The Adventure Game

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For the computer and video game genre, see Adventure game.
The Adventure Game
Created by Patrick Dowling
Starring Moira Stuart (Darong - Series 1)
Ian Messiter (The Rangdo of Arg ("Uncle") - Series 1)
Charmian Gradwell (Gnoard - Series 1, 2 & 3)
Christopher Leaver (Gandor the Butler - all series)
Bill Homewood (Rongad (Dagnor) - Series 3 & 4)
Sarah Lam (Dorgan - Series 4)
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 4
No. of episodes 22
Running time 25-45 minutes
Original network BBC1 (Original broadcasts - Series 1)
(Repeat broadcasts - Series 2)

BBC2 (Repeat broadcasts - Series 1 & 3)
(Original broadcasts - Series 2 - 4)
Picture format 4:3
Original release 24 May 1980 (1980-05-24) – 18 February 1986 (1986-02-18)

The Adventure Game was a game show, aimed at children but with an adult following, which was originally broadcast on UK television channels BBC1 and BBC2 between 24 May 1980 and 18 February 1986. The story in each show was that the two celebrity contestants and a member of the public had travelled by space ship to the planet Arg. Their overall task varied with each series. For example, the team might be charged with finding a crystal needed to power their ship to return to Earth. The programme is often considered to have been a forerunner of The Crystal Maze.

The programme came about because Patrick Dowling (who also introduced episodes of series 2) had an interest in Dungeons and Dragons and wanted to televise a show that would capture the mood. The programme also has a similar sci-fi feel to the work of Douglas Adams, who was asked by Patrick to write the show, hadn't he already agreed to write a TV series of his own radio show The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The first two series were written and produced by Dowling and directed by Ian Oliver, who wrote and produced the final two series after Dowling had retired from the BBC.

The characters

Arg was inhabited by shapeshifting dragons known as Argonds. As a reference to this, most proper nouns in the programme, including Argond, were anagrams of the word dragon. To avoid scaring contestants, within a few minutes before they arrive all Argonds shifted form, mostly to human.

Notable characters within the game included:

  • The Rangdo, who was the ruler of planet Arg and referred to as 'Uncle' by the other Argonds. In the first series, his human form was played by Ian Messiter, who appeared as an old professor in a velvet jacket, but in later series he became one of the few Argonds not to appear as a dragon. In series 2 and 3, he became an aspidistra atop an elegant plant stand; he could move around the room and roared and shook when he was angry (the Rangdo was controlled by Kenny Baker, who was also responsible for R2-D2). Any human meeting the Rangdo had immediately to placate him with a bow or curtsey while uttering the phrase "Gronda!, Gronda!". In the last series, the Rangdo changed into a teapot instead, spouting steam when displeased.
  • Darong (series 1, played by BBC newsreader Moira Stuart).
  • Gnoard (series 1 - 3, played by Charmian Gradwell), whose job it was to explain the initial stages of the game to the contestants.
  • Dorgan (series 4, played by Sarah Lam), who took over from Gnoard in the final season.
  • Gandor (series 1 - 4, played by Chris Leaver), an ancient, half-deaf butler who took the contestants through most of the puzzles and refereed the Vortex and Drogna games. He could only hear when he was wearing his spectacles, which he continually (and conveniently) misplaced.
  • Rongad (series 3 & 4, played by Bill Homewood), because he was Australian, spoke English backwards and could only understand the contestants if they did the same. His Australian accent was a mild clue to help the contestants realise he was speaking backwards. Noted for habitually singing Waltzing Matilda in reverse, and exclamations of "Doog yrev!" when the contestants did well.
  • Angord (series 4, actor unknown) was an Argond who never seemed to turn into a human. He always misbehaved when Gandor and Dorgan were checking over the puzzles.
  • Lesley Judd, known as the Mole (series 2), who pretended to be one of the regular contestants but was actually working against them. She had been a genuine contestant in the first series.

