By Hokey!

Sel­wyn Toogood and the great Kiwi trav­el­ling game show.

North & South - - The Good Life ? / Last Words -

IT TAKES A lot to shock us, but the fol­low­ing ad­ver­tise­ment for a the­atri­cal en­ter­tain­ment re­cently knocked us for six: “The Gameshow Net­work presents a live par­ody ver­sion of the clas­sic Kiwi game show, It’s in the Bag. We’ve… scripted some of John Hawkesby’s most ag­gres­sive ban­ter…”

John who? Lovely man. Con­sum­mate broad­caster. Could turn his hand to any­thing. But any­one with an ounce of his­tor­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity knows that Sel­wyn Feather­ston Toogood was It’s in the Bag.

Toogood is cred­ited with orig­i­nat­ing the show on ra­dio in 1954 and drag­ging it kick­ing and scream­ing (with de­light) into the tele­vi­sion age, host­ing it on screen from 1973 to 1986.

The for­mat, like that of all good quiz shows, was sim­ple yet com­pli­cated. The sim­ple bit was there were num­bered bags con­tain­ing prizes of vary­ing value – from potato peel­ers to mo­tor­bikes, for in­stance. Con­tes­tants picked a bag, and nei­ther they nor Toogood knew what was in it. He then of­fered them a cash al­ter­na­tive to the prize and they could take the money or the bag. He would in­crease the cash of­fer un­til they ei­ther took the money or he de­cided he had gone high enough.

The com­pli­ca­tions came in the var­i­ous seg­ments: “The Thing”, where the fewer clues it took to guess the an­swer, the big­ger the prize; “Post Bag”, where peo­ple wrote in with a bag num­ber and the amount for which they could be bought; “Travel Bag”, with the se­ries’ grand prize; and the bit where he picked some­one at ran­dom from the au­di­ence.

Toogood was a mas­ter – if that’s the right word – of the dad joke. One con­tes­tant was tempted with the pos­si­bil­ity of a brand-new “pol­isher-scrub­ber” as a prize. Stead­fastly, she in­sisted on tak­ing the money, at which point Toogood re­vealed the pol­isher-scrub­ber was… a scrub­bing brush. The wag.

It was re­garded as bad form for con­tes­tants to take the money. And if you took the bag and got the booby prize, you had to staunch it out. The con­tes­tant who got the veg­etable peeler in 1974 han­dled it mag­nif­i­cently, say­ing: “We needed one in the flat, any­way.”

When an­other con­tes­tant vouch­safed that she was a com­puter pro­gram­mer – in 1974! – you felt Toogood was still com­ing to terms with the fact women had the vote. “How do you pro­gramme a com­puter, as a mat­ter of sci­en­tific in­ter­est?” he asked her.

“It con­sists of writ­ing a set of in­struc­tions for the com­puter to do some­thing,” she replied.

“You’re go­ing to make a won­der­ful wife for some­body, aren’t you?”

For a quiz­mas­ter, he could be a lit­tle slap­dash on de­tails. Some­one was asked to de­fine an ocea­narium, or as Toogood spelt it out “o-ch-e-a-n-a-r-i-u-m”. “Some­thing to do with the ocean, I sup­pose,” ven­tured the pos­si­bly con­fused con­tes­tant. Near enough.

More than any­thing, if one is seek­ing rea­sons for the show’s suc­cess, It’s in the Bag worked be­cause it con­nected with its au­di­ence in many ways.

It was helped by Toogood’s catch­phrase: “By hokey!” It was truly na­tional, be­ing filmed live in small­town halls across New Zealand. The au­di­ence was in­cluded, not just as con­tes­tants but es­pe­cially when Toogood asked them to help make up the con­tes­tant’s mind.

“What should she/ he do, New Zealand?” he would ask, to which the packed hall would al­most al­ways re­spond: “Take the bag!”

Left: Sel­wyn Toogood rolls into town in his Fiat “bub­ble car”.

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