Although the likes of GamesMaster and Bad Influence have retained lasting fame, a more obscure part of the 16-bit TV landscape was Games World, Sky One’s post-GamesMaster attempt to capture the teen boys’ demographic. Games World ran five days a week before The Simpsons*, and was in general terrific, which is one reason I’m writing about it. The other reason is that, being broadcast on Sky, not many people got to see it.
The show essentially was split into three different parts. The meat and potatoes of the show were Monday and Wednesday’s editions – tournaments in which kids (almost always boys, naturally) would compete against each other in a series of elimination bouts. These were co-hosted by comedian and Win, Lose or Draw stalwart Bob Mills and a games journalist, usually either Tim Boon, whose ill-fitting suit and back-combed hair made him look like a photocopy Mills, or Dave Perry, the only man who wore a bandana in the 90’s more often than Axl Rose.
The finalists from each of the two days, dressed in fly winner’s bomber jackets, would then face off against each other at the beginning of Friday’s Beat the Elite episode for the chance to compete against the Videators, ludicrously costumed adults (actually just older teenagers) meant to represent the pinnacle of gaming talent, on various games betting hypothetical money on each one. The contestants with the highest cash scores in the end would then face off in the series grand final.
As the subsequent success of Twitch has proved, it’s really fun watching other people play video games, which in itself made the format extremely entertaining, though obviously, the Videators were the best part of the show. Each of them had ridiculously elaborate personas and backstories (The Persian Prince of Perfection! Colin the Console Cowboy! Proto-Polyphonic Spree member The Games Messiah!), and seemed to be played by amateur actors armed with surprisingly decent comedy schtick. My favourite was Master Moriarty, a rich, spoilt Little Lord Fauntleroy figure decked out in boater hat and public school uniform who was younger than most of the contestants.
The most effective of the Videators was Mr Mavers, the Megabyte Millionaire, though in the show’s lore the best was Big Boy Barry, an obnoxious fat boy stereotype dressed halfway between Ali G and Uncle Phil in dashiki attire, and who proved so popular that Tuesday’s edition was soon given over to him completely. BTV was ostensibly a micro-budget sitcom interspersed with the kind of magazine elements you’d get on GamesMaster – reviews, news (read out by a newsreader who may or may not have been played by Julian Barratt) and tips, which were doled out to schmoes by the Games Mistress (erk!), a sophisticated sex-kitten pin-up figure played by Jet from Gladiators.
BTV’s sitcom element revolved around Big Boy Barry and his scouse assistant Charlene, who would bully and humiliate their general dogsbody, Leslie Luncheonmeat – a camp übernerd played by David Walliams in the kind of early role actors try to forget. Which is unfortunate, because as YouTube evidence will show, Walliams was hilarious. Bewigged, spectacled and bucktoothed, cringing and mewling like the abuse magnet every playground dreamed of, he performed with a Nicolas Cage-like absence of vanity and almost without fail outshined anyone else around him, despite being in what was basically a festival of overacting all round.
And that just leaves Thursday, where Games World tried to cash in on its young viewership. Remember premium phone numbers? Thursday consisted of head-to-head challenges where the players could compete from home using touch tone phones, as long as they were willing to pay the obscenely high charge to get on the line in the hope they’d be chosen. The phones clearly weren’t good enough to use as joypads and the first 30 seconds of each game would obviously be spent trying to work out which numbers were the direction buttons, which made the whole thing boring to watch. Inevitably, one day a kid from our year at school managed to get on and play, which led to me wasting my pocket money over the next month or so trying to get on air.
Nor was that the end of the disappointment. Despite sending in applications several times, I couldn’t get on the tournament edition of the programme and had to be content with tickets to a taping, where the illusion of television was forever shattered by the realisation that the studio was essentially a medium-sized garage somewhere, and that having bigger kids stand in front of you meant you saw less of the action than you would at home.
In any case, Games World didn’t last that long – only three years or so, with BTV unable to maintain even that length. It didn’t matter much anyway; my family stopped being able to afford Sky, which meant Games World was relegated to the peripheral, just like pre-reality show MTV, The Box and pre-irony Cartoon Network, all of which probably deserve their own articles. Nevertheless, for both its greatness and its sense of time and place – the opening sequence alone might be the most ‘90’s’ thirty seconds ever committed to film – Games World deserves its place in the pantheon of nostalgia TV.
*I think. It was a long time ago so take any of the specifics in this piece with a pinch of salt.
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