At this juncture in JSFnetGB's History section, let's back track a little bit. Since the mid-Fifties, the BBC had been making an inter-town variety programme, Top Town, which was produced by the versatile Barney Colehan (pictured, left). This series, along with another series on the town versus town theme - Campanile Sera made in Italy by the RAI channel - inspired Guy Lux and his colleagues Pierre Brive and Claude Savarit to create Intervilles, the knockabout, good-natured competition which pitched towns all over France against eachother. This series in turn gave birth to Jeux Sans Frontières, Intervilles' pan-European off-shoot... Are you keeping up? Well, be warned, it might get even more confusing...

At this point, the wheel came full circle as French television - intent on adding more entrants to their fledgling international competition - approached the BBC suggesting they produce their own version. With this in mind, former Top Town producer, Barney Colehan, and a London-based BBC producer, Robin Scott, went to France to see the programme. The two men quickly saw the potential of Intervilles and convinced the BBC that it could be a great success. The series was commissioned and would be made at BBC Manchester (as was the whole It's A Knockout series) with Scott producing and Colehan directing.

On the occasion of the first It's A Knockout broadcast, Robin Scott said in Radio Times magazine that "this could be the most entertaining outside broadcast series ever seen on British television. Most of the games are inspired by the French TV series Intervilles, which started four years ago. The enthusiasm in France grew to fantastic proportions. An unknown spa called Saint-Amand-les-Eaux built three new hotels on the strength of the publicity gained by winning through to the finals."

Producer Barney Colehan described some years later how he and his colleagues had set the tone for It's A Knockout. "We wanted it light-hearted," he said, "keeping it away from the David Coleman and Kenneth Wolstenholme style (of serious sports commentary). The commentators had to be more involved and the competitions and games had to be slapstick... and therefore more fun."

Colehan realised that the path to realising his aspirations for It's A Knockout lay very much in the casting of the regular personnel. "So we recruited comedians Ted Ray and Charlie Chester as commentators and brought in Eddie Waring as referee," he revealed.

Charlie Chester in The Charlie Chester Show
Charlie Chester with Edwina Carroll in
The Charlie Chester Show (BBC, 1949)

The first edition of It's a Knockout aired at 4.40-5.30pm on Sunday 7th August 1966, beamed live into British households from the Beach and Promenade of Morecambe in Lancashire. The first run of the series was definitely one where it was finding its feet. In many ways, it can be seen as a transitory phase between Top Town and the It's A Knockout that audiences came to know and love. Viewers consulting the programme pages of Radio Times magazine for the day of the first broadcast would no doubt have noticed an unsubtle link to Top Town: the teams were apparently competing to win the "Tip-Top-Town Trophy".

McDonald Hobley

MacDonald Hobley:
It's A Knockout's first presenter

Unlike any future series of It's A Knockout, the first adhered to a traditional 'knockout competition' structure, with heats leading to regional finals and then a grand final. Furthermore, this series restricted itself to teams from the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, with two heats and a final in each region, followed by a grand final where the best team from Lancashire took on the best from Yorkshire. The programmes aired weekly, transmissions alternating between one county and then the other. All programmes were introduced by BBC veteran presenter, MacDonald Hobley, with Eddie Waring as referee, while Charlie Chester and Ted Ray took it in turns to play Master of Ceremonies, with Chester appearing in the Lancashire heats and comedy movie star Ray doing the honours in the Yorkshire heats. The pair shared the task for the grand final on Sunday 18th September and Eddie Waring's co-referee was Stuart Hall, who would later compere It's A Knockout from 1972.  

While at this stage It's A Knockout was exclusively a domestic competition, with no automatic progression for weekly winners to an exotic continental locale, eventual first series winners Bridlington were asked to be the first team to represent Great Britain in the 1967 Jeux Sans Frontières

Bruce Angrave cartoon from September 1966Radio Times magazine described some of the games that would feature in the first seven weeks of It's A Knockout. "With infinite care the jaws of a bucket crane close under an egg; the crane lowers the egg on to a chute; at the bottom of the chute a catcher lunges forward to catch the egg without breaking it; as he moves he takes the strain on his elastic harness and his feet start to slip on the soft-soaped floor... A man stomps off down a steel pavement wearing magnetic shoes to carry back - if he can- the local Beauty Queen in his arms... Landladies heave at tug-o'-war ropes... Mechanics strip down two cars to their component parts in forty minutes... Lifeboat coxswains race leaking boats while their team-mates bale like fury to keep the boats from sinking... Rugger teams pack into small cars to race round an obstacle course... A man lances balloons slung over the swimming pool as he slides down the chute... The top local amateur golfer chips a golf ball off the top of an egg into a net... A forty minute race to see which team can collect the most silver coins from the bottom of a swimming pool... Lancing rings from the wrist of a cut-out figure of an Arab warrior while riding a penny farthing..."

