game of a quiz to have the host onscreen with a single contestant in a suspenseful climax, with its timing under my control. Nevertheless, the pilot show was liked by everyone except Bill Cotton, the reigning monarch of popular programming, who told us all to try again.
Plantin suggested a 'golden bingo card' finish. The seed of this idea flowered at once: I'd stand by the winning player as we looked up at a display of numbers. For each correct answer to my simplest questions, the player could pick a number which would then light up as its own cash equivalent or change to a letter. Revealing seven letters amongst the fifteen numbers on display would spell out a 'dream holiday destination' like Madeira, Florida or Bermuda. While a sheme to transmit the shows live and run a national bingo game in conjunction with the Radio Times fell through, we renamed the series 'Bob's Full House' and made a second pilot. This time I loaded the show with gags: opening monologue, funny interviews with the four players, apt one-line jokes after every other answer. Then I dropped the conmedy for the third, knockout round, using three-word qustions to build up speed. A bright, brisk, balding Bishop named John produced the glossy result that had our bosses so fully satisfied that they lengthened the run of the series to twenty-two editions. It ran for six years, attracting the highest ratings, and I adored it. I adored 'The Bob Monkhouse Show' even more.