I don't remember a whole lot about Bamboozle, the Teletext quiz. Chiefly, I remember it was written by a friend of mine, Julian Edwards, who I'd worked with in one of my previous jobs at Ladbrokes Racing. Julian was, for a time, my boss - we were a two-man department running the company's Oracle/teletext betting service.
Inevitably, his patience was tested on several occasions. Out of sheer boredom, I once changed all the names of the runners in a race to ridiculous things - "Lovely Jobby" being one of them - and stated that the going was "firm to wobbly". He noticed just seconds before the page was due to be sent to air. Somehow, we remained friends after I left Ladbrokes, and when I came to work at Teletext I recommended him for a job.
I only have vague memories of the creation of Bamboozle. I just about recall its original creator - not a Teletext employee - who received a payment from the company, so that they could develop his quiz idea. As far as I know, Julian created the character of Bamber Boozler, but I don't recall whether the name of the quiz was already in place when he came aboard.
Julian sat opposite the Digitiser team - for him, a curse more than a blessing, frankly - and it was easy for him to call across the partition and ask me to design a new character.
I'd forgotten all about Mr Visual until I read this piece - but it brought back memories; I remember laughing, thinking it was a peculiarly Digitiser-esque name.
And that's about all I do remember about Bamboozle. It's an important part of the Teletext story - perhaps even more loved than Digitiser seems to be (certainly, Digi has never been name-checked by Peter Kay) - and so, after the success of Games of My Years, I thought it might be nice to have something about it on here, written by somebody who remembers it better than me: one of the UK's foremost Teletext experts, Mr Dan Farrimond.
Here he comes now!
I read with mild interest the ‘news’ that teletext was the subject of a question on Germany’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire last month.
“Oh yeah, that reminds me,” I screamed out loud to my plant pot.
“I remember when this show was on teletext! Good old Herr Boozler and his Bildpunkt Familie.”
Three minutes later, on remembering that Boozly Bamber was of no specific nationality, I decided to attempt that day’s edition of the popular teletext general knowledge quiz known as Bamboozle. But no matter how many times I mashed the HOLD button, page 152 simply would not load – in fact, only the subtitles page was anything close to functional, and that consisted of a barely comprehensible mixture of double height percentage signs and comical homonymous spelling errors.
“Err, is teletext on life support or something? When did this happen?”
Again, my plant pot failed to respond. But that’s fine, because I didn’t expect him to.
Fortunately (unfortunately?), I don’t actually live in 1995 – I just like to pretend I do for the sake of my promoter, who insists I’ll get more title card fights that way. Blasted kayfabe. Incidentally, I’m available to attend backyard wrestling promotions until February.
This actually being the year 2012, I am able to consult teletext 2.7 (namely the internet) to discover the fate of Britain’s greatest video game. Or more likely, I can compile the web’s soggy, half-eaten lunchbox of commercially funded pseudo-theories and spend a week examining why they’re a load of partially hydrogenated bull butter.
Actually, that sounds like too much work - I’ll do it all from memory. How much can I have forgotten in ten years?
Well, I set myself up for that, didn’t I? Thankfully, the rest of this article is built from (more reliable) eyewitness accounts of the criminally under-documented 24-hour superquiz everyone else calls Bamboozle. Read at the risk of your own precious lunchtime.
You know those DVD quiz games, the ones with 3,473 editions but only 24 questions between them? The ones you play on Christmas Day then flog on the boot sale in January for 20p? Huh, I wish I didn’t either. Bamber would be rotating in two frames of teletext animation in his Lego brick grave… if he were dead.
Bamboozle (often styled with an exclamation mark, as Bamboozle!) is the bigger and sexier daddy of the flashy bastard son that is the £9.99 pub quiz DVD. It is the precursor to Answering Questions With Chris Tarrant that doesn’t need to give away a million quid, or even a single penny, to prove it is cool.
Bamboozle is the reason GCSE papers reverted to multiple choice in 1994. It is the inspiration behind legendary quiz host ‘Bamber’ Gascoigne’s nickname (his real name is Paul). It is where Renaissance painters first got the idea to use red, yellow, blue and green as the four primary colours.
…And so on. You get the general idea.
Indeed it is, dear reader – well deduced!
In terms of gameplay, Bamboozle tasks you with answering 30, 20, 15 or 12 questions depending on the specific incarnation you’re playing.
According to host Bamber Boozler, it is a roguelike in that you must get every question right first time otherwise a man comes and cuts off your head with a large axe, Dark Souls style. But you can try again tomorrow once it has grown back and a new set of questions has been written.
