Interceptor

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Having tackled Treasure Hunt, it would be remiss of me not to cover Interceptor, which was very much a sister show; albeit the much less successful black sheep sister, showing up to grandfather’s funeral with a wild hangover, and falling into the grave while sparking up a rollie. Like all the best game shows from that era — Treasure Hunt, Crystal Maze, Fort Boyard — it’s adapted from a French series created by Jacques Antoine, and shared Treasure Hunt‘s production team and crew, from helicopter pilots and iconic run-and-gun cameraman Graham, to its host, Annabel Croft, who’d replaced Anneka Rice in the final series. But Interceptor had something neither Hunt nor most game shows could brag — a villain — and not in the Barrymore sense of future disgrace, but with the titular Interceptor, as portrayed by Scottish actor and model, Sean O’Kane.

Interceptor ran for a single eight-episode series on ITV in the summer of ’89, sandwiched in the gap between Treasure Hunt ending and the debut of Crystal Maze. The opening credits feel more like a buddy-cop action series, with energetic shots of swooping helicopters, and a man in a Colombine jacket somersaulting over a gate. Its theme is impassioned classical piano, in a shameless rip-off of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, with added thumping basslines and synthesised strings, in the perfect soundtrack to running out of a burning museum. If you’re looking for something to ask the DJ for when clubs open again, it was released as a single, with a b-side of the non-piano parts titled Interceptor Boogie.

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I assumed, with its action trappings, this couldn’t possibly be as posh as Treasure Hunt, and yet we open with Annabel Croft stood in front of Leeds Castle (confusingly located in Kent), “known as the loveliest castle in the world.” What’s the criteria for that?! Turns out, the show is so middle-class, watching has me feeling more like Stig of the Dump than ever; my snot-crusted nose pushed against a Victorian shop window, while back at my hovel, another supper of dried-out dog muck goes cold. This week’s contestants are a married couple called Candy and Mark. She’s backpacked around the world and climbed Kilimanjaro — “well done!” says Annabel — while he’s a copywriter, who, when asked if he’s sporty, mumbles “I like to watch a lot of motor racing and horse racing, things like that.” That’s a no, then. Should they win the £1,000 prize, they’ll do what any of us would with such a windfall, and buy a new sofa. God, I hope the Interceptor’s using live rounds.

Perhaps symbolic of the colonial guilt from the crimes of their ancestors, the yuppies are absolutely weighted down with equipment, each with two heavy duty housebrick-sized mic packs strapped to their chests, with 18 inch rubber aerials, plus headset mics and a Rob Liefeld assortment of boxes and batteries on their belts. Added to these are bulky suitcase backpacks with sensors on the rear, one of which contains the £1,000, the other just the equivalent weight, so neither knows which is which.

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When we’re introduced to the Interceptor, he’s lounging outside an enormous country house, convertible parked nearby with the licence plate INT 1, bottle of champers in an ice bucket, and lazily swilling from a glass, like an assassin waiting for the next call. O’Kane viewed the character as “a wealthy futuristic Viking, wreaking havoc on mere-mortals for simple sport,” and his look is decidedly Aryan, with stark blonde hair and a full black leather ensemble, gloves and all. The original concept was to stick him under a Darth Vader mask, but that never made it onscreen.

For the hunt, he’s armed with a wrist-mounted laser, with heavy Nintendo Power Glove vibes, from which he’ll be shooting at the contestants’ backpacks. It’s explained by Croft as an infrared sensor, like a TV remote; tech which was apparently acquired from the British Army — I suppose for when they needed to change the barracks telly over to that funny Jim Davidson. As we’ll see, its range is… not quite as promised by exciting clips of him doing drive-bys out of a speeding helicopter.

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Probably the main thing anyone remembers about the show is the Interceptor’s catchphrase, which isn’t even a word, but a noise; the screeching “AAAAAHK!” of a giant bird, accompanied by raising his arms like wings, as though doing The Karate Kid in a game of charades. Many times it’s obviously been dubbed on in post, much clearer and louder than the ambient sound, giving it an unnatural quality, like, is that coming from the TV, or inside my own head? Though it’s instinctively emitted when spotting a contestant, the screech has many meanings, functioning as warning, jubilant cry, intimidation tactic, and howl of frustration. Christened the ‘fish-eagle,’ its genesis was described by the man himself in a 2002 interview with the Interceptor’s Lair Fan Site:

In my primary school days, I lived in a world of fantasy and on any given day would lose myself to imagination. E.g. whilst my class mates played football, I was perched on a wall pretending to be a bird of prey and would swoop on any ball sent out of play.”

