Friday, August 15, 2014

Riding the Chopper with Dominik Diamond (part 2)

Friday, August 15, 2014
Dominik "quite literally", "on that bombshell" Diamond returned for series 4 with a new outfit and new set, despite the McDonalds logo remaining firmly entrenched in the GamesMaster idents. He was assured by the producers that the two year sponsorship deal had been terminated, though as it still had half of that contract left to run, he continued to host the show alongside their advertising.

Perhaps that's why for series 4 he finds himself in hell, aside from still being dead of course. He's back and he's grumpy, Dominik informs us, giving him free reign to ramp up the sarcasm and snarky comments, mocking contestants and celebs alike. Love him or love him, you've gotta love 'im. He was GamesMaster; season three taught us that. He could stand on an empty stage reading his shopping list, and somehow he'd make it an event.
"Basically there was a comic called Crisis. I was a big 2000AD reader as a kid, and there was a comic called Crisis in particular that had a strip called 'Third World War' by the guys who did Judge Dredd. It was Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra drawing. Sorry, I am a big comics geek. This strip was all about how burger companies were destroying the third world so after that I stopped eating McDonalds and then when it came to me that they were sponsoring it I was aghast, I was horrified. I said to Jane, I'm not going to do it if McDonalds sponsor it, and she got back to Channel 4, and Channel 4 said, 'tough, we've signed a deal', and I said, well that's it, I'm going, so I went."

- Dominik elucidates the rational behind his decision to walk away from the show after series two (the Digital Cowboys podcast, episode 133) 
Josse Bilson: That's not actually the second monster, it just gets in the way. It's just there to annoy you.

Dominik: It's the sort of Terry Christian of this game.

- Dominik takes a swipe at the 'job-stealing' The Word presenter as he oversees the Creature Shock on-rails, blast-fest trial (S4E10)
This time round, the golden joystick-awarding lovelies come in the guise of a succession of faceless, cloaked monk-dwarf-goblins who are cynically bullied by Dominik at every juncture.

In the earlier episodes we see them presenting the trophies, and simultaneously, refusing to relinquish them, resulting in a tug of war with the contestants. By the later episodes they have mellowed immensely. The goblins jovially hand over the joysticks without a fuss, even sugar-plum-fairying their way onto set at one point, albeit sans a blancmange tutu. Some of the prize-winners have clearly been paying attention; they are seen attempting to wrestle the joysticks from the goblins' hands unnecessarily, and consequently stumbling for balance.

I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in the board meeting where it was decided that the goblins needed a personality transplant. I wonder if the idea was to accentuate Dominik's malign abuse by making them more amiable and downtrodden.

High brow analysis indeed. You could never accuse me of shying away from tackling the big issues.

Robbie proves he's the 'Better Man' on Dyna Blaster
The games of yesteryear are what catapult you back to that dewy-eyed period of your lives where everything was shiny and new, and working for a living was something ancient grown-ups did, but the fashions of the day are similarly a nostalgic bolt from the blue. Hands up who didn't have a 'curtains' or 'bowl' style hair cut at some point during the nineties.

Here's Robbie Williams sporting a fetching dungaree number fastened at one side, complete with novelty plastic dummy.

I actually won one of the latter as a runner-up prize by entering a competition draw in Look-In magazine (this was a cheaply made pop culture publication aimed at young teens), along with a Bananarama single vinyl record. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it at the time so chucked it in a drawer and never gave it a second thought. Apparently though they emerged out of nineties rave culture; dancers stoned on ecstasy would find that their teeth chattered so wanted something to put in their mouths as a buffer.

Fashion victims who weren't into pill-popping would also wear them on a cord round their necks, the more fluorescent the better. Associating themselves with drugs culture really appealed to nineties kids, much as it did in the sixties, so we had clothing featuring baggy jeans-wearing reprobates with backwards facing caps, gold bling and a spliff in their mouth. Spliffy, Eclipse and Ecstasy were among the most prominent clothing brands to establish these designs, and the slightly off-beat, high street retailer, Stolen From Ivor, was probably the main culprit responsible for pushing the lines. The dodgy market traders importing them by the shed load from third world countries didn't help much either. Thankfully we appear to have seen the back of all of them now.
Dominik: "Now Mervin, what's this on your jacket?
Mervin: "Ecstasy."
Dominik: "I bet you think you're really hard 'cos you've got that on don't you?"
Mervin: "Yeah, I do."

