The result was 'They think Hits all over' (a terrible pun, but I love it!), and I got the help of my friend Richard to make up some buzzers for me. I made up some pukka question cards, and for the first time used my PC and digital sound editing package to neatly edit loads of clips of music together.
I ripped off the format of "They think it's..." from the TV, but with a musical basis instead of sports questions. I think my favourite part was the "Singing Sofa" round, where those sitting on the sofa had to sing a song for the other teams to guess.
So that was 1997. It was still a bit basic, but the groundwork had been set. Make buzzers, have teams, question cards and some sexy sound clips.
The following year, I took it a step further. I roped my friend Richard again to build me a three-way buzzer system - boxes with big buttons that lit up, and were painted into the three team colours Red, Blue and Green - and we called it 'Never mind the Buzzers' (from the TV programme 'Never mind the Buzzcocks'. You knew that - right?)
I also roped in my mate Steven to do all the music questions part for me, and had him in the back/utility room on the night running the quiz from behind (with me out 'front' in the lounge hosting it) whilst my mate James wrote for me a simple PC application which acted as a scoreboard for the three competing teams.
I had a stack load of questions cards, and onto the back of each and everyone one of them, I had stuck on a Fox's biscuits logo. Oh yes, in a moment of silliness, I'd decided that the quiz should be 'sponsored' by Fox's that year, and I put their logo on the invite, on the backs of the question cards, and on all posters all over the house.
And so onto a year later, when we took it up a gear again...
This time we called it 'Family Four-tunes' (The worst pun yet, I reckon), and the only way that we could justify calling it that was to have some made-up winning round where you had to name four songs/tunes by an artist that the winning team picked.
Basically, we just wanted to have the fun of doing 'Family Fourtunes', and it was the only bad pun we could think of.
James got in on the act again. This time, the top man wrote a network-based PC application with Steven controlling the host machine out in the back 'control' room of my house (where the washing machine was!), which sent the results to that familiar yellow-on-black dot-matrix style display, and yes we even had the "Uh uuuh!" sound, when someone got an answer wrong (as well as the 'ding' sound when someone got a secret prize!)
I got my friend Peter to build me a 'Who can push their button first?' buzzer system which people stood side-by-side at, as per the TV programme.
The whole evening was yet again 'sponsored' by Fox's biscuits, and this was the first year that I gave away a few packets of biscuits as prizes.
But all those three were nothing.. not a patch on what we got round to doing for the big big Christmas quiz of 2000 ... "Who Wants to be a Fox's Millionaire?"
I started planning it in June. Yes - 6 months in advance! I took a whole week off work in the run up to the night itself as well, to get the house ready. Actually, to be fair I think one of those days I went and visited the fated millennium dome - but the point was - I was going overboard.
And so we ripped off the Chris Tarrant-hosted ITV show "Who wants to be a Millionaire?", as it was perfect to twist the name in that we wanted and associate it with Fox's biscuits, hence Who Want to be a Fox's Millionaire? was born.
At that time, 'Millionaire' was at it's prime/peak, and I videoed many episodes of the programme and played them back just to analyse how they did the lights, the set and get the exact expressions that Tarrant used so that we could mimic them all.
I bought the 'Millionaire' soundtrack CD. All the sound effects, beds, stings came on one CD! It was marvelous - so we used it to produce audio CD invites - everyone got a 20 minute CD with music, clips, and best of all - we recorded some spoof adverts for it, with a James Bond theme for some reason that I can't really remember, for Fox's biscuits. Yes that's right - Fox's were 'Sponsoring' us again.
Ok, so they weren't actually sponsoring us - but I did write to them in September telling them what I was planning to do and asking them, if they really would like to sponsor the quiz and perhaps provide a few biscuits as prizes? Unfortunately, I never heard back from them - let's face it, I probably got filed in the 'nutter' section, or just had my letter put in the bin.
But we realised that biscuits were the way to go for prizes (especially when you consider that we didn't have a million pounds to giveaway) so myself & Steven took a specific day off of work in October, and travelled north in the UK to find shops that stocked a wider selection of Fox's. And we hit the jackpot in an independent grocery store outside Wolverhampton which had biscuit lines that I'd never seen before! It was a very exciting moment.
James got in on the act again, and wrote me the best scoring application yet. I provided him with the graphics and questions - he fed them into a database, as we emulated a near-perfect 'Millionaire' scoreboard that everyone knows and loves. Again, it had all the sounds as per the TV programme, taken from the CD that I'd bought.
The basic premise was the same - you answered questions and went up the 'ladder' except that we had twelve question (as apposed to fifteen on the TV show), and you won biscuits as you went up the ladder.
We gave people three lifelines, the 50:50 where the computer programme took two answer away, a phone-a-friend (everyone on their RSVP to the invite had to specify someone that we could ring on the night), where we rigged up a TBU through the sound system so that contestants could talk to their 'phone a friend' via a mic without using the phone.