Fair enough. The game begins with Candy and Mark being shepherded into the chopper to be blindfolded, but it’s all so bloody hoity-toity, Croft tells them “don’t worry!” and they wish the pilot a cheery “hello,” somewhat undercutting the tension of this thrilling air-to-ground chase by a maniacal man-bird. They’re dumped out separately, seven miles apart, and the aim is to each locate and collect the key to their partner’s case, before meeting up to (hopefully) get them open, all while avoiding the Interceptor, whose laser-blasts will lock the cases permanently with a direct hit.

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Croft operates as guide, moving plastic figures along a map at base-camp (a desk plonked in the middle of a market town high street), and directing them towards areas they might ‘find’ transport to move them between locations. If you take out the Interceptor, it’s barely a game at all, with no clues or questions, and no puzzles to be solved. It’s more of an immersive experience than a game show, like those haunted farms you can walk through on Halloween, where zombie scarecrows leap out of the corn, or the old Alien War thing at the Trocadero.

Following Treasure Hunt‘s RPG feel, there’s a heavy use of plants, hanging around waiting for contestants to find them, so they might offer to aid in their quest. Mark’s first stop is a pub where he needs to find a speedboat to cross the river, and it’s just a matter of bothering random members of the public — like a shirtless old boozer with Derek Acorah hair — until locating the correct NPC. Way down the map, Candy bumps into a milkman, who just happens to be stood by his float, ready for her to clamber into the back for a lift, like Kat Slater coming back from a one night stand. All the vehicles are open-topped, with a lot of flat-beds, both to avoid having to cram a cameraman in the footwell, and so they can be seen from the air by the Interceptor.

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While he’s on the hunt, we’re treated to scenes of the master/subservient relationship he shares with his pilot, who always refers to him as “guv,” like Nookie Bear. There’s lots of scripted banter, such as asking for an increase in his “map allowance… my money to buy maps, govnor,” or being told off for having a dirty windscreen. The helicopter is an ever-present shadow over proceedings, an Eye of Sauron which has contestants jumpy at every distant thrum of approaching rotors, watchful of the skies, and careful not to give him their backs. While searching for the boat, Mark lets out a sudden cry of “Oh, God, it’s the Interceptor!” ducking behind a wall, and the big man regularly takes aim from above.

Here’s where expectation meets reality, at fatal speed. On paper, it sounds very exciting, with contestants throwing themselves in ditches as he whizzes by, blasting away all Boyz n tha Hood, but there’s no indication anything’s happened. No explosions, no superimposed laser beam; nothing barring the sort of dubbed in “pew pew!” noises you get when a character in EastEnders is playing an unseen video game. Nobody knows if he’s hit the cases until they try and unlock them at the end, and the tech is so primitive, for all its promises of mowing them down from above like Apocalypse Now, the gun pretty much has to be touching the target to connect. When he does catch Mark, it’s by sneaking up from behind down a country lane and shooting him point blank in the back.

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While the Treasure Hunt viewing experience was often a mess of voices and frenetic cuts between its dual teams, Interceptor‘s makes you yearn for such tranquillity. Breathlessly rattling back and forth between four locations, there’s between one and three people yelling at all times, either puffed out from running, or trying to be heard over the noise of engines, together with helicopter blades and a grown man imitating a bird of prey at the top of his lungs. At the game’s midpoint, Croft is shouting instructions to Candy, who’s sprinting through an orchard, while Mark’s huffing and grunting can be heard through the headset from miles away, as the Interceptor loudly patrols the skies.

Its one concession to game show mechanics is requiring contestants to win their key through a physical task. For Candy, it’s having spear it onto a lance at a jousting tournament. Endemic of Interceptor‘s poshness is how the elderly cosplay knight just assumes she can ride a horse, instructing her to keep the lance “over the horse’s withers,” (a term I had to Google), and letting her get on with it. I’ve barely even seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden one. “Withers, you say? Got it. One quick question before I get on, what are ‘stirrups’ again, mate? Also, how do I start it? By tugging on its cock?” She nails it first time, before asking a couple of poshies having a picnic — tartan blanket; literal wicker basket lined with silver cutlery — if she can have a borrow of their vintage Rolls Royce, and is soon pelting away, chauffeur at the wheel.