- Classic Dominik and muppet, pre-challenge banter from series four

1994 came to pass and brought with it, at long last, several viable ways for the average consumer to access the internet, or Information Super-highway as it was referred to at the time. This was reflected in series four's introduction of the GamesMaster BBS, which offered a primitive means of downloading the nominated 'PC game of the week', assuming your kit met the minimum requirements: a 386 PC with 4mb of RAM and a 2400 bps baud modem. Technology that fell well short of the £6000 Elonex PC unveiled in the Christmas episode of the same series! (a Pentium 100 MHz with 64mb RAM and 1000mb hard drive! Gasp!).

Following a few configuration tweaks, you were instructed to connect your modem to the phone number, 081 558 8937, to commence transferring the data. At that speed you'd be old and grey by the time you were ready to ignite your engines in SuperKarts (the first game made available through the Gameline downloading service in S04E13), and you would be required to pay BT by the minute for the privilege. Of course you would need the permission of the bill-paying "mug" before calling; a habitually recited disclaimer found in TV aimed at a younger audience.

Hello internet, bye-bye snail mail; the launch of GamesMaster's online presence spelled the downfall of the Gamesmaster Club, which had been so heavily promoted in the first two series. RIP.

Take that god!
You may have noticed that the set for the first series of GamesMaster looks a hell of a lot like a church, and there's a good reason for that; it took place in St Paul's Church, Dock Street, London.

Following the merger of two parishes, it had been abandoned by its congregation in 1989 and put on the open market with a price tag of £1.5m. There "the church no-one wants" remained until 1991 when the GamesMaster producers showed an interest in using it for filming the show, despite it having no running water.

It was here where the auditions for the presenters' role took place. Candidates were asked to commentate on a Gameboy football challenge, and Dominik was given the green light, not by the original crew members consisting of producer, Adam Wood, director, Cameron McAllister, games gurus, Dave Perry and Stephen Carsey, and celebrity booker Chris Kelly, but Jane's son, Harry. I imagine he's still at pole position on Dominik's Christmas card list twenty three years later.

You have to admit that, hosting a show centred around a hobby denounced as deviant by a great many respectable adults, in a church of all places, has a certain deliciously irreverent je ne sais quoi. Desecrated for eternity by the unruly crew and guests it would never again be used for holy purposes, and in 2002 it was converted into a private nursery.

For series two, production was relocated to the Riverdale Pumphouse at Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks, situated on Upper Sunbury Road, Hampton, London, which was passed off for dramatic effect as a disused oil rig only accessible by helicopter.

It was later renamed Hampton Pumping Station, though is also often referred to as the Sunbury Pump House, an engine house built between 1897 and 1901 by engineer James Restler.

The same location was used in 1991 to film the 'Justice Zone' scenes in Red Dwarf's fourth series where it served as a prison complex, and again in 1992 for the final episode of The Tomorrow People remake.

The 'lost series' aka number three, marked another seismic shift, this time to HM Prison, New Road, Oxford. 'The Games Academy', as it was baptised, was short-lived, however, as filming had to be relocated when the prison was brought back into active service.

The London Dungeon was chosen to replace it, though due to capacity restrictions the baying audience was culled and this inevitably distorted the show's feted format. The second half of the series disjointedly morphed into the 'GamesMaster Team Championship' event.

Oxford prison closed once again in 1996 and has now been converted into a Malmaison hotel, where ironically, you can now pay to sleep in a prison cell. Other parts of the castle have been redeveloped as a shopping and heritage complex.

The derelict church was re-visited to simulate series four's hell mise en scène, and again for series six's Atlantis theme. The fifth and final series were both filmed at Hewland International's TV studios in Brixton, bedizened to look like heaven and a desert island, respectively. If an eighth season had been commissioned, it is believed that it would have taken place on a pirate ship, but that one, alas, had sailed.

Each show in series five opens with a scene whereby we see Dominik exiting a kebab shop and being unceremoniously slayed by a passing bus. Walthamstow's claim to fame is that it was filmed in their very own Hoe Street.

