GamesMaster II: The Wrestling

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[Part One]

Growing up a wrestling fan in early 90’s Britain, you had to take what you could get. Nowadays, you’d have to retire to free up enough hours for the endless dreck they’re pumping out, but back then, everyone had to wait their turn for the VHS tape off the one kid in their class who had Sky. But while we didn’t have the matches, what we did have were plenty of promotional appearances, which were so weird, awkward and wild, the resulting footage was usually 18 carat TV gold.

The WWF lads regularly showed up on Saturday morning kids shows; often in character; often hungover; and always confused. There are myriad incidents that those who witnessed shall never forget; Scott Hall the drunkest anyone’s ever been on Live and Kicking; IRS — an evil taxman — taking questions, in character, from a bunch of nine-year-olds; Bret Hart really, really enjoying an early morning wrestle with Zoe Ball in her tiny PVC shorts. Hulk Hogan was a frequent guest on the circuit, cheerily telling Richard and Judy wrestling was fake (an unthinkable crime back then), or demonstrating transatlantic language differences when promoting his latest movie, by informing Terry Wogan “Mr. Nanny’s looking for fanny!

01

One regular stop for these most concussed of all celebrities was Channel 4’s GamesMaster; so much so that (depending on how this goes down), I may have to examine their appearances in two parts. We begin with episode seven of the first series, airing on February 18th, 1992. These inaugural shows were held in an old church with an impressive gothic spire, and opened with choral monk chanting, and Dominik Diamond sat at a giant organ, which in later series, he’d definitely have turned into a gag about having an enormous nob. There’s more of that spooky green light from Uri Geller’s appearance, while smoke’s pumping into the cavernous space of St. Paul’s Church in London, which was laid in 1846, and since converted into a private nursery.

Here at the dawn of GamesMaster, Diamond is at his most boyish, with the happy-go-lucky affability of a legitimate children’s presenter. His voice is notably an octave or two up from the gruffer tone he’ll eventually adopt, like the unexpectedly high-pitched “hiya” one emits when bumping into an acquaintance in the street. So too, the links are lacking in trademark cynicism, as with his earnest introduction of “the man who put the M in Microchip, the GamesMaster!” Having flashed back from our visits to the later shows, it makes you wonder how it might’ve gone for other hosts, had they taken up the mantle. Would Andi Peters or old ‘Pip’ Schofield, after a couple of years watching kids in big shirts play through the first level of Ecco the Dolphin, have grown out evil-twin goatees and formed every link around allusions to blasting hot spunk out of their cockholes? However, even in his early form, Diamond’s still dressed like Dracula’s butler, and does include the phrase “soft and moist” in his intro.

02

As it’s the first series, the titular GamesMaster’s in his generic phase, with a warped, flickering Moore wearing an 8-bit helmet connected to a metal tube, against a background of flames. His first challenge is to attain 5,000 points on Robocod.Don’t forget to use the hydraulic stretch-body!” warns Sir Patrick Moore CBE HonFRS FRAS. Diamond picks three challengers out of the audience; a pair of girls and a boy with a ponytail, having to hunch with one hand on his thigh to speak to the smallest, in perhaps the most child-friendly tableau of the series. So’s not to get hints while the others are playing, the kids are made to stand facing the wall like the end of Blair Witch, and noticeably, the boy hurriedly tucks the back of his shirt into his jeans, lest he get told off by his nan for being a scruff on telly. Up in the pulpit, co-commentator Dave Perry’s yet to establish his persona, sans bandana, and as all three children die (in the game), no golden joystick is issued.

On this week’s reviews, the droning journalists set a fine historical example of how human beings behaved before everyone was trying to get themselves noticed all of the time. A man who looks like a 1960’s occultist sells us on Monkey Island 2 with “there is a lot of amusing text in there,” while Alien 3’s reviewer appears in a little picture-in-picture box, with the dead emotional tone and camera angle of someone filming a goodbye message on the toilet while waiting for an overdose to kick in. “There are 15 levels like this,” he says, “all with different graphics, um… and… there is a big monster in each one.” Meanwhile, a convivial Diamond lists the top five “funky soundtracks,” including Betty Boo’s Magic Pockets theme. I tell you what, whenever Betty was on TOTP, there was certainly some magic going on in my own pock–[a striped crook emerges from the wings and pulls me offstage by the neck]

03

But the celebrity challenge is why we’re here, with WWF Wrestlemania Challenge on the NES as the battleground between a small boy and World of Sport legend, Kendo Nagasaki. Kendo marches in like Darth Vader, in full samurai regalia, and responds to Diamond’s questions — “can I call you Ken?” — with complete silence, like a massive prick. A white guy from Shropshire called Peter pretending to be a mystical, mute, Japanese Samurai, you might think he and Dom had been larking about in the green room before the show. Nope. Fastidious about never breaking character, Kendo was notoriously a right barrel of laughs working sporadic guest appearances on small wrestling shows over the last couple of decades. He’s lightened up of late though, taking off the mask to shatter kayfabe in his autobiography, and in news stories where he’s evicting the parents of murdered fusilier, Lee Rigby.