Unfortunately, the television debut of It's A Knockout was something of a baptism of fire, as referee Eddie Waring recalled ten years later: "The contest was held on the sands of Morecambe in Lancashire and one of the games was a three-legged soccer match, filmed live. Everything had been arranged very well except for one vital detail... the sea. The tide came in and not only was I refereeing up to my knees in water, but also the camera crew were splashing about trying to rescue some of their equipment." Waring was also a moment from disaster himself in that salutory first programme. One of the games involved tractors with large grabs attached, which team members had to manoeuvre to pick up an egg and roll it down a slope for their team members to catch in a frying pan. "Well," recalled Waring, "one of the teams was having real trouble and as I walked forward, watching the clock all the time, one of the grabs came round and if it hadn't been for a very nice bloke in the crowd who shouted out "duck Eddie!", I wouldn't be here to talk about it." Eddie Waring's first Knockout could well have been his last, it seems.

Looking back on the humble beginnings of It's A Knockout, producer Barney Colehan considered the reasons for its instant appeal. "People have always laughed at someone slipping on a banana skin," he commented. "All we did was devise games with an element of slapstick and pit one town against another in such contests. The show's unique... a sort of travelling circus."

The series was transmitted live, as earlier intimated, and unfortunately, this virtually put paid to any editions surviving to this day. The BBC hold no episodes of the first season, and the chances of any being found is practically nil, sadly. The series was, however, deemed a success - the ratings were respectable, although the programme didn't break into the top twenty programmes. This however, would surely come.

It's A Knockout returned for its 1967 series with some important changes. Firstly, it had become a national competition, extending its scope beyond the Northern counties. Next, the "Tip-Top-Town" subtitle was quickly dropped and the target for teams was more exotic - the Eurovision Trophy was now up for grabs. Winners of each individual It's A Knockout heat would go forward to a European heat, with the possibility of reaching the 1967 International Final, which was to be held in Kohlsheid, West Germany. Additionally, the team presenting the series featured some new faces. David Vine, a young sports reporter, would now work alongside original IAK presenter, MacDonald Hobley. Ted Ray and Charlie Chester, regional masters of ceremonies, did not return for 1967, the producers apparently preferring multilingual presenters who could cope with the European broadcasts without difficulty. Sadly, this counted out the two music hall veterans. Eddie Waring continued as main referee.

Bruce Angrave cartoon from Radio Times, June 1967Obviously, the most telling of these innovations was that which allowed British teams to compete against towns from other neighbour countries. The pan-European competition went under the name of Jeux Sans Frontières and had been running since 1965. The series was transmitted across the Eurovision Network, a system administered by the European Broadcasting Union since 1954, whereby television pictures could be shared between European countries by cable and, latterly, satellite connections. The addition of the overseas heats undoubtedly gave the series an extra frisson of excitement. As the years passed, the presenters and referees became part of a massive JSF family, developing a terrific rapport that shone through in the broadcasts of each international event. You can read more about the history of Jeux Sans Frontières in its own history section.

The second series is notable for featuring the earliest surviving footage from It's A Knockout. A 23-minute sequence from a live feed exists at the BBC, and you can discover more about the content in its review. Sadly, nothing is thought to remain from the early British adventures into Europe, though hopefully some of these exist in European archives.

Bridlington, courtesy of their winning the 1966 series of It's A Knockout, were the first town to represent Great Britain in Jeux Sans Frontières, competing in France on 14th June 1967. And they found it hard. Very hard.

Despite keeping in practice for the event, they didn't allow for the professional standards of fitness and training expected on the continent. The British teams, new to the ways of Jeux Sans Frontières, faced a culture shock. It's A Knockout was a light-hearted fun event, but Jeux Sans Frontières was deadly serious. It may have been conducted in a friendly fashion, but make no mistake, teams were interested in one thing only - winning. 

