Family Fortunes

Family Fortunes is a British television game show based on the American game show Family Feud. The programme ran on ITV from 6 January 1980 to 10 January 2003, before being revived by the same channel in 2006 under the title All Star Family Fortunes.

The game involves two families providing answers to ‘everyday questions’ that were surveyed by 100 members of the British public before the show (e.g., ‘Name something usually done in the dark’) to win cash prizes (and sometimes mystery prizes for giving a correct answer). The top answers to the surveys are displayed on a large electronic board, known as “Mr. Babbage”, which famously sounds a wrong answer “Eh-uhh” sound effect and its accompanying X to signal the strike, as well as a “ding” (for a right answer).

Family Fortunes was first hosted by comedian Bob Monkhouse (1980–83) then by singer and entertainer Max Bygraves (1983–85). After being rested for the whole of 1986, the show returned on 27 June 1987 with Les Dennis as presenter, and had a consistently successful run for the next 15 years. It was then moved out of peak time and became a daily daytime show hosted by Andy Collins and no longer having a studio audience and instead using canned applause (similar to Catchphrase when it moved to daytime), but it only had a short run in this format before being axed.

In 2006, the series was revived with Vernon Kay as host, and was renamed All Star Family Fortunes, as each team consisted of a celebrity and four family members. The show was also transmitted back to peak time. Prize money goes to a charity of the celebrity’s choice, and contestants being either celebrity families, or a group of actors famous for playing a fictional family. Several Christmas specials of All Star Family Fortunes have aired as well.

The most iconic aspects of the show are the large computer screen, named “Mr Babbage” by original host Bob Monkhouse and the famous computerised “Eh-uhh” sound used when wrong answers are given. Both were originally designed to appear high-tech but have since become fondly regarded for being quite the opposite (as compared to the original US Feud, which has used a video board since its 1999 revival). The computer screen name “Mr Babbage” was in recognition to the English mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer, Charles Babbage.

Two family teams, each with five members, are asked to guess the results of surveys, in which 100 people would be asked open ended questions (e.g. “we asked 100 people to name something associated with the country Wales” or “we asked 100 people to name a breed of dog”). Although rarely acknowledged in the show, the 100 people surveyed are invariably audience members who have volunteered before the show.

Each round begins with a member of each family (in rotation, meaning all players do this at least once) approaching the podium. As the question is read, the first of the two nominees to hit a buzzer gives an answer. If this is not the most popular answer, the other nominee is asked. The family with the more popular answer then chooses whether to “play” the question, or “pass” control to the other family.

The host then passes down the line of the controlling team, asking for an answer from each. After each answer, the board reveals whether this answer featured. If not, the family is assessed a strike, and the family loses control of the board after accumulating three strikes (also referred as striking out) in the round. If a family manages to come up with all the survey answers (most commonly six in the early part of the show, reduced in number after the commercial break) before striking out, they win the amount in pounds of the total number of people who had given the answers. A strike is marked similar to tenpin bowling with an X on the board, accompanied by a buzzer (the buzzer used in the UK and Australia is different from the Atlanta version).

In later versions with a colour screen, the strike is marked with a strike chip on another FremantleMedia game show in the United States (The Price Is Right, from the pricing game 3 Strikes), with a red disc featuring the black X. If a family strikes out, the opponent is given the chance to “steal” by coming up with an answer that may be among those missing. Only the head family member (the first family member, the designated captain) may give the answer after consultation. If this answer is present, this family wins the round and is said to have “stolen” the money; otherwise, the family which played the board keeps the money.

On celebrity specials, each top answer added a bonus of £200 (later £250) to that family’s charity.

Often the hosts do not refer to the strikes as “strikes;” rather they will say that a “life is lost,” and the family has “two lives left” or “one life left.”

Following three rounds before the commercial break (two rounds in series 1), “Double Money” is played. Gameplay is the same as the first rounds, but each answer is worth £2 for each person who said it, and there are generally fewer possible answers. The family who passes £300 (£200 in series 1) first go on to play “Big Money” (known in some overseas versions as “Fast Money”) for the jackpot.

In the revived 2006 version, there were three rounds of the main game and two rounds of double money and then the family who had the most money after this went on to play Big Money, whether or not they had reached £300.

This involves two contestants (out of the five in the family team, in the 2006 revival including the celebrity as the second) answering five questions that fit with those given by the “100 people surveyed”, with the questions asked within a narrow time limit. The first contestant answers the five questions within 15 seconds; then the second contestant (who has been out of earshot) answers within 20 seconds (the extra time is available in case the contestant repeats an answer already given). If they get 200 points or more from the ten answers they win the top cash prize.