In series two, GamesMaster launched a 'Design a Game' competition where contestants were tasked with the challenge of coding a game from scratch using the Amiga programming language, AMOS. The winning entry was a platform game called 'Charlie Chimp' by Brian Bell & Ashley Cunningham who received £500 worth of Amiga hardware.

The aim of the game is to traverse the multi-platformed levels using the connecting ladders, lighting up the ground beneath your feet as you pass over it, whilst avoiding (or whacking with a tennis racket) any baddies you encounter.

A demo of the game featured on issue 46's Amiga Format cover disk in April 1993. Brian then went on to release a Christmas-themed sequel in 1994, and a special edition version in 1997.

Rumour has it that in 1995, the Northern Ireland-based premises of Brian Bell's PD disk magazine, the Mr AMOS Club, were burgled and he lost £5000 worth of equipment. Being uninsured he had to sell the rights to Charlie Chimp I and II, and Spacefighter.

Copies of AMOS Professional were awarded to the two runners-up; Fraiser Ashworth for developing Super Blukid and Jose and Alberto Luis who between them devised Stellar Escape.

Super Blukid is a quirky, cutesy platformer that requires the player to climb the colourful scenery opening treasure-filled chests against the clock.

Stellar Escape is a vertical shooter reminiscent of arcade classics such as Xenon and SWIV, though atypical for a game of this style, the screen also scrolls horizontally to a degree should you push against either of its extreme reaches. No idea what there is here to consume three disks, however. Does the Encyclopaedia Britannica occupy disks two and three?

All three games are easy enough to find online in ADF format so as to be booted up via an Amiga emulator or transferred to real 880k disks to be played on the original hardware.

Series five's bright and breezy heaven-based set offered a much-needed reprieve from the previous grungy, Gothic environments. The producers had certainly swallowed the 'sex sells' mantra by this point as it all went a bit 'Page 3'... albeit with more clothes, if that makes any sense whatsoever. The monk-goblin-dwarves transmogrified into luscious toga-wearing angels and the ever-glamorous guests continued the titillating parade.

The show underwent a dramatic, celestial shake-up. The Conesoletation Zone was axed in favour of more globe-trotting gaming and action/sci-fi movie features, and the challenges became much more diverse and ludicrously off-the-wall. In particularly we were treated to the 'open the box, set up a PC, switch it on and install a game' ...erm, 'challenge' as performed by Dean Gaffney and Patsy Palmer from Eastenders, and the 'can you prove the internet isn't cak?' exercise. Dominik's final verdict in answer to the latter was that it doesn't offer much you can't get from a magazine, which succinctly encapsulates just how primitive the internet was at the time.

Proving once again virtual reality is pants 
In one news segment, Dominik reported that Sainsbury's were busy trialling a new way to get your shopping done without physically traipsing down to the store itself.

They proposed that customers would enter a virtual supermarket via their internet-enabled PCs and wander round it, grabbing items off the shelves and plonking them in their trollies.

I can't imagine why that failed to take off!, though I do believe it's now possible to buy things over the internet.

"It was me. All me. Me me me. Every word, every shot. I even built Derek (Lynch) from a kit."

- Dominik reminisces on the rejuvenated, 'Born Again' format seen in series five
The highlight for me starred three toddlers as contestants 'battling it out' on an interactive learning, edutainment title called Baby ROM using a Fisher Price style trackball known as an EasyBall. Callum had to be coaxed to take part by Dominik, rousing him from an almost comatosed state. It was truly inspired, deliberate car crash telly at its best.

For a games-centric show, it was peculiar for the games themselves to be taking a back seat to elaborately contrived, comedy sketches, and gimmicky twaddle, an insurrection which didn't go down well with everyone. Dave Perry in particular thought the focus was shifting in entirely the wrong direction, becoming a vehicle to showcase Dominik's talents more than anything. For me personally, as we entered the Playstation era and 3D graphics and polygon counts became king, this suited me fine.

Also noteworthy is Martin Mathers' reappearance. We first met Martin in series one where he competed in a Terminator 2: Judgement Day challenge on the Amiga, failing to re-construct the T-800s' face within the allocated time limit. Here he spends the entirety of one episode kicking botty in the arcade version of Virtua Cop, reaching and acing, the final showdown with only one credit and racking up the maximum score of 9,999,999 points. Unknown at the time, Martin went onto to become Games World's 'The Megabyte Millionaire.
"...and here to burn rubber like there's no tomorrow, and bearing in mind this is our last show, for Channel 4 anyway, there is no televisual tomorrow, please welcome Amar Ashraff and Cecil Dyer"

Dominik introduces the final challengers of series 5 with a nod to the demise of the show, or at least a transition to a more hospitable station. Joking or not, gaming TV was beginning to fall out of favour with network execs at Channel 4 and beyond.

