||"Come On Down" was
the title of a documentary shown on the BBC in
January 1985. In it, Barry Norman went to the USA
to investigate the history of the game show and
he discovered that most of the formats seen on
British Television today were invented over there
in the Fifties. Watching the programme was John M
Lewis, then a salesman for BT. He couldn't
believe what passed for entertainment and
was certain we could invent our own, infinitely
better shows. In a classic tale of "I could
do better than that", John proved he was
|Quiz shows, as we like to call
them, became extremely popular in this country when ITV
began in 1955 and now fill up its schedule
alongside the other popular but cheaply-made TV
product of day-time, the Australian soap opera.
The BBC is keen to follow ITV's example and in 1996
cancelled its classic quiz, Mastermind, after 25 years.
The story on Channel 4
is much different. The very first
programme broadcast on the station back
in 1982 was the word and numbers game,
Countdown, responsible for launching
Carol Vorderman to stardom. Countdown is
still running today, attracting audiences
of up to 5 million people. Hand in hand
for the audience's affections is a
relative newcomer, the brainchild of John
Lewis, Fifteen to One.
Set in what has been likened to
a gladiatorial arena, Fifteen to One is a purer,
simpler kind of quiz which relies not only on a
persons general knowledge, but also requires a
contestant to use tactics to eliminate opponents,
as the title suggests, fifteen contestants down
to one. Like Countdown, it has no need to offer
major prizes or handfuls of cash; there are no
cheesy comedians doing impressions of Mavis Riley
between the rounds and no funny stories are
required of the contestants before they are
allowed to play.
|Fifteen To One was invented at
the end of the 1980s. John Lewis devised an
easily understood format and, using his
experience as a salesman, presented it as a
selling document. He sent it to a handful of quiz
show producers (whose names he'd got from the
Radio and TV Times magazines) and waited. He
received four rejection letters. Two of the
producers didn't even bother to reply. But
fortunately, a man called William G Stewart saw
potential in the idea and bought a two-year
option to develop the show. A pilot show was made
and shown to Shamus Cassidy, a commissioning
editor at Channel 4. He liked what he saw.
||Originally John Lewis had
envisaged prizes, as was in vogue at the time,
instead of points. But Regent Productions, who
developed 15 to 1, changed very little from John
Lewis' original concept. The only major change
was the number of contestants. Initially the show
was 20 to 1, but was cut down in order to fit a
running time of 28 minutes and 10 seconds.
To bring 15 to 1 to its devoted British
audience, from conception, took four years.
Action Time, via John's agent, have ensured
that viewers in Europe also get to play along.
Poland has Ten to One, and in
Germany (SAT 1) they watch Jeden Gegen Jeden (all
|Now that the BBC has axed Mastermind,
15 to 1 must surely reign uncontested
as the toughest of all quizzes. Its audience
accordingly has nothing but respect for the show.
It could easily be argued that Mastermind wasn't
that tough anyway. John says, "15 to 1
is a true test of a person's general knowledge. Not an
exercise on researching and remembering an
|These days, John Lewis earns his living from the media.
He's written four books tied in to 15 to 1 and
is also resident quiz show consultant for, and a
member of The CWA (Comedy Writers Association).
And if the viewers ever tire of watching
fifteen sweating individuals challenging
themselves and each other, John has plenty more
ideas up his sleeve.