Presumably to cater for casual gamers that got bored after ‘dying’ on question 2, Teletext gave in to public pressure and introduced pre-determined save points. This made the task of getting to the end screen much quicker, without actually reducing game difficulty. Hey, this was an intellectual quiz – there is no dumbing down to be found here, and the same goes for the technology! Speaking of which…
Just to prove Bamboozle is a video game, we’ll even print its very own set of system requirements (as tattooed on Bamber’s bottom).
- 1 teletext television with fastext
- 1 fastext remote
- 2 AA batteries for fastext remote
- Decent reception of Channel 4
- Plate of Monster Munch sandwiches
At the peak of Bamboozle’s success, main host Bamber Boozler was as recognisable as fellow quizmasters Bruce Forsyth, Magnus Magnusson and Richard Whiteley. To a generation, he was the pixel block face of a medium otherwise characterised by impenetrable walls of scrambled text and incorrect football scores.
But in reality, superstar Boozler was a very private man, eschewing the party life in favour of spending time with his family. As a result, very few ever saw the lower half of his body, leading many to think he was either a floating torso or that he couldn’t afford pants. Indeed, wife Bambette’s insistence that she ‘wore the trousers’ in their relationship would seem to support either of these theories (as opposed to her husband’s non-elasticated boxers).
Bambette Boozler, otherwise known as the Poster Girl of Schadenfreude, topped a poll to find ‘Teletext’s Most Hated Presenter’ in 2007. And for good reason – when your only job is to tell people they’re wrong, not even a teletextised Alan Sugar could compete. Nope, you can’t make up for it by wishing people Happy Birthday, Bambette – you’re a bad girl and you know it.
As is the case with most celebrity couples, many unsubstantiated rumours regarding the Boozlers were spread on the Teletext Mailing List. Since teletext is a naturally silent medium, viewers never actually heard Bamber or Bambette’s voice, giving rise to the theory that they were mute and could only speak in tele-text.
This was later confirmed as untrue - owing to their single frames of animation, they learned to talk without moving their mouth by watching hundreds of badly dubbed Hong Kong action movies (presumably with the aid of subtitles on teletext page 888).
Much less discussed were Bamber and Bambette’s equally obmutescent offspring, Buster and Bonnie, who ‘looked after’ the quiz while their irresponsible parents retired to the (Bamber) boozer with Uncle Brian and Auntie WLW of a Saturday afternoon. The supposedly ‘simple’ Junior Bamboozle existed to further humiliate adults that could barely reach question 4 of the regular quiz in the pre-Google ‘phone a library’ age.
While Buster posed questions on the colour of oranges (red, in the limited palette world of teletext), Bonnie delighted in delivering the embarrassing news that you’d incorrectly answered a question aimed at 10-year olds… again.
Certainly not for the egotistical, this version of the game was best left alone in favour of waiting for your football team to score a teletext goal. Which is a lot like an actual goal, except oftentimes non-existent – punters beware the dreaded late correction!
Hosted live from a deserted football stadium, Ten to One was much easier as you only had to answer ten questions to win the big prizes, which ranged from Des Lynam moustache shavings to genuine Teletext branded printer paper complete with weird sprocket holes.
But when they ran out of office stationery to give away, Brian was placed on gardening leave and eventually released on a Bosman.
Despite strong rumours he would star in Gary Lineker’s Crappy Cash-In Quiz for the Game Boy Color, he disappeared at the start of the 1999 season, meaning sports quiz fans everywhere would be forced to tape censored repeats They Think It’s All Over again.
During Bamboozle’s 16-year run, many more insipient individuals stepped in to cover Bamber and his immediate family. Perhaps most memorable was the time Treguard from children’s RPG quiz Knightmare drunkenly stormed Teletext HQ brandishing his battle scarred Helmet of Justice.
Since he agreed to leave only if they granted him ‘more screen time’, editors had no choice but to let him present a heavily slurred ‘adventure video game’ version of Bamboozle for one day in 1994. Much like Knightmare, this was impossible to complete, mostly as the dungeon master fell asleep muttering something saucy about Elvira after question six.
Allegedly, Bamber had taken time off to ‘iron his trousers so the pockets were perfectly square’, but since the existence of Bamber’s pants is questionable (see above), it’s likely ‘Mr Viz’ was making up nonsense to fill his speech bubbles. Which was against the Teletext Code of Practice, of course.
Now for a spot of mythbusting.
We can confirm that this Bernard Boozer chap never actually appeared on Channel 4’s Bamboozle – the above screenshot is taken from his official audition, which didn’t make it to air for seemingly obvious reasons. I mean, who would ever consider publishing such defamatory lyrics? Certainly not Digitiser2000.com.
And now, the bit you immediately skipped to…
Warning: the following cheat is to be executed at your own risk – there is a good chance you may inadvertently access the ‘Question 1C’ kill screen that locks your teletext television forever. Also, a very pixellated gentleman will appear and hit you over the head with a Mega Blok hammer.