Series six launched in 1996, along with Dominik... from a great height as he is ejected from heaven, presumably for engaging in carnal shenanigans at the end of series five. God doesn't approve of that sort of thing so St Peter tells me. According to the parable, Dominik should really descend into hell's searing inferno, but then we've been there and done that.

Instead he plummets into the ocean, washes up in Atlantis and is revived with a kiss from two scantily clad, alluring mermaids who will serve as the joystick gophers. Feminists should probably give this series a wide berth... along with the first five... and the last... and the 'Gore Special'.

The shark-infested seascapes were furnished by the Sealife Centre in Blackpool, not a CGI generating doohicky. You weren't wondering? Oh.

So it's business as usual; more features, reviews, celebrity and 'Joe Bloggs' challenges (that's John Doe for all you Americans), and more of Dominik trying to convince us that he's bald, when actually his hairline is just receding a bit. He did get there in the end so maybe this was his way of cushioning the inevitable blow. He does sport a venerable mass of chin fuzz these days so perhaps some consolation there.

Episode two features a visit to the first Retro Gaming Exhibition at HMV in London, where Dominik reminisces over the good old glory days of the trailblazing Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 computers. Telling anyone who'll listen that "things were better in my day" is nothing new, and will never go out of fashion!

There's also an interview with Peter Molyneux who - even eighteen years ago - was expressing concern that games developers were losing sight of that ephemeral quality that makes games worth playing... game-play!

"Retro is the word on everyone's lips at the moment, and titles like Namco's Space Invaders and William's arcade classics are rising from the grave to fill some fat publishers' bulging pockets once more. I went along to the world's first retro game exhibition in HMV in London to visit some old friends."

Dominik puts us in the picture as he's reacquainted with his first computer; the gorgeous, rubber-keyed Speccy.

The award for the most awkward celebrity moment of the series (and possibly the entire show) goes to Paul Leyshon's appearance (he used to be in a glossy, teeny soap called Hollyoaks).

He agreed to drive around in a taxi disarming bombs to save the populous of New York (in the PlayStation game, Die Hard with a Vengeance, you understand, not for real - there wouldn't be space in the studio), though didn't bargain on being quizzed on the final details of his salary.

Nevertheless, Dominik is persistent and Paul capitulates, spilling the beans, without really contemplating that he had the option to tell him where to go. Watching the expression of incredulity spread across Paul's face is totally surreal.
Dominik: "Paul, you're on two nights a week now on Hollyoaks so presumably... are you getting twice as much money?"

Paul: "Erm, yeah, I suppose we are getting twice as much money."

Dominik: "How much... I mean, you know, putting humour aside for one second on this show, how much exactly do you earn?"

Paul: "How much do I earn? You're just asking me how much I earn?"

Dominik: "Erm, I think so, unless I've gone mad."

Paul: "Er, about six to nine grand a week."

Dominik: "Six to nine grand a week, so that's considerably less than I get."

Paul: "Oh just in Hollyoaks though, 'cos I've got my sideline jobs."
A 'viewer' (read GamesMaster scriptwriter) gets in touch to suggest that it would make for a great show if they could get gaming wizard, Martin Mathers, back on for another challenge, along with spoon-bending nut-job, Uri Geller.

For the first time in the history of GamesMaster someone alludes to the fact that Dominik says "quite literally" far more often than is healthy for anyone who isn't autistic (they take everything literally you see, I wasn't being flippant). Those mermaids aren't just pretty faces you know.
"Dominik: "Well would you Adam and Eve it, Rick, but that's exactly what we've got on today's show. Isn't that incredible girls?"

Leigh-Ann Woodall: "Wow, it's unbelievable."
Theresa Tilley: "Mmm, quite literally."