The look of the characters in Argond form was quite different in each of the series:

  • Series 1: they looked like dragons, and each was rather distinct
  • Series 2: they didn't look much like dragons, but were furry, with no tails and mask-like faces, and primarily differed in colour
  • Series 3 & 4: they returned to looking like dragons, with ruffs, and were almost identical to each other

Notable contestants included Keith Chegwin, Sue Cook, astronomer Heather Couper, John Craven, Paul Darrow, Noel Edmonds, Sarah Greene, Bonnie Langford, James Burke and Richard Stilgoe.

The credits for the series listed the human characters as being played by Argonds, rather than the other way round.

Common tasks

The contestants had to complete a number of tasks in order to achieve their overall goal (e.g. regain their crystal and return to their ship). Many tasks involved the drogna, a small transparent plastic disc containing a solid geometric figure, which was the currency of Arg. The value of a drogna was its numbered position in the visible spectrum multiplied by the number of sides of the figure. For example, a red circle is worth one unit, an orange circle is worth two units, a red triangle and a yellow circle are both worth three, and so on.

Tasks which often appeared included:

    • A mnemonic would be given to the contestants, together with the actual items it referred to. The challenge would be to "solve" the Mnemonic, and arrange the items in the appropriate order. EG: Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain would be the clue, accompanied by tokens representing the colours of the visible spectrum. The solution would be to arrange the tokens in the order of "Red - Orange - Yellow - Green - Blue - Indigo - Violet." (There were only 5 colours used)
  • A simple computer game where Dogran the 'dog' had to be guided around a maze.
  • Belts around the contestants' waists attached to cords tying them to the wall; there was a predictable function governing the maximum distances of all the cords, which had to be discovered by induction.
  • The Drogna Game, which came in the middle of the programme, giving the contestants their opportunity to regain the crystal. The game is played by two players: one would be a contestant and the other would be a creature known as the Red Salamander of Zardil. This game became so popular that Acornsoft released a version for the BBC Micro home computer, which was written by Patrick Dowling.
    • The floor is marked out with symbols similar to those described above on drognas; the players stand at opposite sides of the board, and the crystal is placed in the centre.
    • There is a rule determining whether a user is allowed to move from a particular drogna to another drogna. (One common example is: A player may move to any drogna with the same colour or shape as the one on which they started the turn. For example, you may move from a red triangle to any red shape or a triangle of any colour.)
    • A player may only move to an adjacent drogna. However, a player may move across multiple drognas in one turn provided they all meet the given criteria. Hence, the drogna on which the player started the turn is not necessarily the drogna they have immediately left.
    • If a player breaks the movement rule, the crystal retracts such that it cannot be taken.
    • If a player becomes adjacent to the crystal and it is not taken or retracted, the player may take the crystal.
    • If, during the move of the player not carrying the crystal, that player can legally step onto a drogna currently occupied by the player holding the crystal, they may take the crystal from their opponent. This is known as the Hargraves Rule.
    • A player wins by reaching the edge of the board while carrying the crystal.
  • How many Argonds around the pond. This was a game played just before the Vortex, and was possibly a time filler, if the contestants completed the whole game too fast, as it was not always played every show. Every player had a chance to win, and winners received a "Green Cheese roll" to triumphant fanfare. This Green cheese roll was of use when playing the Vortex. Gandor would compère the game, it would start on a table with a number of drogna inside a velvet bag with draw strings. He would shake the bag and withdraw some drognas and place them on the table, then asking the first contestant "How many Argonds are around the pond?" The contestants would start by adding the sides or points of the solid geometric figure that the drognas had and fail to guess the right number. The key was that Gandor would place his fingers on the table top as he said "How many Argonds are around the pond?" The number of fingers he would place down on the table would be the correct answer.[citation needed] Most people did not guess the answer, or they would just happen to get it right by mistake.
Gnoard demonstrates the Vortex task.
  • The Vortex (series 2 - 4). This was the last task in the programme. To return to their ship, the players had to jump between a grid of points, taking turns with their opponent, the Vortex. The Vortex was represented by a video-effect-generated pulsating column in series 2, and a computer-generated flashing column in series 3 & 4. If the human player jumped into the Vortex (which they could not see), it would explode and the human was said to have been "evaporated", losing the game and making a long trip back to Earth which had to be walked by foot along the interplanetary highway. While the player can lose by stepping into the Vortex, the Vortex could not move onto the player's space. The important difficulty was that the human player could not see the position of the Vortex on the grid. Players would sometimes be permitted to buy Green cheese rolls or food with their leftover drognas, and this food could be thrown onto suspect squares to test for the presence of the Vortex. Players would sometimes put their Arg Crystal down to test the suspect square, but the Arg Crystal was never evaporated and not an indicator of the Vortex's position. Milk used in this way was shown to become evaporated milk. In spite of the Vortex being the most recognizable and memorable games in the series, the total lack of information for the human player made it a pure game of chance in the later seasons, when the Vortex has the first move and the players have to react to an "opponent" they can't see. In season 2 however, the players got the first move, allowing some strategy that could be applied by encouraging the Vortex player (who would often be one of the team accused earlier of being the 'mole', and would be out for revenge) to copy their moves, making it easier to judge where the Vortex had been in order to step on a freshly vacated point that would now be 'safe'.