Anyway, Kendo’s ‘manager’ Lloyd Ryan shoves his way on as a mouthpiece, and the game can begin. Wrestlemania Challenge is known for its terrible controls, and both characters aimlessly wander about the ring, kicking and punching at the air, unable to even meet each other. Kendo has so little idea of what he’s doing, they might as well have given the controls to a cat, and at no point during the match does his character face the right direction. As the boy beats him, Kendo throws his controller down in rage, with Lloyd Ryan making a big show of losing — “I think we’ve been conned, and we’re not staying here!” — storming out to a chorus of boos. Good stuff. Conversely, when GamesMaster‘s hooded monk presents the winner with the Golden Joystick and a toy WWF replica belt, he responds with a polite “thank you” that’s so loud and firm, one can vividly picture his mother’s reminder as he left the house, so’s not to disgrace the family on television.

04

Three episodes in to my GamesMaster recaps, I’ve just realised the tips section is a pun; the Consoletation Zone. Every kid on here, wanting to know how to find the whistle on Zelda or some shit, is as comfortable on camera as the Joris Bohnson guy. Final challenge is Megadrive side-shooter, Thunderforce 3 on ‘mania mode’, which is what I go into when I’ve got to write 5,000 words in two days about Noel’s Telly Addicts. The game really showcases Diamond’s series one restraint, bypassing dirty comments on a section with “a very tight passage,” and a boss with a great big helmet. His co-commentator wears a red baseball cap, which is jarring in a current timeline where it’s the equivalent of rocking up in a Klan hood. They play up the impossible nature of the challenge, which the kid does indeed fail, so well done, I guess? Post credits, there’s a phone number for the GamesMaster club, at 48p per minute (in 1992 money, too). If I’m paying that much on a call, I want Thatcher’s screams piped in live from a direct line to Hell.

Next, we’re into series 3, in an episode airing on the 1st of February 1994. Series 3 is notable for the absence of Dominik Diamond — in storyline, having burned to death when series 2’s oil rig exploded — only to return the following year, after a unanimously negative reaction to his replacement; future Rocketman director, Dexter Fletcher. Fletcher was criticised for being too loud and obnoxious, with over-the-top, laddish energy, forever yelling, jumping, and leering right into the camera like something that should be sat on the guttering of a church, sicking up rain water. My mate was at a taping for this series, and when we watched the tape back to try and spot him in the background, we found that whatever moment you freeze-framed, it would always land on a ludicrous rubbery-faced close-up of Dexter Fletcher. We made a game of it in the end, to see who could pause on the most grotesque and annoying still. I had another go while I was writing this.

05

Five more points for Millard. The first part of series 3 was shot at Oxford Prison, which was re-opened halfway through shooting, causing a hasty move to Clarkenwell House of Detention. Clarkenwell went onto feature in an episode of Most Haunted, where one of the crew claimed to have been slashed by a ghostly razorblade, which luckily left no visible wound. Phew! The Fletcher series is marked by its egregious sponsorship deal with McDonald’s, with the famous logo opening its credits, where the McDonalds M morphs into the M from GamesMaster. It’s this partnership which Diamond, whose brother was a fervent anti-McDonald’s campaigner, cited as his reason for leaving.

Unlike the airy industrial spaces we’ve seen so far, everyone’s crammed together down in the dungeons; all brick archways and steel prison bars. Fletcher’s in a grey jumpsuit, and being cockney on a level that would make even Danny Dyer beg him to turn it in, you pilchard. “ALLO,” he yells, “AND WELCUM TO GAMESMASTAH TEEM CHAMP-YUNSHIP!” Not only with Diamond’s absence is this series the attic-chained cousin of the GamesMaster canon, but half its episodes are eaten up by a tournament, with 27 teams of gaming teens, competing — no, sorry; “SLOGGIN’ IT AHT… KEEP WATCHIN’, AWRIGHT?!” Even for the modern Dickens here, it’s genuinely hard to get across in print how colossally annoying Dexter Fletcher is. Imagine Craig Charles on Cyberzone, except instead of yelling “awooga!” every five seconds, he’s literally never not pumping his arms, geeing everyone up to cheer and clap, or pushing himself so close to the lens, it legally qualifies as a home invasion. He carries himself with the energy of a Muppet who got sacked by Jim Henson after getting caught up in football hooliganism.

