Memories of the past, ideas for the future

Playing the game in a male-only world

Theresa Lowe hosted the popular Sunday night quiz show ‘Where in the World’ from 1989 to 1996, taking over from Marty Whelan. She now works as a barrister and is mother to four children with Frank McNamara, the former musical director of ‘The Late Late Show’. Here, she remembers what it was like being one of the few women in a male domain.

RTÉ was groundbreaking in its decision to appoint female hosts on game shows in the 1980s. The role of women on quizzes and game shows over the years was to play the glamorous side-kick to the always male host. Anne Aston on [ITV’s] ‘The Golden Shot’ comes to mind, as does Anthea Redfern, who would always give us a twirl on ‘The Generation Game’ [on BBC] with Bruce Forsyth. Then there was the very glam Vanna White who turned the letters on [American game show] ‘Wheel of Fortune’. Here in Ireland you had the beautiful Olivia Treacy who presented the prizes on ‘Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M’.

There were one or two exceptions to that norm. In America, Arlene Francis was the host of a network radio game show, ‘Blind Date’. This was in 1943. She went on to present it on television [from 1949 to 1952]. She was a pioneer for women in television. And of course Cilla Black was the host of ‘Blind Date’ in the UK for years, having been a huge singing star prior to that. But they were the exception.

Then in 1989 RTÉ did something different. Bil Keating, the producer/director of ‘Where in the World’, told me that while the host of a quiz or game show was always the reserve of a male, middle-aged comedian that they were going to break with tradition. They were going to give the role to a woman: me. Maxi was at that point presenting ‘Rapid Roulette’ so RTÉ were pretty groundbreaking at the time in their choice of hosts. It wasn’t until the late ‘90s in the UK that a woman hosted a purely general knowledge quiz show and that was Anne Robinson on ‘The Weakest Link’. And when TV3 did their version of the show they gave it to a man – Eamon Dunphy!

I’ve often wondered why ‘Where in the World’ was so popular. There’s no doubt that we all love a good quiz. One of the most enjoyable ways of spending a night out is joining a table of four in a table quiz. It’s great fun and educational. ‘Where in the World’ was good, clean, family entertainment. It appealed to all ages and whole families would tune in religiously at 8.00pm every Sunday night to get their fix of ‘Glenroe’ and ‘Where in the World’.

We used to record three shows a day over three days. It’s 15 years off the air but it is still remembered and has even made an impact on social networking. There’s a page on Facebook called ‘watching Glenroe and Where in the World without my homework done’. There are over 15,000 members and the wall is packed with memories of thirty-somethings who used to shiver at the sound of the last chord in the theme tune of ‘Glenroe’, which meant it was off to bed with them, and no homework done!

The questions on ‘Where in the World’ could be very difficult, but that was part of the attraction. A certain skill was required and viewers like to be challenged. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of these shows where you get lucky punters winning prizes with nothing but dumb luck. ‘Deal or No Deal’ is in that category: no skill required just luck. However, I’ve loved Noel Edmonds since his ‘Swap Shop’ days and the show certainly builds up the tension brilliantly. You often see people in the audience and the punters that are opening the boxes crying by the end of the show.

Or look at ‘Mastermind’, with 25 million viewers at one point. Why did we look at it when the contestants with specialist knowledge didn’t know half the answers? We watched it because we wanted to see Joe Soap, Mr. Lorry Driver become the winner of that year’s ‘Mastermind’. And one year he did!

I was delighted to be asked to host a brand new news/comedy panel show for RTÉ Radio 1 just after Christmas. ‘What’s the Story?’ is a topical quiz show, hosted by me and featuring four comedians who take a satirical view of the stories of the week, culminating in an improv by both teams at the end of the show. It’s hilarious and great fun to work on. Recorded in front of a live studio audience, it was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on January 2 as a special. I would love to do more of that in the future.

Watch Theresa Lowe's episode of 'A Little Bit TV', a series of profiles of television presenters, on the RTÉ Player here