Crumbs, it's Penfold from Danger Mouse
Master of 'kung-moggy', 'Nik Diamond
Thanks to Paul 'Bruce' Ram who took part in the 'Shoot Down the Shops and Get Us a Paper' challenge playing arcade game, Gunblade NY, I'll never again be able to look at Dominik Diamond without picturing Danger Mouse's timid, hamster sidekick, Ernest 'The Jigsaw' Penfold.

The dynamic between contestants and host shifted up a gear in this series. Having the gumption to deal a retaliatory pop at Dominik added a new dimension to the stale one-way banter seen in previous series. Everyone needs a nemesis, a yin to their yang; what would Danger Mouse have been without 'Terrible Toad', Baron Silas Greenback? 'Mouse' that's what!
"I'd just like to say that last advert that was on in the break was the best advert I've ever done saw, and in fact I'd like to dedicate GamesMaster's celebrity challenge to that ad." (S06E15)
For the first time in my life I'm sorry I missed an ad break. What was Dominik referring to, and why was he so captivated by it? Paul McKenna was the special guest so I suppose it's a joke about being hypnotised into buying something you wouldn't ordinarily; was Paul pimping a new self-help book at the time by any chance?

Watching this episode back it dawned on me that referring to the contents of commercial breaks during TV shows simply doesn't happen any more in the UK (I've had the memory of 'Saturday Night Takeaway' chemically expunged from my grey matter). I expect it's something that was outlawed by the ITC to ensure it's clear where the adverts begin and end, and presenters aren't tempted to accept bribes.

Series six is particularly notable because it marked the juncture at which Dominik's thinly veiled hostility towards Dave Perry reached boiling point, culminating in the notorious Mario 64 clandestine stitch-up (or was it?) I discussed in part one.

Dave's tolerance of the new, overly Dominik-centric format had already begun to wane by this stage, which must have made throwing in the towel an easier decision to make. To this day he still can't get his head around Dominik's attitude towards him.

"Hey, I always tried to like the guy. I think he's a character and a very good writer. But for some reason he seems to have some kind of chip on his shoulder where I'm concerned. Bothered?"

Dave Perry in a Q and A parley for his 'Games Animal' web site (December 21, 2006)
If I can make a suggestion, I believe it can be summed up with a simple formula: big ego + big ego (aka competition = friction. Alpha males will always strive to put others back in their boxes to protect their position.

Dave's version of events transpire much like this...
"It was planned that for this show all the expert co-commentators should get together in a 'Question of Sport' style competition. There was myself, Rik Henderson, Derrick and Kirk Ewing. Each round involved questions on video games with a grand final to be fought out on Wipeout 2097.

Well, as the show unfolded it became very clear that I was on course to win it easily. I won every round without breaking sweat, and although at one point the team attempted to slow me down by playing a trick on me and putting a fake end on one of the questions I still forged ahead. Obviously this was becoming a bit predictable and so the Director asked me if I would be prepared to throw the final if they got the underdog, Kirk Ewing, through against me. To give things some spice. Of course, I didn't have a problem and so in the last round you will notice Kirk get a couple of questions about Earthworm Jim (a game he was working on the development of at the time) in order to help him qualify.

To make sure plans weren't screwed up further they also changed the game for the final from Wipeout 2097 to Mario 64. A game Kirk could play, as he owned an imported N64, and because Wipeout 2097 could be tricky, and he would have had to face me direct, which could go horribly wrong.

After throwing myself off the side of the ramp I then threw a major huff for the cameras and blurted out something about being "stitched up". It was all done for dramatic effect and I thought gave the episode a real twist. I have been amazed since though to find out how many people thought it was all real. But then, if people realised just how many challenges on GamesMaster were fixed I think they'd be surprised.

'Tetsujin', Kia Sawou
For example a few weeks later I can be seen presenting a whole show almost single-handedly when we had a Japanese Virtua Fighter 3 champion in the studios.

He was supposed to take on 100 British players and win. Trouble was the producers could only finds about 20 young school kids, many of which didn't even play games, and had certainly not played that game.

Every thing was shot so that it looked like the champion was thrashing 100 players, but really there was only about 20, and they were all lambs to the slaughter.

At one point Dominik asked me sarcastically if I fancied taking the Japanese lad on. Cheesed off with seeing him beat these poor kids I said I would happily have a go at him. Needless to say they didn't let me near the machine, and cut that conversation out of the show."