Prize money awaiting the winning finalist was the carrot dangled before the teams - and in 1967, £4000 was a lot of money. Add to this the prestige, the free advertising for your town, particularly effective should you win the final, and you have a potent prize worth fighting for. And this was before you even considered the language problems British teams faced. The other teams and officials often communicated in a babel of different languages, sometimes noted by confused British team members as "the language of the moment", which would then quickly flit to another. No wonder Bridlington finished a poor last place in their first competition in Europe.

Lytham St. Anne's pose for the cameras

Lytham St. Annes get friendly with the camera - Brussels 1967

With two years of experience behind them, the other teams had reached a high level of preparedness for the games. Before each event, there would be two nights of rehearsals, conducted under floodlights, often running up until midnight. In these rehearsals, the continentals usually played it very cool, never letting on if they found a game easy. The British teams, however, thought they were on to a good thing and went all out in practice, only to become somewhat demoralised when their opponents turned up the heat as the games began for real. In the case of Bridlington, by time they started the competition, they had already lost several team members, injured in practice, while pushing much, much harder than their opponents.

Shrewsbury's Eurovision Trophy, now held in the Borough Council Collection

It would be two years before a British team tasted success in Europe, when Shrewsbury from Shropshire made the final and faced competition from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. Shrewsbury knew they were in with a good chance as they had home advantage, the BBC staging the 1969 international final in Blackpool, Lancashire. The event was an exciting and competitive one and clearly, as the programme progressed, Shrewsbury were in with an excellent chance of winning.

Wolfsburg from Germany proved the toughest competition, and ultimately, it transpired that they and Shrewsbury were tied on equal points at the end of the event. A tie-breaker was hastily arranged, consisting of greased planks placed across a pool of water. The first team successfully to the other side would win the trophy. With just two steps to go, the last British team member slipped and fell in the water. The Germans were already safely home. They had won. Or so it seemed. But then, in a gesture of goodwill and sportsmanship that typified the spirit of Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontières, the Germans declared that they wished the result to stand as a draw. This was accepted by the organisers and by the British team. The Germans even arranged to have another trophy made so that the two towns could share it. Shrewsbury's trophy is preserved to this day in the Shrewsbury Borough Council's collection of silver and civic regalia.

The domestic tournament had by this time gone through a few changes. For 1968, the marathon was jettisoned... and Katie Boyle joined David Vine as co-host. By 1969, the marathon had been reinstated and Katie Boyle had moved on. Her replacement was one Eddie Waring, referee from Day One of It's A Knockout, and now elevated to commentator. Arthur Ellis, who would go on to become another well-loved mainstay of the series, took over Waring's refereeing job - and, as a former World Cup Final official, there was no doubting his credentials. There was no doubting It's A Knockout either... it was going from strength to strength.

The popularity of It's A Knockout was definitely on the rise through the late 1960s. Ratings were healthy - a Jeux Sans Frontières edition being the highest rated BBC programme for the whole of September 1969 with 5 million viewers - and this trend continued into the new decade, with the series regularly appearing in the Top Twenty programmes. By the end of the 1971 series though, there was trouble brewing, potentially at least. Regular number one presenter, David Vine had decided to move on after five series to present a new TV quiz game, A Question of Sport. This, along with his sporting commentary commitments left no space in his schedule for Knockout. Could the series survive a change of personnel? And who should they pick? Obviously, the choice of presenter would certainly influence the longevity of the series.

Barney Colehan and the BBC plumped for Stuart Hall, a reporter working on Look North, a regional news programme. Initially, Hall approached the commission with some trepidation, fearing that an association with the series would affect his standing as a newsman, but before long he was enjoying great success with the programme. His approach was simple. "It's my function to get hold of the programme and put it over to 15 million viewers as a piece of television," he commented in 1976. "I've got to generate excitement, atmosphere and response in the stadium as well, which makes me a bit like a Wembley referee who simultaneously has to feed commentary to the live spectators. I know [the] characters [among the competitors] in advance, who's going to do something for me, and I actually talk to them while they're at it. I make it 3-D." Stuart Hall wasn't so much a commentator as he was a ringmaster.

