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I have been watching and appreciating The Crystal Maze since it began with it’s original presenter Richard O’Brian and have to admit to spending many a Thursday evening screaming wildly at the contestants... words along the line of .. moron..idiot..dear god!!..

At the time I owned a pub in Stoke on Trent  and would stand behind my bar on a Friday morning discussing the inadequacies of the previous nights contestants. Our total crystalsThis went on for several years...eventually, one Friday, one of my customers who was bored with my continual moaning said "if you're so ****ing clever, why don't you go on the show!!." I picked up the phone and rang Channel Four and asked for the Duty Officer. I asked her how I could apply and she gave me a telephone number to ring. The number was for Chatsworth Television, the production company who made the show for Channel Four and the young lady, Elaine, said she would send me an application form which I received about two days later.

The application form was SIX pages of questions, with 5 MENSA type questions at the end. The most difficult (and important) question of the whole form was...Why do you think you would make a good contestant on the show....

This is really the question which the researchers read first when viewing the written applications (...38,000 for the last series...) so this is the one which you have to answer DIFFERENTLY to everyone else in order to get called for audition. About 3 weeks after submitting the form I received a letter calling me for interview at Manchester where we were seen in groups of SIX. The audition took the form of

1)  Introduction of everyone present
2)  Each person had to talk about themselves for about three minutes
3)  Playing individual games with the others shouting encouragement.

The whole thing lasted about an hour.

The next thing I knew was about six weeks later when I received a call from Elaine to say that I had been chosen to appear in show 5 which would be filmed on November 18th/19th and that I would be required to travel down to a hotel in Harlow to arrive by 7.00pm on 17th when we would meet the other members of the team and have dinner with Ed Tudor-Pole.

Dutifully I arrived as planned, and met my fellow team-mates for the first time, Kate, Heather, Simon, Neil and Tracy. At about 7.30 we went to dinner with Elaine and were joined by Ed Tudor-Pole. We chatted through the meal and Ed was in high spirits (?????) and towards the end of the meal Elaine announced that Tracy would be captain and that Neil would be Vice-Captain...I wasn’t a happy bunny...(my ego in full blow, I had decided that I must be chosen as captain as I was the OLDEST, TALLEST, MALE..etc and therefore the obvious choice.....) ..anyway, we finished the meal and were told to be ready in reception at 7.30am in the morning.......I went to bed grumpy!!

Woke at seven...feeling a bit apprehensive about what was to come, but in a better mood than when I went to bed. We all met in reception and were taken by taxi to an airfield near to Epping Forest to a huge hanger called ACES HIGH. Outside were several vehicles including a converted double decker bus which was the canteen. We were taken to a portacabin inside the hanger which was referred to as THE GREEN ROOM and then to wardrobe to get into our things. Breakfast. Back to greenroom. Show starts at about 9.30am.

First of all, the show is obviously NOT filmed in real time. As the whole show is shot with only two portable cameras, it would be impossible to film in RT. Ed blows the conchConstant re-setting of the cameras mean that (with the exception of the actual games) there are many 15-20 minute breaks whilst the cameras are repositioned. We had been allocated the AZTEC zone as our starting point so we were taken to the river to begin filming. First we had to do our mug shots used for the opening of the show when the contestants are introduced by Ed. Then we had to do our noddies which are three shots of all of us nodding, shaking our heads and finally smiling. the daunting river aheadThese would then be edited in later depending on what Ed said to us as he introduced the zone etc.. More coffee..more Danish pastries..back on set to start the opening sequence...which is the journey up the Amazon in two (fibreglass) boats.

This is where things went slightly wrong...
we set sail !!WE had decided who would go in which boat BEFORE Ed had arrived on the set...unfortunately.. .when filming started HE said that the Captain and Vice Captain had to travel in different boat...he blew the Conch shell..(no sound... ..added during editing)...and....PANIC... I jumped into the right-hand boat with Simon and Kate and started to paddle like crazy...unfortunately BEFORE Kate had had chance to untie the rope..Simon and I paddled harder..Kate couldn’t undo the rope...Eventually she got it free and we set off down the river ..but things got worse!!! Tracey, Heather and Neil were in the other boat and arrived at the end of the river...but getting out of the boat Neil (soggyboots) Watson FELL IN!!.(This is only the second time this has happened..the first time it was a girl). Off to a good start...NOT!!...
chaos in the river...
Those of you who actually watched series 6 will remember this show as the first one of   series 6 (even though it was actually the fifth show filmed out of 13). The reason the show Neil falls in ! !was scheduled for transmission as the FIRST in the series was because we won the holiday (..obviously, this gets the series off to a good start....)

