Treasure Hunt

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[more game show posts: Trump CardCyberzoneScavengersNaked JungleRunaroundEndurance UK]

In my gigantic list of horrible stuff to cover on here, I’d always planned on hitting 3-2-1, but I snoozed and losed, and Limmy beat me to it. So instead, let’s get into the era’s other weird as shit riddle-me-ree game show. Like Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard, Treasure Hunt is an adaptation of a French property, but the resulting series is so achingly British, it feels like something specially put together to rouse the Queen out of her room during a bout of depression. This isn’t a game show, it’s a roving Olympic opening ceremony, showcasing Middle England’s eccentricities, with Anneka Rice’s perpetually-out-of-breath, jolly-hockey-sticks dervish careening through villages and towns that haven’t had a Labour MP for 200 years, and giving them an anecdote to dine out on forever; the day a celebrity landed in a field and ran through the WI before vanishing.

I’ve never had a posh girlfriend, but watching this has the feel of being romantically involved with someone far above your grubby social standing, on the first weekend away at the future in-laws’ manor, where they pull out the family game they always play with newcomers; a game which is confusing, frightening, and ends with you running across the lawn being shot at by hunting rifles. As it’s the eighties, Treasure Hunt is a show built around exciting futuristic technology; namely, the ability to talk to someone as they whiz around the country in a helicopter. Inside the chopper is Anneka Rice, sent to various locations by studio-based contestants, as they solve a series of cryptic clues that will eventually lead to treasure.

01

I’m watching an episode from January 1986, with an exciting title sequence of Anneka — called “Annie” with familiarity by the contestants — dangling from helicopters and leaping into the sea. From the opening second, it’s incredibly middle-class, and host Kenneth Kendall has the sort of clipped newsreader’s accent which makes me feel like I live in a bin. He’s joined by weathergirl Wincey Willis, with a Buck Rogers headset over Ricky Morton’s haircut, like she’s popped over on a break from Call of Duty. Incidentally, doesn’t Wincey sound like the nickname of WW1 soldier who flinches from bangs because of shell shock? — “Settle down, Wincey, lad, it’s just one of Tommo’s guffs!”

This week’s players, Val and Eira, are firmly the kind of people you’d never see on TV now, back when contestants were nervous, awkward, and clearly not at home in the studio, without years of selfies and Facetiming to get comfortable in front of the camera. She’s retired, and he’s a former veterinary surgeon and financial consultant. Both would definitely call the police if they saw me walking past their house. The studio’s set up like a spy’s lounge, in a single room lined with shelves of reference books, a fake fireplace, and everyone stood at a giant map-table. Anneka’s movements are marked by a toy helicopter, which is the most 80’s vehicle of all — Airwolf; Predator; Noel Edmonds and Mike Smith.

02

Anneka’s official title is the very Star Warsy ‘Skyrunner’, and just to emphasise the toffness, she begins beside a narrow boat, quoting Ratty from Wind in the Willows (or as she calls it “The Winds of the Willow”). The camera flips round to reveal Graham the cameraman and soundman Keith, who were semi-ironic celebrities in their own right, both lumbered down with gear. The restrictions of 80’s tech are apparent at every turn, and for the next hour of frantic running, Anneka’s in an enormous pair of headphones/mic, with a sound-pack the literal size of an old car stereo hanging round her neck. The trio are wrapped in a trail of thick black wires and curly cables like goth Christmas trees, and though the studio can’t see Anneka, they can hear and speak to her. There’s £1,000 at stake, 45 minutes on the clock, and it’s time for the first clue. Shall we play along at home? Ready?

Before you come to power, halt for a run on historic lines. A coach for the track event has chocolate and cream waiting.

Oh. Val commands Anneka into the air, using shelves of reference books to figure out where to send her. A clock counts down in the bottom right, while clues loiter onscreen in a font usually seen on VHS tapes reading ‘Steve and Tanya’s Big Day, 1986!‘ The chopper circles over river cruisers like a gunship readying to cut them to shreds with high-velocity armour-piercing rounds, as elderly contestants’ voices overlap with that of Anneka, shouting at the top of her lungs over the rotors, hair billowing into her face, and clutching a folded map. Intercut with lurching zooms on the landscape below, it’s a disorientating experience, with the two groups holding unrelated, simultaneous discussions, the entire time. The studio read aloud from text books, while a yelling Anneka witters on about scuba diving, like a pair of blaring televisions tuned to different channels.

03

Kendall reads aloud the names of nearby hamlets, each sounding like the setting for a mid-afternoon ITV drama where a rich old widow’s been killed by a runaway lawnmower — “Long Whittenham, Appleford, Sutton Courtney…” Everyone chatters away as Anneka screams that there are “FIVE BIG CHIMNEYS” on the horizon; “AND A VERY LONG FUNNEL,” she adds, raising an eyebrow salaciously, as if to infer that men’s stiff willies can sometimes be long too. The chocolate and cream is eventually identified as the markings of a distant train, landing so Anneka can sprint towards it in a fevered foot-chase, with Graham and Keith following behind.