Where known, and applicable, the contestants are listed below in the order in which they played the Vortex game: [E] = evaporated, [S] = survived, [n/a] = didn't play.

Series 1

Originally broadcast in 1980 on BBC1 on Saturday mornings.

Repeated in 1980 on BBC2 on Saturday mid-afternoons.

The series of encounters in every episode of Series 1 was the same, although some were omitted or added depending on time constraints:

  • The Front Door: which contestants have to solve a simple puzzle to gain entry to Arg.
  • Tile Puzzle 1: in which contestants have to cross a floor marked with drogna symbols. (However, the symbols are never referred to as drogna in Series 1, nor used as currency.) Only symbols of a certain colour or a certain shape are safe to stand on. Standing on an incorrect symbol produces the sound of a dog toy being squeaked violently but has no other penalty. Having crossed the floor, the contestants are required to open a final door by identifying the safe colour and symbol by pressing buttons on a control panel. Some episodes featured movable tiles, used either by the Argonds to cross safely while setting up the puzzle, or by the contestants to create a safe path.
  • Computer Game: contestants play a simple interactive fiction game on a computer, to "repair the broken teleporter". (This type of game would have been referred to as an "adventure game" at the time, giving a possible wordplay on the name of the series.) When the game is completed, contestants are told that the teleporter is in fact working, and that by shouting a password in unison they may activate it; this, in fact, sends an untransformed Argond into the room to serve them tea and biscuits. This section is frequently omitted.
  • The Main Puzzle, in which the contestants must solve an involved puzzle to escape from a room (or a small area), then answer a question to obtain their crystal. The program cuts away to show the Argonds setting up the puzzle before the contestants attempt it, enabling the viewer to know some parts of the solution in advance.
  • Tile Puzzle 2: contestants must cross the same tiled floor as at the start of the show. The rule for safe symbols remains the same, but contestants stepping on an incorrect symbol are immediately "vaporised" (in the first show) or "evaporated" (in the later ones). If multiple contestants are standing on the grid at the time one contestant stands on an incorrect symbol, all are evaporated; this happened in most episodes in which the contestants were evaporated. Either way, the show ends instantly after this game with no final words from the contestants; if they were evaporated, Gandor makes a brief joke indicating that this was not fatal. This section is omitted in one episode due to time constraints.

The series also differs from others in that Gnoard's name varies regularly (at different points she is called "Enod", "Charmian", and "What's Her Name"). The set used for the main puzzle in each episode is the same: it always features a desk with two fixed plastic tubes, one with an air blower below, and a compartment secured by either a key lock or an electrically released seal; a reversed grandfather clock; three pressure pads located in three spots in the studio; a broom cupboard; and a ladies' toilet door with a vacant/engaged symbol above it (in all episodes but the first; as most teams had only one female contestant, this was usually used to isolate her so she could play a separate game; but it is sometimes not used at all, and is a trap in one episode). A series of three doors with clowns' faces on them appears as a puzzle in the first episode and is used several times as a background prop in later episodes.