Hall was joined by Eddie Waring, now well-established in his role as co-presenter, and Arthur Ellis continued as principal referee. It was these three who would see It's A Knockout through its most popular phase, with the ratings for the series peaking at 15.6 million in November 1979. Hall, Waring and Ellis grew close as a team and the result was television gold. Each was a character in their own right: Hall, the effervescent ringmaster, reknowned for regularly collapsing in fits uncontrolled laughter at the ludicrous games; Waring, the gruff Northerner with a dry sense of humour and a God-given ability to gloriously mangle the English language; Ellis, the former World Cup referee, who brought an air of amused authority to 'the zany Olympics', a twinkle of good humour never far from his eyes. 

The teams themselves were on the up, too. Ely became the second team to lift the Eurovision Trophy in 1973, after winning just about everything they possibly could in the 1973 tournament. They ripped into Hertford in the domestic heat, recording the highest winning margin ever achieved in It's A Knockout - 19-1. Hertford didn't win a single game, their single point coming from a drawn event. Ely's high score gave them the 1973 Knockout Trophy and they were similarly successful in their heat in Arnhem, Netherlands.

This heat was a potentially awkward one for the team from Cambridgeshire. Ely team member, Ian Rodger remembers it very clearly. "The Arnhem heat was a very emotional event. Initially, Dutch TV were not sure that we would want to compete there as it was the site of so many British deaths in the Second World War. However, the BBC said it would be alright and the Dutch people probably gave us more support on the night than they did to their own team." 

Producer, Barney Colehan was even approached after Ely's victory by a member of the Dutch TV crew, who told him: "We wanted the British to win, you know, even more than the Dutch. Can you understand that?"

Ely arrive in Arnhem, Holland, August 1973

The Ely team arrive in Arnhem, Netherlands in August 1973

Sadly, the BBC have not preserved the edition, and it remains missing from their archives today. "It was a very troubled occasion, very sad, knowing that thousands of families at home would still be feeling the loss of their husbands and sons," Stuart Hall noted in Radio Times magazine. "Luckily, our team from Ely was a nice extrovert one and I think that night It's A Knockout laid the ghost of Arnhem." And to top it all, Ely were unbeatable in the International Final, too.

As the Seventies got into their stride, the series started to err towards the spectacular over the slapstick, utilising impressive costumes and locations, such as Roman amphitheatres, castles and even a galleon, particularly in the European events. The cultural differences between the competing nations could however make life a little difficult for those devising the games. "What's interesting is that we have to be careful not to offend the other countries with certain games," said Stuart Hall in a mid-70s interview. "The Germans dislike games which show girls fighting. Although the Italians are very hot blooded, they have a very Victorian attitude to what they'll show on television. One game had to be abandoned on the day of transmission because they objected to a game that finished with a man and a woman climbing into a four-poster bed together."

Hall went on to describe the national stereotypes regularly on show in the International Series: "The Swiss are very polite about the whole business, the French can be volatile, the Dutch emphasise physical prowess and the Germans take it all very seriously, which is probably why they win so regularly. And the British are good sports who dream up elaborate events... and then forget to bring their plimsolls along."

There can be no denying that the 1970s were undoubtedly the halcyon days of It's A Knockout - the years where the series forced itself into the British consciousness; where frankly, you just couldn't move for Knockout programmes. More and more countries became involved in the European competitions, meaning more domestic heats to select teams to represent Great Britain in the expanded Jeux Sans Frontières. Still the viewing public wanted more... and so, to spice up the show, It's A Knockout expanded its annual portfolio.

On Boxing Day 1970, the first of many Christmas editions of It's A Knockout was transmitted. The initial It's A Christmas Knockout was held in Leiden, Netherlands and was a straighforward competition between Great Yarmouth, representing Great Britain, and Alphen du Rhin, from Netherlands. Running to a festive theme, these special programmes would become regular entries in the BBC Christmas television schedules. All British-based Christmas editions were broadcast from the Aviemore Centre in Scotland, where, if there wasn't real snow, the BBC would happily arrange for 'snow substitute' - more commonly known as foam! It's A Christmas Knockout actually outlived the series itself, running every Christmas from 1970-1984, before returning for a one-off in 1988 in the somewhat incongruous setting of Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida in the United States of America.

Action from a Cup Final Knockout

It's A Cup Final Knockout!

