Johnny Ball (1985)
Mike Smith (1986-87)
The cast of Grange Hill
Announcer (Ball-era): Trevor McCallum
BBC 1, 8 March 1985 to 20 February 1987
A panel consisting of four members of the cast from Grange Hill (a children's school-based soap opera) had to watch a guest or celebrity perform a mime of a particular hobby of theirs.
The panel had to ask the contestant/celebrity various questions to try and guess what he/she was miming, but beware... if the panel mentioned a particular word during the program, they were all gunged from above! If the panel got ten wrong guesses, they lost. Basically a kids' version of What's My Line? (including the contestants winning a certificate if they beat the panel), but still very watchable and, in its own way, fairly entertaining. In some series at least, contestants were also given 'Secrets Out' pens and/or sweatshirts.
The answers to each secret was displayed on the screen for a few seconds before each round, and the viewers had the option to look away if they didn't want to know it. During the Johnny Ball-era, it was also announced, so Ball had to instruct viewers to close both their eyes and their ears, but when Mike Smith took over, the secret was only shown visually.
In the lesser-recalled Johnny Ball era, the panellists were mostly unknown stage school kids (some of whom were very irritating), but there was certainly at least one 'Grange Hill' person, since Alison Bettles, mentioned below, was an actress on that show. Some of the other kids appeared as extras on So You Want to be Top?. Mentioning the secret word meant that the panellist concerned won a special prize - a Walkman or something like that, brought in by the show's robot, Malcolm.
Here's a sample Radio Times billing:
Friday 10th May 1985
4.35 SECRETS OUT!!!
Chairman JOHNNY BALL
A duel to the death (or until someone loses!) between the panel CATHERINE ELCOMBE, ALISON BETTLES, STEPHEN MULLEN and DARREN TRAYNOR and this week's hobbyists.
Can you make heads for tails of these cryptic clues?
- quite clear to start, cloudy later
- all plain sailing in the end
- gives him a kick in his goodyear
- one foot above another
Designer ROCHELLE SELWYN
Producer IAN OLIVER
Inevitable "host gets gunged on last show of the series" moment when the gunge word was "goodbye". Anne Robinson take note.
No gunging on Ball's last-ever show, but he did make a surprisingly dramatic entrance - he suddenly leapt up almost to the ceiling, having obviously been wired up for that purpose.
Probably the most surprising celebrity hobby revealed on the programme was that of the then World's Strongest Man Geoff Capes - he bred budgies! Nowadays his avian interest is well-known, but this wasn't to be the last time he would reveal a surprising hobby on a game show: in 2010, he turned up on Antiques Master, where he proved to be something of an expert on Lalique glassware.
The Johnny Ball series seemed to feature more interesting and unusual hobbies than the Mike Smith series. The former series included such things as keeping pigs, having a pet python, building hovercrafts and making unusual and/or revolting cakes. The latter series seemed to feature more straightforward interests, such as photography and pot-holing - they could often be interesting, but not very unusual.
(At the beginning of Ball's shows): "And here's the best-kept secret of all - it's Johnny Ball!"
(Ball): "...So if you don't want to find out what the hobby is, close your eyes and ears for about 5 seconds, starting...now".
"Your secret's out..."
And yes, it really did have an unnecessarily urgent three exclamation marks in the title.