There was one major Bamboozle cheat that rendered the game as pointless as certain teatime BBC quiz shows, allowing those with dextrous digital skills to skip to Bamber’s infamous ‘Clock Screen’ without having to know much about anything.
In an attempt to prevent dishonesty, all Bamboozle question pages were hidden in parts of the teletext service only accessible by mashing the correct combination of fastext keys. They could be found alongside secret pages such as tomorrow’s lottery numbers (sent by Camelot, for internal use only) and meeting times for the underground AII (Anti Internet Alliance) group.
Allegedly, it was possible to access these secret pages using purpose-built remotes that had buttons for letters as well as numbers – at least, I assume that’s what Steve Gold and Robert Schifreen used to hack into Prestel that time.
Because it was perfectly possible to change your answer right up until the moment that page had loaded, you could quickly press each of the four colours and compare the requested page codes. The answer with a unique page ID would be correct, while the other three would always lead to the same ‘You’ve Been Bamboozled’ page with Bambette.
Not that I would ever know, because I didn’t cheat, ever.
…Except that time I pressed a random combination of keys and found the final boss of Level 1 teletext at page 900. But I swear that was a total accident.
But let’s say you didn’t cheat and played the game properly as Bamber recommended.
In its purest form, Bamboozle was an exceedingly difficult game – one would have to be a Richard Osman of the highest order, the literal embodiment of teletext itself to answer all 15 questions correctly on the first attempt.
However, the player could create their own levels of difficulty, adding bonus points for Bambette’s bonus question, having friends help out, giving themselves two ‘lives’ on each question and so on. These flexible goals brought mass appeal to the quiz, which could be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.
As a working example, I completed the 6 November 1998 quiz with 7 correct answers out of 11 – at time of writing this was available to play online (complete with glorious glitches) here.
Pleasingly, this particular edition is timeless in that there are no current affairs questions that might give the late Nineties version of yourself an unfair advantage over your current incarnation.
Though page loading times proved a large irritation to many, the nervous thrill of waiting to see if you entered the correct answer was unmatched by anything in gaming at the time or indeed ever since.
In any case, this issue was addressed in the mid Nineties, when teletext page caching technology increased game speed while retaining the essential ‘oh God, I hope it’s the right answer’ quality.
Initially, a new set of Bamboozle questions appeared each week, but this increased in frequency to once per day as the game grew in popularity. If you missed a day, you would never be able to play that particular set again.
This made it as addictive as chocolate flavoured cigarettes with added caffeine, forcing you to change your work schedule just so you could play the game at the same time every day. It became part of the morning routine – make breakfast, play Bamboozle, brush teeth, pinch neighbours’ milk, wait for next edition of Bamboozle etc.
The game was perfect for filling Channel 4’s extended 8-minute commercial breaks, and often you would find yourself missing the morning news report just so you could beat Bamber and his cronies. Before you knew it, The Big Breakfast was long finished and you had been sucked into the world of teletext, browsing the entire service one page at a time.
The sound of a phone ringing alerted you to the fact you were supposed to be at work 40 minutes ago, but you didn’t even care to answer it. Yes, Bamboozle had turned you into a hopeless teletext addict.
Thank goodness it’s gone.
[Ten seconds later]
Oooh, I wonder if I can play Bamboozle online?
- Bamber and Bambette Boozler retired to Benidorm in 2009, booking a £99 flight on Teletext’s final day. Nobody has heard from them since.
- Buster Boozler now co-hosts BBC quiz show Pointless alongside Alexander Armstrong.
- Bonnie Boozler now works as a teacher performance assessor, mysteriously appearing the moment any mistakes are made to cry ‘you’ve been Bamboozled!’
- Brian Boozler is still sitting in his empty football stadium, waiting for Des Lynam to cross over to him so he can finally deliver his report on the 1999 FA Cup Final.
- Turner the Worm recovered from his much-publicised illness to star in eight incarnations of Team17’s Worms series of video games. Within its universe, the infamous ‘Vomit Comet’ yoghourt catapult was named in his honour.
- Mr Visual is still trying to convince visitors to his loss-making high street television shop that he even existed
Special thanks to:
The Lancashire Hotpots – see their teletext music video for ‘Lancashire’s For Me’. Julie Gibley, Russell Wright, Alistair Cree, Accessible Gaming, Carl Attrill and everyone at the Teletext Facebook Group. The Boozler Family and Turner the Worm, but not Mr Visual. Paul Rose, close friend of Mr Biffo. He was a guy that used to write for the teletext, I think.
GAMES OF MY YEARS - THE COMPLETE DIGITISER STORY