A year after the Christmas editions started, another annual offshoot of It's A Knockout was added to the schedules. From May 1971, FA Cup Final day would be graced with a special Cup Final Knockout competition between supporters of the two football teams competing in the final. I remember this becoming an essential part of the build up to the FA Cup Final, and even, to my young mind, a pointer to the result later in the day! The teams would comprise members of the supporters' clubs and often included footballers both current and past from each club. Sometimes, celebrity supporters were also involved. 

These competitions were often passionate affairs - rivalry between fans of football teams running much deeper than the feelings of one town against another - Knockout's traditional territory. It's A Cup Final Knockout formed part of FA Cup Final Grandstand, and featured in the BBC's Cup Final build up between 1971 and 1977. Details on these competitions are in Knockout TV.

And it didn't stop there. In the early days of the series, the Knockout Trophy would be awarded to the team with the highest haul of points from their domestic heat. This was all very well, but it wasn't much of a spectacle for the viewers, seeing Stuart Hall tot up the points in the final heat of the series and announce "Ely are the 1973 Knockout Champions, with 19 points!"... So in 1976, it was decided to try an ambitious grand final, or, as they called it, It's A Championship Knockout, where all the winning teams from the It's A Knockout heats would fight it out for the trophy in a massive head to head featuring six or more teams. Considering that the domestic heats were usually just between two teams, this was not only a logistical challenge for the production team (by this time, headed by new producer, Cecil Korer), but also excellent practice for the teams, all of whom who would be competing against a similar number of teams in European competition. It's A Championship Knockout continued until the end of It's A Knockout in 1982.

Also introduced in 1976 was It's A Celebrity Knockout which - you guessed it - became an annual feature on the Knockout calendar. 

The competitor lists tend to read like a roll of honour from the Golden Era of British television and film and included such luminaries as Eric Morecambe, Liz Fraser, The Goodies, Nicholas Parsons, Jenny Hanley, Michael Aspel, Sheila Steafel, Ian Carmichael, Anita Harris, Bernard Cribbins, Susan Hampshire, Willie Rushton, Anna Dawson, Patrick Moore, Catherine Schell, Raymond Baxter, Pan's People, Legs and Co., Bob Grant, Richard O'Sullivan, Robin Askwith, Norman Wisdom and even Rod Hull and Emu! 

Also participating on one or more occasions were original It's A Knockout host, MacDonald Hobley and future Knockout man, Keith Chegwin. These proved very popular indeed and ran each summer from 1976 to 1981.

Nicholas Parsons and Bob Grant

Nicholas Parsons of Sale of the Century and Bob Grant from On the Buses enjoy a bit of Knockout fun

And, as if all that wasn't enough for you, 1978 saw possibly the oddest spin-off special programme: It's A Miners' Knockout, where miners from England, Scotland and Wales battled it out for a trophy which was presented by Keith Chegwin... He keeps getting in there, doesn't he? All this and Jeux Sans Frontières conspired to keep It's A Knockout on British TV screens for about twenty weeks each year in the Seventies. But surely the bubble would burst?

Eddie Waring and Stuart Hall fence at Newark, 1980It's A Knockout saw out the 1970s still in excellent shape. With the series taking in the domestic heats, celebrity, championship, international and Christmas broadcasts, It's A Knockout featured in the 1979 schedules for nearly five months of the year. The triumvirate of Stuart Hall, Eddie Waring and Arthur Ellis were still at the top of their game and the viewing figures continued to be encouraging - the 1980 International Final was, for instance, seen by 110 million viewers across Europe. However, new decades often bring sweeping changes, and with the dawn of the 1980s, the writing was on the wall for the series.

Mike Swann and Arthur Ellis, IAK's refereesThe announcement of the 1980 series itself gave regular viewers a slight cause for concern. From 1975-79, the series had been given a full one-hour slot on BBC1. The 1980 series would see that time whittled back to fifty minutes. The series would remain in this format until 1982 - when it was completely whittled away by BBC1 Controller, Alan Hart, who was not among the series' fans. As with many older properties, you got the feeling with the BBC that series such as It's A Knockout were only kept going out of habit, and even then grudgingly so with little support from management as they were felt to be "old hat". This view was reinforced by critics, anxious for something to lay in to and the BBC, in time honoured fashion, paid more attention to the critics than to audiences who patently still loved the innocent fun of it all.

