Friday, 23 March 2012

This week: A TV Show I Am Aren't Watching: "Fathom" ITV 1987

Fathom was an ITV quiz show that ran for only five episodes in 1987.
Early in 1985, ITV bosses had become increasingly frustrated with their dwindling viewer figures, and the strength of the BBC quiz shows.
With this in mind, bosses worked closely with companies willing to invest heavily in a new show which would in turn show their goods in the ad breaks. The bosses devised a new idea that would be based around a generic quiz show format, but under the sea! This idea would be known as "Fathom".
In Fathom, celebrity contestants would be taken by submarine to an underwater base, were they would answer questions about the sea and general maritime events. The base itself was a large domed affair, which was anchored near the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. This base was manned by five full time aquatic experts and ten tv crew members.
The opening titles of Fathom showed the three celebrity contestants entering the sub and taking their seats. This was interspersed with pre-recorded footage of the contestants saying how they felt about going on the quiz. The screen would then cut the the live footage of the celebrities entering the quiz dome and taking their seats.
The show was hosted by Fred Dineage with additional support from the super computer "Depth Charge". Dineage was dressed as a ship's captain, complete with hat and jacket. Depth Charge was a cabinet style super computer with rows of flashing lights that made up a face. It was not uncommon for Depth Charge to "but in" on Dineage's questions, often causing Dineage to bite his lip before saying "thank you Depth Charge, speak when spoken to!"
Each of the five rounds would have a nautical title such as "Salty Sea Dog" which involved tasting and guessing the sea food. Or "Down Periscope" which involved a periscope dropping down for the contestant to guess the partially blurred, sea based, item. At the end of the quiz the contestant with the most points would win the "Captains Wheel" trophy before leaving with the other contestants.
Viewing figures for Depth Charge were exceptional. Bosses were elated that it was such a success. But into episode five, disaster struck. The three contestants this week were: Keith Harris and Orville, Matthew Kelly and Dave Lee Travis. The journey to the base went without error, and all contestants were excited and as Orville put it: "a little bit scared". The rounds went to plan but near the final round disaster struck.
Through one of the many viewing, port holes, a tv camera man saw to his amazement, a Hunter Class Russian Submarine colliding with the base! A large bang was heard and many staff members fell to the ground. Dineage was seen by millions to be visibly shook, but like the professional he was. carried on.
Viewers at home sat in stunned silence as the situation worsened quickly. As Dineage asked Depth Charge for the scores, another lighter bang could be heard. As the camera spun round it was apparent that one of the periscopes above Keith Harris's head, had dropped down and knocked the children's entertainer clean out!
More unsettling was that as Harris lay motionless with his head on the desk, Orville continued to speak! "I want my mummy, I want my mummy!" Screamed the duck. As Dineage stumbled for a reply, Depth Charge could clearly be heard saying "well I didn't see that coming!" As the set slowly descended into chaos, crew could be seen racing across the studio towards the away sub. The cameras kept rolling though and as one hand held camera man filmed the staff leaving, another filmed the dramatic proceedings in the dome. Matthew Kelly could be seen strangling Dave Lee Travis as Dineage pleaded for calm. Depth Charge began praying to God and then sobbing and cursing God for not giving him wheels and leaving him to die. By now the away sub was full, all but for one more place. Dineage was waving a spear gun at the other contestants as he made good his escape.
As a large crack appeared in the dome and water came cascading in, viewers could see Orville singing on his own: "I wish I could swim, right out of this bin, but I can't!"
Then the screen went blank.
ITV bosses made a 30 second apology announcement the next day, citing the incident and loss of four lives was down to the Russian submarine being off course. The shows developers never went to sea again.
Six months later, a green bearded, dishevelled Orville was rescued from a remote island in the Atlantic. His subsequent multi million selling book made his fortune. The book concept was then bought up and turned into Castaway starring Tom Hanks.


  1. These just get better and better. Ah, now we know why Fred Dineage disappeared from our TV screens so suddenly! He probably had to retire to Brighton after all that.

    The saddest part about all this? The Russian sub, the whole 'leaking' incident etc. all took place in a studio lot in the middle of Surrey! Who'd have thought it eh? (Well the American Government, if you believe all the crazies' theories about the moon landings). It was dubbed the Wet, Cold War by journalists in subsequent years. :P

    1. Yeah like the faked moon landings, it was all an elaborate plan to boost ratings. ITV knew that the show couldn't run at such high costs so sold the base to Richard Branson and filmed it in a studio. Episode 4 really showed us it would never improve. Having John Inman keep screaming: "I've got the bends!" was surely a sign of of things to come.

  2. what a shame Patrick Duffy wasnt a guest on that episode, he could of quickly donned his speedos and put all that practice from the man from atlantis series to good use ,
    maybe dave Dave Lee Travis taunted Matthew Kelly by saying, "tonight Matthew , im going to be Maddona, singing her hit single Drowned" thus the consequent throttle attack, i'll keep an eye out for the vhs copy of the series at the car boots this year as tapes are cheap as fuck these days

  3. I found some episodes taped off the telly in a bunch of VHS cassettes from the attic. Most of them are cut off because either a) the tape recorder sucked, or b) ran out of room at the end of the tape.

    That momentary panic when you're scrabbling around for another tape to continue the recording, knowing every minute you waste the program is going unrecorded. :P