Do you remember a show where dragons used to kidnap celebrities, and transport them by London Underground to the planet Arg? Where they would be made to play games for the entertainment of a cross aspidistra called the Rangdo?
This was the rough premise of The Adventure Game, a show which ran between 1980 and 1986. The brainchild of Patrick Dowling, the show belonged to an era that brought us challenge shows like Now Get Out of That and The Great Egg Race. The difference with The Adventure Game was that it showed celebrities thinking.
The show was aimed at children but with an adult following, which was originally broadcast on BBC1 and BBC2 between 24 May 1980 and 18 February 1986 in the UK. As mentioned, the story in each show was that the two celebrity contestants and a member of the public had travelled by space ship to the planet Arg. Their overall task varied with each series. For example, the team might be charged with finding a crystal needed to power their ship to return to Earth. The programme is often considered to have been a forerunner of The Crystal Maze.
Some guests took to it better than others – Richard Stilgoe and the frighteningly intelligent Graeme Garden stalked the hallways of Arg, attacking the various puzzles with frightening tenacity, seemingly born to rescue eggs from tubes by inflating balloons, chewing straws and boiling kettles, and worryingly happy chatting to the Argonds in backwards languages or semaphore.
The programme came about because Dowling (who also introduced episodes of series 2) had an interest in Dungeons and Dragons and wanted to televise a show that would capture the mood. The programme shares a similar Sci Fi feel to the work of Douglas Adams – Dowling actually asked Adams to write the show but Douglas had already agreed to write a TV series of his own radio show The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The first two series were written and produced by Dowling and directed by Ian Oliver. The final two series were written and produced by Ian Oliver after Dowling had retired from the BBC.
Arg was inhabited by shape shifting dragons known as Argonds. As a reference to this, most proper nouns in the programme, including Argond, were anagrams of the word dragon. All Argonds shifted shape within the first few minutes before the contestants arrived, most to human form to avoid scaring them.
Notable characters within the game included:
- The Rangdo, who was the ruler of planet Arg and referred to as ‘Uncle’ by the other Argonds. In the first series, his human form was played by Ian Messiter, who appeared as an old professor in a velvet jacket, but in later series he became one of the few Argonds not to appear as a dragon. In series 2 and 3, he became an aspidistra atop an elegant plant stand; he could move around the room and roared and shook when he was angry (the Rangdo was controlled by Kenny Baker, who was also responsible for R2-D2). Any human meeting the Rangdo had immediately to placate him with a bow or curtsey while uttering the phrase “Gronda!, Gronda!”. In the last series, the Rangdo changed into a teapot instead, spouting steam when displeased.
- Darong (series 1, played by BBC newsreader Moira Stuart).
- Gnoard (series 1 – 3, played by Charmian Gradwell), whose job it was to explain the initial stages of the game to the contestants.
- Dorgan (series 4, played by Sarah Lam), who took over from Gnoard in the final season.
- Gandor (series 1 – 4, played by Chris Leaver), an ancient, half-deaf butler who took the contestants through most of the puzzles and refereed the Vortex and Drogna games. He could only hear when he was wearing his spectacles, which he continually (and conveniently) misplaced.
- Rongad (series 3 & 4, played by Bill Homewood), because he was Australian, spoke English backwards and could only understand the contestants if they did the same. His Australian accent was a mild clue to help the contestants realise he was speaking backwards. Noted for habitually singing Waltzing Matilda in reverse, and exclamations of “Doog yrev!” when the contestants did well.
- Angord (series 4, actor unknown) was an Argond who never seemed to turn into a human. He always misbehaved when Gandor and Dorgan were checking over the puzzles.
- Lesley Judd, known as the Mole (series 2), who pretended to be one of the regular contestants but was actually working against them. She had been a genuine contestant in the first series.