Anneka’s breathless running is show’s trademark, along with the passing shrieks of “HELLO!” thrown at bystanders like hand grenades. Treasure Hunt‘s overpowering middle-classness is evident as she hops on a steam train, where passengers scoff cream tea elevenses. There are moments the series feels like a video game; particularly in Anneka’s interactions with the people she meets, never sure whether they’re ‘in on it’ and awaiting her arrival, primed to aid in her quest, or merely regular folks who are silent, not because they’re banned from giving too much help, but because they only popped out for a pint of milk, and now Anneka Rice off the telly is rifling through their pockets, looking for an envelope. Luckily, the waiter whose trousers she investigates isn’t an NPC, but part of the show, and we find our next clue.

04

To Peter Cook’s alma mater’s bank, where you’ll need to shell out for the wet bobs’ Hero.

Anneka scrambles back over the tracks, past railway workers in period costumes, while singing Happy Birthday to the Great Western Railway, in a ‘sending get well cards to Boris’ way — then it’s back to the air. Let’s examine this clue. Wet Bob? Is that not just the name of a local weirdo your parents warned you about as a kid? “Don’t go down the arcade, that’s where Wet Bob hangs out…” – half a dozen stories for how he got his name; his wife drowned so now he lives in the sea, or “you know that’s not tea he keeps in that flask?” Turns out, ‘wet bobs’ are Oxford rowers, as opposed to the hockey-playing ‘dry bobs’, which sends her up the river to a boathouse.

Barring ad-breaks, every segment is an exhausting single take, now sprinting from train to chopper, out onto a pontoon, and leaping into a boat, to row up to another boat that’s waiting upriver. Poor Graham, shouldering a camera the size of a golden retriever, has to keep pace by running alongside, before scrambling into a third boat to follow. A posh rower called Tim reads out the next clue, which is full of words he can’t pronounce.

Look in on the bibliographists opposite the Encaenia location and ask for a note on Dodgson’s Liddell account.

Oh, just… just fuck off. Though I’m left feeling like a gutter-scum thicky, Eira proves social class doesn’t necessarily represent smarts by having to look up the word bibliographist in the dictionary. Anneka whirs off towards Oxford, landing in the grounds of St. Hilda’s college, where four butchers are standing outside, exclaiming “You smell of blackjacks!” at them. But their target is miles away, so she accosts some students and borrows their bikes — which just happen to be there — everyone loading their equipment into the baskets and taking off. The camerawork, in a pre-GoPro world, is like a magic trick, continually filming while cycling along a busy road and panning to the sights, even looking down to show both his hands on the handlebars.

05

Tragically, it’s here I become a Facebook boomer, reminiscing about penny sweets and blacking up, as I get swept into the nostalgia of 1980’s Britain’s sun-drenched pavements, back when there was still hope. Lockdown III is getting to me. It’s seven full minutes of top-speed cycling, taking them across busy roundabouts and veering dangerously through traffic, with Anneka yelling at the top of her lungs the whole time, or breaking into song, as Eira tells her “good girl.” A pan to the sound man reveals he is sweating profusely, gripping a thick white cable between his teeth like a horse. Journey’s end is an enormous bookshop, with dozens of customers milling about, and amid all the outdated technology, the most jarring sight is the now-lost tableau of bustling British retail. Anneka finds the clue in a window display about Lewis Carroll. “Good girl,” says Kendall.

Fair Rosamund’s tomb and a Schubert quintet bring you to a bunch of cuporus fagus

“Bunch of cuporus fagus” sounds like a Tweet that’d get olden times Kevin Hart kicked off Ye Oscars. They’ve bombed back to the chopper by car in the ad break, with the girls’ bikes presumably never to be seen again, while the studio thumb through Latin dictionaries. Wincey warns there’s only five minutes left, as Anneka pelts past ancient stone walls and Pimm’s-sipping picnickers, before fishing the final clue down from a beech tree, apologising to the branch as she does, as though it might reply “that’s quite alright!” in an Enid Blyton voice.

06

Connect Southey’s old Kasper and a proposal to Miss Hozier, then use a communications room to come face to face with Mrs Freeman’s father-in-law

Miss Hozier is Churchill’s wife, but the clock runs out on the way to Blenheim Palace, so they fail to win the ‘treasure’ of a toy soldier, or the £1000. They do get a rather generous half that for losing, which Eira explains they’ll give to charity; some to guide dogs for the blind and more sketchily, “some will possibly go to the St. Peter’s Church, which my wife attends.”