  • Episode 1: 24 May 1980, 9:29am–9:55am (repeated 27 September 1980, 3:12pm–3:38pm); 26 minutes; Elizabeth Estensen [S], Fred Harris [S], Mark Dugdale [S]. Contestants must remove a potato from the grandfather clock and press it into one of the tubes to lift out a left-handed corkscrew within (although, in practice, Elizabeth Estensen's arm was so small she was able to simply reach into the tube!). The corkscrew can be used to uncork a bottle containing a strip of paper which, when wrapped around a cylinder, reveals the message "Key with What's Her Name"; this refers to Enod who provides the key when requested. Opening the Broom cupboard reveals a spanner which can undo a left-handed bolt to reveal a keyhole, which in turn reveals a "fan" switch; standing on top of each of the three pressure pads activates the fan to a different level of strength. Standing on all three pressure pads blows a white ping pong ball to the top of one of the tubes, but in order for a contestant to be free to take the ball, the weights from the clock must be substituted to activate one of the pads. The ball has a message indicating that it unlocks the white clown door; but only a blank wall lies beyond. Standing on the pads for a second time produced a blue ping-pong ball which unlocks the blue clown door, but this also has only a blank wall beyond; however, access to the back of the door enables the contestants to remove the clown's nose, which is the red ping-pong ball necessary to unlock the final door and exit. This group of explorers managed to work out the 'code' for crossing the entrance/exit hall (in this case Green and Triangles) and so escaped vapourisation!
  • Episode 2: 31 May 1980, 9:32am–10:09am (repeated 4 October 1980, 4:30pm–5:07pm); 37 minutes; Liza Goddard, Michael Rodd, Stephen Cox. This episode is believed lost (though it would appear at least one domestic recording is in existence); it is missing from the BBC archives. This group of explorers were quite aware of what the 'code' for crossing the entrance/exit hall (in this case Blue and Crosses), however Liza Goddard (who was leading the way across the board made a mistake in her footwork and all 3 of the Explorers were evaporated in one fell swoop. As they were being evaporated, one of the male Explorers was hear to say - way to go Liza, we've just been evaporated, to which she replied rather ruefully Sorry Chaps. The 'Butler' (who was in this case dressed as a French Onion Seller complete with OTT accent) opined: Such a tragedy to 'appen to one so charming...and Gnoard was of the opinion that: it'll be a bit cold out there tonight
  • Episode 3: 7 June 1980, 9:46am–10:23am (repeated 11 October 1980, 4:42pm–5:19pm); 37 minutes; Pat Cater, Maggie Philbin, James Burke This group of explorers (narrowly) failed to work out the 'code' for crossing the entrance/exit hall (in this case White and Circles) and were evaporated - Pat Cater first, followed by Maggie Philbin and James Burke together.
  • Episode 4: 14 June 1980, 9:35am–10:04am (repeated 18 October 1980, 4:00pm–4:29pm); 29 minutes; Denise Coffey, Dr. Garry Hunt, Toby Freeman [final game not played]
  • Episode 5: 21 June 1980, 9:09am–9:54am (repeated 25 October 1980, 3:40pm–4:25pm); 45 minutes; Lesley Judd [E], Robert Malos [E], Paul Darrow [E] This episode is officially missing from the BBC archives (though it is known to exist in private collections.) This group of explorers (at the very last moment) made a final mistake in the 'code' for crossing the entrance/exit hall (in this case Green and Squares) and were all evaporated together (though it is possible a little 'cheating' went on here. At the beginning, these travellers were able to move a 'safe' tile from its position and use it to move safely across various wrong tiles. However, on the way back the tile when put on a wrong square caused the travellers to be evaporated when Lesley Judd tried to cross over.)