- Dave Perry dishes the dirt on his 'Games Animal' web site
The 'I committed theatrical suicide - taking one for the team - for the spectacle', angle is all well and good, except he seems to say exactly the opposite in his interview with Casually Hardcore (August, 2010), and actually appeared in three more episodes following his tantrum...
"Feeling set-up and really hard done by I decided to try and play my way out of it, but predictably lost by a couple of seconds. I felt betrayed that the show I’d helped create, and had served so loyally could do this to me. I should have reacted better, but I just wanted out. At least it made good TV. I quit the show there and then and never went back."
A snippet taken from Dominik's interview with Edge magazine (Dec, 2004)
Saying that Dominik is similarly unconvinced would be the understatement of the century. Reading between the manic vitriol and obscenities, I detect a smidgeon of animosity here.

I think it's safe to assume Dominik won't be dropping into Dave's tattoo parlour for a cup of cha any time soon. To his credit, he did later capitulate when interviewed by Euro Gamer for their 'GamesMaster: The Inside Story' piece, admitting that he deeply regretted this tirade.

Looking back that's not the only reason he has to feel remorseful. Given his time again, Dominik divulges that he'd take "less cocaine - it's a stupid drug that makes you think you're God" (GamesTM, August 2011). Drugs are often the apologists' best friend, but Dominik has never tried to use them to rationalise or vindicate his behaviour. It does make you wonder though, would GamesMaster have been an entirely different show hosted by a 'clean' Dominik?
"I was never a porker on GamesMaster, because I was foolishly taking cocaine as part of a calorie-controlled diet. My porkerness came post-drug era when I switched coke and E for anti-depressants."

- Digital Spy forum post (August, 2008)
"I've only enjoyed clubbing if I've been on E, and don't understand why people go clubbing if they're not taking drugs – and I'm too old for that sh*t now, unfortunately. Or fortunately, kids, because they don't work, remember, as Richard Ashcroft said!"

"I made a deliberate point that I was not going to run the risk of anyone f*cking me over for doing drugs – so if someone says 'we've got photos of you doing a line of coke in a bar,' well, big f*cking deal."

- Interview with Stuart McHugh (July, 2012)
My take on the Mario 64 shellacking, for what it's worth, is that Dave, despite the festive spirit and the fact that everyone except Dave treated the quiz and challenge as a bit of a lark, understandably - following a bitter campaign of bullying - interpreted the pantomime as a joke at his expense, took it all far too seriously and snapped under the pressure of people's expectation for him to live up to his 'Games Animal' moniker. He did have a - admittedly self-inflated - reputation to uphold after all. Pride comes before a fall as the saying goes.
"I finally let the website go when it became clear that I couldn't really dedicate the time to it any more. It'd had its day, and was fun. But sometimes you've just got to say 'enough is enough'."

- Dave Perry, Casually Hardcore (August 9, 2010)
The final episode of series six kicks off with Dominik informing us that the end is nigh...
"Good evening and welcome to the last GamesMaster, possibly ever, because I'm in receipt of a slightly worrying fax memo from Channel 4. It says to the most important person at GamesMaster. We are sorry to report that the number of complaints for this season has risen to an all-time high. Dominik is still making jokes deemed too controversial and offensive for this time slot."
...and to illustrate the point, none-too-subtlety, the descent into obscenity is signed posted with an 'offence-o-meter', which reaches maximum overload as the episode climaxes.

With the announcement that, "that's it, the end of the show, the end of the series", season six bowed out with a mournfully sincere apology from Dominik Diamond for corrupting the nations' youth and offending all and sundry. Nevertheless I suspect he might have been bluffing a wee bit. What - I think - gave it away was the bit where he said, "I don't give a %$£*".

As tongue-in-cheek as it all was, it did genuinely reflect the undercurrent of acrimony levelled towards the show by those in a position to turn off the life support machine, but we'll get onto that later.
"Yup, this is totally, definitely, incontrovertibly my last series."

- Dominik rules out returning to host a seventh series. Next I'll cover the seventh series the Channel 4 bosses 'forgot' to mention had been recommissioned. Is that a whiff of sabotage in the air?
It's ironic that all the man-eating, sea-life action takes place in series six, whilst many people believe the true point at which GamesMaster 'jumps the shark' is in the seventh and final series.