With a soggy vice-captain and a totally confused team we now have Ed Tudor-Pole chastising us for not listening to his instructions as to who should have traveled in which boat. Oh well, time for coffee and even more Danish pastries. Back to the green room where Elaine comes to see us to tell us which games we have to play in the first zone.

Now, as you probably already know, all that stuff about "I think we'll have Neil playing a physical game" is about as spontaneous as a wedding service. At the beginning of each zone, you are TOLD which three (or four) games are to be played, (i.e. physical, mental, skill or mystery) and a strong recommendation as to who should play them. This 'recommendation' is based upon the information that you gave to them at the original interview,and your application form (which asks which type of game you would prefer to play). Remember, they know exactly how the games work and that some of them are best suited to you or another of your team mates.

Our first zone is the AZTEC. "We have a physical game to start" says Elaine. "I suggest that Neil plays that" .OK, its agreed. "After that is a skill game which I think Bob would be particularly suited for" It's agreed. "And finally there's a mental game which I suggest Kate could do" . Blindly, like awe-inspired sheep, we agree with what's been suggested and Captain Tracy is dutifully informed as to who is playing what games. This she has to remember, which is not easy when you have everything going on around you.
More coffee, donuts and cigarettes when finally we are called back on set. Dutifully lined up in exactly the same order as we were before the break we suddenly become aware that we are one of many shows being recorded when we are referred to as 'orange' or 'green' rather than by name.
"Orange is behind green who is in front of blue.." became the order of the day,(although I will say that everyone involved in the production were extremely kind and helpful to us and couldn't do enough to put us at our ease).....

.....(please bear in mind that I am writing this in 1999, and that I am trying desperately to remember the details from 4 years ago....I really should have finished writing this story at the time!!...so please forgive me any inaccuracies...)

So, we are waiting to play the first game, which is Neilīs physical game.

This was when we realised that the whole program was recorded in very short bursts.

First we are returned to the end of the river set, repositioned to where we were before the break, and then "action"....Ed leads us through to the Aztec Zone, whist the cameras roll. This is lesson number two...how to look as though you are running, whilst not having the space to run! You quickly develop this "jog", which looks quite effective on camera, but is actually quite frustrating....(a bit like trying to get around the shops on Christmas Eve)... lots of jostling but not much progress. Ed yabbers on...Anyway, we arrive in the Aztec Zone. This is without doubt (for me) the most spectacular of the sets. It is actually much larger than it appears on TV, with tons of real sand on the floor. The plants are of course plastic, but look very real, and with all the studio lights, it is as hot as you would imagine the Aztec Zone to be!!

When we arrive, we have to do more "noddies". Ed gives some spiel about the Zone, and then asks Tracey who is playing the first game.

"I think we’ll have Neil, playing a physical game" she obligingly replies, and we all race over to the first game cell.

"Youīve got three minutes" says Ed, opens the door, and in jumps Neil.

"CUT !"

...shouts the floor manager, and someone grabs Neil by the scruff of his neck, and drags him back out of the cell. We all look well confused at this point, thinking "what has he done wrong??"

"thank you folks" says the floor manager, "you can go back to the green room now".....Eh?..what?....

We are taken back to the green room where Elaine explains that the whole show is filmed with just two cameras. So whenever we play a game, there is no camera inside the cell, as they are being used to film the external shots. So they stop filming the moment you enter the cell in order to put one of the cameras inside and film you doing the game. "please do not look into the camera at any time" begs Elaine... "it looks really stupid, and has to be edited from the show".

Like...please….I’ve got 2 minutes to do a game...my credibility is on the line in front of 6 million viewers, and you think I’ve got time to gawp into the camera?

I think not.

15 minutes later and we’re called back on set to resume Neil’s game. Everyone put back exactly where they were (as per the Polaroid shots), but now with a camera inside the cell waiting for Neil.