From 1994 onwards, a bonus star prize was available if all five “top” (most popular) answers were found and they had reached 200 or more points. If the family did not earn 200 points, they won £2 per point, up to £398. In the revived 2006 version, a loss earned £10 times the points earned in both front and end games, up to £1,990.

The top cash prize in “Big Money” in the first series (1980) was £1,000. From the second series (1981), the prize started at £1,000 then rose by £500 weekly if no one won, to a limit of £3,000 (£2,500 from 1981 to 1982) which it could stay at for more than one week if it still was not won. Once won, it reverted to £1,000 for the next edition. In the 1987 series, it started at £1,000, and if not won rose by £1,000 per week to a maximum of £3,000. From the 1988 series, the prize was stabilised at £3,000.

After the abolition of the IBA‘s prize limits, the top prize rose to £5,000 from 1996. It should be remembered, though, that the money had to be shared out between five people; by the end of its run even the top cash prize seemed relatively small compared to those available on other game shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

The bonus star prize was always a family car between 1994 and 1998. From 1998 to 2002, contestants had the choice of either the car or a holiday for up to twelve people. The car suppliers were Honda in 1994, SEAT in 1995, and then Daewoo between 1996 and 2002. On the all-star specials, scoring 200 points along with all five top responses donated £5,000 to both teams.

However, this often led the show to an anti-climax, as having won the cash prize with one or more questions unrevealed, the game had to continue to see whether the bonus prize had also been won. If not, the show ended on a low point, despite the family having won the main prize.

During the programme’s brief daytime run in 2002, the prize values shrank significantly. If the contestants scored over 200 points they won £1,000 and if they found 5 top answers on top, then it was increased to £3,000. (As with the previous prizes, the £3,000 could only be won on top of the 200+ points)

From the second series in 1981 onwards, spot prizes were available in the main game, turning up seemingly at random when certain answers were found. Typically, these were music centres, televisions or video recorders (or in the later years, DVD players). Some were more unorthodox, such as a year’s supply of beer, while the same short breaks away – an Agatha Christie Murder Weekend, a stay at a health spa or a canal holiday – were won on the show for many years. The actors showing the spot prizes were Neil Hurst and Louise Cole.

The 2006 series features a top prize of £30,000. The celebrity contestants can win £10,000 for getting over 200 points in “Big Money”, increased to £30,000 for getting all five top answers. The spot prizes remained but were won rarely and were now more action-based such as paragliding lessons. These are won by other members of the family, instead of the celebrity.

A memorable moment replayed on several bloopers specials occurred during the Max Bygraves era, in which one contestant (Bob Johnson) while playing 2nd during the Big Money round, offered the answer “Turkey” to the first 3 questions: Name something you take to the beach, the first thing you buy in a supermarket & a food often stuffed. The answer scored zero for the first 2 questions, and 21 points for the third.

According to the documentary Our Survey Said, a malfunction with the sound-proof booth caused Bob to overhear his partner say Chicken for the 3rd question; thus, the answer of turkey was stuck in his head. After the taping, Bob’s wife offered producer William G. Stewart £100 not to air the show, but when Stewart advised her it cost the production company £38,000 to produce the one episode, she declined to pursue the matter any further.

The original theme music was used from 1980 to 1985, and was composed by Jack Parnell and David Lindup. This was during the Bob Monkhouse and Max Bygraves eras. In 1987 when Les Dennis became the host, a new theme tune was written by Mike Alexander. Although the arrangements have changed over the years, it is still the same theme.

The first version was used from 1987 to 1992, the second (credited as Michael Alexander) from 1993 to 1999, and the third one from 2000 to 2002 was arranged by Mike Woolmans. The current theme first used in 2006 when Vernon Kay took over as host of a celebrity version, was arranged by Ash Alexander and Simon Darlow.

Over the years on Family Fortunes voice over announcers have been used on the show. For the Bob Monkhouse, Max Bygraves and Les Dennis’ first series, the announcer was Andrew Lodge, while Stephen Rhodes announced for most of Les Dennis’ era until 2000. From 2000–2002, it was Peter Dickson, while for the 80-episode daytime 2002 series, it was University Challenge voiceover Roger Tilling.

Lisa I’Anson was the announcer for the first series of All Star Family Fortunes in 2006, making her the first woman in this role, before Peter Dickson returned from 2007 onwards.

Two special programmes, presented by Les Dennis, featuring hilarious clips from the Bob Monkhouse, Max Bygraves and Les Dennis eras of the programme, were shown on ITV. The first special was called Family Misfortunes in 2000 followed by More Family Misfortunes in 2001. In 2002, a third special programme, presented by Andy Collins, called Family Misfortunes 3 featured clips only from the Les Dennis and Andy Collins eras of the programme.

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