As the winter began to grip Russia a team left the shelter of Television House to organise ‘Double Your Money’ (retitled ‘Do You Want To Go On?’) in Moscow. Peter Croft was the director of Hughie Green’s show and Bill Costello, manager quizzes, was a behind-the-scenes organiser. This article of personal impressions is by BILL COSTELLO.
If you think it can be difficult getting a taxi in London you should try Moscow. There are plenty of them about all right, with little green lights lit up indicating they’re free – but for some reason or other they don’t like stopping. Straight past, time and again – I think it must be a national game trying to get one to stop. And then when you’re lucky and do manage to get one how do you tell him where to go? On one occasion I wanted to get to the National Hotel, couldn’t get myself understood so ended up at the Metropole Hotel which the driver knew, and walked the half-mile to the National. Trolleys, trams and the Metro are much the easiest and cheapest way of getting round Moscow – a single fare of five kopeks (about 5d. [about 2p in decimal, 40p in 2018 allowing for inflation]) takes you near or far on all the systems. The Metro is amazing – apart from being a quick, clean and efficient means of transport, it also rates as one of the architectural and artistic achievements of the capital. Each station is decorated by Sculpture; paintings, friezes or mosaics, each with a theme of a different republic in the Soviet Union. Some of them are lit by chandeliers, and the general effect is much more of a ballroom than a tube station.
Again, though the language is a major difficulty, French, Spanish and German, which are usually sufficient to make oneself understood in most countries, just do not rate in Russia. However after three trips on this ‘Double Your Money’ venture I can now recognise ‘РЕСТОРАН’ as restaurant.
This inability to take part in or begin to understand conversation was the biggest difficulty we faced in Moscow, particularly on the recording. Originally Soviet Television had hoped to provide at the least, a vision mixer and senior cameraman who spoke English. As it turned out not one did, and Peter Croft had to relay all his instructions through our interpreter, Val Mazarkin, to the Russian director, who then spoke to the vision mixer, cameramen and sound. It was a good job we weren’t trying to do RSG!
Peter Croft was directing and when he came out of the OB scanner after more than two hours of recording I think he’ll forgive me if I say he had lost a little of his usual superb imperturbability. The scanner had very little ventilation and he was absolutely soaked through and looking rather limp. If ever we’ve earned our money that was the day.
I was in the hall doing my usual job of pushing on the contestants and liaising with Hughie – made even more difficult this time because apparently they have no floor managers in Soviet TV. The hall was absolutely packed with an incredibly enthusiastic audience of English-speaking Soviets – and an army of local newspapermen and photographers who throughout the show were darting hither and thither flashing off pictures, interviewing contestants as soon as they came off stage, and generally adding to what was already an unusual scene for us.
I seemed to spend most of my time trying to keep photographers out of shot, and hushing up the quizzing of the contestants by the press – all this while Hughie gallantly soldiered on. Even he looked somewhat frayed when it was all over.
What impressed me most was the excitement and enthusiasm of the audience. To them the show was unusual, different and original and they really got carried away by the competitive spirit. After the first contestant decided to stop at £8 – winning a camera – the whole hall burst into cheers and a young man, presumably a friend of his, rushed on to the stage, hugged him and pumped his hand in congratulation and then equally quickly rushed off the stage back into the audience, past a very bewildered Hughie Green who for once was struck speechless by this moving sight.
This kind of excitement continued with all the contestants. We recorded 14 in all, taking more than two-and-a-half hours, though we did have a short break in the middle for the audience, and ourselves, to take a breather. Whatever the reaction in England to the shows, we certainly made an impression in Moscow. I don’t think anyone who was there in that crowded hall in the House of Friendship that day will ever forget it.
It was an incredible experience and a very human one – because underneath all the language problems and differences in culture it certainly proved to me that people are the same the world over. When first suggested ‘Double Your Money’ in Moscow seemed a fantastic and unbelievable idea. But we did it, and with the greatest co-operation on the Soviet side.