Eddie Waring in his last year in IAKIt could be said though that 1980 was the last genuinely vintage series of It's A Knockout, where all the elements came together and everyone was on top form. The crux of the matter was Eddie Waring's health, which clearly took a knock between the 1980 and 1981 series. 1980 saw his traditional witty rejoinders with long-time colleague, Stuart Hall, and his usual colourful descriptions of the marathons, but in 1981, he was clearly not up to speed. It was painful to watch. The much-loved Waring sounded confused, out of his depth and not totally cognisant of what he was commentating on. He still managed the odd clever comeback at Hall, but these were few and far between... At 71, Eddie Waring was suddenly succumbing to an inevitable slowing down, and this cast a pall over the series. Eddie saw out the 1981 series determinedly, but it was to be his last. He retired from the series and from his beloved Rugby League commentary job (also with the BBC) and lived out his last years in his native Yorkshire. He died in October 1986, aged 76. His role would be filled by a succession of celebrities in the 1982 series, including actors and actresses from several BBC programmes of the time, such as Hi-De-Hi!, Blue Peter and Last of the Summer Wine. Frazer Hines from Yorkshire TV's Emmerdale Farm and the BBC's long-running Doctor Who, and Brian Cant from Play Away were probably the nearest the 1982 series came to making a decent job of replacing dear Eddie. The nadir of 1982 was undoubtedly witnessed when the desperately unfunny children's  comedy duo, The Krankies stepped into Eddie Waring's shoes. Never was a greater insult paid to the King of Dewsbury...

So, the team - together for ten memorable seasons of It's A Knockout - was broken, its chemistry consigned to memory. The series' days were numbered in any case, with all the European broadcasters involved in Jeux Sans Frontières agreeing shortly afterwards that 1982 would be the final year of the competition. Escalating costs were becoming simply too much to bear. This meant the BBC effectively had nowhere to go with It's A Knockout, it being perceived by this time as essentially a qualifier-series for the international competition, so 1982 would see the end of the domestic competition too. The BBC continued with the occasional special, at Christmas or just for the hell of it, but they ended up as little more than nostalgic one-off returns with no chance of a series.

Stuart Furber's hilarious Wasbees!The games of the early Eighties must rank as the most impressive of the whole British Domestic Series, thanks to the creation of high-quality costumes, and the genius of Stuart Furber, who devised and designed the games. Highlights were definitely the Wasbees (pictured, left) - larger than life half-wasp, half bees with springy antennae and a sting on the snout for bursting balloons - the Budgies, a succession of giants, chefs and many other creations brightened up the weeknights of the annual British transition between a dull, windy and wet Spring and a slightly brighter, windy and wet Summer.

Even though It's A Knockout found itself in its twilight years, the standard of competition was just as strong as ever. Contests were always keenly fought, with some extremely close finishes. Teams that won through to the international stages of the competition performed well, particularly Rhuddlan, second in the International Final 1980 and Dartmouth, who achieved a joint-1st Place in the following final. Much was expected of Charnwood in 1982, who were unbeaten in the domestic events, winning their heat against Rutland and Melton Mowbray and then emerging victorious from the Championship Knockout (along with West Dorset, who tied with them on 40 points) beating five other teams in the process. Charnwood appeared in the first Jeux Sans Frontières of 1982 from La Maddelena, Italy - and they won that event convincingly, too, qualifying them for the International Final. Unfortunately, it was there that their luck ran out. Charnwood finished a disappointing 5th. It was certainly a case of what might have been. It was Britain's last appearance in Jeux Sans Frontières, and the pressure got to the lads and lasses from Leicestershire.

But sometimes things never go to plan. The BBC themselves found similar problems with the first of their It's A Knockout specials following the series.

As has been mentioned before, the BBC continued It's A Knockout in fits and starts after the cancellation of the series proper. However, their plans were thwarted at the first attempt to revive the show with the Trio competition planned for 30th December 1982.

Vince HillTrio was planned as (unsurprisingly) a competition between three teams, hailing from Great Britain, Portugal and Netherlands. The event was staged on the beach at Carvoeiro in the Algarve region of Portugal in December 1982 by RTP television of Portugal in association with the NCRV of Netherlands and Britain's BBC North West. Commentaries were recorded by JSF veterans, Dick Passchier for the Dutch and Eládio Clímaco (with Yvonne Ferreira) for the Portuguese, while Britain's broadcast was to feature voiceover by entertainer Vince Hill, a Knockout newcomer (pictured, right).

