Turnabout (1)



Rob Curling


Turnabout Productions for BBC1, 26 March 1990 to 7 October 1996 (239 episodes in 8 series)

Co-produced by BBC Elstree, 1990-92

Co-produced by BBC North, 1993-96


"Da da, da da DA DA DA TURNABOUT!" That was the theme tune. Doesn't matter, but this was quite a top little quiz.

We'll be asking questions later

Now this sounds complicated, but it's simple really. On the board were a grid of 16 spheres. The idea was to manipulate the spheres in such a way as to get lines of three or four of your own colour. The spheres turned in order, from red to orange to blue (which spells ROB - the host's name, something they were very chuffed about). In later series, the confusing order was dropped into a "it changes to your own colour" rule and the colours were changed to red, green and blue.

In order to get a go at the board, the three contestants had to answer a word clue. In a single round, each of the words had the same three letters in common, such as BAR, where all the words have the letters BAR in them. Rob would give them a clue and if they got it correct they could play the board. In the beginning there are four grey spheres which must be taken before any others can be turned.

Middle middle two, please

When they are taken, then contestants can start scoring points for themselves or - if they're not careful - other people. For every line of three spheres, that colour scores 5 points and for every line of four they scored 10. Computer would go mental with "clang!"-type sound effects after each score. This continued until the Turnabout Timer had run out (about three minutes), at which point the three letters would Turnabout and become RAB, for example. The contestants would then have another three minutes to do as much as they can. If at any point they gave a wrong answer to a word clue they lost five points (after series 1).

Star turn

After this round would be the Star Game, where each of the three contestants would get a choice of three things, words with BAR in them, RAB, or a mixture of the two. On the wall would be grid of sixteen words with the relevant letters in, and the player would get 10 seconds to study it before having 60 seconds to answer as many questions as they could. If they got a question correct, the word would 'flip' over and reveal a star. They couldn't come back to wrong answers or passes. They got five points for each one and if they got all sixteen their score for the round was rounded up to one hundred.

The original wonderwall

Usually at this point there would be another game that was only played that series. These included the Picture Puzzle game and About Turn, where a word had three letters missing and the correct answer was just those three letters.

Turnabout again

Then they'd play the sphere game again with different letters and with the spheres turning in the opposite order: Blue to orange to red (and back to blue). The board was also reset. Again the letters 'Turnedabout' after the Timer ran out. At the end of this complete round, the winner played another Star Game for a prize, the more words correct the better the prize. They also went through to the quarter-finals, then the semis and then the finals where they were guaranteed a decent prize, but the big prize went to the winner. The prize varied from series to series - the first winner, Alec Dalrymple, won audio-visual equipment, Jackie McLeod won a holiday to Australia and Glenys Hopkins won a set of dictionaries (shades of Countdown here!)

It was the quiz that had it all, really - skill and strategy wrapped into one. And it had a giant swimming pool in the middle of the studio floor which enhanced the show immeasurably. You can never have too many pointless features in studios, that's for sure.


1990 Alec Dalrymple
1991* Jackie McLeod
1992 Glenys Hopkins
1993 David Poulter
1994 David Webb
1995 Mike Billson
Spring 1996 Roger Prebble
Autumn 1996 Wendy Rosser
  • A special edition of Turnabout aired in 1992 featuring the first three winners playing against each other. The show was won by Jackie McLeod.


"Can we turnabout the timer, please?"

"...So that means that the letters (whatever) will turnabout to become (or, in some cases,) remain (whatever)!"

(Before the Star Game): "A few seconds to have a look over the board - a minute to eliminate as many words as you can, starting....now!"

After a contestant had buzzed in incorrectly, Rob would turn to the next contestant to buzz with the words, "(Whoever), your light is on".

At fairly regular intervals, "No whispering (or "shouting out") in the audience, please!" (In semi-final matches, the contestants would often have to play the same star game, so Rob would remind the audience not to even whisper any of the words - "You can hear a pin drop in the studio!" he would sometimes say).


Clive Doig

Theme music

Martin Cook


The classy pond in the studio (introduced from series two) was real, and they employed someone to stand at one end of the studio and move a piece of wood back and forwards to make the ripples in the pond. This kept having to be re-shot as he kept moving it too fast and making the water lap over the edge of the pond onto the studio floor. On one show, Rob nearly fell into the pool - you could tell it from a sudden tremor in his voice - after which he recovered himself with the words, "I was just about to fall off the set there - so before I do, let's meet the contestants!"

In the first series, the show had a title sequence that featured the images of all the contestants in the spheres of the game board. Rob Curling appeared in a sphere as well.

The show became a well-known replacement for Going for Gold in the 1.50pm slot after Neighbours during its spring schedules for the first three series, with the first two series getting a 10.05am morning repeat the next day. For its fourth series, the show moved to 3.05pm just before Children's BBC programming as the 1.50pm slot was taken up by lunchtime repeats of the BBC flop soap Eldorado; after Eldorado bit the dust, the show moved back to its usual slot of 1.50pm again, as the replacement for the aforementioned show for the fifth and sixth series. The latter half of the sixth series was moved to 3.35pm just before Children's BBC programming again, while the seventh series moved to an earlier time slot of 12.05pm just after the BBC Lunchtime News before the eighth and final series moved to a later time slot of 2.35pm.

TV Brain tells us that nearly all of the episodes survived in the archives. Only six are missing:

  • Series 2: episodes 10 and 16
  • Series 3: episodes 2, 7, 20, and 26

All of series 1, and all of series 4-8 are known to exist in various archives.

Web links

Wikipedia entry

Opening titles from 1990, 1991 and 1996 in the BBC Motion Graphics Archive


An episode from 1991.


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