We also did 'ask the audience' - and for this we just gave everyone flippers which you held up with A, B, C and D on them - and if a contestant asked the audience, everyone in the room held up their answer flipper and the contestant made their own mind up from what everyone was showing.
With the prizes .. well - you won biscuits! You started out winning plain/boring biccies at the lower levels, and progressed though packets of chocolate biscuits - up to tins, and then to the ultimate prize - the eight foot long papier-mâché packet of 'Millionaires'.
Yes you read that right - 'The eight foot long papier-mâché packet of Millionaires'.
It took several weeks to make, with the help of my friends. It was modelled on a real packet of Fox's "Millionaires" to the correct scale, and once complete, I cut a small opening in the back and stuffed it full of about 20 packets of actually 'Millionaires', for the winner to discover when they took it home.
To make it, I bought some chicken wire from the garden section of my local B&Q, and made a basic frame. Then I stuffed it full of screwed up news paper until it didn't 'sag'. Then I spent the whole of one Sunday with more old newspapers and wallpaper paste, making a crude paper-mache shell.
I left it to stand overnight thinking it would be dry and ready for painting the next day, but it actually took about four days to dry completely!
The next weekend, I set about painting it, using simple watercolour based paint - blue and yellow, and then mixing yellow and red to get a nice biscuity-brown colour. In the background to this here, can can see the silver podium, which was (by this stage) fully constructed.
On the night, this is what I sat behind 'hosting' (e.g. acting at Tarrant), whilst a contestant sat the other side looking at a PC monitor as the questions came up. We then used a PC-projector to also project this image onto the wall for everyone else (we managed to pack in about 40 people!) to see.
The day before the party we set everything up, with the lighting rig in and the sounddesk in place, and had a run through of how it would all work. In the back/utility room (yes, that's a washing machine you can see there) we put all the gear where my friends Steven & John ran the quiz on the night from. Steven on the lighting desk (at the back), John on sound (blue mixer on the right).
I even had some 'Millionaire' mugs made up (and gave one each to Steven, John and James as a way of saying 'thanks' for their help) as well as the mouse-mat. I still drink tea in this one to this day .. (although it's getting a bit scummy now, as all mugs do over time, don't they?)
On the night of the quiz itself, the room looked damn good, we had the podium, eight foot packet of 'Millionaire', the lights and even a smoke machine which we'd got from somewhere, somehow!
We had the PC projector screen rigged up which displayed the same as the contestant sitting at the podium could see. They sat one side looking at the 'answer grid' - with it on display on the wall behind them for everyone else to see. On 'my side' of the podium, I had another smaller PC monitor inside where I could see what John was doing to run the quiz, and where the questions would pop up.
I'd written some software in the same way that I imagine it would work for Tarrant. I'd ask a question, and would have no definite idea of what the real answer was. Then the contestant made their choice, I'd confirm it as "Their final answer?", and only at that point would the answer be revealed to me on my screen. Then I could string it out for those few seconds before telling them if they had the answer right or not.
We always started on a silly/stupid questions, and then built up to seriously hard questions. In fact, we nicked all the questions from the "Who wants..." quiz books, which were all the rage and in the shops at the time.
When the contestants ducked out - and they 'won' their biscuits, I dished out their 'prize' in the form of a printed cheque - with the picture of the packet of biscuits that they had won on it.
The very first contestant on the night, actually got right up to the question before the giant sized packet of biscuits, but ducked out from answering it. We then went through about 15 people, with no-one winning the giant packet
So right at the end, I put all the remaining name of people that hadn't been picked out of the hat on the night to play, and pulled one out at random, and my friends Paul & Sarah 'won it', to take home, and they had a little trouble fitting it into their car!
About two days after we'd done it, I got a phone call from The Sun newspaper - and it wasn't a windup. Someone had told them what I'd done, and the journo rang up to see if I still had 'the set' all in place so he could come round a take a picture and turn me into the 'novelty' item story on page 3 alongside that days pair of breasts. But alas ... I had packed everything down, and returned most of the equipment, and so it never happened.
Millionaire' as it's now affectionately known was a Christmas party/quiz night that I held & hosted back in December 2000
A Christmas party round my place had sort of become an annual tradition, since I first did in it 1997, and leading up until this the fourth one in a row, it had, each time been improved upon the one before, and so they got better each year.
It all started when I had a music/pop-quiz for my birthday in the summer of 1997. It was a rather hurried affair, I put some clips onto tape, (yes .. cassette tape!) and played them out and gave people pieces of paper - it was all rather basic and simple.
At that time I was living in a small maisonette/flat, and so when I moved to quite a big house in November a few months later, a light bulb went on in my head as I suddenly realised that I now had the space & capacity to host a really good party - do it for Christmas, make it a house warming as well - and put quite a bit of effort into it.