06

Fletcher lurches down the aisle, greeting audience members with “AWRIGHT, MATE?” before the first team come out. Fowey Force; a group of lads in red baseball caps, arms folded and all serious looking, like those viral pictures of Russian kids trying to look hard at underage disco nights. “WOSS YOUR NAME?!” he barks. They’ll be competing against Laser Force, in green caps, and forgoing the night’s Force-theme, the yellow-capped Questers. Challenge one is 45 seconds on a rollerblading game, as Fletcher introduces “ME OLD MATE,” Dave Perry, yelling “GET READY, MATE,” at player one, like a rival firm’s about to start rushing them with broke bottles.

Each kid has a CV of gaming achievements, which Perry cuts down like those office braggarts who definitely jumped their BMX over the river once, when they weren’t even trying, but don’t believe you’ve been to Spain. One reckons he can complete Turtles on the first go, “but he doesn’t tell us if he’s a nancy-boy easy level player or not!” Perry’s commentary is lost beneath the simian hooting of Dexter Fletcher — “THERE’S A CAR COMIN’!” and “S’GOOD TO HOLD ONTO THEM VEHICLES, INNIT?” With neither man deigning to stop fucking yelling and neither listening to the other, it’s like a bad satellite link, except they’re stood right next to each other. “HAW MUCH TIME’S GAWN? FIFTEEN SECONDS GAWN!” Does Fletcher even realise he’s wearing a mic? That he’s on TV? “SLOW DAHN, YOU NUTTAH!

07

Next, Fletcher announces the winners of a ‘Room of the Future’ contest in a bad American accent like his one from Press Gang. For a room of the future, I’d imagined a cloning lab or a wooden Fleshlight, but the winners each get a console — Amiga 32, Philips CD-i, Atari Jaguar, 3DO – basically all the infamous tech failures the Angry Video Game Nerd makes skits of himself dropping wet diarrhea on. In this week’s reviews, there’s an all-time bad simile by one of the games journos, regarding a basketball game where “they stumble around like geriatric marvel superheroes.” So… like normal athletes?

Thank the maker for ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, of all people, who spins and twirls his way through the packed dungeon, in a glittering green tassled jacket, sunglasses and a cowboy hat. Randy had unbelievable charisma and was always amazing value on this things, like being called Randy Pandy the Puppet on Live and Kicking, and tipping Trevor and Simon right off their sofa. For a game of Rage in the Cage on the Mega CD, Savage picks an opponent out of the audience; a girl named Bertha, who Fletcher immediately refers to as “B.” Bandana-clad Dave Perry, who might best be described by Alan Partridge as “he likes American things,” cuts the old ‘wrestling is fake’ promo on Randy, who’s playing as himself, vs. Bertha as Crush, who Savage was feuding with on WWF TV at the time. Randy’s character doesn’t move for ages, and when they cut back, he’s looking down at his controller like someone waking from a 20-year coma to headlines about President Trump’s piss tape. Even if he did know what he was doing, in the darkness of an ill-lit dungeon, and wearing sunglasses, he can’t see, and — as all celebrities do — he gets annihilated by a child.

08

It turns out Randy Savage is the one man capable of shouting down Dexter Fletcher, who’s left to stand holding his mic like floppy Pelé at an orgy, as Savage asks Bertha to be his real-life tag team partner and does his classic spiel; “together we’ll be the tower of power, too sweet to be sour, funky like a monkey, sky’s the limit, space is the place, Bertha and the Macho Man!” Randy raises Bertha’s hand; “I’m so happy, man” she says. Me too. The final heat of the team challenge sees Laser Force unveil a choreographed move of all folding their arms and saying “Laser Force!” which genuinely makes the other team too nervous to speak when Fletcher prods them with a “OOH, SERIOUS BUSINESS GUYS! WHAT’S GONNE’R ‘APPEN?” He squashes his nose with a finger to introduce the SNES boxing game, and closes the show by inexplicably going on about how the winning player wants to hit him for real. Dexter Fletcher, punchable? C’mon, let’s #bekind.

09

Jeeves, fetch me my biffing gloves.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, early access to my podcast, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on July 15, 2020.

One Response to “GamesMaster II: The Wrestling”

  1. […] rather be having lunch at The Ivy with François Truffaut and John Lennon. For those who recall series 3 of GamesMaster, he’s very much his brother’s brother. Graham’s demeanour helps with the […]

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