Series 2

Originally broadcast in 1981 on BBC2 on Monday early-evenings.

Repeated in 1982 on BBC1 on Friday late-afternoons.

  • Episode 1: 2 November 1981, 6:04pm–6:49pm (repeated 28 May 1982, 4:53pm–5:38pm); 45 minutes; Graeme Garden [n/a], Carol Chell [E], Nicolas Hammond [E]
  • Episode 2: 9 November 1981, 6:04pm–6:49pm (repeated 4 June 1982, 4:52pm–5:37pm); 45 minutes; Madeline Smith [E], David Yip [E], Derek Gale [n/a - evaporated earlier due to being incorrectly identified as the Mole] (This episode is officially missing from the BBC archives, though it is known to exist in private collections)
  • Episode 3: 16 November 1981, 6:05pm–6:50pm (repeated 11 June 1982, 5:52pm–6:37pm); 45 minutes; David Singmaster [S], Sue Cook [E], Philip Hancock [S]
  • Episode 4: 23 November 1981, 6:05pm–6:49pm (repeated 18 June 1982, 4:54pm–5:38pm); 44 minutes; Tessa Hamp [E], Nerys Hughes [E], Derek Griffiths [n/a - evaporated earlier due to being incorrectly identified as the Mole](This episode is officially missing from the BBC archives, and is not currently known to exist on off air recordings)
  • Episode 5: 30 November 1981, 6:08pm–6:53pm (repeated 25 June 1982, 4:53pm–5:38pm); 45 minutes; John Craven [E], Bill Green [n/a - 'transported' earlier during the game of finding the Mole and replaced with a member of the Intergalactic Police investigating reports of the use of an unauthorised Evaporator], Kirsty Miller [E]

Series 3

Originally broadcast in 1984 on BBC2 on Thursday early-evenings.

Repeated in 1985 on BBC2 on Thursday early-evenings.

  • Episode 1: 2 February 1984, 5:39pm–6:18pm (repeated 5 September 1985, 6:49pm–7:28pm); 39 minutes; Sarah Greene, Anne Miller, Richard Stilgoe
  • Episode 2: 9 February 1984, 5:40pm–6:18pm (repeated 12 September 1985, 6:50pm–7:28pm); 38 minutes; Sue Nicholls, Duncan Goodhew, Emma Disley.
  • Episode 3: 16 February 1984, 5:39pm–6:19pm (repeated 19 September 1985, 6:49pm–7:29pm); 40 minutes; Adam Tandy [E], Sandra Dickinson [E], Chris Serle [n/a - was evaporated earlier for displeasing the Rangdo by singing a ballad]
  • Episode 4: 23 February 1984, 5:40pm–6:19pm (repeated 26 September 1985, 6:50pm–7:29pm); 39 minutes; Paul McDowell, Bonnie Langford [E], Christopher Hughes [n/a - was evaporated earlier by the Rangdo when he presented His Royal Highness with an arm band.]
  • Episode 5: 1 March 1984, 5:39pm–6:18pm (repeated 3 October 1985, 6:49pm–7:28pm); 39 minutes; Janet Fielding [E], Nigel Crocket [S], Neil Adams [n/a - was evaporated earlier by the Rangdo when he presented His Royal Highness with salt, which annoyed him.]
  • Episode 6: 8 March 1984, 5:40pm–6:25pm (repeated 10 October 1985, 6:49pm–7:34pm); 45 minutes; Fern Britton [E], Noel Edmonds [E], Ray Virr [S]

Series 4

Originally broadcast in 1986 on BBC2 on Tuesday early-evenings.

Repeated in recent years on the digital TV channel Challenge.

Signature tune

Missing episodes

Following a mass wiping of children's television programmes in the early 1990s[1] no copies of the following episodes are present in the BBC's archives:

*Off air recordings of these episodes have been returned to the BBC (they would still be interested in obtaining better quality versions).

^^A domestic off air recording of this episode does appear to be in existence, though it has yet (as of August 2011) not been returned to the BBC.


External links