We know the score by now; new series, new set. Series seven's dream-esque exposition is no metaphor, it's - altogether now - "quite literally" in fact a dream. Dominik is peacefully slumbering away (was that a spot of wish fulfilment born from the mind of an insomniac?) with the TV blaring in the background,  "paradise island, the island of your dreams". Subliminally this awakens in Dominik (not literally this time), the desire to reach said island by bolting down a tunnel of nightmares grasping for the light at the end of it.

In the nick of time, a PJ-clad Dominik bursts through a set of swinging doors, landing face down in a beachful of sand. Fear not viewers, as ever he's greeted by a pair of half-naked centrefolds whose only purpose in life is to fulfil his every whim. Cue sun (in the guise of Patrick Moore), sand, sea and sex...ual exploitation. That and an audience full of plastic, canned-laughter fuelled kids supplied by 'Diamond Children's Theatre'.

This time we open with an absolute, bona fide, irrefutably terminal farewell...
"We don't care how much Channel 4 beg us to come back. You can shout, you can scream, you can stamp your feet, you can weep great veils of tears, but in ten weeks time, we are taking this show off the air... for good!"
This being the series that nearly didn't happen, it was rushed to air, and that is clearly evident in the semi-recycled set and mostly third rate 'celeb' bookings, who Ffinch appears to have secured on a 'pay per brain cell' basis, and a shoe-string budget. It really is an acquired taste.

The whooping, hyperactive kids and perky ditties tendered by a Caribbean calypso band and their steel drums lend it a very Nickelodeon-esque feel that's cheesier than Cooper's Hill in Brockworth during the Spring Bank Holiday.

At every turn there are reminders that, 'This Is It', as Michael Jackson would put it (sadly more ominously than he ever intended!). For each of the series' remaining ten episodes, Dominik devises a novel reason why Channel 4 will find itself bereft and lacklustre for no longer being home to GamesMaster, and the show winds down with "say goodnight to paradise" warbled over the rolling credits to the dulcet tones of a ukulele.

The capstone of series seven for me was the Christmas special, purely because we got to see ickle, adorable six year old Alan Frost perform suspiciously well in his Crash Bandicoot 2, 'outrun the homicidal polar bear' challenge.

In addition to the Golden Joystick, it being Christmas and all, a mystery present was at stake; complete the course and they were his, or fail, and he would go home with nothing. Can you really envision him losing and GamesMaster retiring with a sticky bah humbug lodged in its teeth?

I believe, as you Americans would exclaim, said polar bear 'had his ass handed to him' (don't worry they have no idea what they're saying either). Given that Alan doesn't have the dexterity to open his prize by himself, methinks a member of the crew was holding the real joypad.

Not that I begrudge the kid; it made great telly, and Alan got a Han Solo figure into the bargain, making for a merry Yuletide for a big Star Wars fan. Note that Han comes gift-wrapped in a Quickshot Python joystick box to throw him off the scent - I'd recognise it from a mile away, I owned enough of them.

The series' sombre denouement was marked with a compilation retrospective, highlighting the 'best of' moments from the previous seven series and, following a sincere round of thanks, apologies and goodbyes, the closing remarks, "so, I guess really now with the last link of the last series, I should come up with the funniest gag in the history of GamesMaster, but... I can't."

Rumours and sketchy proposals for a GamesMaster comeback have been bandied about, though sadly have never come to fruition. That said, having ruled out Dominik's involvement - and clearly Patrick couldn't make it - the idea loses its shine for me. Jane Hewland sold the rights to the show to Future Publishing shortly after the curtains were drawn across the final series, so I imagine a revamped version would be unrecognisable to fans of the original.

This hasn't deterred Dave Perry, however, who has said he'd be up for a revival, yet seems to be in two minds concerning Dominik's input:-
"Personally, I don't think it'd be the same without Dom and given his recent media whoring/slight apparent madness (could he have been referring to this?), it's unlikely he'd return."

You have fallen into the trap of thinking of GamesMaster as The Dominik Diamond show. It never was. GamesMaster should be about the games. The games are all that matter. As for Dom not returning, I wouldn't put money against it. He's made quite a few comebacks to games TV over the years hasn't he?

- Dave Perry in a question and answer session for his 'Games Animal' web site (December 21, 2006)
Ultimately it was a re-shuffle in the upper management at Channel 4 that conspired to bring about the
demise of GamesMaster. Michael Jackson was brought in as the new head of the station, leaving behind his previous post at BBC Two, a platform widely known for its more conservative, educational approach to broadcasting.