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By now, as he must if he wants to hit the sensors, the Interceptor’s stalking her on foot, and surely being baked alive in his incel leather trenchie. Any time he’s running, coat flapping like a cape, it’s very Bishop Brennan after realising he was kicked up the arse — “Crillaaaaay!” With Candy off in the Rolls for a jolly old jaunt, what-what, yer man’s got no choice but to ‘steal’ a white horse from a medieval maiden, for an exciting car/horse chase. Noticeably, you don’t see his face as he’s galloping after her, not until a tightly edited close-up of a rare horseback fish-eagle, in a manner reminiscent of that winning Apprentice candidate’s ‘reverse pterodactyl’.

But with Mark faffing around retrieving his key from a beehive, time runs out before the pair can meet. Interceptor lets out a victorious “AAAAAHK!” and the losers are handed a commiseration prize of an “Interceptor adventure pack,” aka a cardboard box containing binoculars, a compass, and a map of Kent, if you’re curious what constituted adventure 30 years ago. Incidentally, Mark’s still wearing the bee-keeper suit — or as he calls it “a bee-hive man’s… thing” — which, pulled over his walkies, gives him some lovely, pointy Mulligan & O’Hare breasts. Perhaps because of first time nerves, Annabel Croft’s breathless goodbye is hilariously rushed and abrupt.

I did watch a second episode, notable for really showcasing the way it scripts all of its interactions, and runs the whole thing on rails — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Interceptor beats contestant, Hilary, to the farm she’s headed for, bunging a tenner to a central casting farmer to borrow his tractor and clothes, in a tribute to Terminator. “I need your flat cap, your Nigel Farage body warmer, and your tractor.” Directed to the vehicle, Hilary climbs in the back, unaware the Interceptor’s at the wheel, and when he pulls over to let her out, some miles down the road, he’s right behind with a “pew pew!” and an “AAAAAHK!” Although, sketchily, the Interceptor’s got his own cameraman, who Hilary somehow didn’t see, as he stood alongside him in the cabin, filming her through the tractor’s open back window the whole time.

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Also of interest is Hilary’s partner, Martin, an upper class twit who plans to spend the prize money on “a whoopie party!” and runs down the ticking clock wittering away to himself about pheasants and shrubbery — “absolutely beautiful, very attractive” — while ambling about the countryside. In another cracking piece of 1980’s health and safety, his key’s at the top of a fountain, which requires a trip up a 30ft ladder before clambering onto flooding stone steps, in scenes which make John Noakes’ trip up Nelson’s Column look like your mum climbing into bed to finish her latest Maeve Binchy.

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He’s tracked to a stately home, hiding behind pillars, with shots of the Interceptor spreading his leather wings like the fucking Mothman. There’s great juxtaposition of the screeching hunter lumbering towards Martin, who’s chattering to himself as he backs away, reading aloud from signs on the wall — “Sorry No Dogs” — while Interceptor hurdles over red ropes in his Matrix coat, all “AAAAAHK! AAAAAHK!” by old ladies sat having scones in the cafe. Martin makes his escape into a horse and carriage with GAY GORDON written on the side, loaded with lads in top hats, and a bugler. “Don’t often have twits like me on here, do you?” says Martin. Alas, they run out of time, so Martin doesn’t get to burn the prize money in front of a homeless man for a joke. Interceptor (or someone in his coat), bombs by on a motorbike, waving a victorious fist and very nearly crashing into a car.

I know Interceptor is fondly remembered, but if you take out the fish-eagle, it’s just another show where posh people look for someone to give them a lift. This is what the 1% did to fill their empty days before they all opened candle businesses. Even with the Interceptor, the limitations of its central technology turn the whole thing into a game of tag; effectively just Treasure Hunt meets Laser Quest, but instead of everyone going for pizza after, it’ll be roast quail served by some poor sod who gets bullied for the whole meal and left a biography of Thatcher as a tip.

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In April of 1989, pre-dating the British version by three months, an American pilot aired. Rebranded as the more highfalutin Interceptor — The Game of High Adventure, the show was hosted by Erik Estrada from ChiPs, with Interceptor wearing the Darth Vader style mask dropped from the British series, complete with vocal effects and an inbuilt POV camera. It never went to series, which is a shame, considering this intriguing quote from its producer at the time, Ron Ziskin, suggesting they may have regularly changed the big man’s look: “One week, he could be RoboCop, the next, GI Joe, or the Lone Ranger.” Now there’s an idea crying out for a reboot, updated with contemporary villains. Slender Man, Pennywise, Thanos; come on, Netflix, say the word and we’ll have a hedge fund manager called Peregrine being chased over the grounds of a stately home by a man in a tracksuit with a massive cigar. AAAAAHK! AAAAAHK!

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 May 17, 2021.

2 Responses to “Interceptor”

  1. Jealous, much?

  2. There was me thinking his catchphrase was “I like it!”

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