Bring Back 'It's a Knockout' : Les Jeux Sans Frontieres, n'est pas?
Bring Back It's a Knockout : Les Jeux Sans Frontieres, n'est pas?
I dare you not to laugh at these crazy videos, in fact I double dare you not to laugh.
These are just some examples from a collection that takes me back to those carefree childhood days of 1970's television.
This was long before the tedium of Reality TV and the overwrought drama of modern soap operas made us forget our sense of humour. Call it what you will, wherever you are, 'Jeux Sans Frontieres', 'Spiele Ohne Grenzen' , 'Games Without Frontiers' or whatever.
To us enthusiasts in the more eccentric fringe of the UK it was 'It's a Knockout' pure and simple.
But it was games without frontiers, this was real European unity when the disparate people of the continent with their different tongues and diverse cultures all came together with one aim in mind.
To have a blast, to celebrate the ridiculous side of human nature and prove that we could all join in a collective madness. Each country was represented by a town and they fought it out with their foreign opponents to win the ultimate prize. There were no real winners and losers here though because everyone made complete and utter fools of themselves and we loved them for it.
Not that there wasn't a competitive element to this incomprehensible tomfoolery. After all, this was less than 30 years after the Second World War so the Brits loved to beat the Germans at anything, as did everybody else for that matter.
In fact the original idea is said to have come from General deGaulle believe it or not. It was also a chance to upset the Mediterranean swagger of the Italians as well as the laid back nonchalance of the Dutch. Even those polite folk of the Low Countries would let go as the boys and girls of Belgium dropped their reserve and threw themselves into the fray. And everyone loved the French.
That's how unique the whole phenomenon really was. But we had three French guys to thank for it; Pedro Brime, Jean-Louis Marest and Claude Savarit who brought the original idea to fruition
For me it was even educational as I learned that those 'NL' labels emblazoned on the teams from Holland stood for Nederland. I also discovered that 'D' stood for Deutschland as the Germans incredibly had their own name for their country.
Even the Swiss abandoned their self-imposed isolation and joined in this multi-national party of fun and frolics. But as a young 8-year old kid I could never understand why they had 'CH' on their shirts. It was years later I learned that the letters stood for 'Confœderatio Helvetica' and came from Latin. A classical education no less for a young lad.
We cheered on the 'GB' team from whichever town they came from and were truly ecstatic when we won the 1973 tournament.
That was the great team from the town of Ely in Cambridgeshire who had given fair warning in the local British qualifying heats that they were something special.
The Oil Crisis was on the horizon, the S.A.L.T. talks had just been finalised but the whole shenanigans of the Cold War were still hanging over us. We didn't care, because we had won 'It's a Knockout' and Britain was 'Great' again indeed.
But you couldn't get too serious about competing, you couldn't gloat too triumphantly about victory. How could you when the games were played out to the background of medieval castles or fairytale palaces. There were bats, balls, sponges and bucket after bucketful of water.
There were giant mannequins with humans inside battling it out like a full-scale riot at a carnival parade. People fell over, they fell over all the time and usually foisted with bizarre clothing or trapped inside the most outlandish costumes you could imagine. All the same the matches were officiated by two guys called Gennaro Olivieri and Guido Pancaldi who tried to referee and maintain order amongst the bedlam. An abiding memory was Gennaro's "Trois, Deux, Un!" countdown before blowing his whistle and wisely stepping out of the way.
The mischievous minds of the organisers thought up the most inventive scenarios their active imaginations could inflict on the hapless contestants. The competitors were flung down chutes, hauled over walls, thrown up ladders or thrown off horizontal beams.
And usually the price of failure was to be chucked into a pile of foam mattresses or plunged into a pool of water. And if they weren't falling over or being half-drowned they were desperately fleeing some huge monster or ravenous beast from the wilds of Darkest Europe.
And if all that wasn't enough we had Stuart Hall.
To add to all the mayhem and cartoon chaos on our otherwise civilised TV screens we had BBC commentator Stuart Hall screaming into the microphone in complete hysterics.
Stuart managed to punctuate his endless laughter with an occasional comment as he cracked up at the surreal carnival of japery that we were all witnessing.
He really made 'It's a Knockout' something special for the audience at home as his infectious roars and guffaws drew us into this festival of joy and sublime stupidity.
Bring it back I say! Bring it back to liven up the pixellated mediocrity of our flat screen TV and digital satellite channels. I really wish someone would.
The whole incredible circus came to a halt for us in the 1980's when the British no longer competed. Then the whole show ended in the 90's when soaring production costs made it just too expensive to put together anymore.
Now the world of TV is a sadder place without it and nothing has come close to replacing it. Apparently there are indeed plans afoot to try and revive the tournament, but cash has been the biggest hurdle.
But is it really beyond the advanced economies of the European powers to stump up the cash and subsidise this feast of entertainment and cultural togetherness? Would no sponsor be willing to be linked with a worthy investment in fun and laughter.
There was an online petition to the European Broadcasting Union in 2007 which gathered 10,000 signatures of support, so there are like minded nutters out there clamouring for a return. It would be just what we all need in these dark and difficult days of the 21st Century.
As a finale here is the classic 'Penguins' game from 1974. Stuart Hall provides his usual erudite commentary interspersed with an expert analysis of the proceedings. Enjoy.
"Trois, Deux, Un .....Allez !!!!!!"
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