Unusually, contestants are listed in the credits under their full names, which is a GDPR nightmare these days. Imagine thirsty Twitter with this kind of information when they’re leching over girls off The Chase. The second episode comes from the following year, 1987, and the players are markedly less posh, rocking some incredible looks, with Jim, a computer repairman who resembles Will from Stranger Things as a medieval peasant, and his boss; big, tall hoss of redhead called Mike. Wincey’s dressed in the flowing blue robes of a 1960’s sex cultist, while Anneka’s halfway up a mountain on the Isle of Skye. The setting inspires a ton of classic-period Scottish references in her; adding Mc to the crew’s names, asking where their kilts are, referring to “The Scotch,” and filling the airtime with shouted variations on “och eye the noo!” — peaking with “och aye the clue!” Over the course of this Patreon, I’ve acquired a real admiration for the Scots, and their phenomenal restraint in not going to war with us in the eighties.

07

North of the Gavin Maxwell shore, pitch at a palindrome. Check the MacLaine colours and it’s in the bag.”

C’mon, that first clue’s actually doable! Bag; so it’s in a sporran, hanging on some MacLaine tartan, and she’ll have to root around in there while pulling a face that says “oo-er, I’m right by this fella’s wee chap!” Who’s Gavin Maxwell, though? Someone who manages a call centre and has the words ‘season ticket holder’ in his social meed bios, no doubt. Dropped off at the highland games, Anneka does indeed grope around in an old piper’s sporran, before saying “Och aye!” and kissing him on the lips. Sadly, cum doesn’t shoot out of the end of his bagpipes.

MacKenzie’s coat of mail was constable where three lochs meet. A fourth lock — the young Chevalier’s — is your key

The lads get really excited about a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, as Anneka’s sent to a castle. “YOU SOUND DEMENTED!” she screeches. The hair’s located in the banqueting hall inside a case, which she mishears as “cake,” wasting lots of time. Eventually, after no help at all from Treasure Hunt‘s waiting plants, all stood silently with their arms folded, like when Chris Whitty was shouted at by that teenager, the next clue is finally located.

08

On the way to the sororial quintet, take the high road and alight on a mixed-up Bob Cage for a face-saving exercise

“Mixed up” clearly implies Bob Cage is an anagram. So… babe cog? C bae gob? See bae’s gob?! Anneka, you need to find a mural of Anna Kendrick, the clue will be hidden in the (lovely) mouth. Turns out, it’s not that at all, but a mountain called Boc Beag, where she spots a “pin prick of a man” atop the mountain, silhouetted through the shaky-cam like a Yeti; “what’s he doing?” asks Kendall. “He’s taking off his trousers,” replies Annie. The unfortunate man is not part of the show, and presumably got the shock of his life when about to take a dump 1500ft above sea level and turned to see a helicopter with a film crew hanging out of the door.

The path to the clue is a cracking example of 80’s television’s approach to health and safety; the decade where Noel pissed himself laughing as untrained volunteers drove over ramps at 100mph. Dumped onto a precipice, a reticent Anneka’s left to slide down slippery slopes to a mountain rescue team, before being strapped into a stretcher and slowly scaled down the cliff-face, by men with no safety ropes, blindly backing towards a fatal drop. It’s all shot from above like arms-length news footage of the SAS storming a terrorist embassy, taking the clue from a man literally hanging half-way down a sheer mountain.

09

Towards the northern welkin crossing, stand at bay by Inverewe’s counterpart, and embark on a venture to find a cocktail element

Och aye!” says Anneka. She accosts a man in a row-boat, pulling us into that videogame feel, asking for a lift, and metaphorically mashing every button on the controller, yet to hit upon the key phrase which triggers his help, and leaving him unable to respond with naught but confusing and obstinate silence. Is he part of the game, or just a prick? Keith’s corralled into a Loch-side highland fling, before the boatman finally rows them out to his trawler. It takes him ages to row all four of them there by himself, and Anneka finally clambers aboard the trawler while he awkwardly tries to help whilst neither touching nor getting his face too near her bum. The final clue’s in a prawn trap.

Off the rails! A semblance of Scottish liqueur is left, but a little port looks right. A green gate leads to a palmy point.”

10

But there’s less than four minutes on the clock, a quarter of which is wasted trying to get the clue out of the basket, before a genuine moment of panic when climbing back down into the row boat, and snagging her ankle on the side of the hull, almost breaking it. It’s all too late, as a maudlin piano note signals defeat, and the end of another round of Waitrose Tomb Raider. From a channel that, thirty years later, would bring us Naked Attraction and Benefits Street, Treasure Hunt is a curio of a lost time; a lost Great Britain which never really existed, but happily whiled away its weekday hours in antique fairs or stately gardens, secure in the knowledge that Diana would one day be its queen. However, reboots of all existing properties are inevitable, and every passing minute inches us closer to Kenneth Kendall’s place being taken by Joe Swash, watching the clock run down as Gemma Collins refuses to get in the helicopter because it’s the wrong colour.

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.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi or some PayPal cash.

~ by Stuart on March 7, 2021.

2 Responses to “Treasure Hunt”

  1. When is your next review up?

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