Unfortunately, even though listings for the transmission had been included in the Christmas 1982 edition of Radio Times magazine, the programme was ultimately never shown. The BBC put this down to quality issues with the recording - by which we can take it that the master recording made was damaged in some way. It is also possible that the event itself fell victim to severe weather conditions. Sadly, no visual record of the event has been retained by the BBC. Trio's alloted broadcast slot was subsequently taken up with a hastily produced retrospective about It's A Knockout, hosted by Stuart Hall. Due to time restrictions, this was simply a quick re-edit of 1979's Look Back and Laugh, replacing Hall's and Eddie Waring's links from the programme with new links, recorded in the environs of BBC Manchester. Trio was reportedly not shown in Portugal or Netherlands, either, so this programme is now one of the real mysteries of the series history.

The remainder of the Eighties did, however, see four more BBC It's A Knockout broadcasts that actually made the screen. After the blip that was Trio, 1983 and 1984 saw the continuation of the BBC's traditional Christmas editions, with both events being staged at home - at the Aviemore Centre in Scotland and at Blackpool in England. In a twist on previous events, both these festive frolics were staged on ice. Against the run of history, British teams won both these events.

Gary Lineker and Nigel Mansell take part in The Grand Knockout TournamentHighest profile of the BBC's 1980s "one-off Knockouts" was undoubtedly The Grand Knockout Tournament, staged in aid of several charities in June 1987. Bursting at the seams with celebrities such as John Travolta, Kiri Te Kanawa, Christopher Reeve, Jenny Agutter, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Meatloaf, plus a host of sports stars including Tessa Sanderson, Gary Lineker and Nigel Mansell (the latter two are pictured, left), this also had the additional vindication of being a Royal Knockout, with four members of the British Royal Family appearing as non-competing Team Captains - namely Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. Much was made of the event, which was marked by It's A Knockout's first Radio Times cover since May 1972 and a hardcover souvenir book issued for Christmas 1987, Knockout: The Grand Charity Tournament from the Collins publishing house which was superbly illustrated with images from the event. The BBC even did a live radio broadcast from the recording, one of their sadly missed Radio 1 Roadshows, this one fronted by the popular disc-jockey, Steve Wright. The television programme itself was a delayed broadcast, airing four days later, on Friday 19th June 1987 to a very respectable audience and positive reviews.

Stuart Hall is joined by Curley Neal for IAK's last hurrah.The BBC's final dip into Knockout waters was also probably their most ambitious. Held at the famous Walt Disney World in Florida and again with teams from a celebrity/sports background, the wordily monickered It's A Charity Knockout from Walt Disney World was broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day 1988. British celebs and sportspeople faced others from the USA and Australia. Australia, of course, had been running their own version of It's A Knockout on Channel 10 for several years. But did the Americans really know what Knockout was all about? The country had had a brief dalliance with the format from 1975-1978 through various twists on the games by ABC Television, starting with Almost Anything Goes. In the end, it was a very close run competition, with the British and Australian teams tying on 18 points and the Americans trailing by just two in third. Again, celebrities abounded and acquitted themselves well, with some who had appeared in The Grand Knockout Tournament, such as Meatloaf, Toyah Willcox and George Lazenby, returning for another bite of the cherry. Amidst the day visitors to Walt Disney World and under the hot Florida sun, a series of events took place, sponsored for charity by a variety of American companies. Musical interludes were provided by Toyah, The Fat Boys and barbershop quartet, The Dapper Dans. Referee for the event was Curley Neal from the world famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

It was a fun way for Knockout to make its final bow at the BBC, though from a personal point of view, I almost have the feeling that the BBC produced these last two Knockout programmes simply to spite me... I have little time for the monarchy and I find Disney films too sugary sweet to take - and yet the BBC made me sit through both to indulge my two last chances to see new Knockout. If I wasn't so mild-mannered, I'd sue!  :)

And that was it. The story of It's A Knockout over at the BBC. But a decade or so later, there was another British broadcaster willing to take up the mantle of Knockout producer... See It's A Knockout at Channel 5.

by Alan Hayes