Neil tries his best...In this game, Neil has a wooden sledge hammer (itīs similar to those "test your strength" stalls at the fairground) and three targets. However, the rope is tied to a rotating pole which makes the rope shorter by the second. When the see-saw is struck, a weight is propelled upwards which SHOULD break a ceramic pot full of gold dust which then pours onto a conveyor belt and eventually raised the crystal for Neil to retrieve. This is a purely physical game, the only thing you have to realise is that the rope is getting shorter, so you must start with the furthest away in order to break all three, which is necessary to raise the crystal. Other than that, it is simply a technique of using the hammer, which unfortunately Neil didnīt have. We watched frustrated for the three minutes whist he tried desperately to raise the weights high enough to break the pots, but he was using brute force, rather than gravity to strike the see-saws. We all shouted encouragement but to no avail, and eventually he came out after we shouted he was almost out of time.

1 game played. No crystal

When Neil's came out of the cell, I was expecting another "CUT!!!", but no, filming continued as we crossed the set to Kate’s game and only when she jumped into the cell did we hear the now familiar "CUT!!". More coffee and croissants, and the process began to repeat itself.

Kate concentratesWe returned for Kate’s game. This time it was based on a pantograph, which is basically a tool for reproducing a shape or drawing. She had a hidden shape, which she had to trace and then identify it from one of about eight possibilities. If she got it wrong, the crystal would be trapped forever, so rightly she decided to use all her time to establish exactly which shape she was tracing. As a team we couldn’t really help her (except for shouts of encouragement) as our view was non-existent, and it was a tactile game anyway. Something told me that she knew exactly what she was doing, so I just relaxed and enjoyed the game. Kate emerged triumphant with her crystal and the team’s morale when skyward! We had at least one crystal!!

Next it was my turn. Ed asked Tracey who was next and when she told him, he grabbed my arm and dragged me across the set...I almost fell over, as I wasn’t expecting to be man-handled down the steps (there are a small flight of steps leading up to the cells on both sides of the Zone). I arrived, told 2― minutes, jumped in the cell and... "CUT!!" ..off to the green room.

A cigarette and coffee later, we returned, repositioned and prepared to restart my first game. Suddenly the floor manager came up to me and said "remember, keep talking all the way through, tell us what you’re doing and why.....oh ..and by the way,.. use the green blocks". Eh?....what?...I had no idea what he was on about!

the penny drops at last ! !Ed shouted (and I mean shouted...his voice was so loud!!) "You have 2― minutes" and I jumped through the door. I landed in the cell to see what I thought was a table-football game, but on closed inspection it was a maze with holes all around the edge for the crystal to drop out of. I soon realised that the stick they had provided was not long enough on itīs own to push the crystal out of one of the holes, and then realised that I needed to use it in conjunction with one of the green blocks. The "clue" given tome by the floor manager has actually been more hindrance than help, but I’d sussed it and was on my way to a crystal. It fell to the floor, and I grabbed it and ran for the door. As I left the cell, I remember thinking... "I don’t care now what happens in the rest of the show...I’ve got a crystal...

... I’ve got a crystal ! ! .."

Off to the Ocean Zone ! !The cameras continued to roll as Ed told us that we were going to the next zone, the Ocean Zone, and led us to a gap in the set with a small river and stepping stones..we dutifully followed him and I expected us to to come out of the set and there be nothing there. Wrong! It actually did lead us to the Ocean Zone( which stank of old seaweed), and we arrived at the top of the stairs and ran down them into the main galley of the ship. This was really impressive. I realised for the first time that the whole "set" was not merely a collection of different sets, but that it is actually one huge set built exactly like the diagram shown on screen each time you change zone. It really is The Crystal Maze!

"CUT!!" - Time for lunch.

...(please bear in mind that I am writing this in 1999, and that I am trying desperately to remember the details from 4 years ago....I really should have finished this story at the time!!)...so please forgive me any inaccuracies...

We left the aircraft hanger for the first time that day. It was about 12.30 and we were to have lunch on a DOUBLE DECKER BUS! This was the canteen, and boy, the food was great! The bus had been converted into a complete restaurant with the top deck being the eating area, whilst downstairs was converted into a buffet area with all kinds of things, including veggie stuff!

Tracey and the giant keyThis was also the first time the team had chance to talk about what had happened so far without the production crew being around. Everyone agreed that Ed Tudor Pole was actually more sane when the cameras were rolling than during the breaks in-between.

On hour passed and we were called back onto the set which was now the Ocean Zone. It stank. Apparently they used real seaweed when they first built the set and that was then over three years ago. Believe me, the smell of rotting seaweed really added to the authenticity of the set!

  (to be continued....if you bookmark this page with IE5 you can set it to inform you when it's been updated and come back and read the rest.....when I get chance!!)

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