Despite continued support from its loyal fans and impressive viewing figures, Jackson chose not to re-commission the show following the series seven finale, and to this day there has been nothing on TV - on any channel - to rival the success of GamesMaster.

Dominik and Co. believed the way forward for GamesMaster was to orient it towards a more mature audience given that gaming itself was evolving well beyond its juvenile roots, largely thanks to the emergence of the Playstation platform. What put the kibosh on any future plans was that Channel 4 weren't up for it, primarily because they failed to see a viable market for a gaming show aimed at an adult audience. They even punctuated their sentiments by shunting what was left of GamesMaster's run into the unenviable, Hollyoaks warm-up slot, where it would have lost many viewers who couldn't get home from work in time to catch it.
"We felt we'd done everything we could have done with different settings and different attitudes and back stories. We'd done everything we could with video games at that time slot. The only other thing we possibly could have done was to make it very, very... much more adult, much more mature and Channel 4 just said no."

"By then I think it had become pretty self-indulgent, but in a way that it still carried most of the audience along with it. I think we probably would have disappeared completely up our own arse. I think it would have got more and more surreal."

- Dominik concedes that GamesMaster, in its current incarnation, had pretty much run its course (the Digital Cowboys podcast, episode 133)
If the goal was to transform Channel 4 into a high-brow edutainment vehicle, there's a spectacular irony in the way things turned out. For Patrick knows how many years the station has been littered with reality TV detritus like 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' and 'Big Brother'. Was this really the destiny Michael envisioned back in 1998?
"We assumed that series 6 would be the last which is why the last show of that series rather took the piss out of us being cancelled with the "offence-o-meter" device. Channel 4 were strangely unenthusiastic considering how well it did for them and we always got the feeling we were there on sufferance. The basic fact is that the executives at the channel thought video games were a social menace, Dominik was a loud-mouthed git and the attitude of the show in general was utterly reprehensible."

- Producer, Jonny Finch
Perhaps to understand why GamesMaster was regarded with such disdain by those with the power to deliver the fatal chop, we have to look to the perspective of impartial industry insiders. Here's Violet Berlin's cutting castigation:-
"It was all so depressing and tired, that, quite frankly, I don't want to bother working myself up about it. As far as I can make out, the root of the problem lies in the fact that the show doesn't appear to believe games are at all interesting -- symptoms of this include the obligatory 'ho-ho-ho-lads-eh?-eh?' glamour girls, the relentless parade of 'oo-we-are-impressed!' celebrities, the indecipherable gibberish DD and his co-commentator babble incessantly throughout every challenge in a desperate attempt to convince themselves that the game's exciting and they really care who wins, and all those jolly set-up shots depicting oh-what-a-raucous-time-our-audience-is-having-in-the-studio. It's like they'll try every gimmick going to compensate for being obliged to televise a few sad video games. As a games-player, I find GM insulting, as a woman, I find it misogynist, as a television professional, I find it mediocre. Oh damn, I didn't mean to say all that. Er, the first series was good, though. A breath of fresh air."

- Interview featured in issue 6 of The ZX Files Amiga disk magazine (see pages 28 - 32)
Well she's right in that it was always a leery boy's club, brimming with unrepentant misogyny, curiously headed by a female progenitor. Perhaps if GamesMaster had moved with the looming Zeitgeist of inclusion and equality, toeing the politically correct line, it may have side-stepped the Channel 4 big-wigs' axe, but then it wouldn't have been GamesMaster then would it?

In a break from canon, Dominik wrapped the show with a poignant, sombre and heartfelt farewell, "terrified that viewers would be disappointed at how serious we were being for that closing link, and would revolt because I hadn't used the word 'pants'".

Not at all; it was a fitting funeral for a dear friend, marking the end of an era, not just a televisual one, but a personal odyssey through the formative years of our childhood for those of us who grew up with Dominik and Sir Patrick. We - "quite literally" - laughed, we cried, we mocked defenceless children, and we impugned many an inanimate object as 'pants'. Rest in them GamesMaster.

"Well, we're out of time now. I'm off to put sand in people's ice-cream, and we'll see you later. Bye, bye."


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